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Puff-pastry Christmas Tree

This awesome puff pastry Christmas tree will definitely let compliments stream in!  It is easier to make than you might think, just follow the step-by-step instructions below.  It can be made with a sweet and savoury filling.  The filling is sandwiched between two layers of puff pasty, scored in all the right places, and twisted to form tree branches.

2 x 500g packet ready to roll puff pastry, thawed overnight
a little cake flour for rolling pin and work surface

Filling Options
125 g Mediterranean Delicacies Basil Pesto or
200 ml chocolate spread, e.g. Nutella® or Home-Made Hazelnut & Chocolate Spread

To glaze
1 large egg, lightly beaten

To serve (optional)
Pesto filling: 25 ml melted butter and 50 ml Parmesan cheese, grated
Chocolate filling: 50 ml icing sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 190 ℃.
  2. Open the packets of pastry and unroll them on Wizbake baking sheets or on baking paper.
  3. Sprinkle a little cake flour on a rolling pin and roll each pastry sheet once in each direction to make it a little bigger.  It is important that the sheets are the same size.
  4. Work with the first sheet of pastry and score a rough shape of a Christmas tree (narrow triangle) with a table knife.  Make the base of the triangle as wide as possible.
  5. Spread the filling evenly onto the sheet of pastry in the triangle area..
  6. Carefully place the 2nd sheet of puff pastry on top with the aid of the Wizbake sheet.
  7. Use a table knife and cut out the Christmas tree shape.  When cutting, use a pressing instead of a pulling action and be sure to cut through both layers of pastry. Remember to cut out a stem as well.
  8. Remove the excess pastry.
  9. Start at the side closest to the stem and make horizontal cuts for the branches.  Leave about 2 cm down the middle of the tree.
  10. Beginning at the base, twist the pastry away from you, trying to get in two turns on the lower branches.
  11. Continue moving up the tree, twisting away from you.
  12. At the top of the tree you may only get a single twist in the top branches.
  13. Cut out a star from the trimmed pastry and place on the baking tray.
  14. Brush the star and tree with lightly beaten egg.
  15. Slip a baking tray under the Wizbake sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until risen and golden brown.
  16. If you want to serve right away, allow to cool for a few minutes then slide egg lifters under the tree and transfer it to a serving plate.
  17. If making the basil pesto Christmas tree, brush the  warm puff pastry with melted butter and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.  If making the chocolate Christmas tree, dust it with icing sugar.

6 to 8 servings.

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Dominique Ansel’s Cronut Recipe

I could not believe my eyes when I came across this recipe of Dominique Ansel’s sought after Cronut® on the internet.  He developed this simplified version of this sought-after pastry for the home cook.  There are more cronut recipes in his first cookbook, “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes”.

Notes
Prepare the ganache two days before and refrigerate until needed.

Chocolate Champagne Ganache
26 g water
102 g Champagne
9 g unsweetened cocoa powder
115 g pouring cream
60 g egg yolks
38 g granulated sugar
165 g dark chocolate (66% cocoa)

Champagne Chocolate Glaze
200 g glazing fondant (also known as ‘fondant icing’ – remains shiny when sets)
50 g of Champagne-chocolate ganache

Vanilla Sugar
205 g granulated sugar
Vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped

Dough
3¾ cups/525 g strong flour (plus more as needed for dusting)
6 g Kosher salt
64 g granulated sugar
11 g instant yeast (1)
250 g cold water
30 g egg white
112 g unsalted butter, softened
15 g pouring cream
Cooking oil spray as needed

Butter block
251 g unsalted butter, softened
Grapeseed oil as needed
Chocolate champagne glaze
Vanilla sugar as needed

