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Archive for February, 2015

_MG_5485Koulourakia are very short buttery biscuits.  They are shaped into coils, twists, rings and are either baked plain or sprinkled with sugar, nuts or sesame seeds.  I think every household in Greece has a never ending supply of them and their own recipe on how to make them.  Even my own grandmother has written down in her book more than twelve different recipes.

My mother was always looking for that perfect recipe, never making the same one twice. Hoping each time to find ‘the’ recipe. I don’t think I can ever remember when there wasn’t a supply of Koulourakia in our house. The good news about them is that they keep.  In fact Stelios Parliaros (a famous Greek cook and whose recipe this is) claims that if kept in an airtight tin they can keep up to a year after making.  I think I can vouch for this, because amongst the dangerously stacked mountain of cake tins my mother kept in her pantry, there would be one that had Koulourakia lurking in it.

Not only did she bake them herself, but supplies would appear in the post from Greece, beautifully packaged and covered in postage stamps. We would peel away the layers of paper to reveal a tightly sealed up-cycled tin.  My feelings on seeing these tins were that I wished that the lovely pictures of some tasty treat on the lids were what was actually in the tin. In other words not Koulourakia! My mother was always thrilled, yet another variety for her to try. Another chance of finding ‘the one’.

These little Greek treats would be dunked and eaten by my mother with her morning coffee, but they were only eaten by me when times were desperate and every cake tin in the hazardous mountain pile was empty and I craved something sweet.

How times have changed.  I now drink coffee and there is nothing nicer than a little Koulouraki sitting on the saucer beside my cup.  Dunking it into the thick dark Greek coffee allowing it to sit in the hot liquid for just long enough before it dissolves and disappears into the black depths of the cup.

Koulourakia are also baked in Greece to celebrate Easter.  What is wonderful about making them is that the whole family can join in to form the twists and shapes.  Most adults remember doing this when they were children with their grandmothers.  In fact this recipe goes back to Egyptian times.  When the early Minoans made them they created the snake twist effect as they worshipped the snake believing that they had the power to heal.

I decided this Easter to try out a new version.  I have to admit I didn’t look far as I am rather partial to Stelios Parliaros’ recipes and his cookery programme.  He is a well known and popular pastry chef in Greece and has his own cooking show, magazine and shop.  Reading through his recipe I wasn’t sure about the oven temperature but decided to go with it.  It works – what more can I say.  I did leave them a little longer than the 25 minutes just to make sure they were all golden brown but other than that I followed his instructions and the result is buttery crumbly slightly sweet biscuits.

Some notes about the recipe.  The dough can be left to ‘rest’ in the fridge for up to a week, so they don’t have to be baked all at once.  They can be baked in small batches daily.

Koulourakia/Κουλουράκια (makes between 40-50)

Ingredients

400g plain flour

200g butter

130g icing sugar

1 egg

40g milk

40g olive oil

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 level tsp cinnamon

Glaze

1 egg yolk mixed with either a little water or milk.

Oven 325F 160C Gas mark 3

Method

Put all the ingredients except the egg yolk used for the glaze into a large bowl and mix.  Preferably with a mixer but your hands are just as good.  Mix until all the ingredients have combined and you are left with a uniform dough.

Put into a clean bowl, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to rest for an hour.  You can leave this in the fridge for up to a week.

Turn oven on.  Remove dough from fridge.

Breaking off a walnut sized piece of dough, roll into a ball on a lightly floured board.

Using the palm of your hands roll into a sausage. Try to use the palms not the fingers as this will cause the dough to be uneven.

When you have a long even sausage bring the two ends together.  Whilst gently holding them, twist the loop end.  Four twists are about the right length.  Cut off any excess dough with a knife.  Place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Repeat until you have made the required amount.

Brush with egg glaze and either sprinkle with sesame seeds or with just the plain egg mixture.  Place in the oven.

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Ready to go into the oven.

 

They are ready after about 25 minutes when golden brown.  You might need to turn them around   towards the end of the cooking time so they don’t catch and burn.

When they come out of the oven they are still soft and will break so treat them carefully.  Transfer them to a wire rack to cool.  When completely cool place in an air tight tin and keep.  I am tempted to say up until a year but I have a feeling they won’t last that long!

