Monday, April 21, 2008

Baklava - cheating slightly

So, I will be moving to a new job soon. I don't yet know what it will be, but one of the possibilities would be working with a Turkish lady, whom I shall call "H" here. Now, I think Turkey, I think...baklava. Luckily, H and I seem to have a lot in common, including a love of cooking, baking and tea drinking, and when we got chatting over email on Friday, and she mentioned her homeland, I said "So you must know how to make baklava?". And she sent me instructions on how to make what she called "fake baklava". The only thing "fake" about it, from my understanding, is that we use puff pastry rather than many layers of filo pastry [aka phyllo]. You make a simple sugar syrup, flavoured with lemon juice and rosewater (H tells me the latter is optional), roll out some pastry, grind some nuts, layer it all and bake, and that's basically it! I made it at the weekend, and boy, it's good...

To fill one 9in square cake tin - about 30-35 full pieces
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 150ml water
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon rosewater (optional)
  • 1 packet puff pastry
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 370g walnuts or pistachios (never both together, I am instructed)

  • First make the syrup: put the water and sugar and lemon juice in a heavy bottomed pan and bring to the boil. Keep it boiling for 7 minutes to get a reasonably thick but still definitely pour-able syrup. It should not start to colour. Remove from the heat, add the rosewater and stir to combine. Let it cool slightly in the pan, then decant to a jug to finish cooling.

    Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line the base and sides of the cake tin with greaseproof or baking parchment. Grind the walnuts to a coarse, nubbly powder. It shouldn't be so far gone that it is flour, and definitely not becoming at all greasy.

    On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry to an oblong 9 inches wide and 18 inches long, i.e. twice the area of the cake tin. Cut in half. Lay one piece of pastry in the bottom of the tin. Brush liberally with melted butter. Tip the ground nuts over this base and spread out evenly. Pat down fairly firmly. Lay the remaining sheet of pastry on top and brush again with butter. (You will probably have some left over.) Cut diagonal lines about 3cm apart to make even diamonds, making sure to cut all the way through the base layer. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10 - 15 minutes, until the top is an even golden brown. When you remove it from the oven, pour over half of the syrup and let it sink in, then add the rest. Once completely cold, slice through again following your original pattern, remove from the tin and enjoy!

    Saturday, April 12, 2008

    New Stuff!

    To wit, a potato ricer and a new cookery book: The Best Recipe.

    Describing the potato ricer as new is not strictly accurate, as it has been in the cupboard since Christmas, when my sister gave it to me, but I used it for the first time only this week. What it looks like is a giant garlic press, and one uses it to make mashed potato. You cook your potatoes, place them in the barrel when ready and then press over a bowl. And, hey presto, you have a mound of fluffy mash! Stir in some butter, milk (preferably heated together first), salt and pepper and you're done. It's far less effort than trying to mash with a standard masher (which I had never considered taxing before), and you are guaranteed to have no lumps (unless you deliberately incorporate some). And according to NIgella, though I haven't tested this yet, you don't need to peel the potatoes before cooking them - the peel stays in the ricer as the little worms of fluff squirl out. The inauguration of this wonderous device was witnessed by my good friend and fellow kitchen-fiend Laura, who agreed that it was pretty nifty (and generously helped to eat the spoils), so a thumbs up from us both. Thank you, sister!

    The new book was also a gift. This time from Seth, a friend of Matthew's who stayed with us for a weekend when he was passing through London. Thank you, Seth! It is published by America's Test Kitchen, the editors of Cook's Illustrated and a wonderfully obsessive bunch to boot. The idea of the book is to present what they think is the best recipe from which to make 1000 different dishes. To find the "best recipe" they gathered together as many examples as they could, then tested them with almost scientific rigour, trying out different techniques, cooking methods, ingredients and proportions until the tasters declared a winner. The key point about the book though is that this process is documented, each recipe being preceded by a discussion of the variations and trials and how each factor tested affected the final result. Thus, if you know that you like a particularly sharp apple pie filling, for example, you know which variety of apple to substitute or augment in the recipe to get your own preferred result. And there are also information boxes and pages on techniques, the science of cooking, ingredients, health and hygiene, care of kitchen equipment and probably more. As I say, these people are obsessive. But they are also practical, and so the resulting instructions are detailed but not unnecessarily complicated, and they choose a readily available ingredient over a hard-to-find one if the result is comparable. I haven't yet cooked anything, but I have spent a few hours this afternoon dipping in at random whilst listening to the thunder crashing outside, and am quite excited to try some American classics using recipes from an American cook book, this being the first such in my library. First though, I need some cup measures* - anyone want to buy me a present?!

    *Actually, I could use the ounce measures, but it wouldn't be the same...