  1. To make the ganache, combine the water, 26 g of the Champagne and the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Mix to a smooth paste. Combine the cream and the remaining 76 g Champagne in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat. Whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar together in a small bowl. Stream one-third of the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly until fully blended, to temper them. Whisk the tempered yolks into the remaining hot cream. Return the saucepan to medium heat.  Keep whisking! Continue to cook the custard over medium heat until it reaches 85° C. The custard will turn pale yellow and thicken so that it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cocoa powder paste until fully incorporated.  Place the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl. Strain the custard through a small sieve over the chocolate. Let stand for 30 seconds.  Whisk the chocolate and custard until smooth. When finished, the ganache will have the consistency of yoghurt. Reserve 50 g for the glaze. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the ganache, to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate overnight to set.
  2. To make the vanilla sugar, combine the sugar and flavouring in a small bowl, cover with cling wrap and set aside.
  3. To make the dough, combine the flour, salt, sugar, yeast, water, egg whites, butter and cream in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until just combined, about 3 minutes. When finished the dough will be rough and have very little gluten development. Lightly grease a medium bowl with cooking oil spray. Transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface of the dough, to prevent a skin from forming. Proof the dough in a warm spot until doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.  Remove the plastic wrap and punch down the dough by folding the edges into the centre, releasing as much of the gas as possible. On a piece of baking paper, shape into a 10-inch (25 cm) square. Transfer to a baking tray, still on the baking paper, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. To make the butter block, draw a 18 cm square on a piece of baking paper with a pencil. Flip the paper over so that the butter won’t come in contact with the pencil marks. Place the butter in the centre of the square and spread it evenly with an offset spatula to fill the square. Refrigerate overnight.
  5. Remove the butter from the refrigerator. It should still be soft enough to bend slightly without cracking. If it is still too firm, lightly beat it with a rolling pin on a lightly floured work surface until it becomes pliable. Make sure to press the butter back to its original 18 cm square after working it.
  6. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, making sure it is very cold throughout. Place the dough on a floured work surface. Using the rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 25.5 cm square about 2.5 cm thick. Arrange the butter block in the centre of the dough so it looks like a diamond in the centre of the square (rotated 45 degrees, with the corners of the butter block facing the centre of the dough sides). Pull the corners of the dough up and over to the centre of the butter block. Pinch the seams of dough together to seal the butter inside. You should have a square slightly larger than the butter block.
  7. Very lightly dust the work surface with flour to ensure the dough doesn’t stick. With a rolling pin, using steady, even pressure, roll out the dough from the centre. When finished, you should have a 20-inch (50 cm) square about ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. (2)
  8. Fold the dough in half horizontally, making sure to line up the edges so you are left with a rectangle. Then fold the dough vertically. You should have a 25.5 cm square of dough with 4 layers. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Repeat steps 3 and 4. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  9. Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to a 40 cm square about 1.3 cm thick. Transfer the dough to a half baking tray, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour to relax. Using a 9 cm ring cutter, cut 12 rounds. Cut out the centre of each round with a 2.5 cm ring cutter to create the doughnut shape.  Line a baking tray with baling paper and lightly dust the paper with flour. Place the pastries on the tray, spacing them about 8 cm apart. Lightly spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking oil spray and lay it on top of the pastries. Proof in a warm spot until tripled in size, about 2 hours. (3)
  10. To fry the pastries, heat the grapeseed oil in a large saucepan until it reaches 175°C. Use a deep-frying thermometer to verify the oil is at the right temperature. (4)
  11. Line a platter with several layers of paper towels for draining.
  12. Gently place 3 or 4 of them at a time into the hot oil. Fry for about 90 seconds on each side, flipping once, until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on the paper towels.
  13. Check that the oil is at the right temperature. If not, let it heat up again before frying the next batch. Continue until all of them are fried. Let cool completely before filling.
  14. To make the glaze, warm the fondant in a small bowl in the microwave in 10-second intervals, stirring between intervals. When the fondant is slightly warm, about 20 seconds, add the corresponding flavour and stir until fully blended.
  15. To assemble the cronuts, transfer the ganache to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Whip on high speed until the ganache is smooth.  Cut the tip of a piping bag to snugly fit the Bismarck tip. Using a rubber spatula, place 2 large scoops of ganache in a piping bag so that it is one-third full. Push the ganache down toward the tip of the bag.
  16. Place the decorating sugar and glaze in a bowl.
  17. Arrange each of the pastries so that the flatter side is facing up. Inject the ganache through the top of the pastry in four different spots, evenly spaced. As you pipe the ganache, you should feel the pastry getting heavier in your hand.
  18. Place the pastry on its side. Roll in the corresponding sugar, coating the outside edges.
  19. If the glaze has cooled, microwave it for a few seconds to warm until soft. Cut the tip of a piping bag to snugly fit a #803 plain tip. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the glaze to the bag. Push the glaze down toward the tip of the bag.
  20. Pipe a ring of glaze around the top of each pastry, making sure to cover all the holes created from the filling. Keep in mind that the glaze will continue to spread slightly as it cools. Let the glaze set for about 15 minutes before serving.
  21. Serve at room temperature and consume within 8 hours of frying. Leftover ganache can be stored in a closed airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 days. Leftover flavoured sugar can keep in a closed airtight container for weeks and can be used to macerate fruits or sweeten drinks.

