24. Knished! – Eastern Europe

After watching a Woody Allan film ‘Whatever Works’, I was intrigued to find out exactly what a Knish is , the food that Larry David’s character loves so much.

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It turns out that it's a traditionally Jewish Pastry usually filled with oniony mashed potato. Curious, I signed myself up to the Knish challenge.

All of the recipes online varied massively. One site gave a recipe for 5 dozen or 58 knishes. This would be a bit excessive for me and my 5 friends to eat. I settled for a more basic version and (yes you guessed it) modified it slightly.

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I peeled and boiled 3 large baking potatoes but then proceeded to drop lots of them (and the glass pan lid) into the sink. So after disposing of the sink potatoes I guess I actually had about 2 and a half potatoes mashed up in the end.

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The chopped onions had to be fried in rather a lot of vegetable oil until soft and translucent whilst I messed around with pastry making.

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Its a very simple recipe with flour, oil and water. Again I threw it in the food processor to bring all the ingredients together but you could use a spoon instead ūüôā

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needed kneading

It needed kneading until smooth then it needed a rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Enough time for a cup of tea and to stir the onions.

The pastry seemed a bit dry. This might be because the recipe that didn’t include an egg, where as some of the other put 1 or 2 eggs in the pastry. To remedy this I kneaded a little more water in until I was happy with it.

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Divided

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I chopped the dough into 12 pieces and rolled each piece into a thin circle about 7 inches in diameter.

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Then a quick slick of vegetable oil on the pastry before dolloping a lot of oniony mashed potato in the middle. There is no way I accurately measured this. Perhaps a handful of potato? (I’m sure this is how the professionals do it.)

I tucked up the edges and spread a little egg wash where pastry met pastry to help it seal shut (in theory).

12 Knish balls later and they were ready for a generous egg wash and the oven.

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In hindsight I should have popped a little air vent in the top of each Knish to avoid this Knish mass explosion. There was more mashed potato on the tray rather than in the Knish. This is another danger of making it up as you go along after catching a fleeting glimpse of what it should look like in a film.

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Knish Catastrophe

Nevertheless they tasted pretty good. If I’m being a little critical perhaps a tad on the greasy side, but I bet it would be a¬† perfect hangover cure!

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If you ignore the mashed potato hanging out the sides of the Knish it looks exactly like how I imagined it would…

There are other flavour variations you can try too if you’re not a mashed potato fan, like meat. I thinkimage its a bit like a pasty so you can have fun with it!

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Sideways Knish

Things I used:

Pastry:
1 and half cups of plain flour
1 top baking powder
Half a cup of water ( and more as needed)
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Filling:
2 and a half large baking potatoes
2 large white onions
Salt
Cracked black pepper (to season)
A cup of vegetable oil

1 egg to seal and wash pastry with

22. Blood, Sweat and Baklava – Greece

This is without doubt the most epic bake that¬†I have ever attempted. I’ve eaten Baklava in Greece, Turkey and Morocco. It is divine and very moreish¬†with its honey soaked pastry. It’s one of my favourite sweet treats. I’ve been planning on attempting it for a while but was a bit hesitant to attempt Filo¬†pastry from scratch as every book, including my Greek cookery book, said to buy it ready made pastry!

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Baklava

Undeterred I asked my foodie¬†friends for some advice on Twitter and was very kindly assisted by @bakingelements¬†who sent me a Michel Roux Filo recipe from his ‘Pastry’ book. Thank you so much for your help. Without those photos I couldn’t have done it!!

Filo requires a lot of time and patience. It’s really not for the faint hearted. The dough itself is quite a basic concoction, flour, water, salt mixed in the food processor with a dough hook. Seems simple enough…

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Then pour in oil while its mixing and wait until its all combined.

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It becomes rather sticky and stringy at this point.

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My new food processor was thoroughly christened in sticky dough in the process too… Cotton buds to the rescue!

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Then it required about 5 minutes of extra working on a cornfloured board. I had to add a lot of extra flour as it was SO incredibly sticky

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When it was worked sufficiently I measured it precisely (can you believe it? With scales and everything!) into 60g¬†chunks. They had to rest in a cool place for 2hours on a floured tray covered in cling film so it didn’t dry out.

