Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bringing Home the Bacon

When puff pastry is called for in a recipe, this is where the ready-made chilled or frozen blocks are very useful, for it is time-consuming to make good puff pastry that rises even when baked - even chefs resort to using it.
However, for general use, flaky pastry makes a good substitute and this is easily made from home, and far less expensive as it is made with half butter, half lard.
The two fats in this recipe (butter and lard) are each divided into two portions, and during the process are used alternately - four times in all, and it doesn't matter which you begin with, just use the other next, and then repeat. The ice-cold water could be melted snow I suppose. Or stand the jug of water outside to chill.
Flaky Pastry:
8 oz (225g) plain flour
pinch of salt
3 oz (75g) butter
3 oz (75g) lard
8 - 10 tblsp ice-cold water
Sift the flour and salt together into a bowl. Divide each of the fats into two portions, and rub one (your choice) into the flour and mix to a firm dough with the water. The amount of water needed can vary, as the finer the flour the more water it will absorb.
Knead the dough gently until smooth, then roll out to an oblong. Cut a second portion of the alternative fat into small pieces and dot these over onto the end two-thirds of the pastry. Fold the top third of the pastry back over, then fold the bottom half up over that, making a neat package with layers of fat between the pastry folds. Give the pastry a half turn so the open end is facing you, then roll out again to the same size oblong as before. Repeat with the next (alternative) fat, and roll out as before. After dotting the pastry with fat and folding for the third time, do not roll, but place the pastry in a poly bog and leave to stand in a cool place for 15 minutes, then roll out as before, dot with the last remaining fat, fold and roll out again. If the pastry appears streaky give one final fold (without fat), turn and roll again.

As a guide, 8 oz of pastry will cover an 8" diameter plate. Any surplus pastry can always be chilled or frozen to be used another time.

Spare egg whites keep for up to two weeks in a covered jar the fridge, so never throw them away, and as this next recipe for Eccles cakes uses 1 egg white , this could be the one left over after making the ravioli filling. Left-over egg yolks can only be stored for a couple of days in a covered container in the fridge (mixing with a pinch of salt), and can be used in custards, lemon curd, rich pastry, mayonnaise, scrambled eggs, and using to bind burgers or patties. Those who plan their cooking in advance should then be able to made the most of the left-over separated eggs.
Eccles cakes are very similar to other regional variations. Coventry Godcakes are made with much the same ingredients, but triangular shaped. Banbury cakes are rolled into oblongs with pointed ends.
Eccles Cakes:
8 oz (225g) flaky pastry, well chilled
1 oz (25g) butter, melted
1 rounded tblsp soft brown sugar
4 os (100g) currants or raisins
pinch mixed spice
1 rounded tblsp chopped candied peel
1 egg white, lightly beaten
caster sugar
To make the filling, stir the brown sugar and butter together, wash the dried fruit, drain - but while still wet - and add, with the spice and peel to the butter/sugar.
Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut in 6" (15cm) rounds (place a saucer on the pastry and cut round this). Put a rounded tablespoon of the filling mixture in the centre of each round, brush the edges of the pastry with water, then draw up to the centre and pinch together to seal. Turn the pastry over, and roll gently so that the fruit is just becoming visible, but keep the cakes round.
Traditionally three small cuts are made on the top, the visible surface brushed with egg white and dusted with caster sugar. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 220C, 425F, gas 7 for 10 -15 minutes or until golden.