Tuesday, September 27, 2011


 The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Croissants are not something I make regularly actually I've only made them twice! The recipe I have used (and blog about here ) is very similar to the challenge recipe. However the challenge recipe had double the amount of salt and only a small amount of sugar. These croissants I found were salty when eaten on their own or with strawberry jam but fill with ham or cheese and they were sublime!
I doubled the recipe because it didn't seem worth all the trouble to only make 12 small croissants. By doubling the dough I ended up with 15 nice size croissants and 4 pain au chocolate.


Servings: 12 croissants
Ingredients¼ oz (7 gm) of fresh yeast, or 1¼ teaspoon (6¼ ml/4 gm) of dry-active yeast (about ½ sachet)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) warm water (less than 100°F/38°C)
1 teaspoon (5 ml/4½ gm) sugar
1 3/4 cups (225 gm/½ lb) of strong plain flour
2 teaspoons (10 ml/9 gm) sugar
1½ teaspoon (7½ ml/9 gm) salt
½ cup (120 ml/¼ pint) milk2 tablespoons (30 ml) tasteless oil ½ cup (120 ml/1 stick/115 gm/¼ lb) chilled, unsalted butter
1 egg, for egg wash

1. Mix the yeast, warm water, and first teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Leave aside for the yeast and sugar to dissolve and the yeast to foam up a little.
2. Measure out the other ingredients
3. Heat the milk until tepid (either in the microwave or a saucepan), and dissolve in the salt and remaining sugar
4. Place the flour in a large bowl.
5. Add the oil, yeast mixture, and milk mixture to the flour
6. Mix all the ingredients together using the rubber spatula, just until all the flour is incorporated
7. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and let it rest a minute while you wash out the bowl
8. Knead the dough eight to ten times only.  It’s a little difficult to explain, but essentially involves smacking the dough on the counter (lots of fun if you are mad at someone) and removing it from the counter using the pastry scraper.
9. Place the dough back in the bowl, and place the bowl in the plastic bag.
I just covered the bowl with cling wrap. 10. Leave the bowl at approximately 75°F/24°C for three hours, or until the dough has tripled in size.
11. After the dough has tripled in size, remove it gently from the bowl, pulling it away from the sides of the bowl with your fingertips.
12. Place the dough on a lightly floured board or countertop, and use your hands to press it out into a rectangle about 8 by 12 inches (20cm by 30cm).
13. Fold the dough rectangle in three, like a letter (fold the top third down, and then the bottom third up)
14. Place the dough letter back in the bowl, and the bowl back in the plastic bag.
15. Leave the dough to rise for another 1.5 hours, or until it has doubled in size. This second rise can be done overnight in the fridge
16. Place the double-risen dough onto a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place the plate in the fridge while you prepare the butter.
17. Once the dough has doubled, it’s time to incorporate the butter
18. Place the block of chilled butter on a chopping board.
19. Using the rolling pin, beat the butter down a little, till it is quite flat.
20. Use the heel of your hand to continue to spread the butter until it is smooth. You want the butter to stay cool, but spread easily.
21. Remove the dough from the fridge and place it on a lightly floured board or counter. Let it rest for a minute or two.
22. Spread the dough using your hands into a rectangle about 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
23. Remove the butter from the board, and place it on the top half of the dough rectangle.
24. Spread the butter all across the top two-thirds of the dough rectangle, but keep it ¼ inch (6 mm) across from all the edges.

25. Fold the top third of the dough down, and the bottom third of the dough up.
26. Turn the dough package 90 degrees, so that the top flap is to your right (like a book).
27. Roll out the dough package (gently, so you don’t push the butter out of the dough) until it is again about 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
28. Again, fold the top third down and the bottom third up.
29. Wrap the dough package in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge for 2 hours.
30. After two hours have passed, take the dough out of the fridge and place it again on the lightly floured board or counter.
31. Tap the dough with the rolling pin, to deflate it a little
32. Let the dough rest for 8 to 10 minutes
33. Roll the dough package out till it is 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
34. Fold in three, as before
35. Turn 90 degrees, and roll out again to 14 by 8 inches (35 cm by 20 cm).
36. Fold in three for the last time, wrap in plastic, and return the dough package to the fridge for two more hours (or overnight, with something heavy on top to stop it from rising)

37. It’s now time to cut the dough and shape the croissants

39. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it rest for ten minutes on the lightly floured board or counter
40. Roll the dough out into a 20 by 5 inch rectangle (51 cm by 12½ cm).
41. Cut the dough into two rectangles (each 10 by 5 inches (25½ cm by 12½ cm))
42. Place one of the rectangles in the fridge, to keep the butter cold
43. Roll the second rectangle out until it is 15 by 5 inches (38 cm by 12½ cm).
44. Cut the rectangle into three squares (each 5 by 5 inches (12½ cm by 12½ cm))
45. Place two of the squares in the fridge
46. The remaining square may have shrunk up a little bit in the meantime. Roll it out again till it is nearly square
47. Cut the square diagonally into two triangles.
48. Stretch the triangle out a little, so it is not a right-angle triangle, but more of an isosceles. I cut a little slit in the triangle which helps with the rolling and shaping of the croissant.

