Thursday, December 10, 2020

Gluten-free butterless pecan turtle bars

December 5-6, 2020


I've been back adjusting my butter pecan turtle bar recipe again! This time round it was to share with our book club, who were meeting up for an end-of-year celebration - in person for the first time since last February. I wanted to improve on the vegan caramel I attempted a month ago, and try introducing gluten-free flour to the base.

First, the easy bit: Orgran gluten-free flour was a simple substitution. If anything, the base came together more easily than with plain flour. The slice had that tell-tale sandiness that can give away gluten-free baked goods, and didn't quite support the toppings with the same strength. I'll continue to use plain flour when I can, and go ahead with this swap if it'll benefit the group I'm sharing with.

Second, the caramel. To replace the thin liquid of my last batch, I transferred across the thicker formulation from this caramel slice, using a can of Pandaroo coconut condensed milk. It was abundant and oozy! Mildly flavoured, holding together better when refrigerated, an improvement on my last batch but still not developing the chewiness I like best.

I guess a hybrid caramel is in order. If I try half a can of condensed milk and throw in some brown sugar, I'm hoping I'll be on my way to a more deeply coloured and flavoured, chewy-set caramel to match the original non-vegan recipe.


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Blueberry & cream cheese crostata

 November 28-29, 2020


For the first time in more than a year, our Ottolenghi cooking club met in person and shared food together. In a common pattern for our club, I volunteered for dessert duty early and with enthusiasm. The most appetising, picnic-friendly recipe I could find was this blueberry and cream cheese crostata, which was published online to coincide with Fourth of July festivities.

It starts with a shortcrust pastry that's very heavy on the butter - I found that it absorbed the full quantity of flour without including any of the water in the recipe. I'm a devotee of food-processed shortcrusts but I washed my hands thoroughly and dug in as directed here - it worked out fine, though I'm not confident it was worth the extra messiness. The dough was sticky and challenging to handle on a hot day, and I'm glad it was always intended to look a little rough around the edges.

The shortcrust pastry is topped with a cheesecakey layer, tangy with lots of lime juice and zest, and then macerated and slightly mashed blueberries. I was supposed to hold over a little zest and icing sugar for a last-minute garnish but that was more fuss than I could stretch to, and I don't think any of us missed it.

This crostata was a big success with the club - the pastry was crumbly and toasty, and the cream cheese and blueberry layers played back and forth with richness and freshness, sourness and sweetness. I would definitely make this again, especially for a picnic setting, and I can't help wondering how a vegan adaptation might go.

Blueberry & cream cheese crostata
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi in The Guardian)

100g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
30g icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
145g butter, cold
65mL water, ice-cold (I didn't use this)
extra flour, for working the dough
milk, for brushing

cream cheese filling
200g cream cheese, at room temperature
50g icing sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
3-4 limes, to make 1 tablespoon zest and 1 tablespoon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

blueberry topping
200g blueberries
20g icing sugar

Prepare the pastry dough in a large bowl. Sift together the flours, sugar and salt. Chop the butter into 1.5cm cubes and squish it into the flour. Ottolenghi recommends leaving butter chunks intact, then using the water to bring the dough together. I ended up rubbing the butter through until all of the flour was incorporated, not including any water at all.

Scatter the flour over a work surface and a rolling pin. Roll the dough out into a 30cm x 20cm rectangle, fold the shorter sides into the centre and roll gently over them. Repeat folding in sides and rolling over the pastry twice more. Wrap the pastry in plastic and refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes (I left mine overnight).

Beat together the cream cheese filling in a medium bowl: start with the cream cheese, sift over the icing sugar and cornflour, and add the lime zest, juice and the vanilla. Beat thoroughly, until smooth.

In a small-medium bowl, sift the icing sugar over the blueberries and stir them together. Partially crush the blueberries with a fork, leaving some whole.

Lightly flour a long sheet of baking paper; unwrap the pastry and place it on the paper. Roll the dough out - Ottolenghi aims for a 32 cm-diameter circle, and I went for an oval that I could fit onto my baking tray. Transfer the paper and pastry onto a baking sheet. Spoon the cream cheese filling into the centre of the pastry, spreading it out but leaving a 1-2 cm border of pastry free around the edges. Dot the blueberry mixture across the cream cheese.

Use a knife to make 2 cm deep cuts in the pastry border at 8 cm intervals. Gently fold each pastry section over and inwards, so that they slightly overlap and form a thick edge. Refrigerate the crostata on its tray for 30 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 230°C. Brush the edges of the pastry with milk, and bake the crosata for 10 minutes. Turn the oven down to 180°C and bake for a further 25 minutes, until the pastry is golden and cooked through. After letting it rest on the tray for 5 minutes, transfer it to a biscuit rack to keep the pastry as crisp as possible. Allow it to cool for another 30 minutes or more before serving.