Mushrooms add flavour, texture, richness and even a sort of meatiness to any meal and rarely better than in a risotto, especially in the cold months!
Besides the ordinary button mushroom, here in Australia, we are lucky to have access to some good Asian varieties, even at the supermarket, however, as far as the complex and diverse European varieties are concerned, we have to contend with the dried version, not that there is anything wrong with that by the way!
Dried mushrooms do have the advantage of keeping very well and rehydrating them couldn’t be simpler: just soak in hot water for at least half an hour and even overnight to achieve the right texture.
The Essential Ingredient’s range of dried mushrooms is sourced from a producer based in the historic town of Sauges in central France and includes a Garniture forestiere (a blend of forest mushrooms), Bolet Jaune, Chanterelles, Morels, sliced or whole Shitake, Trompette des Maures and Porcini powder.
Garniture Forestiere – A blend of dried forest mushrooms with shitake, oyster, black fungus and porcini mushrooms, a favourite with homecooks and chefs.
Bolet Jaune – When cooked, this mushroom is fairly soft and ideal in creamy mushroom soups.
Chanterelles – An orange or yellow mushroom, meaty and funnel-shaped, it has a fruity smell and a mildly peppery taste. It’s beautiful colour makes it a striking addition on a plate.
Morels – One of the few truly wild mushrooms, they have a light woodsy flavor and wonderful firm yet spongy texture. They are at their finest when cooked quickly in butter and lightly salted.
Shitake – Shitakes can stand up to strong flavors, and are particularly good with ginger, soy, and even chiles.
Trompette des Maures – Also known as ‘black chanterelle’, ‘horn of plenty’ and the sinister ‘trompette de la mort’, this deep black woodland mushroom is horn-like in shape. It is richly flavoured, with a hint of nuttiness, and is perfect with creamy sauces.
Porcini powder – Porcini Powder, ground from quality French dried porcini mushrooms imported, adds a sophisticated flavour and richness to many dishes, whether incorporated into a liquid, combined with pastry or dusted over a finished dish.
I have observed two types of cooks: those who like to wing it in the kitchen and the others who trust recipe books. As a general rule, the former seem to excel with cooking main meals, while the latter tend to specialize in desserts and, you guessed it, anything to do with pastry.
Pastry is the ultimate cook’s mind-game: A few standard ingredients (flour, butter, water, eggs…) which create infinite possibilities. The path to success with pastry though is a fairly strict set of rules and an emphasis on precision. Intuition and knowledge in equal parts.
While shortcrust pastry is probably the most common and versatile pastry out there, it’s actually with the much thinner (and trickier) filo pastry that the history of this essential element of baking seems to begin.
All throughout the Mediterranean, the paper-thin and multi-layered pastry was being used to make baklava and other impossibly sweet desserts. Filo pastry then made its way up to Northern Europe, brought back by the crusaders and most likely used to start making the classic strudel. It’s the French and Italian chefs of the renaissance that we can thank for perfecting the art of puff and choux pastries, which led to more recipes than one can care to count: brioche, eclairs, cream puffs, mille-feuilles…
In this guide, we’ll tell you about how to make all kinds of pastry from scratch, but while shortcrust pastry is always worth the trouble, no one will point the finger if you would rather buy puff pastry so we’ll talk about that too…
Making shortcrust pastry from scratch is always worth it! It is a simple pastry to make, especially in a food processor, hardly takes any time at all and is perfect for a whole range of sweet and savoury dishes: tarts, quiches or pies…
Measure carefully: this applies to every type of pastry really. Getting the right ingredients and in the right quantities will ensure you get the right result for your troubles.
Cool is best: try and keep your work environment nice and cool. If you can, work your pastry on a cool marble / granite board and keep your hands cool. If your pastry is too warm to roll out, then put it in the fridge for a few minutes and start again.
Less is more: shortcrust pastry doesn’t like to be overmixed. If you mix it too much, it will get stiff and shrink when baking. The more relaxed you are with your pastry, the more relaxed it will be.
Let it rest: Once you have mixed your pastry, it’s great to make a ball with it, wrap it in gladwrap and let it rest in the fridge for at least 1/2 hour. If you don’t have time to do that, roll it out and let it rest in the fridge while you get your fillings organized.
