Salmon en Croute

For some reason, wrapping food in puff pastry has become a sign of classy, luxurious, up-market dining. Whilst anything wrapped in puff pastry is clearly luxurious and decadent, I would not go as far as saying it makes a dish classy. There is a bizarre mystique surrounding this pastry, most likely because it is such a nightmare to make, but in a society where we can walk into almost any supermarket and buy it premade (who actually has time to make puff pastry from scratch…) the grand dinners you see at restaurants can easily be recreated at home.

 

The term “en croute” means in pastry and as such, can really be applied to any food that is cooked in a pastry shell. Boeuf en croute – otherwise known as Beef Wellington – another classic ‘posh’ dish that is incredibly simple to make. Originally, hot water crust or shortcrust pastry would have been used to wrap up meats for cooking as it helps keep in moisture and flavour. The pastry could be burnt but then discarded after cooking leaving a delicious meal. This style of cooking has been around for as long as pastry has, with recipes for meat and fish wrapped in pastry dating back to the time of the Tudors.

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Beef Wellington is something everyone should try!

 

Different meats and fish lend themselves well to different pastries as you can only cook the food in the oven for as long as it takes the pastry to go golden brown. Fillet steak and salmon lend themselves well to puff pastry as they are cooked in a short time – you will still need to rest any meat that gets cooked this way to ensure that it isn’t dry. Larger pieces of meat have to be seared for longer in a pan to precook them as, if it takes 40 minutes in the oven to cook the meat well, you will end up with your meal en carbone.

 

Most salmon en croute recipes involve layers of salmon, some sort of creamy dairy element and spinach. The recipe below adheres to this idea but includes an extra element: a basic pesto style sauce folded into the cream cheese. This herby flavour gives the dish lightness which is necessary for something surrounded by a large quantity of pastry. As always, you want to avoid a soggy bottom on your pastry. To try and prevent this, the spinach is wrung out to ensure that it contains as little moisture as possible. The cream cheese is thick and spreadable and while it can be exchanged for sour cream or crème fraiche, these have a far higher moisture content so could soak through the pastry. If you have to use either of these, I would advise hanging them in a cheese cloth for an hour before cooking to try and strain out some of the liquid.

 

This recipe is delicious served with leeks or some other vegetable and a small amount of potato. You don’t want to overload the plate with carbs but when the pastry is rolled out thin enough to cover four fillets, there isn’t much per person.

 

Salmon en Croute

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Price per serving: about £2.80

 

4 fillets of salmon

1 packet (500g) puff pastry

8g fresh basil

Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

180g cream cheese

450g fresh spinach

1 medium onion

Oil

1 beaten egg

 

 

Thinly slice the onions and sauté in a pan with a little oil until the onion turn soft (about 5 mins).

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Add the spinach and gently stir until wilted. You may have to do this in a few batches.

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before wilting…
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….and after

Once the spinach is just wilted, place it into a sieve and press down to squeeze out all the liquid in order to prevent the pastry going soggy. Set aside to cool.

 

Skin the salmon. To do this, place the fish skin side down on a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to cut inwards from a corner between the skin and the flesh about a centimetre. Pin the flap of skin to the board with your non-dominant hand. Slide the knife along the skin at a 45° angle to separate the skin from the fish. (Online videos can really help with this if you are still struggling).

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Turn the oven to gas mark 7 (210°C) to preheat.

 

Place the garlic and basil into a blender and blend until a rough paste is formed. Add the olive oil and blend until it forms a paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Fold the pesto into the cream cheese.

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The salmon fillets will be placed next to each other to create one large block of fish – one giant salmon en croute – so roll out the puff pastry to three times the combined length of the salmon and about two inches above and below it.

 

Spread a large spoonful of spinach mix in the centre of the pastry and add the salmon fillets with the original skin side up.

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Smear the cream cheese mixture over the salmon and top with a little more of the spinach.

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Brush the outer wings of pastry with the beaten egg and fold them tightly into the centre.

 

Seal the edges and fold them up.

 

Flip the parcel into a lined baking tray so you have a smooth surface on the top.

 

Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to gas mark 6 (200°C) and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.

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excess pastry can be used to decorate the parcel

Remove the salmon from the oven and cover with foil. Leave to rest for five to ten minutes before serving.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love dishes like this, be sure to check out my Beef Wellington recipe or, if you are looking for something a little bit on the sweeter side, why not treat yourself to a delicious tart, you could try chocolate (with or without salted caramel) or even treat yourself to a delicious apple pie.

 

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a Christmassy biscuit recipe.

