Tarta Pascualina / Easter Pie

As Easter approaches fast, I would like to share a seasonal recipe for a delicious pie that is eaten in Italy as well as in South America: Tarta Pascualina.  I first came across this dish in Mexico City, at an Uruguayan home, the one that belongs to the family of my very good friend Ana.

One day she offered us a spinach pie with eggs that was very different to anything I had eaten before ‘La Tarta Pascualina’ they called it.  Later on I found out that this dish originates in Genoa, port from which many migrants sailed off to find a future in the new world.  To distant lands these intrepid travellers went, and so to Argentina and Uruguay they arrived.   These migrants took with them the nostalgic flavours of home, particularly those which are linked to celebrations like Easter and they therefore took with them Tarta Pascualina.

This dish contains the word spring all over; it is made with the first young tender spring greens and it contains a high symbolic value because it is served at Easter time, hence the word ‘pascualina’: Pascua = Easter.  Since it is an easter/spring dish, it contains eggs which are folkloric symbols of resurection.

I first had this pie, not at Easter but as part of a South American buffet that my friend’s family hosted.  Julio her father was known for making this dish his speciality and delicious it was.  I remember eating this warm pie with a little tomato salad and it was very good.

My friendship with Ana has survived many years in spite of us being separated by thousands of miles and the memory of this pie stayed in my mind always.

Below is a recipe that is similar to the one Julio makes, however I have changed the pastry and here I use hot watercrust pastry, which is one of the easiest types of pastry and one that produces spectacular results.  I make a raised Pascualina pie by putting it inside a springform cake tin, filling with a spinach and pepper mixture and by placing some eggs inside, then the whole thing is baked, left to cool down and eaten with some garlicky tomato salad with basil, when you eat this, you will be transported perhaps to Genoa, but certainly to Montevideo.

An Easter egg from Rococo Chocolate

An Easter egg from Rococo Chocolate

Tarta Pascualina

For a deep cake tin about 20 – 23 cm in diameter:

450 g flour

1 tsp salt

100 g lard

100 g butter (you can use 200 g butter only)

225 ml milk and water mixed in equal proportions

Warm a mixing bowl and sift in the flour and salt, make a well in the centre

Heat the lard/butter or only butter in the milk and water until just boiling

Pour this mix into the well in the flour and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until thick

Continue working by hand to a smooth dough.

Cut in two, wrap in cling film and chill for about 30 minutes

Roll the pastry in two sheets of greaseproof paper until it is about 5 mm in height and the pastry fits the size of your tin, one is for the mould itself and the other one for the lid.

For the filling:

1 kg leaf spinach

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 red peppers, char-grilled and skinned, finely chopped

6 eggs

100 g grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

Salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste

Wash the spinach and place in a pan, heat up without adding any water, cook stirring until it completely collapses.

Sauté the onions with some olive oil until soft, add the garlic and continue cooking until soft.

Add the spinach, salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Cook and season accordingly

Take off the heat and add the grated cheese, 2 beaten eggs and the peppers.  Mix very well.

Put this mixture on the baking tin filled with pastry; make 3 spaces in the filling.  Break an egg and put its contents in this space, repeat with the other 2 spaces.  Put the pastry lid on the pie seal.  Using a fork prick the pie avoiding the eggs.  Brush with a beaten egg.

Put in the oven and bake for about 40 – 50 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. To un-mould, loosen up the sides using a knife and open the hinge (or spring). Brush with egg all over the sides and put in the oven for another 10 minutes so that the pie goes golden brown all over.

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Rosca de Reyes / Galette des Rois / Epiphany Bread

… On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love left his shoe by the door and waited for the three wise men to leave a present.

Yes this is what happens on Epiphany night in many countries.  In Mexico many people celebrate this night almost as much as Christmas eve, because this night is also loaded with symbolism, it is the night when the three wise men finally arrived to give gifts to the baby Jesus; and as such it is expected that the men will arrive and deliver a present to children… you just need to leave your shoe by the windowsill or by your bed or by the Christmas tree and the morning after there will be something there for you.

Of course this follows the previous night of families gathering to drink hot chocolate and cut the ‘rosca’. This is a bread/cake that is made on this night and it has the shape of a large ring, inside of which there is a token like a bean, a coin or even a plastic baby or person.  When you cut the bread, if you get the token, that means that you have to host a party on the 2nd of February that usually features tamales.

These breads used to contain one or two tokens or babies, as the world keeps turning, it seems that these have reproduced and now at least in Mexico City  roscas’ you can find as many as ten or more.  Personally I prefer the cakes that contain one or two tokens because then, the one who gets it, becomes ‘special’ a king for a day I guess.

This is not an exclusive Mexican tradition, it is an adaptation from other countries like Spain and France where they eat Roscon de Reyes and Galette des Rois, respectively.

