Fresh Fig and Frangipane Danish Pastries

A lot of life is about efficiency, and I get the importance of that. I really do. But sometimes you just need to swim against the stream, fly in the face of all the hurry, and spend 24 hours making 8 perfect Danish pastries. And then you need to have some friends come for the weekend, drink way too much coffee, and have the laziest Saturday of all times.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

And so we did.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

This was my first adventure in any sort of homemade puff pastry, so I will defer to the one and only Paul Hollywood for more specific instructions (just follow steps 1-5 and ignore the rest). I used an active dry yeast instead of instant, but I think I would recommend instant if you have it. This pastry spends most of its short life in the refrigerator to keep the butter solid, which is a little harder on active dry yeast as it needs a good amount of warmth and moisture to really rise well.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Like I said, look to Mr. Hollywood for the full story, but basically you get all the dry ingredients together (keeping your salt and yeast on opposite sides of the bowl)…

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

And then add the milk and eggs and give it all a good mix with your hand…

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Until it all comes together in a sticky ball…

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Which you knead until smooth, then wrap and chill for a couple of hours. I recommend chilling it in a rectangular shape to make it easier to roll out later.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

You also take your block of butter and roll it out into a giant rectangle, and that goes in the fridge to chill as well.

I confess that I did not get any pictures of the laminating process, which is where you roll out the bread dough and fold it in thirds (like a letter) around the butter sheet, chill it again, roll it out and fold it in thirds, chill it, etc. until you’ve done that four times and you have about twelve thin layers of dough alternating with eight or so thin layers of butter… my hands were covered with butter and flour, and that doesn’t make for great photography or a long-lived camera. But the shot below shows the sort of layers you’re going for.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

While the laminated dough was finishing its overnight chilling time in the fridge, I got up early this morning and worked on fillings.

First, frangipane. Frangipane is an almond filling used in tarts and pastries, and it traditionally consists of equal weights of ground almonds, caster sugar, eggs, and butter. I added a dash of almond extract to really boost the almond flavour.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Toss it all in the bowl of a food processor and give it a good spin, and there you go!

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

I also took just a few figs and turned them into a quick jam (for the third time in three weeks) with some lemon juice and sugar. Fresh figs and I are friends now. It’s official.

While both of the fillings were chilling in the fridge, I watched a bunch of Danish pastry shaping videos on Youtube (especially this one, which was very helpful) and decided on a vol-au-vent shape because of its superior capacity for fillings. I had a lot of frangipane to use up.

Broken down into steps, the process looks a little something like this:

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

After rolling the chilled, laminated dough into a rectangle twice as long as it is wide, you use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the dough into 8 pieces…

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Which each get folded in half diagonally…

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

And then cut almost all the way to the non-folded corner, following a line about an inch from the edge. When unfolded, you have an almost-free square in the middle, just attached at two corners.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

To shape the pastry, you take one of the free outer corners and fold it over the middle square, and then you do the same with the other free outer corner.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Give each pastry a generous spoonful of frangipane and a dollop of fresh fig jam, place them on baking parchment on a baking tray, cover them loosely with cling film, and set them aside in a coolish (not warm! Don’t melt your butter!) place to rise for 2 hours.

When they’ve puffed up a good bit, brush the exposed pastry with an egg wash (one beaten egg) and bake for about 20-25 minutes at 180°C (350°F). It may take longer depending on your oven, the thickness of your pastry, and how much filling you’ve piled on there. What you’re looking for is a rich, golden brown colour on the top and bottom, and a solid-feeling pastry that doesn’t melt when you poke it or try to move it from the tray.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

I let mine cool for a few minutes on wire racks and then we enjoyed them–still just warm– with coffee and fresh fruit and bacon rolls and good chat.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig & Frangipane Danish Pastries

Fresh Fig and Frangipane Danish Pastries
Makes 8 generous-sized pastries

1 recipe Paul Hollywood’s Danish pastry dough

For the frangipane:
150g ground almonds
150g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, cubed
150g eggs, about 3 small-medium eggs

For the fig jam:
4 ripe, fresh figs, diced small
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup caster sugar
Splash of water

For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten

  1. Prepare Danish pastry dough according to directions 1-5 of Paul Hollywood’s recipe. Chill overnight.
  2. To make the frangipane: blitz ground almonds and sugar together in food processor to combine. Add butter and process until mixture looks like even crumbs. Add eggs and almond extract and process until combined. Chill.
  3. To make the fig jam: place all ingredients in a saucepan over low-medium heat and simmer until mixture has reduced and thickened (about 30 minutes). Chill.
  4. To shape pastries: roll pastry dough out to an even rectangle about 5-8mm (1/4 inch) thick, and twice as long as it is wide. Cut dough into 8 even squares. Shape into vol-au-vents (refer to pictures above).
  5. Place shaped pastries on a parchment-lined baking tray with at least an inch between them. Fill with a generous spoonful of frangipane and a dollop of fig jam. Cover loosely with cling film and let rise for 2 hours in a cool place until puffed up.
  6. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Brush pastries with egg wash and bake for 20-25 minutes or until top and bottom surfaces are crispy with a rich, golden brown colour.
  7. Cool slightly on wire racks and enjoy!

