Sweetly Spiced Puff Pastry Pear Tart

I watch a lot of cooking shows. I mean A LOT a lot. I don’t know what it is really, they’re just such a chilled way to relax – I don’t watch much TV, but when I do its because I want something entertaining that really doesn’t require much/any input on my part. Probably a knee-jerk reaction to so much reading in my day-to-day life! Anyway, cookery shows often provide great inspiration, and an incentive to go a little bit further and make your food a little bit fancier than you might otherwise. Hence this patisserie delicacy I’m serving up to you today! (Its actually very easy, just looks pleasingly posh and effortful – is that a word? opposite of effortless?)

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Ta da! How pretty is this?! In retrospect I think I underbaked it, but we live and learn 🙂

The pears are sliced nice and thinly so they soften up during baking, and the cinnamon sugar sprinkled over the top glazes the whole thing beautifully and sweetens the flavour. I also added a grating of nutmeg to finish my version; the inside of a nutmeg is so aesthetically pleasing, not to mention the aroma, that I take a fine grater to this lovely spice at any opportunity. Puff pastry is supposed to be the most finicky pastry to make yourself – I have it on good authority (cooking shows) that even the best chefs buy it from the supermarket. So don’t worry your little heads about that 🙂 Equipment wise, all you need is a baking tray and if you don’t have one of those you must live in a cave, so you’re ready to rock and roll out that pastry…see what I did there?…

Ingredients:

  • Ready-rolled puff pastry (or roll out one quarter of a block of Jus-Rol Puff Pastry – I always freeze the rest and it lasts for ever)
  • Two ripe, but firm pears
  • Brown sugar and caster sugar, combined (I didn’t measure this; do it according to your personal sweet tooth)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • About a quarter of a teaspoon ground nutmeg

Method:

1. Roll out your puff pastry into a nice even rectangle, or cut out a piece of ready-rolled to fit your baking tray. The tray should be lined with greaseproof paper or you’ll never get the tart out. Mine was approximately 30 x 20 cm (12 x 8 inches). Gently, very gently, take a sharp knife and score a rectangle inside your pastry rectangle, about 2 cm in from each edge. This creates a border which will puff up nicely around your pears and look oh-so profesh. DON’T cut all the way through the pastry. Or your border will be detached from the tart. Obviously 🙂

2. Slice your pears on a board nice and thin – I mean thin like less than half a centimeter, or they won’t cook enough. To do this neatly, top and tail the pear, stand it up on its flat bottom and slice it in half longways all the way down. Core each half, then put it flat side down on your board and work from right to left, or left to right if that’s easier, slicing thinly all the way across.

3. Arrange the pears on the pastry, starting at one end of the rectangle and working down the length of it. The slices should all be half on top of each other, like roof tiles. Basically, use your wonderful artistry to make it look pretty and elegant and inviting. Go crazy-paving style if you like, make crop circles, play pear Tetris. Its quite good fun if you’re in a patient mood with time on your hands.

4. Sprinkle your combined sugars and spices (you could use ground ginger as well or instead of nutmeg and/or cinnamon, possibly even cardamom if you’re feeling exotic…the choice is yours!) over the pears and pastry, getting even coverage so its all sweet and caramelised. Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes minimum to allow the pastry to firm up again.

5. Pop the pear tart, on its lined baking tray, into a preheated oven at 200C (Gas Mark 6) and bake for 15-20 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 180C (Gas Mark 4) and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and risen on the edges, and the fruit is soft. Serving suggestions; ice cream, ice cream or ice cream. Or dark chocolate sauce. Mmmm.

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I had mine with Ben & Jerry’s – nom nom nom nom nom. 

Source: ‘Puff Pastry Tart with Pear’ (I like my highly alliterative name better) from Grand Central Bakery.com <http://grandcentralbakery.com/recipes/u-bake-recipes/made-with-gcb-puff-pastry/puff-pastry-tart-with-pears/> Thanks for reading! 🙂

Hot Chocolate Pudding

I love making individual desserts to follow a meal you’ve spent time preparing and cooking, it makes you feel like you’re at a posh restaurant suddenly – the individual portions are just a really nice touch and show a lot of thought, I think. The last time I made these my boyfriend came round for dinner, nothing out of the ordinary there, but I like to think that making a special effort for our meal contributed in part to us having a particularly nice lovely evening. 

Be warned: this is a Nigella recipe, so its a good job portions are individual as these heavenly chocolate pots are extremely decadent – rich chocolate sponge with a melted cream and dark chocolate oozy centre. I know. We actually ate these before I even remembered to take a picture, so apologies for that; the one I’ll put up at the end to give you an idea will be filched from the website I found the recipe on. My recipe is slightly adapted from the original but as usual I’ll put in a source from which you can check out NIgella’s version too 🙂

Ingredients*

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g soft dark or light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 75g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder

*These proportions make enough pudding for four ramekins – I halved the recipe which worked fine.

Step 1: Melt the chocolate over a pan of gently boiling water. Stir in the cream when the chocolate has all melted and cover with clingfilm to chill in the fridge while you make the sponge.

Step 2: Cream the butter and sugar, then gradually add the beaten egg. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder. Mix well. 

Step 3: If your pudding moulds/ramekins are not non-stick, grease them with butter. Drop in the pudding mixture to about halfway up the ramekins; now here’s the exciting bit – get your chilled and partially set chocolate cream from the fridge and add a generous teaspoon of deliciousness to the middle of your ramekin. Cover over with more pudding mixture. Oooooooo.