Below is a simple recipe for a Mexican Rosca, this is followed by one for Galette des Rois.

This is another excuse for getting together, gather on the last night of this period, drink hot chocolate and have a slice of this bread, if you get the token, then make tamales at your place and invite more people.

Mexican Rosca

For the Bread

500 g strong white flour

100 g caster sugar

10 g salt

100 g softened butter

3 medium sized eggs

2 sachets or 14 g easy blend yeast

200 ml water

zest of 1 lime

zest of 1 lemon

zest of 1 orange

2 plastic babies for the rosca, or substitute with a dried bean

100 g acitron [this is a candied cactus] if you can’t find this, substitute with candied fruits

Cover:

100 g soft butter

100 g icing sugar

150 g flour

2 Tbsp caster sugar

In the bowl of  an electric mixer, add all the powdered ingredients for the bread mix, then add the softened butter and cream, add the eggs, water and the zest of the citrus fruits, mix using the bread hook for three minutes at a slow speed, increase to a medium speed and mix for six minutes or until the dough is very elastic, you need to develop a lot of gluten here, leave to rest for 30 mins or 1 hour is your kitchen is cold.

Take out of the bowl and roll into two balls that you are going to shape into two long saugages that you are going to link into a ring, don’t forget to insert the tokens.

Place on baking trays that are covered with greaseproof paper.

Mix the ingredients for the cover by beating them in a bowl to fully incorporate.  Decorate the roscas by alternating the candied fruits and placing strips of the bread cover.

Leave to prove for another hour and place on greased in a medium hot oven 160 C fan, 180 C conventional Gas Mark 4 for 35 minutes.  The roscas are ready if they sound hollow when their bottoms are gently tapped.

Galette des Rois

Make about 250 g puff pastry [or rather buy…] and roll it out into two round shapes about 2 cm thick.  Place these on a baking tray that is covered with greaseproof paper.  Push a bean into the dough. Sandwich them together with frangipane cream before baking.  Trace a pattern on the top of the dough with the pint of a knife and brush it with egg.  Bake in a very hot oven at 250 C conventional oven, 230 fan oven, Gas Mark 9, until the top is golden brown.

Below is a simple recipe for frangipane:

125 g butter

125 g sugar

2 eggs

200 g ground almonds

½ tsp vanilla essence (optional)

Cream butter and sugar until white and fluffy

Add eggs one at a time add vanilla essence and fold in almonds

With thanks to Ingrid Vargas-Cessa for giving me her version of this recipe for Rosca de Reyes that I have adapted.

Galette des Rois Taken from Larousse Gastronomique

How to make a starter for sourdough bread and how to make sourdough bread, step by step

This is the time it takes to transform a simple mixture of flour and water to crusty sourdough bread.

My friend lent me the book from Bourke Street Bakery and in it, there it was a step by step way of making sourdough ferment from flour, water, air and time.

Having heard horror stories of failed fermentations, I decided to follow this easy guide to great results.  What you need is:

1.     The best quality of strong flour that you can afford

2.     A good source of fresh water

3.     A set of scales

4.     Basic organisational skills

5.     A little patience

Day one: Begin by mixing 50 g of flour and 50 g * of water


Mix well, cover and leave in a warm place overnight.

Day two:  Make a paste by mixing 50 g of water and 50 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day three:  Make a paste by mixing 100 g of water and 100 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day four: Make a paste by mixing 200 g of water and 200 g of flour, fold this mix into your original mix, cover and leave to rest overnight in a warm place

Day five: Discard all but 100 g of the mix [the book says you can place what you won’t use into the compost].

The flour and water are mixed to a rough paste

The starter is folded into the flour/water mix but never stirred

The starter is folded into the flour/water mix but never stirred

* Richard Bertinet advocates for measuring water by weight and not by volume, it is more accurate

Repeat the steps from day two to five, every day for three weeks.  This time should be enough to make your ferment strong enough for making bread.

As the days go by, you will see that your mixture will start to bubble and smell ‘bready’.


It is important to feed the mix every day, otherwise at this stage,  you run the risk of starving and killing the ferment.  It is important to keep the mix in a warm place, an airing cupboard is good or any place that is draught free. DON’T put in an oven, over the AGA or over a radiator, you want warmth but not direct heat.  It is also important to work with clean utensils and to keep containers clean.  This is like a baby and as such, it needs to be fed and to be kept warm and clean!

If your mixture is too cold or hungry, it can develop a grey liquid in the surface, if this happens, please put in a warmer place or feed it with some more flour/water mix.

 

A grey liquid on the surface might mean the ferment is either hungry or cold.

If your mixture does not bubble anymore, it means it might be dead and you need to start again!

