Posts Categorized: Seasons

Witches, pumpkins and pie…oh my

Pumpkin Pie

Paths converged this week and the result was pumpkin pie.

Firstly it was Halloween and without warning our street has embraced the tradition and launched into full-scale trick or treat territory. Secondly, I had a super-tasty lunch at a new USA styled diner with a finger-licking good selection of pies on the menu; and thirdly some lovely Canadian friends have been on our minds recently and one of them carved a seriously impressive jack-o-lantern in the shape of an anatomically correct heart (that deserves pie in itself) – anyway, I got the message… all signs point to pumpkin. Tenuous link? I don’t think so…

Pumpkin :: The Scandinavian Baker

Not traditionally Scandinavian I know, but delicious nonetheless. And while Halloween trick or treating isn’t a Finnish tradition they do a pretty good job with it at Easter.

Our first Easter in Helsinki we were roused in the morning by a collection of neighbourhood girls dressed as witches, brandishing twigs decorated with ribbon and demanding treats – or a pox be on all our houses or some such. I discovered a couple of things that Easter; always save a few chocolate eggs for the witches, and all witches seem to resemble Pippi Longstocking… unexpected.

Back to the pumpkin. This recipe uses fresh pumpkin as opposed to canned which is near impossible find in regular stores – at least in this country. The pastry is spiced and gives the hint of gingerbread to the pie.

Pumpkin Pie :: The Scandinavian Baker

The Pastry

200g plain flour (wheat or spelt)

1/2 teaspoon of salt flakes

1 tablespoon of icing sugar

100g of cold unsalted butter, diced

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

2 teaspoons of cold water

Spices :: The Scandinavian Baker

The Filling

700g pumpkin (uncooked)

1 (375ml) can evaporated milk

2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk beaten (reserve the extra egg white for use later)

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon all spice

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dark brown sugar :: The Scandinavian Baker

Begin with the spicy pastry.

Into a food processor place the flour, spices, sugar and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Mix the eggs, yolk and water together and gradually add to the flour mixture with the motor running. Mix until the dough forms into a ball. Take the pastry ball and wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for an hour to rest.

Chop the pumpkin in to large pieces and place into the microwave for 5-8 minutes on high. This really is the easiest way to cook the pumpkin without introducing excess water. You can boil the pumpkin until soft, but make sure it is well drained after cooking.

After five minutes check the pumpkin with a knife. It should be very soft. When cooked through allow to cool and remove the skin. You should end up with approximately 500grams of cooked pumpkin.

Pumpkin Pie :: The Scandinavian Baker

To create the filling couldn’t be easier. Place the pumpkin into the food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the spices, sugar and eggs and mix again. While running gradually incorporate the evaporated milk and blitz until smooth and combined. The mix will be very runny.

Put this aside and get back to the pastry.

Preheat the oven to 200c and roll out your pastry. Place into the pie tin and return to the fridge for 15 minutes.  Bake blind for 15 minutes until the base in golden.

Now this is a handy trick. To prevent your mix from leaking and making the pastry soggy, brush the base with the reserved beaten egg white and return to the oven for a few minutes. This will form a barrier while the filling sets.

Pour your filling into the prepared base and bake for 40 minutes until the custard mixture is set and the pastry is golden. You can certainly eat the pie warm, but it is wonderful once it has cooled and set a little further.

Serve with coffee, whipped cream and chapter or two of Pippi Longstocking. It’d also be a good idea to reserve a piece or two… in case of witches.

Pumpkin Pie :: The Scandinavian Baker

 

Short Summers, Long Lunches

IMG_4510

Summer is short in Finland; especially for me coming from the sub-tropics where Summer lasts about seven months. It’s so short you can miss it – especially if you nip off to Spain for a week and return with the forests no longer eye-blindingly green, but breathtakingly golden.

But while it’s short, it’s nothing if not miraculous.

The daily growth is visible. The local birch grove, opposite the apartment, sporting tiny unfurling bright green buds on Monday would be thick with leaves by Wednesday.  24 hours of life-giving sunlight is absorbed by everything and everyone that can get beneath the rays.

On the bank of the lake at the family’s summerhouse one thing that really flourishes in the constant light is rhubarb. Smaller and paler than the robust red stems I’m used to, but bursting with flavour.

For me rhubarb is all about warm deserts in winter; crumbles and compotes. But in Finland it’s all about ice cream, cakes, juice, cider and the bracingly sharp taste of summer.

This cake is perfect alongside a pot of tea in the afternoon sun (if you’re in my hemisphere), or to round out a picnic lunch and washed down with a pint of frosty apple cider (if you’re lucky enough to be sunning yourself in a northern summer).

I’ve just planted some rhubarb crowns in the garden which have burst into life – our short cool Springs, their cool short Summers; it’s enough to make a fella homesick.

Rhubarb and Custard Tea Cake

Rhubarb and Custard Tea Cake.  

This is a spin on a classic tea cake. By all means if you have a recipe you love, use that one and just dress it up with the additions of the rhubarb and custard.

The Pantry:

70g butter, softened

1/2 cup golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/2 cups of plain flour, sifted

2 teaspoons of baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/2 cup of almond meal

3/4 cup milk

The Filling:

2-3 large Rhubarb stems chopped

2 tablespoons of golden caster sugar

Start by preparing the custard and rhubarb.