Fermentation: Yoghurt

I’ve taken a good number of food hygiene courses in my life, and I think maybe I love fermenting things because it means disobeying everything I’ve been taught about food safety. So today, we’re going to take a dairy product, heat it up, let it cool down right into the middle of the danger zone where bacteria thrive, introduce some bacteria into it, and then leave it in a warm place for 8-12 hours. And when it has changed form and smells funny, we’ll eat it.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: YoghurtI am, of course, talking about making yoghurt.

Yoghurt, as with most fermented products, can feel a bit overwhelming to approach. But once you wrap your mind around the basic principles of what you’re trying to do, and once you get past the idea that a difference of a few degrees one way or another is going to kill you, it’s really not a big deal.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

The first step is to bring some milk (I use whole, but you could use semi-skimmed or even nonfat milk if you don’t mind your yoghurt being runnier) slowly and gently to a temperature in the neighbourhood of 180-190°F (82-88°C). You want to do this slowly and stir occasionally because milk can be a bit temperamental and doesn’t respond well to boiling. If you don’t have a thermometer, what you’re aiming for is to bring the milk to the point just before it boils and then remove it from the heat. A skin will form on the top of your milk as it heats; this is normal and harmless, but you can pull it off and throw it away if it offends you.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

Once your milk is hot enough, you’ll remove it from the heat and set it aside to cool. I generally pour it into another container at this point to cool faster, but you can leave it in the pan if you’re hoping to minimize dishes. The milk needs to reach a temperature of between 110-115°F (43-47°C) for the next step.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

You may be noticing that my temperature readings are not exactly on the numbers I’m giving you. This tells you two things. 1: It is difficult to take pictures and do science at the same time. 2: This is a pretty forgiving process.

While your milk is cooling, you’ll place a bit of yoghurt (a couple of tablespoons, definitely no more than a half cup) in a small bowl. Note: this yoghurt needs to be the real deal, with live and active cultures. That “real-style” yoghurt you got for 20p at Aldi isn’t going to cut it. I usually buy the tiny, single-serving cup that’s just about to expire at the Co-op and is therefore 57p, and then once I’m in the yoghurt-making cycle I just hang onto the last few tablespoons of each batch and use it to feed my next batch.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

So anyway, you’ll put a bit of real yoghurt in a bowl…

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

And then you’ll pour about a cup of the warm (not hot!) milk into the yoghurt and give it a good whisk. This, by the way and if you like words, is called inoculating. You are inoculating the yoghurt cultures into the milk. In layman’s terms, you are putting live bacteria into a swimming pool of food that they love. Gross. You don’t want the milk too hot at this stage because it would kill the little guys.

Once you have inoculated that cup of milk, you’ll pour it back into the rest of the milk and whisk it all together to make sure the cultures disperse evenly.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

At this point I usually put the bacteria-milk into whatever container is going to be its long-term home. I find that this helps it to set (and stay set) a bit more solidly. When I let my yoghurt set in one container and then move it to another container for storage, it never seems to hold its shape quite as well.

Okay now, if you’ve spent any time working in the food industry, here’s the really counterintuitive part. We need this bacteria-milk to stay in that 110°F (43°C) region for about 8-12 hours. This temperature, which is right in the middle of the danger zone they warned you about in food handler’s class, will allow the bacteria to multiply at an alarming rate until they’ve completely taken over and turned your milk into yoghurt. The reason you don’t need to be afraid of food poisoning here is that the good bacteria basically crowd out anything else that might wander in and take an interest in your milk.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

There are a few different ways to keep your yoghurt warm for the duration. Actually, there are probably an infinite number of creative solutions– coolers and hot water bottles, slow cookers, piles of towels, and warm windowsills, to name a few. I usually just pop the jar of bacteria-milk in the oven and switch the oven light on, and that little bit of heat is enough to work the yoghurt-magic.

