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Archive for March, 2017

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Galaktoboureko / Γαλακτομπούρεκο translated means milk pie.  A bit of a mouthful of a name, it takes a little practice before it rolls off the tongue, unlike the pie which should melt in the mouth.   A traditional Greek pastry that has an egg-rich, silky, creamy custard that is put to bed amongst crispy whisper-thin sheets of golden filo pastry.  This is all coated and infused with a sweet, citrus scented syrup laced with heavenly notes of cinnamon.  In the mouth, the crisp buttery pastry dissolves, allowing the delicate custard to flood the mouth like a soft gentle kiss on the forehead.  I may sound rather lyrical about this dessert but it truly is a dessert fit for a Greek God.  The name might be tricky but the recipe isn’t.

The best Galaktoboureko I have eaten was baked at my aunt’s home. Served warm, with the custard still light and wobbly and the filo pastry at the crisp melt in the mouth stage.  I sat under the shade of a tree in her garden overlooking the azure crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean sea, a Greek coffee resting on my lap and the only thought in my head being  whether could I manage a second slice.

Galaktoboureko is probably the first Greek dessert that comes to mind after Baklava and I know it isn’t always to everyone’s taste.  The custard, traditionally made with semolina, can be grainy and rubbery often sitting between what can only be described as paper thin cardboard soaked in an syrup sweet enough to rot your fillings.  I have eaten many versions of these and try to avoid them.  Galaktoboureko does not really like to sit around for days on end.  It is best enjoyed on the day.  This recipe replaces the semolina used to thicken the milk with cornflour, getting rid of any grainy heavy texture that can occur.  The cornflour also gives a much lighter delicate custard.

Galaktoboureko is usually made in catering sized trays which is more than I can ever eat so I have made a smaller version which has been adapted from the recipe of Stelios Parliaros.  It can be baked either in a baking tray or in a spring form cake tin.  I prefer spring form as makes it easier to portion up.

The only thing to remember is that the true secret to this recipe is creating the perfect alchemy in the syrupRosewater, lemon rind, orange rind and a cinnamon stick can be added to the sugar and water to create the thick sticky syrup but I prefer the simple flavours of lemon and cinnamon. The amounts and strength of flavour can be easily altered to suit but it can be equally delicious just coated in a plain sugar and water syrup.

Galaktoboureko 6-8 portions

Ingredients

350ml full fat milk

150ml double cream

seeds from 1 vanilla pod

40g cornflour

80g caster sugar

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg

100g butter (for brushing filo)

180g approx filo pastry (sheets)

syrup

250g sugar

150ml water

cinnamon stick

Strip of lemon zest

Oven 160C –  Tray 27cms x 18cms or 21cm spring form cake tin

method

Place the milk and double cream into a pan.  Add the vanilla seeds and little of the caster sugar – this will help to prevent the milk from catching on the bottom of the pan and burning.  Gently bring the milk to the boil, stirring from time to time.

Combine the sugar and cornflour together in a bowl. Add the beaten eggs and with a whisk combine making sure that there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Stir a little of the heated milk into the cornflour and eggs mixture and stir to combine, add a little more and stir then pour all of this mixture into the pan with the rest of the milk. Making sure there are no lumps and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Replace the pan back on a low heat and continue to stir until the mixture has thickened.  Remove and set aside.

Melt the butter.

Brush the cake tin all over with the melted butter and line with one sheet of filo, half in the tin and half outside. Carry on doing this, making sure to generously coat each sheet of filo with the melted butter.

Pour the custard into the tin and fold the filo sheets over the custard again brushing each with the melted butter.

Finally take a sheet of filo and brush with butter, fold in half and lay on top, repeat with a second sheet, tucking in any extra filo.  This is to create a little extra height of filo layers. Give filo a final brush of butter and put into an oven for one hour.

 

Whilst the Galaktoboureko is in the oven make the syrup.

Put the sugar and water into a pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Best results are achieved by not stirring the syrup but by agitating the pan to stop the sugar sticking. Once melted add lemon rind and cinnamon stick and bring to a boil.  Continue to boil for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and leave to cool.  Swirling the pan every now and then making sure the syrup does not solidify.

The Galaktoboureko is done when the filo sheets are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and little by little pour over the cooled syrup.  Leave to cool.  The syrup will be taken up by the Galaktoboureko as it cools.  Best to leave for around an hour.  The Galaktoboureko will still be warm.

Dust with icing sugar and ground cinnamon.  Slice and serve maybe with a little ice cream.

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I wondered whether to leave the title as just Chocolate & Almond Cake but with a recipe by Elizabeth David it is Mrs David’s name that has the biggest impact. Her books continue to sell and any self respecting cook will have a copy of at least one, if not all, of them.  She is a cookery writer that British homes have truly taken to their hearts.  When first published her recipes took the post-war home cook (who was used to a limited and sparse cuisine) away to warmer climates and a different world.  Elizabeth David wrote in detail what she found on her travels through Europe, describing the foods she saw and ate, and sharing her whole culinary experience.   Today her books still give inspiration and ideas to her readers.  Her recipes are written in a simplistic form giving the reader food for thought (I make no excuse for puns).  The recipes are written for those who already know the basics of cookery but allowing room for the cook’s own personality in the making of her recipes.

