Mini Tartes Tatins

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RECIPE: Actually three recipes in one (Mini Tartes Tatins, Delicate Sweet Pastry and Fruit Glaze), these tarts were fairly easy to follow, but you definitely need to be precise and follow the instructions. The recipe asked for a combination of Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples, which at this time of year I was unable to get, so I had to use only Granny Smiths.

COMPONENTS: It’s very important to freeze the rolled pastry before cutting it. What the recipe doesn’t tell you is it’s best to let it sit for half a minute once you take it out of the freezer because if you cut straight away the pastry sheet cracks. The lightly floured circles of pastry lifted up with the cutter, which meant you could gently pop them out on to the baking tray. I cut them to 3mm thick but then they spread in the oven so ended up being more like 2mm, which was a bit thin. My heart always races when making caramel, which doesn’t help. I made a perfect caramel, then poured it onto the apples before adding the water and butter. It immediately set to toffee, which I then had to remove before starting the caramel again. It worked perfectly the second time with the water and butter added at the appropriate time. Keep hands away from the sugar as you add the warm water – it spits. I baked the apple in a shallow baking tray with the caramel, but what is important is that the apple is in a single layer so the liquid can reduce properly at the end of the bake (mine was more like a double layer). I pressed the apple in a fine sieve to remove the last of the liquid before placing it into the moulds. The fruit glaze was straightforward and doesn’t take long. I did realise halfway through grating the citrus peel (fortunately before I added it to the sugar mix) that the recipe had said to use a peeler so it was possible to strain it out at the end.

ASSEMBLY: The apple took longer than the suggested hour to become firm enough in the freezer to push out on to the moulds. Fully frozen is fine, and the glaze works beautifully spooned over a the apples on a rack before putting the apple on the pastry.

IMPRESSIONS: This tasted okay but they were more tart than I expected, which may have been because of my choice of apples. The apple texture wasn’t that exciting. Having said that, everyone at work raved about them, possibly because they weren’t overly sweet like tarts can be sometimes. It was a good exercise for practicing technique, but I probably wouldn’t bake this one again.

Recipe from Patisserie by Christophe Felder

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Choux au Craquelin

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RECIPE: My aim was to attempt choux pastry, which meant that I dissected the pear and apple choux recipe for the parts I wanted, namely the choux buns and the crackle finish. I filled it with a basic crème pâtissiére from the croquembouche recipe in the same book. I didn’t have gel colour, so substituted liquid colour. This added more liquid to the recipe, but it didn’t seem to ruin it. I used leftover banana creme to assemble the little lady 🙂

COMPONENTS: First job is the crème pâtissiére, as it needs to cool for a few hours before use. Having curdled custard many times, I stirred this like crazy, not stopping for a second. I didn’t cook it as long as the recipe required because it became thick very fast and I was scared of overcooking it, as it had SOOO many egg yolks in it. I froze the egg whites, as they can still be used in meringues after being frozen. It was a big relief to store my perfect custard in the fridge, ready to add later. The trick with the craquelin is to roll it to the thickness you need at the end before putting it in the fridge to cool. It doesn’t hold together too well when you’re assembling the buns but it didn’t seem to matter that I wasn’t applying perfect discs of even thickness.

I’m not sure how, but my choux pastry worked first time. I liked the tip that it was ready when a spoon will stand in the mix. I piped the choux dough onto the tray and used the method of cooking at high heat initially then reducing the heat of the oven to finish. Baking the choux didn’t go quite so well. There is a reason recipes tell you NOT to open the oven door while the pastry is cooking. I couldn’t resist on one batch because I was worried my old dysfunctional oven was burning the ones at the back. The result can be seen below. The bun on the left was cooked according to instructions; the one on the right was when I opened the oven during the bake!

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Rather than spend a lot of time explaining how to perfect your choux pastry, I suggest you read this page by Dini the Flavor Bender – she does an excellent job.

ASSEMBLY: About three-quarters of my choux buns weren’t flat and were suitable for filling. The craquelin worked well. I put the crème pâtissiére in a piping bag but didn’t have a good-sized nozzle. The one I used put a bigger hole in the bottom than ideal. It piped perfectly, with the custard helping to fill out some of the buns that had collapsed. I used the banana cream to stick the two buns together and then used a star nozzle to pipe some as decoration around the join.

IMPRESSION: I’ve still got work to do with choux pastry, but I’m pretty happy with how most of these turned out. I only had enough suitable buns to make about four little ladies, the rest had visual faults of some sort. They still tasted marvellous.

Recipe from Zumbo by Adriano Zumbo

Shortcrust Pastry

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RECIPE: I’ve made shortcrust pastry many times from a large assortment of recipes. I often have trouble with shrinkage. I wanted to try this one because there was so much detail provided and I wondered if a few additional steps would be worth it. Despite all the detail about how to create your pastry, you’re left hanging at the end with a pastry lined tin, and I wasn’t sure whether to blind bake, or just put my filling straight into the raw case.

COMPONENTS: After you semi-rub in the butter into the flour, you sprinkle over chilled vinegar and quite a lot of chilled water and you’re thinking how can all this water combine into this pastry and not leave me with a soggy mess? Smearing it with the heel of your hand across the counter to combine it works though! To roll the pastry I used my new silicone pastry mat that my sister gave me for Christmas. It means that you don’t need to flour the bench when you’re rolling the pastry, which reduces the risk of the ingredients going out of balance and your pastry becoming too dry. I made the pastry at night and put it in the fridge overnight in a flat disc, then rolled it in the morning, chilled it again and baked it that night. You can’t get much more simple than a Quiche Lorraine filling. Beat three eggs with about 300-350ml total of cream and milk and throw in a bit of bacon or ham.

ASSEMBLY: Chilling it after rolling it definitely seems to reduce shrinkage (the gluten gets a chance to relax). Adding a decorative trim worked okay but it baked faster and ended up darker than I would have liked. I may have avoided the over-baking on the top edge by skipping the short blind bake. I added a Quiche Lorraine filling, which worked well.

IMPRESSION: This is a nice buttery version of shortcrust, and I really liked the depth of the instructions. Oh and it didn’t shrink at all!

Recipe for shortcrust pastry from Bourke Street Bakery by Paul Allam
Recipe for Quiche Lorraine from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 1 by Julia Child