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

You can check your yoghurt after as few as 4 hours, giving it a little wiggle to see if it has set, but I usually give it a good 8 hours (overnight, while I’m asleep and not using the oven). I think I’ve even left it as long as 16 hours, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that. The longer you leave it, the tarter and stronger the flavour will be. Once it seems to have set, you’ll move it to the fridge to really solidify, and then voila!

Rye Humour -- Fermentation: Yoghurt

Maybe with a little lemon curd and fresh fig jam?

Makes about 1 kilogram yoghurt

1 litre/quart milk (I use organic, whole milk)
2-3 tablespoons yoghurt (look for live & active cultures listed on the label)

Small bowl
Glass or ceramic container with lid

  1. In a pan over medium-low heat, bring your milk to 180-190°F (82-88°C), or just shy of boiling. Stir occasionally and discard skin as it forms.
  2. Allow milk to cool to 110-115°F (43-47°C).
  3. Place 2-3 tablespoons yoghurt in a small bowl. Whisk 1 cup of warm milk into yoghurt, combining thoroughly.
  4. Stir yoghurt-milk mixture back into remaining milk, whisking thoroughly to combine.
  5. Pour mixture into glass or ceramic container with lid. Place in oven, with oven light on, for 8-12 hours.
  6. When mixture has set, transfer to refrigerator to cool completely.

 – Recipe can be adapted to make more or less yoghurt. If making less, use less starter yoghurt (down to 1 tablespoon). If making more, use slightly more yoghurt, but you should never need more than 1/2 cup of starter yoghurt. The yoghurt cultures need room to grow, and too many starter cultures will actually prevent your yoghurt from setting properly.
– If your yoghurt smells or tastes questionable, trust your judgment and throw it out! It’s possible for other bacteria to creep in and spoil your yoghurt, and it’s not worth the stomachache.
– You can use some of each batch of homemade yoghurt as the starter culture for your next batch, but if it starts to taste off or have a hard time setting up, it may be that your cultures are weakening. I usually buy new yoghurt about once a month just to keep things lively.
– Homemade yoghurt will naturally separate, and you’ll notice a yellowy-clear liquid in your yoghurt container. This perfectly harmless stuff is called whey, and you can either pour it off (making your yoghurt thicker) or stir it back in.
– I make a batch of this about every 2 weeks, paying £1 for a litre of milk. This makes 1 kg of yoghurt, which would have cost me £3 at the shop. So I’m saving about £1/week and enjoying organic yoghurt with zero questionable ingredients.

I’ve used quite a few great sites for reference over the years, but this how-to from The Kitchn is my go-to.

This Week (Last Week) in Borrowing: Lemon Curd and Glazed Doughnut Holes

I’ll just start off by saying that I didn’t try these two things together, an oversight which I am now bitterly regretting. But both were meltingly, mouth-wateringly delicious and will be making repeat appearances in my kitchen, so I have a feeling they’ll meet eventually.

Rye Humour -- Lemon Curd

Lemon curd: Scripps College, where I studied for my undergrad degree some number of years ago, is a women’s college known for academic excellence and progressive ideas. It has come a long way from its early days as a sort of finishing school for young ladies of society, but one glorious tradition that has made its way through the years is that of afternoon tea. Every Wednesday afternoon, students gather in Seal Court to enjoy a bountiful spread of scones and cream and jam and smooth, tart, vibrant lemon curd. I had no idea what it was the first time I tried it, and oh! New horizons opened up for me that day.

I used the BBC’s recipe, found here, with the only change being that I strained the mixture through a fine sieve once it had started to thicken but before it was too solid. This gave me a perfectly smooth and airy lemon curd. If bits of lemon zest don’t bother you, you can skip this step! This lemon curd has been perfect on pancakes, muffins, toast, mixed with plain yoghurt, licked off a spoon…

Rye Humour -- Glazed Doughnut Holes

And doughnut holes: I made beignets a few weeks back, and they were delicious and very well-received by the hungry mob who somehow managed to consume about 200 of them in less than 12 hours. But let’s be real: sometimes you don’t have energy to put into kneading yeasted dough or hours to wait for it to rise. Sometimes you and the hungry mob need doughnuts NOW!

These Easy Homemade Glazed Doughnut Holes by Kelly at Just a Taste are leavened with baking powder, which means that you can have doughnut holes (or alien doughnut shapes, if you don’t have a tiny ice cream scoop to make perfect dough balls) galore in the amount of time it takes you to heat your vat of oil to 350°F. (It doesn’t take that long.) Kelly’s recipe is a very basic vanilla doughnut hole– perfect as written, but I’m already scheming of all the little bits and bobs you could add to this to really take it to the next level. This time the doughnuts didn’t survive the hour.