When I started to write up this recipe I browsed a well known online bookshop for French Provincial Cooking (1960) – from where this recipe has been taken.  I was shocked and saddened to see a reviewer write that they didn’t care for the book as they didn’t like the recipe layout nor the fact that there were no pictures. This was how cookery books of their time were written.

My mother’s recipe collection had many words and very few pictures, tidied away into fat folders and in no particular order. Finding a recipe amongst the chaos was like a game of Pelmanism, remembering the sequence of recipes and memorizing where you last saw it in the pile was the name of the game.  The folders contained cuttings from newspaper columns, pages torn from doctors surgery magazines (much to my horror) and many many hand written recipes from friends.  The hand written ones are the most fragile, war torn from years of use with traces of sticky fingers with smudged ink and missing words where the steam from the kitchen has penetrated the paper.  Many of them are written in Greek or Italian, with some of the handwriting hardly legible. The ones that leap out at me and I love are those that are written on the back of a restaurant receipt, no doubt where my mother charmed the chef into giving her the recipe.

Elizabeth David’s instructions can at times be sparse leaving the cook to make her own decisions but in this recipe the instructions are clear – bitter dark chocolate and almond meal.  It wasn’t until I didn’t have any ground almonds and was left to use whole skinned almonds that a different view of the recipe started to form.

I did some digging around and, even though this cake appears in French Provincial Cooking, there was a very similar cake that had become popular in Capri and the coast of Amalfi around the 1950s called Caprese Torta.  I know that Elizabeth David’s mentor Norman Douglas lived in Capri and that she visited him often.  I can’t help but wonder if the idea of this cake came from Mrs David enjoying the very popular Caprese Torta with Norman Douglas?   Which, thinking about it, would make sense in that whole skinned  and roasted almonds is what Elizabeth David means as almond meal. I found that using whole nuts gives the cake a different texture than when using ground almonds. The biggest thrill is that is also gives a completely different taste, with a superior nutty flavour as the almonds are ground to a coarse sandy texture which give off little hits of the roasted almond flavour with each mouthful of cake.

As I sat at the kitchen table and started the process of skinning the almonds I started to think back to my mother’s cooking.  We would often receive neatly packaged parcels from Greece and Italy printed with foreign writing and tightly  wrapped.  As we broke their seal with a knife the nuts would spill out all over the kitchen table. Any precious nuts hitting the floor and rolling under cupboards would be collected up and added to the heap.  My job would be to steep them in boiling water and skin them one by one.  Later I was promoted to the roasting section, where I would stand over a large frying pan watching the almonds toast.  It only takes a second for them to go from golden blonde to burnt black. I can still remember the cries of my mother when I had allowed this to happen. Those almonds were a rare commodity.  The knack I learnt was to keep the pan moving all the time it is on the flame, and even off the flame the pan is still hot enough to burn them.

I have used ground almonds for years as an easy option. I knew that something was missing but didn’t really think enough about it.  It wasn’t until I started making this cake the old way with whole almonds that I realised what I was missing – the true smell and taste of almonds.  Opening the oven door during roasting the most heavenly aroma hit me, transporting me straight back to my first kitchen job. Something shop-bought ground almonds has never done!

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To skin and roast the almonds 

Place almonds in a bowl and cover them with boiling water.  Leave until the nuts are able to be handled without burning your fingers.  The almonds should just pop out when the skin is given a little pressure. Place them on a plate lined with kitchen paper to dry.  As the water chills, the skins become a little harder to remove.  Drain and replenish with boiling water again then wait until they are able to be handled and this should encourage the skins to release their nut.

Place on a baking tray and pop into an oven for 10 minutes – remove and shake the tray giving the almonds a chance to colour all over.  Pop back into the oven and repeat until the almonds have taken on a honey blonde colour.

Allow to cool.  Place into a food processor and chop until the almonds represent the consistency of coarse sand.

Elizabeth David’s Chocolate & Almond Cake

Ingredients

115g / 4oz bitter dark chocolate

85g / 3 oz caster sugar

85g / 3 oz butter

85g / 3 oz almond meal (ground almonds or whole almonds skinned and chopped, see above)

3 eggs separated (both egg yolks and egg whites beaten separately)

1 tbs rum or brandy

1 tbs black coffee (espresso)

Method

Gas mark 1/140C – Yes it is a very low oven temperature.

Break the chocolate up into a bowl and add the rum and coffee and melt either by microwave or in a double boiler.  Add the butter, stirring it into the chocolate mixture until it has melted.  Add the sugar, almonds and mix till combined.  Set aside. When it is cool add the beaten egg yolks.

In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff. These are then folded gently into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into a well buttered 20cm removable base cake tin.  Bake for around 45 minutes or when the cake has a crust

Leave to cool, then carefully remove as it is a very fragile cake.   Sprinkle with icing sugar or leave plain.  This cake lends itself to being served with a little whipped cream or my preference clotted cream.

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