Monday, November 30, 2009

A first at everything: homemade pasta

First word. First steps. First day of school. First time overseas. There's a start to every challenge in life and new paths bring both fear and excitement. I'm finally done with my bachelors degree and now I'm entering my first year with no predetermined path. For the past 16 years, the following year had been another 365 days of school. I usually remember my "first"s. And over the weekend, I made my first pasta.

Before this, I've never thought of trying pasta dough at home. Mainly because I have no idea how pasta is made. I had also imagined it to be one of those basic ingredients you just have to buy. A lot like rice or flour or any vegetables and raw meat. But then one book changed my perspective. I found it while browsing in Borders and its pasta recipe made me curious. Like all new recipes, I was excited to try it but nervous about the results.

At the end of the day, I found out that making pasta was less complicated than I thought. The pasta tasted softer than the packaged ones, but I thought it was not bad for a first try. It did not have the "eggy" or "floury" taste that I feared. Next time, I would probably cut it thinner and knead it a bit longer. Other than that, I had fun 'playing' with the dough and knowing that I made the entire dish :D I paired the pasta with mascarpone, smoked salmon, rocket and walnuts. I think it'd go well with a tomato base sauce too.

The book recommended the pasta to be made with OO flour instead of plain. This flour is the same kind used to make pizzas and is better because it's more fine, resulting in a softer and more malleable dough. OO flour is available in supermarkets. The ingredients for a basic pasta dough are real simple...1 egg for every 100g of flour. The recipe is for 200g, which serves 4. Variations of pasta dough include spinach, beetroot and squid ink.

Homemade Pasta (Basic Dough)
adapted from here 

2 large eggs
100g OO flour
a wooden work surface (preferably)


1. Pour the flour on the work surface and make a well with 5cm walls.

2. Crack the two eggs inside, making sure not to spill and break the walls.

3. Using a knife, break the egg yolks and mix the eggs. After that, slowly incorporate the inner walls of the flour into the eggs until it forms a dough.
4. When the dough is almost done, use your fingers to mix the remaining flour in.

5. If it's still sticky, add a bit of flour. Stop once it's not sticky anymore.

6. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes.

7. The dough is ready if you see bubbles inside when you cut it.

8. Wrap in clingwrap and leave for 20 minutes.

9. Lightly dust the work surface and roll the dough to about 1mm thick. It should be thin enough that when you put it over your hand you can see the outlines of your hand.

10. Fold the two sides until it reaches in the middle.
11. Cut vertically around your desired width.

12. The fresh pasta is done and ready to use.
13. To cook, boil pasta for a few minutes until al dente. The cooking time depends on the width but it's usually done when it floats to the surface.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A sweet finish

There is no satisfying way to end a meal than with a lovely dessert. It can turn around the whole dining experience or add that extra wow factor. This classic berry tart is one example. It's simple to make yet very elegant.

Last Wednesday was my first time having friends over and cooking dinner from start to finish. On the menu were pesto spaghetti, paprika chicken, garlic bread (with the help of a friend) and this triple-berry tart. I have to say, I do quite like entertaining after this experience :D I especially had fun making the tart and the pesto sauce from scratch.

The tart uses the sweet version of the shortcrust pastry I was talking about in my previous post. The recipe is a bit different from others I've come across as it doesn't use the egg white or ice water to mix the dough. I'm not 100% sure of what's the effect, but taking a wild guess, having no egg white or water probably makes the tart crispier and harder after it comes out of the oven. For a softer and more crumbly crust texture, bake it a day ahead and place it in the fridge overnight.

What I like about Dorie's berry tart recipe is that you can tweak and add your personal touch. For the crust, you can substitute 1/4 cup of the flour with your choice of ground nuts or put in spices to add more flavour. For the pastry cream, you can add 1-2 tbsp of liqueur or 2-3 tsp of cinnamon powder or ground ginger after beating in the vanilla extract. You can even get rid of the berries and use other fruits like peach or kiwi instead. Mix and match the flavour combination to get what you like or fit whatever is in season. Have fun baking~

Quick Classic Berry Tart
adapted from here
makes a 23cm tart

I. For the sweet tart dough

1 1/2 cups plain flour (I substituted 1/4 cup with almond meal)
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
135g very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 large egg yolk

1. Whisk the flour, ground nuts, sugar and salt together in a large bowl.
2. Put in the butter.
3. Working quickly, with a pastry cutter/dough scraper, cut the pieces of the butter and push it into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (it's the same method as the savoury crust. you can also use your hands and rub the butter into the flour.)
4. Mix in the egg yolk thoroughly and until the dough just comes together to form a ball.
5. Press the dough over the bottom and up the sides of a buttered 23cm tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture.
6. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes or until you want to bake it.
7. To bake the crust, preheat the oven to 190C.
8. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminium and fit the buttered side down, tightly against the crust.
9. Bake the crust for 25 minutes.
10. To fully bake, remove the aluminium foil and bake for another 8 minutes or until firm and golden brown. Keep an eye out as it can be done quicker.
11. Transfer tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filing.