 

H

 

Swiss Meringue

A few months ago, I did a post on making foolproof meringues. This comes as a sort of follow up because what is important about the three different types of meringue is that they are all good for specific, and different, things. I don’t tend to make meringue for any other reason than using up egg whites left over from other recipes – however I have been known to make the odd meringue cake or pavlova in the past.

Unlike French and Italian meringue, swiss meringue is heated before baking. The sugar is added at the start of the recipe and the additional weight literally weighs down the egg whites during the beating resulting in a strong but dense mixture. When making a classic (French) meringue, you can also add the sugar at the start but, because the eggs are not heated, this doesn’t have as much of an effect as it does when making the Swiss variety. One of the benefits of the thicker mixture achieved in a Swiss meringue is that you end up with a super marshmallowy centre without going through the stage that we all want to avoid where putting the meringue into your mouth is like eating a tube of superglue.

Where Swiss meringue really comes into its own is when you are making layered meringue cakes. As the mixture is denser, the final baked product is much less fragile and the rigidity of the meringue makes it a safe option for stacking without any of the edges snapping off. The stability of the uncooked meringue is also far superior to both French and Italian meringues. If left for too long, French meringue will deflate – this is irreparable; beating it again will not help – and, once made, you have a limited time (around 24 hours) with Italian meringue before the sugar starts to recrystallise leading to a gritty mouthfeel with is rather unpleasant.

Unlike both of these, Swiss meringue will stick around for a long time making it perfect for use in icing – most famously, the Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With a much higher butter:sugar ratio than traditional American buttercream, the icing is far less making it nicer for those of us without a sweet tooth. The high proportion of butter does unfortunately come with a cost. This can be a dangerous icing to use in summer as the butter can melt. The meringue does help prevent it getting too runny but there is only so much you can do to hold together a frosting that has become 50% liquid in the heat. Of course the very butter that can cause this catastrophe in the summer is also what allows the icing to set solid in the fridge making it a perfect base layer to have underneath fondant and ganache as you can scrape things off the cake without damaging any crumb coats that you may have already applied. I would definitely recommend using a Swiss meringue buttercream if baking for adults (assuming you have the time) as it has a far nicer flavour and texture that its American counterpart – just make sure that it is at room temperature before you serve it.

I hope you enjoy the recipe for the meringues and that the baking gods prevent any cracks from occurring.

 

 

Swiss Meringue

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 90 minutes

 

3 egg whites

6 oz. caster sugar

¼ tsp cream of tartar or ¼ tsp white vinegar or ¼ tsp lemon juice

 

Put the egg whites and sugar into a large mixing bowl.

Add about an inch of water to the bottom of a saucepan and stand the mixing bowl over the top – the bowl should not touch the water.

Bring the water to a gentle simmer whilst stirring the egg mixture.

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You can see the grains of sugar around the outside of the bowl.

Continue to beat the egg mix (by hand as you don’t want to whip the eggs yet, just dissolve the sugar) until all of the sugar has dissolved. The egg mix will feel slightly warm to the touch and a small amount rubbed between your fingers will feel smooth and not grainy. At this point, it will be glossy white and have the consistency of double cream.

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The mixture is far smoother after gentle heating.

Remove the egg and sugar from the heat.

Turn the oven to gas mark 1 (140°C) to preheat.

Add the cream of tartar/lemon juice/vinegar and whisk with electric beaters until the meringue has increased massively in volume and is thick and glossy. It should be able to mostly hold its shape when the beaters are removed. This will take about seven or eight minutes.

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Pipe the meringue onto baking sheets – larger meringues will take longer to cook. For an added stripe of colour, take a small amount of gel food colouring and straw a strip down in the inside of your piping bag before filling it.

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Place the meringues into the oven and prop the door slightly open with a wooden spoon (only about one or two centimetres).

Bake for 90 minutes or until one of the meringues comes off the tray without sticking.

Turn the oven off, remove the spoon from the door and let cool for at least an hour before removing the meringues from the oven. This will help prevent cracking and the formation of a cavity at the base of the meringue.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. These can be served with whipped cream and fruit for miniature pavlovas or Eton mess. You can also melt a little chocolate, dip the meringues into it and leave them to cool to get a lovely, chocolate layer around the base of the meringues. They also make great snacks when you just need a little bit of sugar.

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Have a good one and I will be back next week with a delicious dinner.

H

 

 

Pumpkin Pie

For such a bland ingredient, I find it fascinating that pumpkin has a whole dessert dedicated to it. That being said, the predominant flavour of a pumpkin pie is a sweet, spiced custard. This is not a bad thing in my eyes. The pumpkin is mainly there as a medium to keep the sugar and flavours in one place after the pie is cut open – a job that it does magnificently.

