Friday, July 19, 2013

Pie time

Judging for the Bakels Supreme Pie Awards began in Auckland yesterday, and the results will be announced on Tuesday. One of the categories is chicken and vegetable. Last weekend, needing to produce a main course for four friends coming for a long lunch on Sunday, I decided to make a big chicken and vegetable pie. I'd had a really good one for dinner a while ago at my sister's place in Tauranga, so I'd asked her to photocopy the recipe for me. (Apologies - I didn't make a note of who wrote it or which book it came from - I'll check up with her later.)
          She assured me that the home-made pastry top was really easy, and it was - you make it in the food processor. But while the filling is easy too, it takes quite a while, because it's got so many neatly diced veges in it. Best to start early, I thought, so I made the pastry and the filling on Saturday, all ready to assemble and bake on Sunday.

Chicken and kumara pie with thyme pastry

For the pastry:
200g butter, diced and chilled
150g cream cheese, chopped
2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2-3 Tbsps milk
For egg wash:
1 egg
Another 2 Tbsp milk

Put all the ingredients except the milk and the egg in a food processor. Process until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
Add just enough milk to bring the dough together. (My food processor is too good - the pastry never clumps. I add a bit of milk, gather some crumbs together with my fingers and test to see if they will stick together. I used all 3 tablespoons of milk this time to get the pastry right.)
Tip the pastry onto a board and shape it into a flat disc. Wrap in plastic film and put in fridge until firm. (I made this Saturday afternoon, put it in the fridge and took it out about an hour before I wanted to use it on Sunday morning.)

For the filling:
(I bought more chicken thighs than stated, with bones in, as it was much cheaper that way. You can use breast, but thighs have more flavour. I removed the bones and boiled them for a while in commercial chicken stock. Then I removed them and happily nibbled all the yummy bits of meat off them before discarding them.)
1 kg skinless chicken thighs, boneless, or 1.2 kg with bones in
1/2 cup plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
100g lean bacon, roughly chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large leek, sliced
1 large carrot, diced
1 Tbsp dried or finely chopped fresh tarragon (I had just enough left in the garden)
300g kumara, peeled and diced (1 cm pieces)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
3 cups chicken stock (the recipe had 1 cup, but this isn't enough)
1/2 cup cream

Season the flour with salt and pepper and place in a plastic bag. Cut the chicken into strips about 4-5 cm long, removing the bones if necessary. If you do have bones, put them on to boil gently in the chicken stock.
Shake the chicken pieces in teh flour to coat them. Remove them and shake off the excess flour, saving 1 Tbsp to use later.
Heat oil and butter in a large saute pan and cook chicken pieces until lightly golden. Use a slotted spoon to move chicken to a shallow dish.
Add bacon, onion, leek, carrot and tarragon to pan. Cook gently until tender and starting to brown slightly.
Add garlic to corner of pan and cook briefly. Add kumara and lemon zest and cook another 5 minutes.

(If you're making the filling the day before, stop at this point, cool the veges, and put them, the stock and the dish of chicken into the fridge.)

(If making next day, take pastry out of fridge an hour before assembling pie. Take out chicken, stock and veges. Put veges back in pan.)
Stir reserved flour into chicken stock. Pour into pan with veges and cook gently to make thick sauce. Add cream and stir well. Add chicken and any juices in dish. Mix gently. Check seasoning.
Simmer for a few minutes to heat through and make sure sauce is cooked. Place in large 7-cup ceramic or glass pie dish.

Preheat oven to 200C.
Roll out pastry to make a rough circle large enough to cover top of pie dish and hang down over the sides.(see pastry tips here).

Make egg wash by beating 1 egg thoroughly with 2 tablespoons of milk.
Roll pastry loosely over the rolling pin. As you do this, use a pastry brush to lightly coat the outer side of the pastry with egg wash. (This is the side that will be in contact with the pie filling - the egg wash acts as a seal to stop the pastry going soggy.)
Carefully unroll the pastry over the pie dish, egg wash side down. Press the pastry down around the rim or the sides (my dish was rimless) and trim it to leave a border all round the filling of about 2 cm. Crimp border and seal it in place with the egg wash (brush a little more onto the dish if necessary).
Cut a cross into the top of the pastry and add a few pastry "leaves" for decoration.
Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining egg wash.

Place pie on oven shelf positioned so that the top of the pie sits a little above the middle of the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is deeply golden and the filling is bubbling.

So, to the long lunch: a slow meander through Donna's broccoli soup and rye bread, then the pie with boulanger potatoes (chunks of potato baked in stock), and Dale's orange cake with lemon syrup. I didn't need any dinner... well, only the last couple of bits of rye bread with a chunk of cheese and an apple.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Flawless flourless chocolate cake

It was my turn to host my book group this week. We have informal rules about supper that we sort of stick to: cheese, crackers, maybe dip or pate, and something sweet. I know one of the members is gluten free, so there are always rice crackers - but what about that "something sweet"? So I hunted through my cake file and found a flourless chocolate cake I'd never made before, from Ray McVinnie. He says he got it from Glenn, a colleague at the School of Hospitality and Tourism at AUT. He says it's "the true chocoholic's cake, which needs nothing with it except cream...a little goes a long way." You really do need an electric whisk or beater for this - unless you've got Wonderwoman arms.

Glenn's flourless chocolate cake

300g dark chocolate, chopped 
(Annoyingly, one block of Whittaker's Dark Ghana is 250g - I reckon you could probably get away with that.)
5 eggs
90g brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 Tbsp brandy
150ml creme fraiche, whipped to soft peaks (don't overwhip), then refrigerated
cocoa and whipped cream, for serving

- Preheat oven to 175C. Line the bottom of a 23cm diameter non-stick cake tin with baking paper.
- Either put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt it slowly over a saucepan of barely simmering water, then stir it until it's smooth; or put it in a large heatproof glass jug and microwave it for 2 minutes, then stir it gently with a wooden spoon until it's smooth. (If it hasn't quite got to melting, give it short bursts of time - say 30 seconds. The pieces don't look as if they have melted, but when you start to stir them, you find they have.) Set the bowl or jug of chocolate aside.

 - Get out your electric whisk. Put the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, zest and brandy in a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, and beat until the mixture is very thick, pale and creamy. This takes what seems like quite a long time.

- Take off the heat and  beat with electric whisk until cold - or put into electric mixer and then whisk it. Add chocolate in a steady stream (this is where the jug comes in handy), whisking continuously. 
- Fold in the creme fraiche. Pour mixture into cake tin. Boil a jugful of water.
- Place cake tin in a large roasting pan. Fill pan with enough hot water to come 3/4 of the way up the sides of the cake tin. Let mixture settle for 10 minutes.
- Place roasting pan with cake tin in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes, until set. Remove from oven and take cake tin out of water. 
- Cool cake completely before turning out onto a serving plate, bottom side up. Peel off paper and dust cake with cocoa through a sieve. 

Serve in wedges with whipped cream.
I didn't turn mine upside down as I should have, as the photo shows - but it still looked good and tasted sensational. Not fudgy, just very dense and dark and rich. I'll be making this again - wonderful for dessert, though I think in that case I might disobey Ray and serve it with a little fruit of some kind - maybe apricot puree - as well as the whipped cream.