Friday, April 11, 2014

Empadas - A Baker's Odyssey Personal Challenge #35

Not to be confused with Empanadas.
These gorgeous little pies are a Portuguese favourite with delicious buttery pastry and a savoury filling of tuna, onions, olives and a bit of cayenne. After a long lag I continue baking my way through one of my favourite baking books A Baker's Odyssey by Greg Patent.
I made a few substitutions but the flavour of these pies was amazing. Serve for lunch with a salad or as Greg suggests cut into four to serve as an appetiser. Either way these pies are yum!

makes 24

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped pimento stuffed olives
2 x 185g tuna packed in olive oil, drained
pinch cayenne
1/2 cup canned tomato puree
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 chicken stock cube
3 tablespoons plain flour
5 tablespoons milk
salt and pepper to season

Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion and saute until softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, olives and tuna. Continue cooking and stirring for a few minutes. Mix in the cayenne, tomato puree and tomato paste. Cook for a minute or two then crumble in the stock cube. In a small bowl mix the milk and flour. Add this mixture to the tuna and stir, cooking until the mixture boils and thickens. Taste and season if necessary. Remove from heat and cool completely.


3 1/2 cups plain flour, plus more for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
250g butter, cold and chopped
3 large eggs, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

olive oil to coat muffin cups
2 tablespoon milk
24 Kalamata olives or stuffed green olives

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Rub in the butter until the mixture looks like crumbs. Add the eggs bit by bit, tossing with a fork.

The mixture will look ragged and clumpy. Use your hands to squeeze the mixture together. If you need add a few drops of water to bring the mixture together. Flour the work surface, scrape the dough onto it and turn to coat with flour. Shape into a log. Using the heal of your hand begin to smear portions of the dough away from you. When it's all been smeared (this mixes the butter and flour) gather up and form into a disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 180C and brush the muffin cups with oil. Divide the dough into 24 portions. Roll out to about a 10 cm circle. The finished pastry should extend a little above the muffin cup. Press the dough into the muffin cups.

Put a good spoonful of filling into each pie shell and carefully pull in the edges to cover the filling. Place an olive in the middle. Brush with milk.

Don't these pies look so cute!

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


The March 2014 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt. She challenged us to learn to make classic nougat and to make it our own with our choice of flavors and add-ins.

This month we Daring Bakers were challenge by Rebecca of BakeNQuilt to learn to make nougat. The first sentence of the notes went like this "Success in nougat (as with most candy-making) relies on an accurate thermometer, dry weather, no distractions, and preparing everything in advance so it’s ready to go when you need it." Hmmmmm, since we had had over 400 mm of torrential rain in the past week and humidity of 80% and above, it probably wasn't the "dry weather" that nougat calls for. But I thought I would still try my hand at making Nougat Torrone by the recipe Rebecca supplied. 

Growing up in  an Italian family torrone was an essential part of every Christmas with at least several bars of the imported Italian nougat consumed during this time. Homemade Torrone is an often served at weddings and other special events in our regional town. It is brittle, filled with almonds and flavoured with cinnamon, made by descendants of Sicilians who immigrated to Australia many years ago bringing with them their traditions and recipes. Even though my family always had store bought Torrone, I have watched and helped with the making of this Italian Torrone. So with this idea and Rebecca's recipe, I persisted.
The honey I purchase is a delicious and delicate light coloured and light flavoured honey from the blossom of a eucalyptus tree, Yellow Messmate. I would have liked to team it with the macadamias fresh from the tree but this was not to be. So instead I toasted almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios and ground a cinnamon stick to fine powder for flavouring.

But alas! The humidity dealt a cruel blow! Even though I took the sugar syrup and honey to a higher temperature the recommended the resulting torrone is soft and chewy not hard and brittle as I would have liked. Kept in the refrigerator the nougat doesn't reduce itself to a sticky mess.  Photos are taken quickly but then the torrone is hastily returned to the refrigerator. Sad!
I think the recipe is great but one must do what one is advised - You need DRY WEATHER to successfully make nougat. Check out Rebecca's post for all the details and the recipe.