A classic problem most people face with a pumpkin pie is the dreaded crack. This is no Madeira cake, where you want the filling to bubble up from within like lava leaking from a volcano, this is a beautiful glossy pie with a smooth flat top. The reason that pies crack is overcooking – specifically overcooked egg. This is, of course, a problem as the egg is what causes the filling to set and gives the melt in your mouth, custardy texture. As an egg cooks, the proteins inside it tighten and cause it to shrink. Anyone who has fried an egg will have seen how the edges pull in ever so slightly as they cook, giving a slightly smaller, thicker end result than one would otherwise get. This phenomenon, when spread over the entire width of a pie, can do irreparable damage which can be hidden by whipped cream but will always be there.

“So how”, I hear you shout, “can I stop my pie from cracking?” There are two easy solutions. One: do not overcook the pie, the eggs should be just set and the centre of the pie should be slightly wobbly when it is taken out of the oven. Two: replace some of the egg white with egg yolks. In the recipe below, you will see that there is only one egg white whilst there are four egg yolks. The yolk cooks at a slightly higher temperature than the white of the egg and also shrinks far less if overdone. That is not to say that this solution will ensure perfection every time – everyone messes stuff up occasionally. What this does do however is give you a larger margin of error on your pie. With such a high specific heat capacity due to the fat content, the pumpkin pie will take a good few hours to cool. Leave at least four if you are serving it that day. In this time, the latent heat inside the pie will finish cooking the centre. I should note that we aren’t talking about a small central area here, you should be envisioning a solid four-inch-wide circle in the middle of the pie which appears sunken when the pie comes out of the oven. The puffed-up edges will deflate as the pie cools and the centre will firm up. If your pie is fully cooked through when you remove it from the oven, it is almost guaranteed to crack as it cools if it has not done so already.

All that doom and gloom aside, these pies are celebratory. They are a celebration of the harvest and one of the foods which Americans can proudly call their own. The first recipes for sweet pumpkin pies appeared during the 1800s and their popularity has grown ever since. After the civil war, pumpkin pies were rejected by many southern areas as a way of renouncing what they saw as a Unionist tradition being forced upon them. In retaliation, many people ate sweet potato pies or included pecan nuts and bourbon in their pumpkin pie recipes to separate their pies from the classic “yankee” pie. Nowadays, it is traditional to serve a pumpkin pie as dessert after the Thanksgiving meal but they can, of course, be eaten at any time of the year.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did – I will certainly be making this again.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:

4oz cold butter

8oz flour

3 tbsp caster sugar

60ml cold water (ideally from the fridge)

Pinch of salt

Pumpkin Filling:

1 tin pumpkin puree (15oz/425g)

1 tin condensed milk (14oz/400g)

1 egg

3 egg yolks

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp Chinese five spice (or a pinch of ground cloves, ground star anise and ground pepper)

½ tsp salt

To make the pastry, cube the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir through the salt and sugar.

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Add half of the water and stir with a knife until the mixture begins to come together. If it is still dry, add more of the water.

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Once the dough has started forming into pieces, tip it out onto a workbench and knead it together into one ball. Try to work the dough as little as possible.

Flatten the dough into a thick disk (about 2cm high) and wrap it in cling film before placing it in the fridge to chill.

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In a large bowl whisk the egg and extra yolks into the pumpkin puree.

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Whisk in the spices, salt and then the condensed milk.

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If you don’t have Chinese five spice, you can substitute it with cloves, star anise and ground pepper, I don’t have these in ground form at home so had to grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t take that long but you have to remember that a pepper grinder like the ones you would use at dinner will not grind the pepper enough for this recipe. You do not want lumps of pepper in your pie!

Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (210°C)

Butter a 10 inch pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it.

Trim the edges leaving a 2cm overhang.

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Fold this overhang back side the pie and press it into the top edge, this will give you a thick rim which you can crimp.

To crimp the rim of the pie dish, one finger of your left thumb and your right thumb and forefinger to press the edge of the pie into a little divot. Repeat this around the whole pie to get a beautiful edge.

OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Using foil and baking beads, blind bake the case for around ten minutes. This will help avoid a soggy bottom late on, you don’t need to bake it for long as it will have another 45 minutes or so in the oven to crisp up but I have found that if you do not blind bake this, although fully cooked, the pastry can be a little bit soft.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and place back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (170°C) and bake for another 30-40 minutes. When fully cooked, the pie should be just set in the middle and a skewer inserted an inch away from the pastry case should come out clean.