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Pain in the pistachios

This gave me enough time to de shell and husk a whole bag of pistachio nuts. (Note to self. Please buy nuts without their shells in the future.) This is 45minutes of my life I will never, EVER get back. I broke a couple of nails and showered the kitchen in shells when in desperation I smashed the nuts with the stick bit of the pestle and mortar. Not to mention the nips and cuts the little blighters gave me.

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Mixed Nuts

Into the food processor 1lb of mixed nuts I threw, the damn pistachios, whole almonds and walnuts. A quick whizz to chop them up and I added sugar, cloves, cinnamon and some pre chopped almonds.

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To help speed up the chilling process I popped the pastry into the fridge for a bit whilst prepping the pastry board and a vast supply of cornflour.

Now for the tricky and even more time consuming bit. Michel Roux had sensibly instructed me to prepare 60g balls of dough so I had manageable chunks to roll out. However I was also working with 2 separate Baklava recipes which suggested working with a round cake tin and a rectangular tray. Whilst trying to stretch this delicate pastry out I realised there was no way on earth I was ever going to get it to the length and width needed to fit such a long tray and of course roll it to the required 0.5mm thinness!!

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Still a bit too thick...

I decided to use a smaller square tin and ad lib from all 3 recipes that I was following. I greased and lined the tin in preparation.

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The first piece of rolling was lovely, dusting it with flour and gently rolling it out. I can’t believe I actually thought ‘brilliant this is going to be fun’. I lost count of how many sheets of Filo¬†I rolled but as soon as you kind of get it to the right size and try to pick it up, it stretches, so its too¬†big for the tin! Then it tears! And somehow your supposed to brush it with butter evenly too whilst it crinkles up and become more of a patchwork quilt. I had to trim bit here and there and add extra bits to cover the holes but I got there in the end.

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The first fantastically even and smooth layer. Look it reaches the edges (almost)!

I realised that 60g was too much per layer so had to divide each chunk into 4 to get the right thinness and to ensure I had enough layers to go round. I have feeling you’re supposed to let the pastry rest after rolling it but I didn’t have the time. I also had to stretch each piece to fit inside the tin so it was really practicable either.

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The actual amount of dough per layer pre rolling

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Post rolling (not quite a square...)

I also missed the step in the recipe that said you’re supposed to start with 8 layers of pastry on the bottom before you add any layers of nuts and sugar. I had 2 bottom layers and there was no going back. I was in Baklava lasagna mania and only had 2 hours to finish the whole thing.

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So so thin

I’m not sure how much butter I used but I had to refill the pan 3 times along the way.

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Excuse the messy Filo jigsaw

My theory was 2 layers of pastry then a layer of nuts. I attempted to butter both sides of the Filo that was to sit on top of the nuts, which is probably totally unnecessary but the paranoia of dry Filo was setting in. Each time I added a layer I had to cover the pan in cling film too to stop it drying out too.

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The top layer with 8 layers of Filo and a generous butter coating!!

Before cooking it I took my sharpest knife and cut it into cubes

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Precarious cutting through many layers.

I popped it in the fridge (but forgot the cling film!!) then set about simmering the syrup of honey, lemon juice, sugar, water and cinnamon. I added some rose water too.

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Start of syrup.

The Baklava needed 35mins of baking while the pan simmered. I almost burnt the syrup as I wanted to reduce it further and salvaged it by dunking the hot pan into cold water to stop it cooking.

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Nicely caramalised... Definitely not burnt.

Once the Baklava was crisp and golden it was ready to be drown in thick syrup.

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Crisp and golden Baklava

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Syrup soaked

I added a garnish of chopped nuts (I still have a bag left over so probably wouldn’t make as much next time) and some more syrup to top it off. Apparently it needs 4 hours to cool so I wrapped it in a towel and carried it to my friends house for our pudding. It definitely didn’t last long enough to cool for 4 hours!!

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Toppings

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Baklava Heaven

I was hoping after all the time and effort it would be ok and it really really was. The syrup soaked into every layer making a gorgeously sticky delight! Even with less pastry on the bottom it held together and cooked all the way through!