Thanks Rebecca, I do think it is a delicious recipe that will work in the right conditions!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Beautiful Breads: The Daring Bakers' February, 2014 Challenge

Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste?

Bread baking has fascinated me since I first began baking many years ago. I may have only been 12 or 13 years old when I first tackled baking with yeast. My love for breads - baking and eating them - has never waned. This month with Daring Bakers and the help of Sawsan of Chef in Disguise, I discovered something new. These breads are layered with flavouring, savoury or sweet, then cut, twisted and shaped to form beautiful works of art. Have a look here for some amazing inspiration.
Thank you Sawsan for this wonderful challenge. You have inspired me to take baking bread to a whole new level!

These breads are fun and rewarding to make so much so that I made several different versions this month. First a pesto bread which my family enjoy for lunch with some salami, olives, cheese and marinated artichokes.

Then I made a Nutella filled bread, twice actually. This is delicous and loved by all.

Finally a combination of sumac, sesame seeds and dried thyme mix with a little olive oil filled my last bread. Lovely with roast chicken!

Pesto Bread


◦1 cup warm water
◦2 tsp yeast
◦2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for dusting work surface
◦1 Tbsp olive oil
◦1 tsp salt
◦1/2 cup or more pesto, purchased or homemade

 Mix the warm water and yeast in your stand mixer bowl. Allow to sit for 5/10 minutes until it froths up.
Add the flour, oil and salt and begin mixing on low. Knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Depending on the weather you may need to add a spoonful of flour if it seems a bit sticky. This can all of course be knead by hand - I simply always use my stand mixer even if I finish off by hand.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place until doubled.
Preheat your oven to 200C.
Divide into four equal portions plus a small ping pong ball size piece of dough. Working with the four larger portions roll out one portion to about 23cm in diameter. Spread with some pesto then repeat with the other 3 portions of dough sandwiching each with pesto. Leave the last round of dough bare of pesto!

Now cut through all the layers dividing the dough into 8 wedges. Make a slit in each wedge.

Take one of the triangles. Feed the tip of the triangle through the slit.

Bring it right through to form a twist. Repeat with the remaining 7 triangles.

Reform the circle onto a baking paper lined baking tray.

Bring the edges of each triangle together and pinch the dough as shown in the photo below. Now take the piece of ping pong ball size dough roll it into a long sausage shape then twirl into a snail shape. Place int he middle as shown. Allow the dough to rest 10/15 minutes.

Bake for 20/30 minutes until brown and cooked through.

I used this dough recipe provided by Sawsan for the Nutella bread

For the dough
1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) (50 gm) (1-3/4 oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3-1/4 cups (780 ml) (450 gm) (16 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, approximately
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) dry yeast
Nutella for between the layers

1. In a bowl whisk the egg with milk, water, sugar, butter and yeast. Set aside
2. In another bowl sift the flour with the salt and the optional cardamom.
3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and knead until you get a smooth dough.
Note: This recipe requires between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 cups of flour depending on the weather, humidity and the flour brand. Start with 3-1/4 cups and if you feel that the dough is too soft, add the extra 1/4 cup
4. Place the dough in a bowl you have brushed with some oil and cover it with a wet cloth and leave it in a warm place to double
(If you are tight on time you can heat your oven to 390°F/200°C then turn it off and place your dough in a glass bowl and place it in the warm oven with the wet cloth covering the bowl)

Continue as above with layering of dough and Nutella. Cut, twist and shape as desired.
Bake at 200C for 20/30 minutes.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Torta Greca and Mantova

Mantova in the Lombardy region of Italy. Three years ago our family played host to a delightful young lady from this area so a trip to Italy would not have been complete with paying a visit to her and her beautiful family.

Mantova is an amazing medieval town which is unspoilt by tourism. Wandering through the cobblestone streets we marvelled at the architecture and the embellishment of the buildings.

I only wish we had more time to spend in this hidden gem.