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Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

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As usual, the first slice may be a little problematic to get out but after that, all slices of pie will come out beautifully and taste amazing – just remember to loosen them underneath with a knife or offset spatula before you try to lift them off the plate.

Serve with lightly whipped double cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. You do not need to add any sugar or flavouring to the cream as the pie is sweet enough already.

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The flavour of this pie is gorgeous and its custardy texture is ultra smooth and creamy. It is simply divine. Of course, not everyone likes pumpkin pie and if you are one of those people, why not try making my raspberry and white chocolate pie – or maybe ever a quadruple chocolate and salted caramel one? If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not try making a flavourful hot water crust chicken pie? It’s sturdy enough to survive in a lunchbox and just a good cold as it is hot.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another meal idea.

H

Foolproof Meringues

Unlike most foods in baking, meringues are not cooked as much as dried out in the oven. A very low temperature should be used when making them to prevent the meringues from colouring in the oven – they should come out a brilliant white. They are also incredibly versatile as meringue can be used not only to decorate other desserts but also as the main base for pudding – for example pavlova and Eton mess. They can be either solid or marshmallowy inside but be careful, if they are undercooked a tasty snack can easily become the equivalent of eating something akin to superglue.

Owing to their minimal list of ingredients, colouring meringues can be a bit of a hassle. Ideally you want to use egg whites which you separate out from the yolk yourself. This is because the egg whites which come in a carton tend to be pasteurised and during this process, some of the proteins are affected so they do not whip up as well as fresh egg whites. If you do have to use egg whites from a carton, you will have to whip the meringue for far longer and should also use half a teaspoon of cream of tartar to help bind them. It is imperative that you use gel food colourings or even better, gel paste as normal water based food colouring can disrupt the balance between the sugar and egg white and lead to the meringues deflating. The same can be said of adding flavourings – if they are liquid based, add them right at the end and add as little as possible. Adding a teaspoon of cornflour can help offset this problem but won’t prevent it entirely.

There are several types of meringue – French, Swiss, and Italian – which are all made and used in different ways. The recipe below is a classic example of a French meringue. The egg whites and sugar are whipped together to form a thick, glossy mixture which holds it shape upon piping. It is then baked to set the proteins in the egg white and drive off excess water. Swiss meringue is similar however it is whipped in a bain marie (over a pan of simmering water) until it is thick. The mixture is then removed from the heat and beaten until cool – the meringue is again baked. The final type is Italian meringue. Unlike the other two, this used hot sugar syrup instead of solid sugar. When it is added, the mixture will go very runny. It is then whipped until cool resulting in a stiff meringue. As the sugar syrup was very hot when it was added, the egg whites are already cooked so Italian meringue does not need to be baked before using. As a result, it is common to put it on lemon meringue pie and baked Alaska before blowtorching the outside to give it a caramelised finish.

I hope you enjoy the recipe and that you end up loving meringue as much as I do!

Meringues

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 2 hr plus

Ingredients:

3 egg whites (room temperature works best)

6 oz caster sugar

½ tsp lemon juice/white vinegar/cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

Method One (with a stand mixer):

Preheat the oven to 85-90⁰C

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for around 10 minutes until the mixture is thick and glossy.

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The meringue mostly holds its shape on the whisk – it could probably do with another few minutes at this point.

Take a tiny bit between your fingers and see if it feels gritty. If it does, continue to whisk the mixture for another minute or two until the sugar has dissolved completely.

Pipe or dollop shapes or piles of the mix onto a lined baking tray.

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Bake for around two hours until the meringues come away from the base of the baking tray without breaking.

Method Two (with an electric hand whisk):

Preheat the oven to 85-90C

Put the egg whites in a bowl and beat them until they reach stiff peaks.

Add the sugar in two tablespoons at a time and make sure to keep whisking in between additions so the sugar will dissolve properly.

Once all the sugar has been incorporated, add in the salt and lemon juice and continue to whisk for another five or so minutes until the mixture is very thick, glossy and smooth.

As with method one, use a piping bag or a spoon to make little mounds of meringue on the baking sheet and place into the oven for around two hours.

Serve with cream and fresh fruit.

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Deconstructed pavlova with rainbow meringues.
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Banana caramel with meringues? Yes please!

I hope you enjoyed the recipe; for another sweet treat check out my recipe for apple pie (it’s possible to make this one vegan) or if you fancy something a little more savoury, why not make yourself some red pepper and tomato soup?

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with an easy recipe for crispy skin salmon and lemon couscous – it’s super fast and utterly divine!

H