49. Starting at the wide end, roll the triangle up towards the point, and curve into a crescent shape.
50. Place the unbaked croissant on the baking sheet
51. Repeat the process with the remaining squares of dough, creating 12 croissants in total

52. Leave the tray of croissants, covered lightly with plastic wrap, to rise for 1 hour
53. Preheat the oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9

54. Mix the egg with a teaspoon of water
55. Spread the egg wash across the tops of the croissants.

56. Put the croissants in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until the tops are browned nicely. I think they need a few extra minutes.
57. Take the croissants out of the oven, and place them on a rack to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

With ham, they made a delicious lunch!

The chocolatey/salty combination was quite irresistible.

Thank you Sarah for hosting this months challenge. I enjoyed making croissants again and my family enjoyed reaping the rewards!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conserva di Pomodori - Homemade Tomato Paste

While in most areas summer is tomato season, in tropical North Queensland tomato season is in our mild winter. Really there are only two seasons in the tropics - the cool and dry or the hot and wet. Traditional vegetables don't cope well with the extreme heat and the monsoonal rains of our summer. This is a time best reserved for tropical vegetables like snake beans, winged beans, Ceylon spinach, sweet corn and you might even get some eggplants. During the Wet insects and bugs abound whereas during the Dry bugs are much more controllable. So, here we are getting close to the end of our tomato season and our ripe, red tomatoes are lush and abundant. We have enjoyed many tomato salads and tomato bruschetta - tomato this and tomato that. Now we want to preserve what is left.

Growing up, tomato day was an important day where my mum and dad rounded  my sister and I up to help with the important bottling of a years worth of tomato passata. Once we moved on with our own families my sister and I rejected tomato day "grateful" to buy pre-prepared passata from the supermarket. As time has gone by we have returned to our roots of preserving and are truly grateful for the traditions passed on to us by our parents. My sister at this time is busily processing  her tomatoes into passata. I, on the other hand with a much smaller garden, have chosen to process my tomatoes  further to create a conserva di pomodori or tomato paste which requires less storage room and is perfect for smaller quantities of tomatoes. 

As well as the luscious Marmande variety, I also grow the Roma tomato so it is with these two varieties that I made my paste. Homemade  tomato paste has a deep, mellow, caramelized flavour quite unlike the acidity of  store bought tomato paste. It makes the world of difference when added to your favourite dishes.

 Following an idea from one of my favourite cookbooks, My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino I began by coring and quartering the tomatoes and placing in a large saucepan. On this occasion I had about 5 kilograms of tomatoes.

Boil the tomatoes for about 30 minutes or until the are soft and starting to break down.

To make life easy for the tomato passata/pasta preserver, a spremipomodoro, literally translated "a tomato squeezer", is essential. This inexpensive item is indispensable as it separates the skin and seeds of the tomato from the juicy flesh resulting in a smooth puree. 

It works quite simply - cooked tomato in the top, to one side comes the seeds and skin, to the other the tomato puree. 

I like to pass the skin and seeds through several times to obtain all of the precious puree.

Tomato puree minus seeds and skin - fantastic isn't it! This is the same type of machine my parents, and I'm sure many Italian families, own.  

For the purpose of making tomato paste or conserva di pomodori, the resulting puree must be concentrated further. Turn the puree into a large pan - I used two pans to allow the steam to evaporate more easily. Add some salt about 35 grams for this quantity of tomatoes. Simmer the puree over medium heat for about 50 to 60 minutes, stirring regularly to prevent it from scorching. This will reduce the quantity. As it thickens you may need to turn the heat down as it will bubble and spit. Stir often near the end. Towards the end preheat the oven to 93C (200F) and turn on the convection fan.

With a tablespoon of olive oil, lightly oil shallow lipped baking trays enough to take your puree. I needed three. The thinner the puree the sooner the moisture will evaporate and the puree will thicken. Spread the puree evenly and place the tray into the preheated oven for 30 minutes. After this time, remove the baking sheet from the oven and stir the puree with a rubber spatula so that is dries evenly and doesn't form a crust. Re-spread the puree and return to the oven stirring and re-spreading the puree every 20 to 30 minutes. Due to evaporation the puree will no longer cover the entire trays. With a paper towel, remove any bits of tomato that cling to the edges or exposed bottom of the tray, or they will burn. 

After about 3 hours the puree will have thicken to a delicious paste. It will no longer be sauce-like but instead thick, stiff and a little sticky.

Let the conserva cool, then pack tightly into clean, sterilized jars with a spoon, tamping it down to make sure there are no air pockets. Level the surface with the back of the spoon. Cover completely with olive oil so that the paste is not exposed and refrigerate. After every use, level the surface of the paste and top with more oil so the paste remain completely submerged. It will keep for at least a year.   

I thank my parents for their traditions and beliefs instilled in me so that I may pass them on to the next generation. Even though we may wander, may we always return to our roots.