Of course, I couldn't help but take in the delights of the town's foodie famous crumble cake, Sbrisolona. Have a look under the torta at the beautiful handmade filled fresh pasta.

Returning to the family home in the outskirts of Mantova in Castellucchio we were treated to a wonderful afternoon "snack" or merenda of delicious salami and local bread. Sitting quietly and proudly at the end of the table was a humble cake with light dusting of sugar. Naturally I couldn't pass up the opportunity to sample this torta which did not disappoint. And who could leave without the recipe? Our gracious host assured me the recipe which came when I arrived back in Australia.
We had a whirlwind tour of Mantova but I know we will return. What a treasure!

Here is the recipe as supplied by our lovely host. Thank you, Katia!

Torta Greca

160 grams of flour
100g butter
150 g sugar
3 eggs
100g amaretti
70-100 g dark chocolate
100 gr almonds
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 packet of baking powder or 2 teaspoons of baking powder

Mix butter and sugar then add the eggs, crushed amaretti biscuits, almonds and chocolate flakes.
Finally add the vanilla, baking powder, flour and mix.

Bake for about 30-35 minutes in the oven
at 160 ° C.

Torta Greca translates to Greek cake but why it is named I don't know. Katia, the supplier of the recipe, suggests that the baking tin can be lined with puff pastry before pouring in the batter and baking as per the recipe. Certainly if you google "Torta Greca" you will find many versions of the pastry encased torta. In this case I have baked it as Katia did - without the pastry.

This is a typical, delcious Italian torta which I love in all it's unadorned beauty. Enjoy it with a great espresso.

Friday, November 29, 2013


Sandie of the lovely blog, Crumbs of Love, was our November hostess. Sandie challenged us to make a traditional Italian dessert, along with its American version – Sfogliatelle (or better known in the US – lobster tails!) The flakey, 1000 layers of super thin dough, shaped into a horn and filled with a scrumptious filling. Così buono!

On the first day or two of November I checked in on the Daring Bakers Forum to see what our challenge would be for the month. As always the challenge post began with a short introduction by Lis, co-founder of Daring Bakers'. Lis always has such kind words for the past challenge host, praise for the current challenge host and encouragement for her fellow Daring Bakers'. For the month of November Sandie from Crumbs of Love ( wonderful blog - you must check it out!) challenged us to Sfogliatelle! This crunchy flaky pastry of many layers encases a filling of ricotta flavoured with cinnamon and orange but is not usually the domain of the average home cook. Not so for us Daring Bakers'!
I was thrilled with this challenge as I had been wanting to try this pastry for a long time. Within the first 10 days I had completed the challenge and fell in love with this delicious pastry. Thank you so much Sandie!
But it was with some shock that I tuned into Daring Bakers a few days later to the news that our fearless leader Lis had suddenly and unexpectedly pass away. Daring Bakers was the brainchild of Lis and Ivonne who back in 2006 decided to back pretzels from the same recipe and post about it. This soon lead other people joining in and then the group was given a name - Daring Bakers'. Now 1000's of people around the world bake from the same recipe each month, learning and sharing with each other. Thank you Lis. You have left a wonderful legacy which is the essence of who you were - fun, innovative and daring! RIP Lis.

For this recipe we were required to make the pastry and either our own ricotta or candied orange peel. I already had some of my own candied orange peel lurking in the bottom of the fridge so I made the ricotta. Fresh homemade ricotta is easy and delicious!.
First lets start with the pastry because it will need to rest.

Sfogliatelle Ricci
Servings: 14-18 pastries
You will need a large/long workspace for this.

3 cups (750 ml) (15 oz) (420 gm) all-purpose (plain) flour
teaspoon (6 gm) salt
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm water (about 100°F/38°C)
4 oz (115 gm) lard (I used Crisco butter flavored shortening)
1/2 cup (1 stick/4 oz) (115 gm) unsalted butter, softened

1. Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir in the water, or use your standing mixer with the paddle attachment. The dough will be very dry. If you feel absolutely compelled, add an extra teaspoon of water but it is supposed to be very dry. Turn this out onto a clean work surface and knead the dough together, bringing in all the dry bits.

