Duck and cherry pithivier

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Shelley-belly’s Underground is very excited to be catering the wedding rehearsal of a couple that attended one of our very first underground dinners and we’ve spent the past few weeks playing with old recipes and inventing new ones to make their night extra special.

So this post is not going to be about their dinner, that menu has to stay secret for a another week or so, this post is about the dish that got the chop. It was my favorite of our discarded ideas – it was too gluteny for a dinner that [unexpectedly] has to be gluten-free.

A pithivier, really just a fancy word for “pie” (and also a town in France), is, traditionally, a sweet pastry filled with frangipane and fruit. I filled mine with braised duck and the last of the summer’s cherries and served them with charred carrots and a duck and cherry jus.

I won’t bore you with the recipe, let’s face it, we’re all mostly interested in pictures anyway, but if you’d like the recipe please email me and I’ll be happy to give it to you.

Once again, I got so involved in the making-of that I forgot to take photos so you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that making the Pithiviers was time consuming and lots of fun.. if, like me, playing with pastry and filling is your idea of fun.

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“Millions of peaches, peaches for me”

Peaches are everywhere at the moment, gorgeous, sweet peaches and I couldn’t ignore them when I was planning the menu for last weekend’s Underground. Saturday night’s five course dinner ended with this peach and almond tart and I’m sharing it because it’s a simple enough make-ahead dessert that looks quite impressive.

And also because a recent guest to Shelley-belly’s Underground asked me to (and you know how I love requests).

When I started playing with the peaches and trying to decide what to make I thought I’d try a play on an apple tart fine because I love the appearance of the fruit fanned out over the pastry.Then I thought I’d do a sort of Bakewell tart (usually made with cherries) because I wanted to incorporate almonds into the dessert.

I knew I didn’t want to do a large tart that would require slicing, I wanted little, individual tarts that look pretty on the plate. So this, a combination of the two, was the result. It’s really easy, needs a bit of prep but doesn’t really require much more than patience.

You’ll need:

  • Frangipane
  • Fresh peach puree
  • Puff pastry
  • Peaches
  • Icing sugar
  • Soft butter
  • Lightly toasted flaked almonds*

Frangipane

  • 100g blanched almonds (ground)
  • 100g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk beaten together
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • About half teaspoon almond essence

In an electric mixer (or with a wooden spoon if you the have the muscle for it) cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. With the beaters running gradually add the egg and almond essence. Turn the mixer down to low speed and gently mix in the ground almonds and flour. This will keep in the fridge for a few days.

Peach puree

A couple of peaches go a long way so tread lightly otherwise you just end up with a big bowl of peach puree sitting in your fridge and nothing to do with it but make Bellinis… okay, I just heard it. Make a lot, there’s nothing wrong with a peach Bellini made with fresh peach puree (couple of tablespoons of peach puree, top with chilled Prosecco, enjoy).

If you have any peaches that feel like they may be a little too soft to slice neatly for the top, use those for the puree. Rinse a couple of peaches, remove the stones but don’t bother removing the skin, blitz the flesh in a blender until smooth. Taste for sweetness – my peaches were really sweet and didn’t need any additional sugar but all fruit is different. If your peaches are not as sweet or if you prefer the puree a bit sweeter add some caster sugar, a little at a time. Push the puree through a fine sieve to remove bits of skin. This will keep in the fridge for a couple of days but oxidizes quickly so cover with cling film (with the film pressed right down onto the surface of the puree) as soon as you’ve made it.

Puff Pastry

If you have three days and the stomach for it, make your own (but you’ll have to find a recipe elsewhere), otherwise just use a good quality store-bought puff pastry.

A 500g package of puff pastry will give you four or five eight to ten tarts (depending on how big you make them).

Roll out the pastry and cut the pastry circles**. They should be no more than a couple of millimeters thick and each tart will need two pastry circles, one slightly smaller than the other. The larger one should be about the size of a regular side plate.

Peaches

Again, a few peaches go a long way so don’t slice too many. Thinly slice enough fresh peaches to fan out over the top of your tarts.

Okay, once you’ve done all that you’re ready to start building your desserts.

First, smear a good, thick layer of frangipane onto one of the smaller pastry circles – and I do mean a good, thick layer, don’t be stingy, it’s not attractive.