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Piles and piles of Baklava

I’m happy with my Filo¬†experiment. I generally hate making pastry and this almost killed me. There was a lot of energy spent in making this so I don’t feel guilty in the slightest that I ate 2 massive pieces in one go. It did take an entire day to make but what an achievement! Now I’ve made Filo¬†once I know I can do it but perhaps I might buy some ready made if I was going to attempt it again.

I’m now going for a lie down ūüôā

*Recipes taken from:

Filo Pastry Michel Roux РPastry Requires: 400g plain flour; 6g fine salt; 330ml water heated to 50 degrees C; 30ml olive oil; cornflour to dust

Baklava Recipe  Requires: 1 quantity of Filo Pastry; 1lb chopped nuts, cloves, cinnamon, 1 cup of butter, 1/3 cup of sugar

Syrup: 1 cup water; 1 cup sugar; 1/2 cup honey; 1 cinnamon stick; (I added an extra sprinkle of ground cinnamon); 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and I added 1 tablespoon of essence of rose water too.

The Traditional Greek Cookery Book Toubis Edition 2006

 

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5. Viennese Apple Strudel – Austria (The 4 Foot Pastry Monster- most tricky bake yet)

This week I may have baked myself into oblivion. Following my muffin experiment I wanted to explore a country that I am still yet to visit, Austria. (which I am assured is not in Germany and Prussia no longer exists). We went to our friends’ beautiful wedding last weekend where I was kindly given a boatload of homegrown apples. Congratulations and thank you James and Lara they are very tasty! This is my second bake using said apples.

James and Lara's Wedding Apples

I wanted to find an authentic recipe for something a bit more challenging, stepping up the baking ante. I chose a rather traditional Viennese Apple Strudel Recipe. This involved an enormous amount of apples and butter and yet another pastry effort.

Peeling and chopping a mountain of apples and simultaneously sauteing my previous homemade baguettes in butter I got stuck in.

Best Oxfam purchase ever

Sauteed Baguette

The pastry was epic! My poor little electric whisk started to smell like the blown out birthday candles and I fear it will never be the same again. There’s pastry still trapped inside, even after a took a knife to it, to coax it out!

Poor little whisk

The recipe called for a 4 foot length of cloth to stretch the 4 feet of pastry out on. I’m not even sure my workbench is 4 foot long?! With limited resources yet again I found a subsitiute for cotton, in cling film. (I don’t think this is the traditional method in Austria,) Selotaping vast amounts of cling film to the bench seemed to be my best bet.¬†I felt like the Cling Film¬†Queen.¬†Christening my new fabuolous rolling pin, I set to work flattening it all out and stretching the pastry to within an inch of it’s life.

Miles and Miles of Pastry (new rolling pin!)

Then to add the filling and breadcrumbs quickly before the pastry fell apart.¬†It was very delicate. I had to coat the inside in even more butter, in addition to the extra chunks of butter the recipe requested to accompany the apples and raisins! I hope my guests like butter…

I thought the next bit would be really difficult, folding the pastry over to roll it all up. I was very proud of myself when I got to this¬†point. Who needs 4 feet of cloth to wrap up a strudel?! I thought whimsically.¬†It wasn’t easy, I hasten to add, as the cling film kept tearing but what was still yet to come almost had me in tears…

Roll Up! Roll Up!

Entering in to my second hour of preparation I was getting to that almost frazzled point and needed some stroke of genius to enlighten me as to how I was going to a) get this 4 foot pastry monster out of the cling film and b) on to my quite small baking tray.

I made sure this time I greased the paper very well! But every little attempt to move the strudel made the corners of the apple chunks inside poke through the pastry. Patting down the increasingly thin pastry I went for the Band Aid Method, throw it into the tray and rip off the cling film. I was up to my elbows in butter by this point. Hallelujah! It was on the tray in a Horseshoe shape. Phew!

A Horseshoe Shape?

Now you may notice the obvious mistake here. Despite having the recipe printed out in front of me (without any photos) I still managed to misread it! This is getting beyond a joke. Is my eyesight or my brain failing me? I may have to start wearing my glasses whilst baking. The recipe prescribed half of the bread crumbs to be put¬†into the mix which I successfully did. Then in all the excitement of rolling it up, I thought it said to sprinkle the rest on the strudel. I realised, to my horror, after I sprinkled them all over the final product I had missed a step. The recipe said to put them inside the strudel just before rolling. Damn!! I had a good giggle at my stupidity though. It wasn’t life or death, but I was worried the breadcrumbs would burn and smell like burnt toast.

