Dutch Apple Tart

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My friend Kristel recently came to visit. She’s from the Netherlands, and we met in our first year at university in Sheffield, when we lived a few rooms down from each other. Despite there being countries (and sometimes continents) separating us, we have stayed in touch, and I went to visit Kristel in Boston last year (read more about that here). So then it was her turn to visit me, and we spent an enjoyable week ambling around Bristol. Baking was also inevitably going to be on the agenda, and when trying to decide what to bake on a rainy Sunday, there was only one option.

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This apple tart is always going to provoke incessant bouts of nostalgia for us, since it was one of the things Kristel made during our first year at uni. We were living in a flat with nine people, most of whom had some sort of dietary requirement, from vegan to lactose intolerant. Therefore, as you can imagine, group meals were somewhat difficult. Being committed to the cause of group bonding, however, we managed to rustle something up that would suit everyone.

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Our group meals usually consisted of pasta with some sort of vegetable based sauce, and this apple tart for pudding (because yes, there had to be pudding). The version that Kristel made originally was vegan, involving the genius use of tahini instead of egg to bind the pastry together. This recipe is not vegan, as it uses butter in the pastry and egg yolk to glaze the top, but we retained the tahini for old time’s sake.

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Pumpkin Pie

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I recently visited America for the first time. Boston to be precise, resplendent with the fiery colours of the New England ‘fall’. I was staying with my friend, and former food blog collaborator, Kristel, who is conducting some very complicated biological research at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. America was a surprise in how much it seemed different to England in almost every way, even though the same language was being spoken. The food was a source of constant surprise to me: I found it difficult to restrain myself on my first trip to the supermarket – there were so many things that I had seen in films but didn’t imagine to exactly exist, that I then felt necessary to purchase. Such as pop tarts. These are an invention that never really caught on in Britain (although God knows why), consisting of a pastry shell filled with tooth-achingly sweet jam filling, that you warm up in the toaster. In the TOASTER. Baffling, but annoyingly addictive.

Pumpkin

As it was Thanksgiving season when I visited Boston, pumpkin was another foodstuff that was literally rammed down your throat at every opportunity. It popped up in coffee, donuts, cakes, pastries and pretty much everything else. I gladly embraced this, stopping for a Pumpkin Spice Latte (#psl) on every street corner. Also, being so close to such industrious maple syrup producing regions, such as Vermont, meant that it was nigh on obligatory to have maple syrup with every meal. We literally did this one day, taking it as somewhat of a challenge. We had maple syrup pancakes for breakfast, salad with maple syrup dressing for lunch, followed by a maple spice mocha and maple syrup “froyo” (frozen yoghurt), and then squash roasted in, you guessed it, for dinner.

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I decided to combine these two flavours in the classic Thanksgiving dessert of Pumpkin Pie. The sweetness of pumpkins (bought in a tin, to be true to the American recipe) marries very well with the nutty maple syrup, and the sourness of crème fraiche offsets the sweetness slightly. Around the latter days of November, my Instagram feed was clogged up with pumpkin pies, turkeys and the rather bizarre ‘candied yams’ (often involving sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows). So I decided to jump on the Thanksgiving bandwagon and give a pumpkin pie a go. I used a recipe from Food 52 that was, to stay true to the American theme, measured in ‘cups’, but thankfully my conversion seemed to work out fine. Pumpkin puree from a tin is laughably easy, but you can make your own by boiling the required amount of pumpkin until soft, then mashing until smooth.

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Apricot and Raspberry Frangipane Tart

apricot tart

I have just submitted the above photo to a food photography competition in Observer Food Monthly. The competition asks people to send in pictures of their favourite comfort food to get them through the winter. Well, it would be difficult to get through the winter without pudding. This is the ideal combination of comforting stodginess from the rich almond frangipane, and a hint of freshness from the tangy raspberries and sweet apricots, reminding us that summer is not too far away.