Savoury shortcrust recipe:
180g unsalted butter
240g plain flour
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup water
Remove butter from refrigerator 30 minutes before making pastry. Sift flour and salt onto a marble pastry slab or workbench. Chop butter into medium pieces and toss lightly in flour. Lightly rub to combine partly. Make a well in centre and pour in water. Using a pastry scraper, work water into flour until you have a rough heap of buttery lumps of dough. Using the heel of your hand, quickly smear pastry away from you across the bench. Gather together, then press into a flat cake and dust with a little flour. Wrap pastry in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. When required, roll out pastry, line tin and proceed as indicated in recipe.
If making in the food processor, start by mixing dry ingredients, then add butter until you get a crumbly texture. Add water last and stop mixing when the dough forms a ball.
Sweet shortcrust recipe(a foolproof recipe I learned when working with friend and amazing cook Rosa Jackson) :
175g plain flour
45g icing sugar
A pinch of salt
90g cold butter
1 egg yolk
2tbsp cold water
Mix flour, sugar and salt in the food processor. Add butter chopped into small pieces and mix until you get a fine crumbly texture. While mixing, add egg yolk and water. Stop mixer as soon as the dough forms a ball. If it isn’t too hot in the kitchen, roll your pastry out and place into your lightly buttered pastry tin (preferably with a removable base). Try not to stretch the pastry when pushing it down into the tin. Trim the edges by rolling over the top with a rolling pin. Place the tin in the fridge to rest for about 1 hour. This pastry doesn’t usually need to be blind-baked. When putting it into the oven, rather than placing it on a rack, place it on one of the trays which will spread heat on the bottom of the tart tin.
Nothing quite compares to home-made puff pastry. Unfortunately, the light flaky buttery layers that just melt in the mouth require quite a lot of effort. However, I will share a simplified version if you feel inclined to give it a go. It’s pretty sensational.
Cold is best: start with cold butter and icy water to keep the dough as cold as possible while you are working with it. Try and work quickly to avoid the butter melting into the flour.
Go light on water: Puff pastry recipes tend not to use much water so resist the urge to add more than indicated, unless you feel it is absolutely necessary. The more water you add, the less it will rise.
Use a pastry scraper: This simple metal tool will allow you to cut the butter into the flour to quickly achieve the right consistency.
Let it rest: Resting your puff pastry will help mean you get a flakier pastry and a great buttery rise.
Freeze it: Puff pastry freezes really well so make lots and keep it in the freezer for next time.
Rough puff pastry recipe(another one from Rosa Jackson, which she recommends to use with Tarte Tatin):
200g plain flour
A pinch of salt
180g cold butter
5-6tbsp icy water
In a mixer: mix flour, salt and chopped butter until you get a rough crumbly texture. While mixing, slowly add water. When dough starts to form a ball, stop the mixer even if water isn’t completely combined yet. You can do the same thing by hand.
Work the dough for a few seconds to make it nice and smooth. Let it rest on the workbench, covered with a tea towel for about 30 minutes.
With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a long and thin rectangle. Fold it over itself into thirds. Roll the dough out again and fold it into 3 again. Flour lightly and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat these steps twice with 30 minutes rest in between. When you are done, let it rest for another 20 minutes before rolling it out to place into a tin.
In its sweet form, choux pastry is most recognized for the famous croquembouche, a constructed tower of cream filled ‘choux’ stuck together with caramel. Filled with ice cream and chocolate, the simple choux transforms into the decadent profiterole and piped into a long and skinny shape, it creates the classic eclair. As a savoury treat, the choux pastry is flavoured with cheese to become a ‘gougere’. The following recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander’s Cooks Companion and is a breeze to make in the food processor.
Cut up the butter into small pieces before adding it the pan. This will ensure it melts quickly and evenly.
Add the flour at once: Make sure the butter and water mixture is boiling rapidly before adding the flour. This will allow the starch cells in the flour to burst open and soak up even more water. Add all the flour at once so that the paste cooks evenly, beating the mix vigorously to avoid any lumps from forming.
One at a time: To ensure the pastry is smooth and glossy, add the eggs one at a time and ensure each is well incorporated before adding the next. Don’t worry if it looks like the first egg won’t cooperate and has turned the paste into a lumpy dough – this is completely normal. Keep mixing and it will eventually transform.