Banana Coconut Muffins

Rye Humour -- Banana Coconut MuffinsGeoff and I have a weekly routine that goes a little something like this: on Sunday, we buy too many bananas, because they only come in packs of 7 or 8. And by the following Saturday, I have half that many bananas– now brown and freckly and fragrant– that I need to find a creative use for. And then on Sunday, we buy more bananas.Rye Humour -- Banana Coconut Muffins

It drives Geoff crazy because he feels like we’re wasting bananas, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually thrown one away. I’m just having to get more creative about ways to use them up. Is it possible to get tired of plain old banana bread? I don’t want to find out. So here’s this week’s solution: a good, simple banana muffin, with a crunchy little twist. Desiccated coconut gives these muffins that little bit of interest that you sometimes need on a cloudy Wednesday morning.

Rye Humour -- Banana Coconut Muffins

Banana Coconut Muffins
Makes 12 good-sized muffins

1 1/2 cups (190g) flour (use half whole wheat for a little extra heartiness)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1/2 cup (100g) packed brown sugar (light or dark)
1/2 cup (120 ml) sunflower oil (or other neutral vegetable oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe or overripe bananas
1 cup (80g) desiccated coconut (or shredded, but make sure it’s not sweetened!)

Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a muffin tin with paper cases.

Mash your bananas and set them aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugars together until creamy. I just used a fork, but you could use a mixer if you have one handy. Add oil, vanilla, and bananas, and mix until thoroughly combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the banana-egg mixture and stir to combine. (You want to get rid of the lumps, but not to handle it so much that the gluten in the flour starts to develop, giving you tough muffins.) Fold in the coconut until well-incorporated.

With an ice cream scoop or 1/2 cup measure, scoop batter into muffin tins, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center muffin comes out clean (a few moist crumbs are fine).

Marriage: thoughts on consistency and spontaneity, commitment and change

My grandma, hip lady that she is, posted this status on Facebook yesterday:

“Sixty five years ago today I married my best friend. Would I do it over again? In a heart beat. We are older and possibly wiser but love the choice we made.”

What a legacy! First of all, sixty-five years is longer than most people have been alive. But also, to commit to one thing, one person, one relationship for six and a half decades (and counting)– it’s a kind of commitment that’s becoming rarer year by year. I remember talking to a friend a few years back (pre-marriage, for both of us) about the claustrophobia of tying yourself down to one person and the realization that brought her to the point of readiness for the big Yes. “What I’ve realized,” she said, “is that it’s not stagnation. You’re not tying yourself to a static person. You, ever-changing and ever-growing, are tying yourself to another ever-changing and growing person, in a relationship that will have to grow and change as constantly as each of you does. So marriage isn’t actually about settling down and settling in but about introducing this whole other dynamic factor into your life!”

Saltcoats sunsetGeoff and I got in the car yesterday after an appointment in Glasgow, and we made it halfway home before we just sort of didn’t take our exit. We drove west through farmland and hillside villages until we reached the seaside, and we had way too much fish and chips for dinner, and we climbed a lookout tower and joked and sang and watched the sun set, and throughout all of it we talked about our emerging dreams and shifting roles and evolving understandings of God and the world. I’ve changed so much in the two and a half years that we’ve known each other, and he’s changed as well, and we’re both more of who we really are, and we know less than we used to know, and through it all– through it all, we’re being woven together in trust and dedication and togetherness.

We’re older (a little) and possibly wiser (?) but love the choice we’ve made. We’ve made it every day, and we’ll keep making it every day, whether we feel like it or not. Whether, in that moment, we like each other or not. There are two constants for us: we’re in this together as long as we’re both breathing, and that age-old constant of change. But with the first in place, we can get in the car and miss an exit or two and know that wherever we’re going, we’re going together.

Geoff & Molly at Saltcoats

And, my friends, there’s something in that.

This Week in Borrowing: Soda Bread and Fig Preserves

While I love the innovation and fine-tuning aspects of cooking and baking, so much of what I’ve learned in my life has come from just gleaning from someone else’s hours of trial and error. My approach to new culinary territory is usually to find someone who is familiar with that territory, duplicate what they’ve done until I understand all the ins and outs of it, and then use that new understanding as a foundation for my own creativity. It’s the whole Isaac Newton thing, isn’t it? “If I’ve seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

This week I took on a new bread family and an entirely new (to me) fruit.