II. For the pastry cream 
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g unsalted butter, cut into bits at room temperature 

1. Bring the milk to a boil in a small saucepan.
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk the yolks together with the sugar and cornstarch until thick and well-blended.
3. Still whisking, drizzle in about 1/4 cup of the whole milk
4. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the milk.
5. Put the pan over medium heat and whisk vigorously, constantly and thoroughly.
6. Bring the mixture to a boil.
7. Keep at a boil, still whisking, for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat.
8. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
9. Let sit for 5 minutes then whisk in bits of butter, stirring until they are fully incorporated and the pastry cream is smooth and silky.
10. Scrape the cream into a bowl, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface of the cream and refrigerate until cold.

III. Bringing it all together 
Extra ingredients
chosen berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or a combination)
raspberry/strawberry jam 

1. Spoon the pastry cream into the tart crust to come almost to the rim.
2. Even the surface with a rubber spatula.
3. Carefully lay your chosen berries in any pattern that pleases you.
4. Place the jam in a saucepan, add a little bit of water and bring to a boil.
5. Cool jam mixture for a while.
6. Using a pastry brush, dab the berries with the jam.
7. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
8. Cut and serve :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A savoury alternative...

One down, two to graduation day is getting nearer. Sorry for the slow update, I have been preoccupied with preparing for my last set of uni exams. It's both exciting and stressful, lol. So what happens if you are stressed? Let it out. And what better way than making a tart! You can put those bundled up energy to a good use and make good food :)

The pastry base for both sweet and savoury tarts is called a shortcrust dough. It's that crispy, flavourful, crumbly pastry base that is different from a puff. The key to making a shortcrust is to keep all the ingredients cold. To do so, you have to work fast!

There are three ways to make shortcrust pastry: using the food processor, manually with a pastry cutter, or manually with your hands. I haven't tried using the food processor before as I don't have one, but making it manually works just as well. If you use hands, rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until they look like breadcrumbs. I prefer using the pastry cutter method because it's faster and there is less risk of the butter melting (your hands have heat and if the butter is too warm, the pastry won't turn out). If you don't have a pastry cutter, you can use a dough scraper (like what I used below) or a fork (you will need more energy).

I made this tomato, feta and vegetable tart a few days ago and it's great for a light lunch. The recipe was enough for one 22 cm tart and four 9cm ones. Enjoy~

Savoury Shortcrust Pastry
(adapted from delicious. magazine, Nov 2009)

You will need:
1. 400g plain flour
2. 200 g chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
4. 2 tbsp iced water
5. A pinch of salt - rough guess...1/4 tsp


1. Combine the salt, flour and butter together in a large bowl.

2. Using a pastry cutter/dough scraper/fork cut up the butter with the edge and combine it into the flour until they resemble breadcrumbs.
3. Work quickly as you want the butter to still be as cold as possible. Even if there are pieces of butter left, it's okay as long as it's not too big and not too many.
4. Once the flour and butter reach breadcrumbs consistency, add in the eggs and mix. You can use your hands at this time. Work quickly too.
5. Add 2 tbsp of water

6. Mix gently and only until the dough forms a ball.
7. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour
8. When you want to bake it, roll the dough to 5mm thick and line it on the tart pan.

9. Use a fork and prick holes.

10. Line with baking paper and put the baking weights (they prevent uneven rising).
11. Bake for 20 minutes in a 200C oven
12. Remove paper and weights and continue baking tart for 10 minutes or until golden and dry.

13. Place on a baking tray and cool. 

Tomato, Feta & Herb Filling
(adapted from delicious. magazine Nov 2009) 

You will need:
1 savoury tart base (from above)
1 tbs olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup chopped parsley
A handful of spinach & rocket mix
3 large tomatoes, quartered
100g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp grated parmesan
3 eggs lightly beaten
125ml milk
125ml thickened cream

1. Heat a pan over medium-low heat and add onions.
2. Season and fry until browned, translucent and fragrant: around 10-15 minutes. Then add the sugar and vinegar until they caramalize.
3. Spread the onion over the tart base and sprinkle with half the herbs.
4. Spread the tomatoes, spinach, rocket and cheeses.
5. Whisk eggs, milk, cream and season. 
6. Pour the egg-milk mixture into the tart.
7. Bake for 45-50 minutes in a 180C oven until the filling is set but a little wobbly.
8. Set aside for 10 minutes and serve.

Note: If you want a non-vegetarian option, you can always substitute tomatoes and spinach/rocket with any other filling you like: smoked salmon and spinach, chicken and mushroom, bacon and mushroom or ham and peas go equally well. For a less strong cheese taste, use more parmesan and substitute the feta with ricotta.


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