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It seems to have been constantly raining for weeks on end, and we’re only now starting to see anything resembling clement weather.  A day slowly pottering around in front of a warm oven seems a fitting antidote to the rain. I wanted to make something that I had all the ingredients in the house for, to save braving the raging storm outside. I found a tin of apricots in the cupboard that were (just) within their expiry date, and an icy cluster of raspberries in the freezer, from when the plants in the garden were fit to bursting in the summer.

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I decided to make a tart, as the last time I made one was the Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Tart, which was the first recipe on the blog almost a year ago. When working at the café, I discovered the joys of frangipane – an Italian pastry cream made with eggs, sugar, butter and ground almonds. It’s really easy to make, unlike the more troublesome crème patisserie, as you just mix all the ingredients together and pour it into the pastry case. And the result is not bad for a casual bit of rainy-day baking.

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Baklava

baklava on table

The summer before last, I went to visit some friends in the South-West Peloponnese, a beautiful corner of Greece unspoilt by hoards of tourists. Greek food, whilst being delicious, is rather same-y. I lost count of the variations of chargrilled aubergine dip, tzatziki and moussaka we tried. They were all slightly different, some being much more palatable than others, partly due to how much garlic each chef thought was acceptable.

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The dessert of choice, not being presented with many other options, was baklava, a Greek and Turkish concoction made by drenching filo pastry and nuts in an insanely sweet syrup. I became mildly addicted to it, and many balmy evenings were spent hunting down the best. It took me the entirety of the week-long holiday to pronounce ‘baklava’ correctly. The emphasis is on the final syllable ‘va’, rather than the more natural Anglicised stress on the middle ‘k’, so it is said ‘baklava’.

nuts and butter

Pronunciation aside, here’s my take on baklava. Some of the best baklava we tried I think used honey in the syrup, rather than acres of sugar, so I’ve tried that here. I chose a mixture of pistachios, almonds and walnuts, but any nuts can be used. It is ridiculously sweet, so you only need small pieces.

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Lamb, Chestnut Mushroom and Rosemary Pie

Pie

I love autumn. The first evening snuggling up in front of a roaring fire, the wood still hissing with damp. The trees slowly turning, the tips of their leaves tinged with amber. The earthy smells of rotting leaves, woodsmoke and misty air. The return to substantial, comforting food, rather than flighty summer salads.

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This pie epitomises the kind of food that I look forward to as the summer draws to a close. The kind of food I crave on a cold night, that provides solace and reassurance. There’s something about a rich, meaty filling topped with buttery pastry that sometimes just hits the spot, when nothing else will do.

pie and candle

This pastry recipe is a Delia (bless her) revelation. The butter is frozen, then grated into the flour, making a very quick flaky pastry that dispenses with all of the folding, rolling and resting that making puff pastry requires. The result is a pleasing mid-point between shortcrust and puff pastry.

Pie and Wine

I love the combination of lamb and chestnut mushrooms, and I added rosemary to the pastry as well as the filling. The red wine gives the filling an intensity and depth of flavour. I don’t usually drink red wine, as it seems to give me the mother of all hangovers, but I felt it was necessary to have a glass (which magically kept refilling itself) to accompany this meal.

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Butternut Squash, Feta and Thyme Filo Parcels

filo parcels

I made these to take on a beach picnic to south Devon with my friend Nicola. I was all ready to write a post about how we optimistically set out for the beach, then it ended up raining and we spent the whole time shivering and scarfing down the picnic before rushing back to the warmth of the car.

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But actually, contrary to how British weather usually works, it was sunny and warm. I may have even got slightly sunburnt – given that the need to bring suncream didn’t even cross my mind. I experienced some much more disappointing beach weather than this when I was in Australia, which is surely the wrong way round. We spent the whole time gleefully whispering ‘It’s so warm’ – as if talking too loudly about the good weather might scare it away.

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So these Greek-inspired filo parcels were not as drastically ironic as I had feared. We ended up consuming about three each, plus five different types of cheese (the hazard of having a friend who works in a cheese shop). So it was fair to say that the post-picnic discussion about whether to go for a bracing cliff-top walk or to lie on the beach groaning didn’t last long.

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