 

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The crème de la crème of lard

Mention the word lard and most people look aghast in horror and they would be right.  The lard that is available on supermarket shelves has been through a bleaching and hydrogenation process and can contain trans fat. I now know the reason I am reluctant to go back to using lard.  None of this makes pleasant reading but pure rendered lard is not going to fur up your arteries nor give you an instant heart attack.

Lard has been much maligned over the decades, mainly by the people who brought us margarine.  In the 1950s every housewife in the country would have used it in pastry making, roasting and frying. It would have been bought at the butchers alongside the Sunday joint.  Lard has been replaced by goose fat.

Yet, to stop and think about it, goose fat/pork fat are both natural products.  Goose fat has 35% saturated fat and 52% mono unsaturated fat and Lard has 40% saturated fat and 48% mono unsaturated fat.  Not much between them except that Lard has a beautiful white colour whereas goose fat is a rather off-putting grubby colour.

Lard is very versatile in the number of ways that you can use it.  It has a high smoke point of about 370F/185C and is able to stay stable at a high heat.  Oils and fats heated past their smoke point will start to break down which will result in an acrid flavour.  This makes lard ideal for frying or roasting and its higher melting point makes for perfect pastry.

Leaf lard, Flead, Flair or Flay as it has been known over the centuries is a layer of soft white fat around the pigs kidneys. This creme de la creme of fat can be easily broken up with the fingers and has a soft pliable texture.

Rendering leaf lard is easy, but it takes time and patience. The reason is that to achieve the beautiful white odourless lard it needs to be heated gently and slowly, so that it doesn’t fry the fat pieces before allowing them to render. If the fat pieces are allowed to overheat they will give a slight flavour to the lard and result in a darker colour.  After the leaf lard has rendered all its fat small amounts of crackling are left. These can be sprinkled with salt and eaten – very much like pork scratchings.

In my quest for the perfect pastry I decided to try and track down a good source of lard.  It was hard.  I looked on line, I asked around – nothing.  In the end I gave up and decided that perhaps the only way was to make it myself.   I asked my butcher if he could supply me with 2lbs of leaf lard, he was non committal on whether he could get any.  The reason given is that pigs today are farmed as leaner animals and the fact that there is no call for it.  Eventually I managed to obtain just under 2lbs of leaf lard but not without a severe dent to my purse. What would have cost pennies a couple of decades ago cost me £5 and I still have to process it myself.

Leaf Lard

Leaf Lard

Lard

A quantity of leaf lard.

(I started with 812gms/1lb 12.6oz)

Half a cup of water

Heavy bottomed pan

Piece of muslin

Sieve

Glass jam jars

Method

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Cut up the leaf lard into small cubes and place in a heavy bottom pan.  Add 1/2 cup of water. The water helps to stop the lard from catching and burning. Put onto the slowest heat possible and leave uncovered.

After a couple of hours the water will have evaporated and the small white cubes will have turned translucent.

When there is a reasonable amount of liquid in the pan, remove from heat and carefully pour into a jar using a sieve lined with a piece of muslin (I used a small jug to decant the hot liquid). To get to this stage took about 3 1/2 hours.

Pour this liquid which, has a pale golden colour, into a sterilised jar and allow to cool.  As it cools it will turn solid and white.

Return the remaining cubes and some of the liquid back to the hob and continue to gently heat.

When the small cubes change into golden brown crackling the rendering has come to an end.  Again pass through the muslin and pour into a new sterilised jar. This stage was reached five hours after starting the whole process.

Once cool and solid place in the fridge.  They should last three months or more.

The 812gms produced 2 jars of lard.

The first jar of 324ml produced the best pure white lard whilst the second jar produced 380ml of slightly coloured lard.  This was caused by getting a little impatient and allowing the pan to have a hot spot and heating the fat a little too quickly.

I shall use the first jar for pastry and the second slightly coloured lard for roasting and frying.

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Crackling from the lard

 

The kitchen did have an aroma not just whilst cooking but afterwards.  I burnt a candle and it soon disappeared.  It is a long a slow process but I think the results far surpassed any expectations and I have already sourced an old heritage pig farm in Suffolk who have agreed to supply me with leaf lard.  I think that like everything else once you have made it yourself there is no going back.

Sterlising Jars

To sterilise the jars wash them in hot soapy water and rinse. Place on a baking tray and put into a warm oven Gas mark 3/325F/160C and leave for 10/15 minutes. Carefully take out and use.

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