Saturday, 28 December 2013

Sweet Party Nibbles: Choc & Cherry Palmiers

Most party guests are happy to dive into a savoury buffet, but watch their eyes when the desserts come out! These small palmiers are easy to make, look good, and taste excellent. I invented them when invited to pre-lunch drinks with neighbours, since usually I'd take either chocolates or savoury nibbles such as cheese crisps, and wanted a change.

Dried cranberries could replace the cherries, halved if large - or even cranberry sauce - but good cherries are, for me, the food of the gods.

A cherry stoner (usually combined with garlic press - nice combination ...) saves time and is a little less messy. The palmiers should take about 40mins from start to ready, not including time to thaw the pastry (overnight in the fridge or 2-3hours at room temp). Equipment needed, apart from cherry stoner, is just a baking sheet lined with parchment, a rolling pin (or even a straight-sided bottle!) and a sharp knife.

The recipe makes about 36 nibble-sized palmiers, and the oven should be at 175C.
50p piece indicates size
Chocolate & Cherry Palmiers
Half sheet of frozen ready-rolled puff pastry (or 180g) (see Method 1)
40g fresh cherries, stoned
120g chocolate or choc/hazelnut spread
A little beaten egg
1 tbsp gran sugar

1  With the rolled pastry sheet still frozen, cut it in half crossways and leave it to thaw.
         The other half can return to the freezer.
2  Chop the cherries quite finely.
3  Unroll the thawed pastry on a floured board, and roll it just a little more thinly 
         widthways. Don't worry if the longer edges are not straight.
4  Spread the chocolate evenly over the pastry - if it's too thick and threatens to tear
         the pastry, it could be microwaved for 10secs first.
5  Scatter the cherry pieces in two lines lengthwise a little in from the edges like so:
The red silicon pastry mat doesn't do
any favours here, but bear with me
6  Roll up each long edge tightly towards the middle. Just before they 'meet', brush the
         facing edges with egg to help seal them, then press together and turn the whole
         thing over so the join is on the underside.
7  With a very sharp knife, slice into 10-12mm pieces. Place them flat on the baking
         sheet, a little apart, and brush them all over with egg. Sprinkle the sugar over.
8  Bake for 10-12mins or until the pastry is golden brown. 

These were very well received at the drinks do, I'm glad to say, and the recipe has been transferred to the fat but hallowed 'recipes that work' file. As opposed to the 'recipes to try sometime' collection. However, it seems clear that I need to enrol on a course on food photography!

Monday, 9 December 2013

An Idea for the Grand Christmas Lunch

Lemon-stuffed Squash, Blue Cheese and Cranberry en Croute

Is it an en croute or a Wellington? Who can tell? Either way, this festive lunch centrepiece has really impressed the family, including the meat-eaters. The main things to know before deciding whether to make it are:
   1  It needs quite a time from start to serving.
   2  It can be a little fiddly and 'hands-on'.
   3  None of the steps is difficult.
   4  Much of the preparation can be done a day or two before baking if helpful.
   5  The finished dish looks (I think) lovely and very inviting.
   6  Any leftovers will be good served cold, perhaps with chutney - and it's easier to carve  
          when cold.

As so often, I forgot to take the picture before carving. However, there are two to give an idea. I decorated mine with small pastry feet walking all over it from side to side. 

One more quick point - the geometry of the pastry means that the recipe cannot simply be halved. For a half quantity, either about two-thirds of the sheet of pastry would be safest (rather than half), or the quantities for the filling should be a little less than half. 

The idea came from a recipe in BBC Good Food magazine, but I have significantly adapted it here.
Here's how interesting the layers look!
Lemon-stuffed squash, blue cheese and cranberry en croute 
Prep 75 mins approx, cook 45m, serves 5-6

            350g piece of butternut squash, peeled cut into sticks 2x2x6 cm max
            250g very small onions peeled, and halved if larger than a cherry tomato
            2 tbsp olive oil
            40g pecans halved
            60g vegetarian dry stuffing mix, e.g. sage & onion
            juice of 1 lemon and half the grated zest
            2 tbsp maple syrup
            2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
            1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry
            plain flour, for dusting
            25g dried cranberries
            110g vegetarian Stilton, crumbled
            a little beaten egg to glaze

The oven should be at 150C (fan) to start, shelf in the middle. A large baking sheet/tray is needed, lined with baking parchment.

1  Put the squash, onions and oil in a roasting tin and toss around with a little salt and pepper. Roast for 15 mins. Add the pecans, stir around, and cook for 10 mins more.
2  Meanwhile, put the stuffing into a bowl and add the lemon juice and zest with 130ml boiling water or enough to make a damp mixture. Mix well and leave to cool and absorb.
3  Put the cooked squash on a plate to cool, and transfer the nuts and onions into a medium non-stick pan. Add the maple syrup, vinegar and a little seasoning, and heat gently until the onions start to caramelise – roughly 10 mins - stirring often. Leave to cool for a few mins.
4  Meanwhile, place the pastry sheet on a floured surface; roll out gently to make it a little larger and thinner. If you’ll want to put trimmings on top, cut off 2cm from one of the short edges and set aside. Transfer the pastry to the baking tray. Place the stuffing down the middle lengthways and mould into a compact sausage shape reaching nearly to each end of the pastry. At around this time, turn the oven up to 180C (fan).
5  Push in the cranberries all around the stuffing; do the same with the squash pieces lengthwise. Scatter the Stilton over, then top with the onions and pecans. Lightly press the filling together to compact it.
4  Brush round the pastry edges with the egg, then draw the 2 long edges up to meet, and pinch together to seal. Pinch together the pastry at both ends to seal, then brush all over with egg. To decorate, cut shapes from the pastry trimmings and use to decorate the top. Glaze again and make several small air holes with the point of a knife.
5  If time, chill for 30 mins before cooking. Cover with foil and bake for 20mins, then remove the foil and cook a further 25 mins. Rest for 5 mins or so to make it easier to carve. Use a very sharp knife to slice it.
Shucks. Half already served before I remembered.
Options: Flaked almonds or halved cooked chestnuts could replace pecans, and freshly-squeezed orange juice used in place of lemon. Cranberries go really well here, but roughly chopped dried apricots could be used.

To prepare a day or two ahead, keep separate in the fridge the cooked squash, the caramelised pecans + onions, the cooled stuffing and the defrosting pastry. The whole thing can be made up the night before, and brushed with egg just before putting in the oven.