Step 4: Bake in the oven at 200C/Gas Mark 6 for 10 – 15 minutes. There should be a shiny top on the pudding but it wants to still have a bit of a wobble in the middle. You can turn the puddings out when baked – Nigella suggests serving with cream or ice cream but I’m not sure my sour tooth could cope with that – or eat them from the dishes they’re baked in. 

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Source: http://www.nigella.com ‘Hot Chocolate Puddings’ – this is the picture of Nigella’s puddings – I didn’t turn mine out but they did look pretty much as good as those in my eyes! So good, and so easy to make! Enjoy with abandonment and no guilt please, these are too good for that 🙂

Pumpkins Galore

First up: Pumpkin Cake with Orange Frosting. Sounds a little strange maybe, but you’ve probably heard of carrot cake, yes? Its very similar to that in lots of ways, and even if you haven’t – vegetables in cakes can be brilliant! Corgette, beetroot in chocolate cake, onion-flavoured sponge…no I’m joking, that would be disgusting – the point is, try this pumpkin cake whether you have or haven’t made vegetable cakes before and you’ll be pleasantly surprised, as I was 🙂 Its very very moist – yum – keeps well in the fridge – great – and you can SO easily convince yourself its super healthy AND economical because its a vegetable and nothing goes to waste! Perfection. Here’s the recipe, get carving/baking/planning Halloween 2014:

Ingredients

For the cake:

  •  300g self-raising flour
  • 300g light brown sugar
  • 3tsp mixed spice OR 1tsp each of grated nutmeg, ground ginger and cinnamon
  • 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g sultanas
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g butter
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1tbsp orange juice
  • 500g (weight after peeling) pumpkin flesh

For the frosting:

  • 200g soft cheese
  • 85g softened butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • zest of 1 orange and juice of half of one

Step 1: Sift all the dry ingredients (down to eggs in the ingredients list) into a large bowl and stir. 

Step 2: Melt your butter, in the microwave or in a saucepan – just mind it doesn’t explode in the microwave – and beat all your eggs into the melted butter. Add the zest and juice from the orange to this. 

Step 3: Pour the egg and butter mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined; scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl well to incorporate any clumps of reluctant flour into the batter.

Step 4: Grate the pumpkin flesh into the cake mixture and stir in. Pour the whole lot into a lined baking tin, ideally a traybaking one – not too deep and rectangular – but square or circular tins will do.

Step 5: Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes at 180C/Gas Mark 4. Check towards the end of the cooking time to see if the cake is springy to touch and a skewer comes out relatively clean, without the top being too browned. Leave to set for 5 minutes out the oven when done, then turn out onto a cooling rack and squeeze over a drizzle of orange juice whilst the cake is still warm. Set aside while you focus on the next exciting instruction…

Step 6: Make the frosting. Beat the butter and icing sugar together first to avoid having any lumps of butter, then beat in the cream cheese, juice and zest. It should be smooth and not too runny – bear in mind that the frosting will thicken slightly in the fridge, where you are now going to pop it out the way while the cake cools.

Step 7: When the cake is fully cooled, spread the frosting over the top then cut into squares. Keep this covered in the fridge if you sadly, like us this year, had no trick-or-treaters come to your door. On the other hand, more for us…!

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Source: BBC Good Food, ‘Halloween pumpkin cake’. Thanks for the pumpkin to carve mum and the rest of my family for eating it happily in cake form!

 

And secondly, a quick note on Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. You’ll need to dry them after you’ve scooped them out of the pumpkin and rinsed the flesh off – just wrap them in kitchen towel. Then spread the seeds out on a baking tray and roast in the oven at around 200C/Gas Mark 6 for no longer than 20 minutes, but keep checking them as this time does depend quite a bit on how damp the seeds are and how good your oven is. When they are lightly golden, take them out, shell them (this is fiddly but there’s no way round it unfortunately, unless you want to eat the husks I suppose – bit woody) and sprinkle with salt. Great snack and a much cheaper, though admittedly more labour-intensive, alternative to buying the ridiculously dear packets of pumpkin seeds in shops. Its always a nice sense of achievement making your own anyway 🙂 

 

So, there we are; you now have one carved pumpkin attracting trick-or-treaters to your door, pumpkin cake to offer to said trick or treaters, and pumpkin seeds for yourself to snack on and help prevent the inevitable gobbling of treats meant for the little monsters/ghouls/witches/devils/zombies haunting your streets. Enjoy! Hope you all had a spooktacular October 31st.

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Happy Halloween!

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A hand-carved ‘vampire spider’ pumpkin; a product of a Halloween at home followed by a lovely weekend with my family. Halloween, Bonfire Night and my oldest brother’s birthday all kind of coincided recently, plus it was my dad’s birthday not so long ago, which was fantastic as it meant I could go home from uni for a short Thursday to Sunday stint (not that I wouldn’t love to stay longer but term time doesn’t allow that!) and see my whole family, celebrate two holidays with them all, and spend time relaxing and generally enjoying the luxury of being home – nothing else, even my lovely student house this year, quite compares as yet! I even got some work done whilst I was away, so it was a very satisfying few days all round. 

I feel I’ve been neglectful of the blog lately; I kept meaning to post when I was at home, and in fact baked twice the week before but, condemnably, I didn’t make the writing happen. Before you all turn away from your screens in disgust, this does mean that you’ll be getting a double-whammy of recipes right now (or right now then in the morning, depending on how rapidly this warm blanket and hot chocolate make me sleepy). How exciting! The first post is pumpkin-based, because if you’re going to carve out a pumpkin for Halloween, don’t throw away all the good stuff inside it! The innards of the vampire-spider went towards creating these two delicious tricky treats…