I'm ready for my close up and look a little twisted but that's ok

Thankfully it was ok in the end! It smelled quite lovely, but as it was now 11pm I wasn’t in the mood for sampling it. Also we had friends coming over the following evening for food so I wanted to save it for them.

No smell of burnt toast at all ūüôā

A quick reheat in the oven and lashings of custard and the strudel was a success!

It was well received

The sweet apples and raisins contrasted nicely with the savoury pastry. It should also feed the 5 thousand as it’s enormous. 4 of us hardly put a dent in it! Please send tupperware, or even bring a plate and you can have a slice!

The Final Slice

I may have now reached my pastry capacity now. I may explode. Next bake will have to be something a little different I think…

2. My Oh My! My First Apple Pie! England

If I’m ever going to fit in baking eighty things I realised that I need to get cracking. After a little post work trip to the pub I decided to make use of all the apples that we have in the house and attempt my first ever complete pie!

My Nana used to bake an Apple Pie for Sunday tea every week when all the family would congregate at her house in Sunderland. So it seems right that I bake a proper English Apple Pie. I (loosely) used this recipe for the Ultimate Apple Pie.

I didn’t really consider how much time it would take to peel, core and slice 1kg¬†of apples,.¬†After almost taking off a finger tip or two, I succeeded in chopping up rather a lot of apple. I couldn’t quite figure out if the recipe required 1kg¬†of apples pre- chopping and coring or after, so I threw in¬†a couple more for good measure.

Unfortunately I forgot to purchase an adult sized rolling pin so the pastry was a bit on the thick and lumpy side. The recipe called for golden caster sugar, which does not exist in my cupboard.  Instead I concocted my own, from muscovado brown sugar and granulated sugar. This resulted in a rather grainy textured pastry. Probably not what the professionals would do but by this time I had invested too much to start again, so on I ploughed.

miniature Rolling Pin ( Also note Hello Kitty toaster in the background)

I probably should have checked that I owned the correct size pie dish before I began. But who ever thought about planning that far in advance? This didn;t occur to me til I noticed that I had a ridiculous amount of pastry for my little enamel pie dish and that I had rolled it to a similar thickness of turf. I tried to roll it out a little more, but how on earth do you get it into the dish without tearing it?!! I seem to have perfected what can only be described as a ‘pastry flip’, almost like what you do with a pancake, but using pastry flattened onto cling film instead. It did the job and I tried to thin it out further by hand.

In addition to the new sugar combination I decided to stray further from the recipe to my peril. I thought surely with that vast amount of pastry the base will need a bit of blind baking, so I ad libbed. Dangerous. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Then came the fun bit, trying to squash as many of the¬†cinnamon apples¬†into the tin as possible. They look a bit like chips…

Chips or Apples?

Then to carry out another pastry flip. On with the lid. It wasn’t that easy to join the lid to the partially baked base (Maybe that’s why they tell you not to blind bake it? So you get a proper seal?)¬†The result? It didn’t really look anything like what my Nana would bake.¬†More like a pie Desperate Dan may have mistaken as containing an entire cow…

Too many apples inside? Desperate Dan would be proud.

I still had loads of pastry left so I thought I would invent something else. Using my Yorkshire Pudding tin I made some mini apple pies, or cricket balls filled with apple. All that was left to do was to slap on a coat of egg wash with my new pastry brush and whack them into the oven.

Apple filled cricket balls in a Yorkshire Pudding tin.

There seemed to be a lot of apple escaping from my modest steam vent and coating the bottom of the oven, but fret not. They looked a good colour! By this time it was about 11.30pm so it was way past apple pie eating time. I let it cool overnight and then kept it in the fridge for a Sunday treat. I just had a piece and I was very happy with it! I think the lumpy sugar must have melted in the oven, as there was not a chunk to be seen.