Notes
(1) Instant yeast is often used for doughs with higher sugar content, because this yeast needs less water to react and sugar tends to pull water from dough. You can substitute the same quantity of active dry yeast, but may get a denser final product.
(2) This is not the typical lamination technique and is unique to this recipe.  When rolling out dough, you want to use as little flour as possible. The more flour you incorporate into the dough, the tougher it will be to roll out, and the pastries will flake apart when you fry them.
(3) It is best to proof Cronut pastries in a warm, humid place. But if the proofing area is too warm, the butter will melt, so do not place the pastries on top of the oven or near another direct source of heat.
(4) The temperature of the oil is very important to the frying process. If it is too low, the pastries will be greasy; too high, the inside will be undercooked while the outside is burnt.

 Source:  www.telegraph.co.uk.
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Baklava

Nut-filled layers of filo pastry, flavoured with spices and drenched with a fragrant syrup is one of the most irresistible sweet treats. This adapted recipe is not overly sweet or spicy. Make baklava at least two hours or up to a day before serving to allow the syrup to work it’s way through all the layers.

Nut filling
300 g nuts (see Note below)
125ml sugar
10 ml ground cinnamon
5 ml mixed spice

Filo pastry
1 x 500g pack filo pastry
125 g melted butter

Syrup
375 ml sugar
375ml water
1 cinnamon stick
4 cloves
30 ml lemon juice
45 ml honey
15 ml brandy or rose water
15 ml sherry (optional but good)

  1. Combine the selected nuts to make up 300g and place into the bowl of a food processor. Use the “pulse action” and chop the nuts very briefly until coarsely and evenly chopped but not too fine. Stop once or twice in between and stir to allow the larger pieces to move closer to the blade.
  2. Add the sugar and spices and mix.
  3. Brush the base and sides of a rectangular dish or baking tray (± 30 x 20 x 6cm) with melted butter and pre-heat the oven to 170°C (see notes below) .
  4. Divide the pastry sheets into four and the nut mixture into three. Line the dish with the first ¼ of filo pastry, brushing lightly in between all sheets with the melted butter. Fold the pastry in at the sides if necessary but do not cut away and discard any pastry. Brush the top of the last layer with melted butter.
  5. Sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture over the pastry and repeat until four layers of pastry with three layers of nuts in between have been made, ending with pastry. Brush the rest of the butter over the top.
  6. Mark the pastry into diamonds or squares (2 ½ – 3 cm side length) with a sharp knife, cutting through the top layers only to prevent the syrup from accumulating in the dish under the last layer.
  7. Bake about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. To make the syrup, place the sugar, water, cinnamon stick, cloves and lemon juice in a small saucepan and stir over a moderate heat until the sugar has melted.
  9. Simmer gently for 10 minutes to become syrupy. Remove from heat, stir in the honey and flavouring and allow to cool while the pastry is still baking.
  10. Remove the pastry from the oven and pour the cooled syrup slowly and evenly over the hot pastry.
  11. Allow to cool completely (at least 3 hours) to absorb all the syrup before cutting through the marked lines into diamonds or squares.
  12. Store in airtight containers in the refrigerator. Baklava may be frozen to extend the period of enjoyment!

Serves 24 – 30 portions, depending on size.

Notes

  • Combine at least three kinds of nuts or even more for the best flavour. You can include Walnuts, Sliced Almonds, Pistachios, Pecans, Macadamias, Brazil Nuts or Cashew Pieces.
  • Selecting a dish or baking tray in such a way that one side of the dish corresponds with the width of the filo pastry will make the layering process a pleasure and the end result as neat as can be.

Recipe by Carolié de Koster for the Art Of Cooking Recipe Book p. 787.

Baklava