Wash the rhubarb and leave it wet. Chop into 2cm pieces and place into a saucepan with the sugar. Cook over a low to medium heat until the rhubarb collapses. Put aside and allow to cool.

Custard

500ml milk

6 egg yolks

1 tsp. vanilla extract

¾ cup of caster sugar

50g cornflour

This is the same basic custard used in the Danish Pastry recipe – a good go to basic.

Scald milk and vanilla in a saucepan. Beat egg yolks, sugar and corn flour together in a bowl until well combined and ribbony-thick. Pour in hot milk and whisk until smooth. Return mixture to the wiped out saucepan and gradually heat until it has thickened and come to a boil. Beat for 1 minute and then pour into a bowl. To prevent a skin forming cover with cling film and press down to touch the custard. Allow to cool.

Rhubarb and Custard tea Cake

The Batter

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm loaf tin with baking paper. Leave some of the baking paper exposed. (This is a delicate cake and it helps to lift if out of the tin after baking).

In the mixer, cream butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Add the egg and beat well until combined. Add vanilla and mix well.

Combine flour, almond meal, salt and baking powder.

Note: If your mixer has a slow hand-mixing action then by all means gradually add the flour and milk to the bowl alternately until just combined, or gently fold in the flour mix and milk by hand.

Scrape half the cake batter into the loaf tin. Place spoonfuls of custard in a line down the centre of the mixture. Dot with some of the rhubarb and cover with remaining batter.

Spoon the remaining custard and rhubarb over the top of the cake batter in a rough line down the centre.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Stand cake in pan for around 10-15 minutes. Using the baking paper, gently lift the cake and cool on a wire rack. (Any left-over rhubarb makes for a great topping on yoghurt or rolled oats the next day).

While cake is still warm, brush top with a little melted butter to give the cake a gentle shine.

Enjoy in the sun, by a lake, on a rug, with a friend.

IMG_0840

Equinox and the last of the oranges

P1010373

This week we’re celebrating the Spring equinox in the southern hemisphere, equal day and equal night.
The difference in light is not something you notice much in the sub-tropics, although the longer days are definitely welcome even after a mild Winter. In Scandinavia, however, light tells a very different story.

My cousin Janne shared a photo with us this weekend; a picture from the Summer House, which sits in the forest by a lake not far from our home town, well and truly sliding into quiet, damp and golden autumn – the very opposite of my bright green garden.

It’s an extraordinary time, Autumn. He once told me it was by far his most loved time of year. The birds are quiet, the forest is still; just the sound of droplets falling on a bed of gold, amber, rust and umber. Cool fog drifting through hillsides of birch that shine brighter than the fading sunlight until they too fall silent. So while Scandinavia yawns and prepares to slumber we’re here, bright, fresh, green and stretching and getting ready for Spring.

Photo 22-09-2013 2 06 09 pm

To mark the change I decided it was time for tart – and time to use up the last of the oranges. These days I know oranges are ubiquitous in the fruit bowl, but in an attempt to keep with the seasons we eat them mostly in Winter (well, alright, and in Summer in jugs of Pimms Number 1).

Danish Orange Tart

This is a deliciously light tart perfect for Spring and easy to pull together from ingredients you’re likely to have at hand. It’s from Beatrice Ojakangas with a slight tweak for my climate and taste. It’s almost a cheesecake, but lighter and more delicate in flavour.

The Pantry

1 cup flour
1/3 cup raw or golden caster sugar
90 grams unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 tsp cold water
Pinch of salt flakes

Filling

250 grams cream cheese
2 tablespoons of freshly grated orange zest
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons of raw or golden caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tablespoon of cornflour
1/2 cup flaked or slivered almonds
pinch of salt flakes

IMG_4820

The Pastry

Place the flour, sugar, butter into the food processor with the blade attachment. Pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and pulse again until the dough comes together into a ball.

Depending on where you live, the type of flour you’re using and the humidity you may need more or less water. I drop it in just until the magic happens. Within a few seconds you’ll see the grains begin to clump and pull together into pastry. It’s a kitchen miracle. In fact I never make pastry any other way. Simple, fast and practically as easy as opening the package of pre made pastry. Trust me.

Flatten the ball of pastry into a disc and wrap in cling film, then straight into the fridge. Let it chill for 30 minutes. If you forget and leave it a little longer it’ll be fine, just allow it to warm slightly before rolling to avoid too many cracks.

Preheat the oven to 200c and roll out the pastry. This recipe makes for a really tasty, but high butter ratio pastry, so don’t over handle.

Press into a fluted loose bottomed flan tin. I pop the pastry back into the fridge to chill again for 10-15 mins before baking, but if you don’t live in a warm climate like me, you can skip this step. Just keep an eye on it.

The pastry needs to be pre baked for about 15 minutes before adding the filling. Cover the base with baking paper and fill with rice or baking weights if you have them. Cook for 15 mins and remove the weights. At this point I brush the base of the pastry with some beaten egg white and return to the oven for an additional 5 minutes. This will seal the base and prevent any leakage mishaps if your pastry is a little thin in places.

IMG_4835

The Filling

Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, whip the cream cheese, cornflour, eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, orange zest and juice together until smooth and light. Pour into the pre-baked tart shell and sprinkle with the almonds. Bake for 30-35 minutes until set in the middle and golden on the edges. If your edges are looking a little too burnished, gussy them up with a brush of sugar glaze. The shine covers all sins.

Allow to cool, then chill before serving.

Happy Spring/Autumn equinox.

IMG_4875