Rye Humour -- Paul Hollywood's Soda Bread

For soda bread, I looked to Paul Hollywood, who is my go-to man for all things risen and glutenous. Soda bread. Who knew? The Irish knew. All the delectable crustiness of ordinary bread, with zero kneading or waiting. I do miss the traditional yeasty flavour of the breads I’m more familiar with, but soda bread is something I can and will learn to love in its own right. From start to table in an hour? I’m sold. You can find the recipe I was following here: Paul Hollywood’s Soda Bread. I veganised it for work, using soya milk + lemon juice in place of buttermilk, which worked just fine. Crunchy, thick crust. Robust, chewy insides. So stinking easy. Do it now. You could be eating fresh bread in an hour.

Rye Humour -- Figs

And figs! Figs just always felt sort of out of my league. I did try one, once, but I felt like I didn’t quite get it, and the person making me eat it was judging me for not getting it, and also figs are always hanging out with other pretentious foods like duck and arugula…

Anyway, Geoff and I were at Aldi this week and lo and behold: figs! Looking so purple and ripe and accessible, so I brought them home and did my research and decided on a nice, simple jam. I looked at about a million different recipes and ended up doing my own thing (involving sugar and lemon juice and water in unknown quantities), but my initial jumping-off-point was here: Cooking With A Wallflower: Fresh Fig Jam. I was in testing-the-waters mode, so I didn’t keep track of measurements, but I don’t think you can go wrong with a squeeze or two of lemon juice, a good scoop of sugar, and enough water to keep the figs from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The only advice I would give is to chop your figs into smaller pieces than mine were initially– I had to pull the skins out and chop them up in the end because the dang things would not break down naturally. And trust the process. It took longer than I anticipated for them to really jammify (trademark pending), but a consistent low heat and occasional stirring did the trick.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig Jam

Starting out: quartered figs in about an inch of lemon-sugar-water.

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig Jam

Maybe 20 minutes in: we’re melting, melllllllting!

Rye Humour -- Fresh Fig Jam

And after an hour: jammy goodness! I’ll be honest: I’m not going to forswear all other fruits forever in favour of figs, but I think I can learn to love the subtleties and definitely the striking red alien-ness of these new friends. You’ll see more from me and figs.

So there you have it. I may not learn something new every day, but if I learned two new things every week for the rest of my life, I think I would feel pretty good about all the things I knew!

Just do one thing (and Bramble Gin Liqueur)

Rye Humour -- Bramble Gin Liqueur

This may come as a bit of a shocker for those of you who know me, but I sometimes display a hint of a tendency to get carried away. It starts with good intentions: “Oh, the brambles are ripening, I should pick some and bake that cake that I liked!” (Brambles, by the way, being the Scottish name for blackberries.)

And then it grows: “…and I should make jam and I should make a pie and I should freeze some for smoothies and I should make liqueurs for all my Christmas presents and also I should write down all those recipes and take pictures and blog them and…”

Until the few berries I did pick on my way home (before the high school let out and I was surrounded by high schoolers– why am I still so intimidated by high schoolers?) have grown a fuzzy little coat of mould because I was so paralyzed by the vast scope of all my million ideas that I didn’t act on any of them.

This year, with moving into our flat and preparing to transition jobs and dealing with feeling unwell so much of the time, I’ve found myself overwhelmed both by my overambitious good intentions and by the reality of all the little things that do need to get done in a day. My mindfulness project lately has been to catch myself in that first moment of good intention and then to get up and do one thing.

Like pulling that half-bottle of gin that we never drink out of the freezer, popping a few handfuls of berries and a bit of sugar in through its tiny neck, giving it a good shake, and then hiding it in a dark cupboard to work its magic until just before Christmastime.Rye Humour -- Bramble Gin Liqueur

I even made an event in my calendar. December 8: Bramble Gin Liqueur is ready!

Rye Humour -- Bramble Gin Liqueur

Bramble Gin Liqueur
Makes about 400ml of liqueur

8-9 oz (250g) brambles (blackberries)
2/3 cup (125g) sugar
1 1/2 cups (350ml) gin

Note: A wide-mouth jar would work best for this, but don’t let that be what stops you! You’ll just have to pop the berries into the neck of a narrower bottle one at a time, but it is actually an oddly satisfying task.

Wash berries gently but thoroughly. Add sugar into gin, then add berries and shake together. Leave out on a counter where you’ll see it for about three days, giving it a good shake daily until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved.

Once sugar has dissolved, place your liqueur in a dark cabinet somewhere and forget about it for about 3 months. After three months, strain out the berries and enjoy! More sugar can be added at this point if needed.