To be honest, if you are careful, you cannot go wrong.  Give it a go and when you are ready you can start baking the most amazing bread ever.

Once your ferment is mature, you can feed it less often, twice a week should be enough.  You can even put in the fridge for later use.   If you want to use your ferment from the fridge, feed it three times in a day as described below, this way you can revive your fermet at any time.  This means you can put your bakery on standby and go on holiday for instance.   Once you have mature ferment, you can also share with friends.  I have done this before and it is a great thing to do, however corny this might sound, it transforms lives, do it and you will see what I mean!

Below is an adaptation from the original recipe for sourdough from Bourke Street Bakery, it is not difficult, it just requires a little time and attention. Give it a go, the results are well worth the wait.  This is pure magic!

Begin by feeding the starter on the day you are going to start the baking process; this needs to be done whether you are using your starter/ferment for the first time, from the fridge or from ambient temperature, what you want is to get the ferment going!  Follow the feeding times as described below, this way you will not have to wake up in the middle of the night to feed this baby -a sure advantage of having a bread baby instead of a real one!

First feed about noon: 50 g flour and 50 g water, add this to 100 g of starter, remember to roughly mix the flour and water and then fold this onto the starter as you did when creating the starter.

Second feed –  eight hours after the first feed: 100 g flour and 100 g water,  same process.

Last feed – eight hours after the second feed or early in the morning: 200 g flour and 200 g water, same process.

Now for the bread! This makes 1.5 Kg of bread, that you can divide in three very nice 500 g loaves.

Ingredients:

400 g starter

600 g organic strong white  flour

170 g organic strong wholemeal flour – this particular flour blend makes a heavier mix, for a lighter version use only strong white flour

400 g water

20 g sea salt -ground

In the bowl of a food mixer, put the starter, add the flour and water.  Attach the dough hook and mix on slow speed for four minutes and then increase to the next speed and mix for another three minutes.  You should end up with a rough dough.   Cover the bowl and set aside for 20 minutes, add the salt and mix on slow speed for one minute and increase the speed to medium, mix for six minutes, you should have a very elastic dough that can be stretched to form a ‘window’.  To ensure that you have reached the right level of elasticity, take a small portion of the dough and stretch it within your fingers,  the dough should be able to stretch to transluscent without breaking, if it tears, knead it for another minute or so.

Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, leave to prove for one hour by allowing to rest in a place at room temperature.

Take out of the bowl and place on a lightly floured surface, stretch to obtain a rectangle that is about 2 cm high and fold one third of the rectangle onto itself and repeat with the remaining third.  Turn ninety degrees and repeat the folding process.  Place the dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, leave to rest for another hour.

Take out of the bowl and cut into three pieces that should weigh roughly 500g each.  Shape the loaves by repeating the folding process described above.

Line three bowls with a tea towel and sprinkle liberally with flour, place the dough seam side up, cover with cling film and put in the fridge to prove overnight [eight to twelve hours is best].

The morning after, preheat the oven to 200 C.  Take the loaves out of the fridge and leave them to rest for a couple of hours or until they have grown by about two-thirds of their original volume.  To ensure they are ready to go in the oven, apply light pressure with your finger on the loaves, if the dough springs back nicely when you put pressure, they are ready, if the indent stays in the dough, they need further resting.

Turn the loaves onto a baking tray that has been covered with grease-proof paper, score using a serrated knife or a razon blade, make sharp indentations about 1 cm deep -this is your signature on the bread.

Put in the oven and if you want, spray with water, this will give a crustier loaf.  Bake for 35 – 40 minutes or until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy fresh or lightly toasted, the best!

Courgette and Walnut Cake

This recipe was given to me by my aunt Margarita and it features in my first book called ‘The Mexican Mama’s Kitchen’

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time:  40 minutes

Ingredients

3 large eggs

320 g 1 /2 cups caster sugar

250 ml / 1 cup vegetable oil

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

300 g / 2 cups plain flour

2 Tbsp chopped walnuts

1 teaspoon salt

350 g grated courgettes / zucchini

1 x 23 cm size baking tin, lined with greaseproof paper

Heat up the oven to 160 C (fan oven), 180 C (convection oven), 350 F, Gas Mark 4. Sift the flour with the baking powder, and put in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar, put in another bowl. With a balloon whisk, beat the eggs until they look fluffy.  Add the sugar, cinnamon, oil and salt and continue beating.  Add the grated courgettes, walnuts and the sifted flour and baking powder mix.  Stir well until incorporated.

Bake the cake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until set.  One way to tell if a cake is made is to stick a skewer in the middle of the cake and if it comes out clean, then the cake is ready.

Take out of the oven, cool a bit, un-mould and leave to cool on a wire rack, decorate with sieved icing sugar and serve with vanilla scented ice-cream or crème anglaise.