Don’t open the door: More than with any other pastry, it’s vital that you don’t open the oven door too soon or you could end up with flat pastry. This is because the pastry needs the high heat of the oven to stay consistent in order for the water to convert to steam and cause the pastry to puff up.
Choux pastry recipe
60g unsalted butter
A pinch of salt
3/4 cup water
125g plain flour, sifted
Combine butter, salt and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Add flour all at once, stirring to combine and return to heat. Stir over a medium heat until mixture dries out and starts to come off the sides. Transfer to a food processor. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next.
Spoon heaped tablespoons onto paper lined baking tray, or pipe on lengths of dough. The uncooked shapes freeze perfectly.
To bake immediately, bake at 180℃ for about 40 minutes until golden on the outside and dry in the centre (you can remove the choux when they are nearly done, pierce the base with a knife and put them back in the oven for a few minutes. This will ensure they are dry on the inside). Cool on a wire rack. When cold, fill with filling of your choice.
To cook frozen dough, take the required amount straight from the freezer into the oven. Bake at 200℃ for the first 10 minutes and at 180℃ for the next 30 minutes.
Filo pastry, paper-thin and layered to make sweet and savoury dishes throughout the Middle-East, is best left to professionals to make but here are a few tips to use easily.
Set yourself up: As filo dries out and cracks when it comes in contact with air, it’s important to have everything all made and ready to go before you take it out of the packet.
Cover it up: When using the pastry, cover the stack at all times, first with a sheet of foil and then a slightly damp tea towel over the top to avoid the damp tea towel coming in direct contact with the pastry.
Use one at a time: When using the pastry, work with one sheet at a time, brushing melted butter or oil between each layer to ensure a flaky final result.
Across the pond from France, the brits have been using lard to make biscuit-like pastry with lard. This pastry is great for more wintery type pies: rhubard, apple… (from Stephanie Alexander’s Cook’s Companion)
200g plain flour
200g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp salt
200g lard (at room temperature)
3/4 cup cold water
Sift flours and salt together, then rub in lard quickly. Make a well in the centre and work in the water. Knead for 2-3 minutes until you have a springy, elastic dough. Form into a ball and chill for 20 minutes before rolling out. You can cook directly without resting the pastry again. Lard pastry is never baked blind.
If you are an enthusiastic but time-poor cook and you would rather fake it, THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT stocks a range of high quality CAREME PASTRY. Carême Pastry is a family run business located in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. They specialise in making a range of handcrafted, high quality, ready-to-use pastry dough.
Their premium ready-to-bake pastry dough is made using traditional methods from the finest quality natural ingredients. Their products are genuinely handmade and are free from additives and preservatives. They use only high quality unsalted butter and flour from Laucke Milling in South Australia. All products come ready rolled. On the inside of every packet you will find instructions on how best to prepare and bake the pastry.
The range includes an All-Butter Puff Pastry, a Sour Cream Shortcrust Pastry, a Vanilla Bean Sweet Shortcrust Pastry and a Dark Chocolate Shortcrust Pastry.
Diet restrictions can feel like a minefield for the casual observer and that applies to the infamous gluten-free diet, a diet which excludes foods which contain the protein gluten, in other words wheat, barley, rye and spelt.
A gluten-free diet is the only recognized treatment for coeliac disease (an auto-immune disorder of the small intestine) and wheat allergy. Another portion of those who restrict their diets are described as non-coeliac gluten sensitive, a condition still poorly understood by the medical profession. Finally, eliminating gluten can simply be a lifestyle choice which according to some, but not believed by all, helps with digestion and maintaining a healthy weight.
While accidentally ingesting gluten can have dangerous consequences for a coeliac, it might simply be uncomfortable or even harmless for those who are only sensitive, but in any case, it serves to understand where gluten hides, how to do without and what essentials to have in your pantry for those last minute guests with life-threatening conditions (it happens!).
The good news is, coeliacs are known to get around with packets of Gluten-Free biscuits in their bags, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice, but if you want to make an especially good impression, then read on…
I asked a friend, whose husband is coeliac, to shine a light on their experience, the challenges they faced when switching diets and what products they like to use as substitutes.
+ What are the obvious foods to eliminate for a gluten-free diet?