At this point get your pasta roller out and ready. Roll out the dough to about 1/3 inch (10 mm) and pass through your pasta machine at the widest setting. I find it much easier to cut my dough in half and work 1/2 at a time for this step. Fold the dough in half after each pass also change the direction of the dough occasionally. After about 15 passes the dough should be very smooth. Knead the dough back into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate and rest the dough for at 2 hours, or overnight.

2. Beat the lard/shortening and butter together in your mixing bowl until very fluffy. Make sure it is thoroughly combined. Place into a bowl and set on the workspace in easy reaching distance.
3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Working with one piece of dough at a time (cover the other pieces with a towel or plastic wrap), lightly flour a piece pass it through the pasta roller set at the widest setting. Try to get the dough as even as possible, your goal is an even rectangle strip, about 4 inches (10 cm) in width. If needed, fold it over on itself a few times until you get an even strip. Once even, pass the dough through every setting, ending with the highest.
4. Place one piece of a strip on you clean work surface and paint (or smear) it liberally with the lard/butter mixture. I do about a 8 inch (20 cm) section at a time. Gently pull the sides of the dough and stretch it, starting from the middle and going out, until it is about 8 or 9 inches (20 or 23 cm) in width. Begin from the short end and start rolling the dough into a very tight roll. When you start to reach the end of your stretched section, stop and liberally grease up another section, stretching and rolling until all the dough is finished. When one strip of dough is finished, roll out another piece of dough as above then stretch and overlap the end of one to the beginning of the other; continue to pull, stretch and roll up.Each strip of dough will attach to the roll with the lard/butter mixture. Continue this way until all the pieces are stretched and rolled.

5. Spread the lard/butter mixture over the entire finished log and starting in the middle gently run the hands down the length to extend the length another inch (30 mm) or so. This will release any air pockets and tighten the roll. Your finished roll should be approximately 10 or 11 inches (25 or 28 cm).
6. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. The dough may be frozen for up to 3 months, at this time. Defrost it in the refrigerator overnight before using.

Lets make the ricotta

8 cups (2 litres) whole milk (or goats milk)
1 cup (250 ml) heavy whipping cream (about 35%)
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3 tablespoons (45 ml) fresh lemon juice
1. Line a large colander or strainer with 2 layers of lightly dampened cheesecloth over a large glass; set aside.
2. Pour the whole milk, heavy cream and salt into a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Reduce the heat, add the fresh lemon juice and stir/whisk continuously for 2-3 minutes. The mixture will curdle, which is exactly what you want it to do. Pour this into the cheesecloth lined strainer and let it drain for about 1 hour or until it comes to room temperature. At this point you can scrape the ricotta from the cheesecloth into a container and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Lets make the filling
Semolina-Ricotta Filling 

1 cup (250 ml) milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (160 ml) (4 oz) (115 gm) fine semolina or cream of wheat (I have tried both and personally like the semolina version)
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) (13-1/4 oz) (375 gm) whole milk ricotta, preferably fresh (see above)
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract (or the seeds of one pod and 1 teaspoon of extract)
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) ground cinnamon
1/3 cup (80 ml) (2 oz) (60 gm) candied orange peel (commercial or home-made)
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon Marsala
Combine the milk and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and slowly add the semolina (or cream of wheat), whisking quickly as to avoid any lumps. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Spread the mixture onto a lined baking sheet, about 1/2 inch (15 mm), to cool. When cool, break into pieces and place into the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment (or a food processor), and add the ricotta cheese, egg yolks, vanilla and cinnamon. Beat until very smooth and creamy. Stir in the candied orange peel, lemon zest and marsala.
Scrape into a container, place plastic wrap directly onto the surface and refrigerate until needed (up to 3 days).

