Saturday 7 February 2009

Crossing Continents...

Thursday morning. Finally, after days of growling skies and almost incessant rain, the sun broke through the clouds, and we had a few hours of spring sunshine before having to head to the airport. Necessary, in order to complete a few garden tasks that wouldn't very well wait for the two weeks we're due to be in London. Like, retrieving and re-positioning the planter-basket of water lilies which I noticed at Christmas had broken free from its moorings, and had plunged gently to the bottom of the vasca...two metres of chilly water below. A malodorous and messy job - but definitely one that couldn't have waited any longer, as it was clear that the plants were already coming out of hibernation, and new shoots were evident as the basket broke the surface, streaming water and bottom-of-the-vasca ooze.

In general, the garden is coming alive: crocus tips just visible through the leaves of the vinca minor; the japanese camellia showing half a dozen pure white blooms; cohorts of narcissus thrusting into the open; strong new growth in the iris bed; buds about to break open on the magnolias...

The cymbidium plants have flowered gloriously this year - one of them more generously than the other, presumably because the latter is in need of re-potting - and I carefully transferred them to the loggia for our time away, where they should do well, out of the rain, but with plenty of daylight.

And back to London - to the four-footeds, and the grubby remains of the snow. The grass of Kensington Gardens weirdly populated with white-ish lumps that presumably denoted ex-snowmen...which, in their prime, must have resembled the terracotta army, ranked across the lawns and between the trees. And every one of which required thorough canine examination...just in case. Because, you never know.

A dietarily-focused couple of weeks is planned, to address the aftermath of a sedentary and food-filled period since Christmas. No pasta, or pastry, or risotto...or potatoes, or bread. In theory, we ought to go on the wagon at the same time, but the TD is disinclined to do it, and I know I don't have the will-power to manage it alone! The question is whether or not I have the will-power to manage to avoid all the rest!

Tonight's Dinner:

Tiger Prawns, in a Vermouth & Paprika & Cream sauce.

Pork, roast in Mustard; roast Parsnips

Apple & Vanilla Tarts

Sunday 1 February 2009

How to make Puff Pastry...

After an initial disaster or two, many years ago, I gave up on making puff pastry, and pretended (to myself) that the commercially-made alternative was good enough. Which it isn't. At the first bite, the flavour of home-made puff pastry is immeasurably better than any commercial product - and although it involves a few stages in production, the aggregate time it takes to make a batch is no more than twenty minutes or so. Good to do in tandem with some other mundane garden or household task from which you'll happily take an enforced break once every hour!

I can't remember now what it was that went wrong with my early efforts - although I suspect it was because I was trying to go the purist route, and use the block of butter in one large lump, which is pretty challenging for the uninitiated. If you get the temperature of the butter wrong, you just end up with a sticky mess that gets wrapped around the rolling pin and tries to attach itself to all available surfaces within reach. Quite probably, including the ceiling.

The method I use is adapted from Gaston Le Nôtre, who is to be trusted implicitly in all matters pâtisserie. His method for choux pastry is equally straightforward and completely foolproof. I disagree with him, though, when he says that this puff pastry needs to be used on the day it is made - in practice, it's fine in the fridge for three or four days afterwards, and any off-cuts can perfectly safely be frozen for future use.

To make sufficient pastry for one large double crust pie, or half a dozen or so individual pastries:

Ingredients: 2 cups '00' Flour (you don't have to use '00' - ordinary 'Plain Flour' would work, too, but '00'is lighter and has a distinctively good flavour...whereas Plain Flour is just...flavourless Plain Flour); 130g Butter, at room temperature; 1.5 tsp Salt; 0.5 cup cold Water; 130g Butter, fridge-chilled and cut into small pieces.


1. Process all of the ingredients apart from the chilled Butter for a minute or so,until they form a homogenous ball within the bowlof the processor. Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for an hour.

2. On a floured work surface, roll the ball of pastry into a strip approximately 18" x 6". On two thirds of this strip of pastry, place the pieces of chilled Butter.

3. Fold the uncovered third of pastry over half of the pieces of Butter, and then fold this again over the remaining pieces of Butter so that all of the Butter pieces are contained within an 'envelope' of pastry.

4. Turn the pastry so that one of the open ends of the roll is facing you, and roll it - gently pressing down with the rolling pin as you do so, to flatten the Butter inside the pastry - into a strip about 16" in length.

5. Fold both ends of the strip towards the middle,and then fold these once more into themselves. Turn the 'package' through ninety degrees, and repeat the rolling and folding process. Refrigerate the folded 'package' for an hour.

6. After an hour, repeat the rolling, folding and turning process twice more, and refrigerate.

7. After another hour, roll and fold the pastry twice more (making it six times in total, with two one-hour breaks in between for it to rest and re-chill).

The pastry is now ready to be used.