Anything that contains wheat (including spelt), rye, barley or oats. However, there a lots of alternatives available these days and GF diets can include things like bread, cakes and pasta made with alternative flours (usually maize, tapioca, rice, potato or buckwheat).
+ Which ones are less obvious?
Lots of ingredients contain gluten, even things like cornflour, cocoa and desiccated coconut, but you can usually find a brand that contains only the pure version and hence no gluten.
Things to watch out for are: most deep fried chips – if chips are fried in the same oil as crumbed or battered food, then the chips will not be GF; some chocolates contain gluten – especially filled chocolates; sauces such as soy sauce. Some small goods like chorizo might also contain gluten and even some ice-creams!
+ What about beverages, especially alcoholic?
Beer contains gluten; most cider is ok but generally not on-tap cider; wine is ok. Most non alcoholic drinks are ok – but some cocoa powder contains gluten.
+ What were the biggest challenges when switching diets?
Finding take away or fast food alternatives when in a hurry or travelling down the highway. We learnt that food needs to be taken with us in those situations as there is generally nothing available.
+ What are some ingredients that you have started using since starting a gluten-free diet?
Quinoa and a range of alternative flours – soy, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
+ Baking typically relies heavily on gluten-based flour. How did you find the transition from one type of baking to another? Through trial and error, what are some tips to achieve the desired results when using gluten-free flour?
Find out about the different types of flours and when you should use them. Find some GF baking books written by experienced and reputable GF chefs/cooks. Plain and Self-raising GF flour is available in supermarkets and is good for most types of basic baking. Try tried and tested baking recipes that are flourless and use almond meal.
For more info, check out the Coeliac Society website here.
Cooking school – 09 May 2013: Join our Gluten-Free cooking class where you will create 6 stress-free – and gluten-free – dishes that are easy to make at home.
The Essential Ingredient stocks a large range of sweet and savory gluten-free products to get you on your way to a gluten-free life.
“What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.” – Katherine Hepburn
Everyone has eaten chocolate at some point in their lives, most likely many times and in many forms, probably as a rich hot drink, in cakes, sauces, puddings or as perfectly shaped pieces of heavenly smoothness. Nothing quite compares with a coffee and a box of Belgian chocolates but in an ordinary kitchen, this symbol of indulgence, can spell disaster and become synonym of confusion.
What is the difference between unsweetened and bittersweet? What does ‘dutched’ cocoa mean? How do you temper chocolate? Why are some chocolates so much more expensive than others?
In this guide, we will try to answer some of these questions so that next time you are standing in front of the chocolate aisle, you’ll know exactly which one is right for the job.
A little bit of history
Chocolate was introduced to the Western world around the 1500s but had been used to make a ‘warm beverage’ (which is what the word means) by Central Americans for at least 1200 years. It is only in the 1800s that chocolate was first used in a solid form, as we know it today.
Chocolate is extracted from cacao beans, the fruit of the rare cacao tree, grown commercially in South America, New Guinea, the West Indies and Vanuatu. The cacao nibs are removed from their shells through a long process where they are fermented, dried, roasted and hulled. The nibs are then ground and melted to create a thick paste referred to as chocolate liquor. At this point, cacao becomes cocoa, the processed version of the bean.
In its purest form, hardened chocolate liquor, composed of half cocoa butter and half cocoa solids, becomes unsweetened cooking chocolate. Extra cocoa butter can then be added for a better melting quality and lushness. Other ingredients like sugar, milk or vanilla might be added to create the different varieties of chocolate.
The final stage of the process is called ‘conching’, when the chocolate is kneaded to make it smooth. The longer it is conched, the smoother (and more expensive) it will become. This process goes a long way in explaining the difference between low quality chocolate that feels gritty on the tongue and the best Belgian or Swiss chocolates that are so famously smooth.
The highest quality chocolates are then aged for 2 or 3 months.
Chocolate is categorized by its chocolate liquor and cocoa butter content as unsweetened, bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk or white.
Unsweetened chocolate ( “bitter”, “baking chocolate” or “cooking chocolate”) is pure chocolate liquor mixed with some form of fat to produce a solid substance. The pure, ground, roasted cocoa beans impart a strong, deep chocolate flavor.