Let continue with the pastry and completing the sfogliatelle

7. Preheat your oven to moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6
8. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
9. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and place on a cutting board. Slice off about an inch (30 mm) from each end so that they are straight and even. Cut the roll into 1/2 inch (15 mm) slices. Put the semolina-ricotta mixture into a pastry bag with a 3/4 inch (20 mm) opening (A disposable pastry bag or even a ziploc bag with the corner cut off is fine). 

10. Take one slice of dough and place it on your workplace. With the heel of your hand, push out from the center in one direction. Rotate the dough and do this in all four directions. This forms the dough and opens up the layers. Pick up the piece and insert your thumbs on the inside with your forefingers on the outside meanwhile gently stretch the center to make it more into the shape of a cone. You don't want the layers to actually separate. Holding the cone in one hand, squeeze some of the filling into the cavity so it is full. Lightly push the opening closed. You do not have to seal the opening as the filling is too thick to ooze out during baking

11. Place onto the prepared baking sheet and very lightly brush the outside of each completed pastry with the lard/butter mixture. Bake them in a preheated moderately hot 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6 oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until they are a deep golden brown.

12. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. These are best served warm with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar on the day they are made. To reheat them, just place them in a moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 oven for about 5 minutes.

Kept in the refrigerator these pastry do reheat well so you can enjoy them for several days (if you can resist gobbling them all up!)

Enjoy for breakfast with an espresso.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Chicken, Bacon and Spinach Pot Pie - The Daring Bakers' October 2013 Challenge

Hannah of Rise and Shine was our October 2013 Daring Bakers’ hostess and she challenged us to bake our own double crusted savory pot pies. Using any from-scratch crust and filling we choose, we were allowed to get completely creative with our recipe, showing off the savory flavors and fillings from our own home or region.

Almost every Australian enjoys a meat pie. It could almost be our National Dish! More often found as single serve pies, the Australian meat pie generally is meat diced or minced with gravy. However different varieties of pies are now becoming common -  curry, steak and kidney, bacon, mince with cheese, chicken or seafood pies. Our hand held meat pie is customary at football or cricket games. So when Hannah of Rise and Shine issued the October Daring Bakers challenge I was excited! I love making meat pies and have made many over the years of raising a family but calling it a "pot pie" and using different ingredients was new to me.

So one evening with chicken thighs thawed and ready for a great Thai curry I had a change of heart. A quick peak into the fridge revealed some bacon and a packet of baby spinach. And so the Chicken, Bacon and Spinach Pot Pie was born! And I'm glad it was, it is delicious and was appreciated by all the family. This is going to become a favourite. Thank you Hannah for the inspiration and for hosting the October Daring Bakers Challenge.

Chicken, Bacon and Spinach Pot Pie

1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg chicken thighs, cubed
185g bacon, diced
45g butter
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
150g baby spinach, chopped coarsely
1 cup grated tasty, melting cheese, I used Colby
2 sheets pre-rolled frozen puff pastry, thawed

Pastry for base
2 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
110g butter, cubed
1 egg, separated 
1-2 tablespoons iced water

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and when hot saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes until softened. Add chicken and bacon and fry, stirring regularly until chicken is no longer pink. Remove to a plate.
Add butter, flour and tomato paste. Fry off for a minute or two. Add in the chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and thyme stirring well to avoid lumps. Bring to the boil and thicken slightly. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. Return chicken mixture to the pan and add spinach. Mix well and allow to cool. When cool stir in cheese.

While the filling is cooling make the pasty base. Place flour, baking powder, salt and butter into the bowl of a food processor with the metal bade inserted. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly. While the machine is running add the egg yolk and 1 tablespoon water through the chute. Add a little more water if necessary to bring the mixture together. Remove pastry from bowl and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Heat oven to 210C. Remove pastry from refrigerator  and roll out to fit a 23cm deep pie plate. Use the remaining beaten egg white to brush over the pastry base. Fill with chicken mixture. 

Top with thawed puff pastry joining to pieces if necessary. Press edges to join base and top pastry well. Decorate as desired. Brush with any remaining egg white.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes until golden and well browned.

Serve warm and enjoy!