December 22, 2012

Traditions: Merry Christmas

So it's that time of year when everyone starts getting merry, and for kitchen TPB that can mean only one thing - hampers! Having once again decided to spend the festive season abroad, this year it was all about time efficiency and doing things that would keep, and so to get some of the preparations done early I had my first crack at the traditional cake and Christmas pud.

There were some of Nat's beautiful gingerbread cookies,

Dan's fabulous cardamom peanut brittle,

some cheese and black pepper buttons, for that little bit of savoury,

all packaged up for loved ones near and far.

Unfortunately, though, I'll have to leave the deliveries up to my elves, as distant shores are calling and I must bid you adieu. May you have the grandest of Christmases, wherever you may be, enjoyed with much love and laughter in the company of family and good friends. Be safe, be merry, relax and have fun. Thank you for joining me on this year's adventures. I am so grateful for having you here with me, and look forward to sharing all manner of fabulous things with you in 2013.

Miss Emily xx

December 9, 2012

Technical challenge: Pork pies

The humble pork pie is a long-standing British tradition and an ultimate performer when it comes to portable meaty snacks. Traditionally eaten cold they have a distinctive bowing shape, which results from the use of a special, hand-shaped crust. Pacdon Park, a British smallgoods producer operating out of northern Victoria, make some of the finest pork pies going, and when you've got the likes of these close at hand it's pretty easy to pass up on making your own.

Pacdon Park's flagship pork pie

But I was keen to learn about the pastry they use and so the pork pie was penned in as this week's technical challenge, albeit one with a very high benchmark...

The pastry of choice when it comes to making hand-raised pies is a hot water crust, which relies on the combination of lard and boiling water to form a sticky dough that slowly stiffens with time. While perfect for creating something stand-alone and holding those all important porky juices in, there is an art to this this particular pastry, which all comes down to a matter of timing. Start shaping too early while the pastry is still warm, and you have yourself a greasy mess incapable of supporting itself. But start too late and it will be stiff and retractile, refusing to be shaped and tearing at the nearest suggestion.

As it happened, when it's pushing forty degrees celsius outside stiffening isn't really an issue, and working with this recipe from Dan Lepard I found the handling to be far easier than I'd expected.

For the all important filling I spread the love between three great Victorian pork producers - Greenvale meats, Bundarra Berkshires and Pacdon Park - stuck with the traditional seasonings, and threw in a little bit of bacon, just for good measure.

Shaped and then filled it was off to the oven with fingers crossed, and I have to admit I was pretty pleased with what came back.

Despite starting off reasonably squat most managed the characteristic bow, and while some of the tasty juices easily escaped through the oversized vent, the caramelised leak added a nice "homemade" effect.

On the all-important taste test I was again suitably impressed. By using a small amount of butter along with the lard the pastry was not only structurally sound, but had an added and delicate flake. Although the outer layers fell apart somewhat on cutting it had a really lovely texture and was, of course, delicious. The filling was also great, as the apple-brined gammon added both a beautiful pink hue and was wonderfully bright in flavour. As a worker's lunch or handy addition to the charcuterie board the pork pie is a fabulous number to have in one's baking repertoire, and the feeling achieved from making your own hand-shaped pies is immensely satisfying. While they're certainly no match for those Pacdon Park beauties they were a truly delicious start to my journey toward pork pie perfection. Next time I'd add a lot more white pepper and roll sans vent, as I think it would be nice to keep in those juices and forego the addition of jelly, but as a first attempt I'd say that's a winner for technical challenge: round one.

December 2, 2012

Seasonal Regional: The lemons of Yinnar

With Christmas holidays looming large the weekend was scheduled for visiting family and friends, and as I tootled around southern Victoria I discovered that not only is the quaint little hamlet of Yinnar a delightful location for catching up and taking in some much needed country air, it’s also a fabulous place for growing lemons.

It was a glorious and sunny afternoon when I arrived at my friends’ property so we immediately took to the yard. As we wandered around we came across their lemon tree, so heavily laden with fruit it was almost comical (I’d wager the lemon to leaf ratio was at least three to one). The look of envy must have been obvious as my hosts suggested I take some with me and, having naturally obliged, as I journeyed home the following day I had but one thing in mind…

During my last trip to London I came across London Borough of Jam, a delightful little preserving service that produces some of the most exquisite jams and preserves imaginable. While everything I sampled was exceptional it was the lemon vanilla marmalade in particular that took my fancy, and since my reserves have now well and truly dried up, I thought it high time I attempt making my own.

A quick literature search identified a number of methods that seemed popular, and so I took a comparative approach. The first applied a safe and simple technique in which the finely sliced rind was repeatedly blanched before being gently simmered with the sugar and reserved juice.

The second, while equally hands-on required much more time as the whole lemons were boiled until tender before then being sliced and simmered.

Both were suitably delicious and enjoyed their own particular appeal. For those who prefer a strong marmalade the rind of the first had a lot more bite, while the second was more subtle, being much more jam-like in nature.

Personally I prefer the first. The textures were more suited to my tastes and I found it had greater aesthetic appeal, as boiling the pith for the second method produced a white fleck that ran through what was also a darker, more amber hue. That said, the texture and translucency of the boiled lemons was incredible and something that must certainly be experimented with in future.

If you’re not a marmalade fan I doubt either of these will convert you as they both carry that fabulous bitterness so fundamental to any peel-based fruit preserve. But if you enjoy such treats then I highly recommend giving the lemon vanilla variety a go - it’s delicious.