An Introduction to Baking at Leiths, week 3…

Week 3 brings us treacle tarts and smoked haddock and spinach gougeres, neither of which were in my everyday repertoire. The gougere involves choux pastry so is always going to get the seal of approval from me and treacle tarts always seems a fabulously old school pudding to be, one that should be served in Mallory Towers with hot custard that tastes so good you eat too much and have to visit Matron…can you tell I have an unfulfilled fantasy  to go to the boarding schools of Enid Blyton’s imagination…?!

Sweet shortcrust pastry is one of those things that you can make in a few minutes using a food processor at the start or you can make in many, many, many minutes using two butter knives and a scissor motion through the butter and flour. Which one did I choose? Obviously the one that took a ridiculously long period of time and exhausted my arms beyond belief.

I have a funny ‘thing’ in that I’m all for speed and ease and using the tools of today to make something fabulous but I think you should really know how to do it using the tools of the past which would be your own fair hands. I think there’s a certain element of romance that comes from being able to make something the way it’s been done for hundreds of years hence the seeming eternity of time it took me to make this pastry. I’d like to say that the tarts tasted a million times better as a result too…

…I said I’d like to. I didn’t say I would. This technique is a once only one for me…life’s too short. If you spend too much time making the dessert, there might not be enough time to eat it. Think about it.

There’s definitely a sense of satisfaction to be had from lining your little cases with your own homemade pastry though, using your fingers to gently push down and around each flute on the tin. I’d always thought that using a small pea sized ball of leftover pastry was the best way to do it but I learnt that the danger with that is that you push the pastry too much and it gets too thin and fragile around the metal flutes. Using your little finger in the grooves is a better way of ensuring the pastry doesn’t rub into holes.

week 3 tarts

Filling them with a glorious, bubbling mixture of golden syrup, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs with a generous squeeze of lemon to cut through the sweetness was immensely satisfying as was taking them out of them oven to see them beautifully risen.

A generous dollop of creme fraiche to add a tartness to the dish was all that was needed to conclude that yes, in fact, these were delicious. Alright, it’s not like that wasn’t already bleeding obvious but still, it’s good to know these things for sure and I’m happy to take this official taster job on selflessly for you dear reader…

tarts 2 week 3 g

I love choux pastry. I love Parmesan cheese. So the frankly genius idea of combining both was always going to get a double thumbs up from me. May I present the gougere, a savoury baked choux pastry where cheese meets pastry in a blissful union.

Choux pastry is fairly simple but as I have proved spectacularly to myself in the past, it’s also simple to mess up. The key is to whisk super vigorously when you add the flour to the molten butter water. Mix, mix, mix and if the pastry gods are smiling on you, the pastry will come together in a big ball that comes away from the edges of the pan. Now spread it on a plate to cool to body temperature, beat in eggs until it’s smooth and shiny and you’re ready to go.

week 3 c week 3 b

This is of course the point where you could make gorgeous little savoury profiteroles or, keeping it cheese free, gorgeous little sweet profiteroles stuffed with salted caramel cream…or eclairs filled with a delicate rose flavoured cream…BTW, Fortnum & Mason do THE most amazing rose water eclair ever. I realise that’s got nothing to do with cheesy pastry but you really should be made aware of it because it’s freaking insanely good.

Anyway, in this case the pastry is used to line a loaf tin and then baked until it’s golden, puffed and a thing of edible beauty. Now you could put whatever you wanted inside to bake again…chicken and pancetta in a creamy white wine sauce…roasted peppers and artichokes with softened greens…pretty much everything is going to taste good when it comes wrapped in it’s own little blanket of soft yet crispy, golden brown and Parmesan scented pastry.

On this occasion we used fresh haddock, perfectly poached in milk and mixed with creme fraiche, nutmeg, salt, pepper and wilted spinach. We sprinkled more Parmesan and breadcrumbs on the top because why the heck wouldn’t you and baked it once more in the oven delivering after 20 minutes, a wonderful dinner served with salad and sauteed peppers and tomatoes. It’s much lighter than you might imagine because the pastry is much fluffier than it looks. This is a winning meal and one that I’m grateful to have learnt.

week 3 e week 3 f

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