Bittersweet chocolate is chocolate liquor (or unsweetened chocolate) to which some sugar (less than a third), more cocoa butter, vanilla and sometimes leicithin has been added. It has less sugar and more liquor than semisweet chocolate, but the two are interchangeable when baking. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the less sweet the chocolate is.
Semi-sweet chocolate is frequently used for cooking purposes. It is a dark chocolate with half as much sugar as cocoa.
Milk chocolate is solid chocolate made with milk. It might only contain about 20% cocoa solids.
White chocolate is a confection based on sugar, milk, and cocoa butter. It doesn’t actually contain any cocoa solids.
Couverture chocolate is used to create a thin, even coating with a pronounced gloss. It has a high level of cocoa butter and is recommended for general cooking uses because of its quality and flavour. It is available in bittersweet, semi-sweet and milk.
Cocoa powder is available in two forms : either ‘natural’ or ‘dutched’ which refers to a chemical process designed to neutralise the acids of the chocolate.
Natural Unsweetened cocoa powder is very bitter and gives a rich chocolate flavour to baked goods. It is better suited rich recipes like brownies or chocolate cakes. Because of it’s acidic content, it will cause batter to rise when used in recipes calling for baking soda.
Dutched cocoa powder was chemically treated to neutralize its acids. As a result, it must be used in recipes calling for baking powder, unless there are enough other acidic ingredients used. It has a milder flavor than natural cocoa and is better suited to more delicate baked goods like pastries. Dutched cocoa is also more soluble than natural cocoa making it better suited to chocolate drinks.
Preparation (based on The cooks companion by Stephanie Alexander)
Chocolate is often required to be melted but before you do, keep these few tips in mind to avoid any problems:
Chip or grate the chocolate before melting
Your spoon and bowl must be completely dry. Moisture will cause the chocolate to seize and tighten. A couple drops of vegetable oil will rescue it but be careful not to use butter as it contains moisture and will simply make it worse.
Melt chocolate on low or medium heat. High heat will cause it to turn dry and grainy.
Melt chocolate in batches, it will be easier to maintain an even temperature throughout.
Melted chocolate should feel warm rather than hot.
In a double boiler: Bring water to a full boil in the bottom of a double boiler, then turn off the heat. Place grated chocolate in the top of the double boiler. The water in the bottom should come right up to the level of the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir it completely melted.
Over hot water: Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, then turn the heat very low. Put the grated chocolate in a bowl wide enough to sit on top of the saucepan. The bowl must sit tightly on the pan as steam will spoil the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, then stir it completely melted.
In a microwave oven: Put the chopped chocolate in a microwave proof bowl. Do not cover as moisture could form. Microwave on medium for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir the melted chocolate until smooth.
With other ingredients: To melt chocolate with milk, cream, coffee or water, add chocolate to cool rather than hot liquids and melt gently over direct heat while stirring. When adding liquid to already melted chocolate, the liquid should be warm to hot, otherwise the chocolate will seize and tighten.
The recipe I am sharing belongs to Rosa Jackson, a good friend of mine who teaches Mediterranean cooking in Nice, France. The addition of olive oil to a chocolate mousse might seem surprising but you’ll just have to trust us on this one; In addition to adding a distinctive sunny touch, it also makes the mousse lighter and silkier. Plus, this is a really simple recipe which is hard to get wrong, particularly if you follow the golden rule of choosing great ingredients.
Recipe: Olive oil chocolate mousse (from Rosa Jackson’s Les Meilleurs Desserts des Paresseuses)
100g of good quality chocolate around 65% cacao (Bittersweet or Ecuador)
2 tbsp mild olive oil
2 egg yolks
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp caster sugar
A few drops of olive oil to finish
Melt the chocolate with the olive oil in a bain-marie (double boiler) or in the microwave. Combine well, then add the egg yolks one at a time, while stirring.
Beat the egg whites until firm peaks form with the pinch of salt, adding the sugar when the eggs are 2/3 of the way. Fold in 1/3 of egg whites into chocolate. Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites; combine until egg whites have been completely incorporated.
Pour the mixture into a souffle dish or ramequins. Chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Before serving, drizzle a few drops of olive oil.
This should get us started, understanding the many different types of chocolate available out there and how to work with this most decadent of ingredients. In our next post, we’ll talk about tempering chocolate and share 3 different techniques to experiment with at home, just in time for Easter.
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