The end product

Although it was quite difficult to remove from the tin (a spoon had to be deployed) the pastry was most definitely cooked. I’m not completely sure if there’s supposed to be such a gap between the lid and the filling, but it all tastes the same. Complimented by a splash of custard of course too. The little cricket balls were rather pastry heavy but the Yorkshire Pudding tin worked a treat.¬† A perfectly handsized¬†pudding and a good accompaniment to our road trip, providing much needed sustenance when we broke down yesterday! I’ve created a slideshow below of all the photos…

ps. Still no news from Paul Hollywood. I guess my Tarte au Citron efforts weren’t up to his standards… I’m very excited to watch the final Great British Bake Off on Tuesday!!! I’ve already ordered the book and Mary Berry’s very 70’s cook book which may help to alleviate the GBBO withdrawal symptoms.

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1.The First Bake! France – Tarte au Citron

First stop on my gastronomical tour of the world is France. I’ve only been once to Paris 4 years ago rather spontaneously and I loved it. Plenty of croque monsieurs and orangina to be consumed and of course beautiful sights to be seen.

 

Paris 2007

 

I decided to embark in an all day baking frenzy on Sunday. Beginning with my first experimental venture into pastry making stumbled slightly after my trip to the supermarket, sans ingredients list, meant that I had to make a second trip to purchase cream and lemons, those two vital ingredients to Tarte au Citron.

I love Tarte au Citron, but even when I was in Paris I didn’t actually get to sample it. I vividly remember an amazing tarte au pomme however. I mainly eat this desert whenever I go to Thorntons Cafe. I could eat it everyday, which is good because I¬†will be eating this for this entire week.

After one false start, all systems were go. I threw caution to the wind mixing up the pastry ingredients. Now from watching the Great British Bake Off (from hereonafter I will soley refer to as GBBO as I will refer to it excessively throughout), I know that pastry can be frozen to make it more pliable, so into the freezer the sticky mess went. I also picked up how to roll the pastry between cling film to stop it sticking to everything. Which was a life saver or in this case, a tarte saver.

I had to buy a special tin to make the tarte in and so my other cooking equipment is somewhat rudimentary to say the least. I am using a childs size silicon rolling pin which doesnt make for even rolling of pastry, with it being more suited to childrens play dough, nevertheless I pressed on.

With a few mumbled shouts of, ‘I hate pastry!!’ and ‘this is so difficult!!’,¬†eminiating from the kitchen and one or two failed attempts to get the semi flattened dough into the tin; after dropping said tin onto the floor and having to wash it again. I managed to successfully wrestle the dough into the tin and press it into shape. If only I had remembered GBBO tip of using a wedge of pastry to press the stuff into the tin! That would have been good, but c’est la vie.

Again, making do with the cheaper version,¬†I poured a whole packet of kidney beans into my tin and blind baked the tarte. Perhaps I added a smidge too many beans as the bottom was still raw after it’s allotted time. A little thinking on my feet and a bit more baking and it was good to go. A skewer came in handy to lance the pastry that had grown a bit too much in the oven and it was time for the filling.

I love my electric whisk. It made whisking all the eggs, cream, sugar and lemon so easy and salvaged the mess I made of it. Note to self. I must read recipes properly!! This is not an unusual error on my part. I generally get creative with recipes and guess measurements and substitute ingredients for what¬†ever is in the cupboard…¬†BUT this time¬†I totally misread the method,¬†throwing everything in together only to be soaked in cream and eggs when I switched on the mixer. That will teach me for using my smart phone to bake from. Too much touch screen and unlocking of phones makes for a sloppy chef.¬†Apparently it’s advisable to whisk the eggs first. To fix this cream-up-walls and all over me¬†issue,¬†I¬†wrapped a towel round the bowl to capture all the escaping cream and protect the walls. Whisking¬†it all up until it looked a bit frothy. (That’s the technical term for this, right?)

It seemed to work! I christened my new cooling rack, bought special for the occasion (no more using the microwave stand for me!). After a bit of time in the fridge and a light dusting of icing sugar it was ready to eat. It did not disappoint!

Le Tarte au Citron in all it's technicolour glory

Sharp and smooth, with perfectly cooked pastry! Not soggy, nor dry and overcooked. Somehow I got it right!?! And I would know, having watched all those judges on GBBO! On a side note I have also tweeted #Hollywoodbaker GBBO judge my Tarte au Citron pictures to enter the twitter technical bake challenge… let’s see what he thinks!

Look at that pastry!

I declare this pastry technical challenge complete (and suprisingly a success!)

So that was France, where to next???