Then place the small circle, frangipane-side down, onto the centre of one of the larger pastry circles. Wet your finger with a bit of warm water and run it over the edge of the pastry circle to seal it then fold  (crimp, pleat, whatever) the edges of the large pastry circle over the small circle.

Next, gently smear about a table spoon of peach puree over the top of the pastry, avoiding the edges.

Fan the peach slices out over the top of the puree, don’t leave any gaps.

Dust with icing sugar.

Using a pastry brush, brush the whole thing with soft butter.

These can be made a day before so stop here and refrigerate the pastries if you’re serving later. About 45 minutes before you’re ready to serve remove from the fridge to allow the pastries to warm to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200 c/ 400 f, sprinkle the toasted almonds over the top of the pastries and bake for around 20 minutes. The peach puree gets insanely hot so make sure you let the pastries stand for a few minutes before serving.

For Saturday’s dinner I served the tarts with a warm, almond scented homemade custard and the one in the photos is served with double cream – ice cold jersey cream, whipped cream, clotted cream, ice cream… just about anything creamy will work as an accompaniment.

*The almonds will toast in the oven but I like to toast them a little before hand, I love the extra crunch it gives to the finished dish.

** After rolling out the pastry let it stand for a minute or two before cutting as it may shrink a little.

I’d love your feedback if you decide to give this recipe a try. Enjoy.

The date for the next dinner at Shelley-belly’s Underground will be confirmed later this week and details will be posted on the Underground page. In the meantime, if you’d like more information you can email shelleybellyunderground@yahoo.com.

Oh yes, fried pastry!

In planning and preparing a meal of eight courses for a birthday dinner (not my own) I really battled with the dessert course.

The theme was, loosely, Chinese. The preparation, endless. The decor, turquoise and white with many orchids and candles floating prettily in bowls of water. The courses, multiple. The cocktail, Jack Daniels Honey with iced tea and lemonade. The dessert, undecided until one of the last minutes.

I spent two days painstakingly stuffing and pleating pot stickers, making a masterful (if I say so myself) master stock, braising ribs to an unctuous hot and sour stickiness … I won’t bore you with more of the details, you get the picture.

During all of this I waited and waited for dessert inspiration to come and it never did. Finally, in a moment of near desperation (minutes after that point in the evening when you’ve already served seven courses and timidly, and with absolutely no confidence, say “um, would anyone like dessert with their jasmine tea?”  And your guests stubbornly refuse to do the polite thing and say “no thanks, just tea for me.”) – I grabbed the puff pastry from the freezer, rolled it out, cut it into strips about 3 cm wide and dropped them into hot oil.

Roll and cut

Now, I’m pretty sure I’m not the first person in the world to fry pastry – the Italians have a dessert called cenci (rags of dough) made from a flour, egg, water, sugar pastry, fried in a similar fashion but doesn’t really puff up much – but in that moment, as I watched my silky, pale strips of pastry puff up into magnificent, golden tubes of awesome I felt like a pioneer. I felt like the first person in the world to fry puff pastry. If not, I wondered, why are we not all doing this all the time? Simple and delicious.

Try it, please.

  • Puff pastry – you can make your own, I didn’t
  • Clean oil of a fairly neutral variety with a high smoking point – I used Canola
  • Powdered sugar

Deep pot with about 4 cm or 5 cm of oil in it – heat to around 190 C. Be safe. Hot oil is dangerous.

Roll out pastry using as little flour on your rolling pin and work surface as possible.

Cut into strips about 3cm wide and 10cm long (although I think any size and shape will do).

Drop 3 or 4 into the oil at a time – don’t crowd the pan.

They take a minute or so to puff up and start to colour. Flip them over for a couple of seconds to make sure they colour all over.

Carefully remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Leave to cool for a few minutes then dust with powdered sugar.

Serve immediately.

Fried and sugared

There is nothing Chinese or even loosely Chinese about this dessert but it is delicious and surprisingly light – no need to serve with jasmine tea if that’s not what you’re having. They would also be good with an espresso, a liqueur or just on their own.

Note – I experimented with a variety of thicknesses, from paper-thin to about half a cm and found that the best ones were made from pastry about 3mm thick – they had a crispy exterior but maintained a bit of a chew in the middle.