i have been pacing myself since the marathon baking that happened last week. but i find that i’m always thinking of baking. the weather has been pretty miserable and nothing makes me feel cosy and warm like a cup of tea and something that has just emanated from the oven. friday afternoon i try my hand at gluten free shortbread. i used a 1:1 ratio of gluten free flour and butter. i used caster sugar and almond flour as well. i forgot to add cornflour. the butter ratio was too high so it bubbled through. the resulting shortbread was very hard so i’ll need to work on that. it was however the first time that i tackled an entire recipe purely by feel. i’ll let you know when i figure this one out properly. point to note though: the dough tasted like chickpea which i was not happy about. however when it was baked you couldn’t taste the chickpea anymore which i was grateful for.
on saturday morning i made some shortcrust pastry. i have been itching to give milk tart another go.
2 heaped tblsp almond flour
50g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tblsp water
cut the butter into blocks and put it back in the fridge. measure out the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. add the butter and use a pastry blender/fork/food processor to cut the butter into the flour. you could also use your hands but this will warm the butter up which is something you are trying to avoid.
once the mixture looks like bread crumbs add the egg yolk and mix using a knife/fork/spoon. whatever you have on hand really. the mixture will still look very dry. add a tablespoon of water and mix again. if the mixture still looks too dry to come together add another tablespoon of water. the amount of water is dependent on how big the egg yolk is. i use a large egg (±59g total egg weight).
bring the dough together with your hands. though you want to handle the dough as little as possible you do need to make sure that you have a homogenous mixture so knead it a little. i trust your judgement 🙂
make a ball with the dough, wrap it in cling wrap twice and put it in the fridge for atleast half an hour.
since i had a bee in my bonnet (its a lovely bonnet with lace trim) i then decided to make a gluten free orange cake. the recipe is from annie bell’s baking bible. its the lemon and polenta cake but i used oranges instead of lemons (said the bells of st clement’s). i also added two tablespoons of cornflour and half a tsp of xanthum gum…mostly cos i was playing. i have come to the realisation that i can no longer just bake according to the recipe. i have to tweak even before i’ve tried the standard recipe to see if its good as is. the only way i can describe my condition is with a very south african indian turn of phrase. “only know to have my own ways”
anyhoo so i fiddled like usual. the recipe is easy. put everything in a bowl and beat. i didn’t even do that. i beat the butter and sugar, then added the eggs, then folded in the dry ingredients. yup, only know to have my own ways.
i put the batter in a loose-bottom cake pan and baked as directed. the resulting cake was a deep golden brown with a sunken middle…yes it flopped. it was however still a delicious dense, nutty cake. because of the lack of the flour there was a distinct butteriness that stayed in your mouth. it might be a bit greasy for some people but i didn’t mind. a nice cup of tea helps to wash it all down.
while the cake was baking i cleaned up and packed the ingredients i needed to make the filling for the milk tart. we had been invited to lunch at some friends in stellenbosch. they are notorious for cooking up some amazing feasts. i wanted to help out by supplying dessert. since time constraints didn’t allow me to to finish baking at home i decided to make the tart at their place. you know how i feel about social cooking.
after checking and double checking that i had everything we departed.
i popped the pastry into the fridge when we arrived at P&D’s place. proceeded to drink some wine and catch up. when there was enough room for me on the stove i got going with the pastry. i rolled it out between two sheets of baking paper. i really like this method though it can be quit slippery on your counter top. go slow. additional bonus of this method is the rolling pin stays clean.
i lay the rolled out pastry into my 25cm fluted tart pan (it has a loose bottom). the pan is too big but i do the best i can to get decent height on the sides. since the tart shell needs to hold a rather fluid custard filling you need make sure that the sides are reasonably even and that there aren’t any cracks or holes. use a 23 or 24cm pan if you have one.
i pierce the bottom of the shell with a fork, cover the pastry and put it back in the fridge. i do this in case the pastry has warmed up too much during the rolling process. you want the butter to be really cold when you bake the shell. i think that’s what makes shortcrust pastry short.
after about 10 minutes i put the pastry in the oven (with baking beans) for about 15 minutes. last time i made milk tart my scheduling was all off so this time i was determined to approach the task in a more methodical and structured manner. after the 15 minutes is up i remove the baking beans and pop the pastry back in the oven for another 12 to 15 minutes. keep an eye on it. i figure i can get going on the custard in the meantime. note you will need an extra set of hands to take the pastry out the oven if you are whisking custard. if you don’t have a spare set of hands available rather finish baking the shell before you start the filling.
4 eggs separated
half a cup of caster sugar
3 heaped tblsp corn flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp vanilla seeds
i separate the eggs and use a whisk to mix the sugar and egg yolks till the mixture is pale and slightly moussey looking. bear insisted on whisking while i took the pic below. he wanted to give you guys an action shot.
i dissolve two tablespoons of the corn flour (maizena here in south africa) with about 2 tablespoons of the milk. its a bit tough to mix at first but keep going. make sure that the resulting mixture is smooth. use more milk if you have to.
i heat up the remaining milk with the vanilla. while i’m waiting for the milk to warm up i combine the egg mixture with the corn flour mixture. i add some of the warm milk, whisk thoroughly and then pour the whole lot back into the warm milk. i keep whisking while i wait for the mixture to thicken. test the custard with the back of a spoon. this is done by dipping the spoon in the custard and then running your figure across the back of the spoon. the custard is thickening if the path left by your finger remains.
at this point the custard is not thickening as quickly as i expect. i crank up the heat on the plate but it still takes a while. this is mostly because we are using all four plates on this poor stove. busy busy kitchen. to hurry things along i mix up another tablespoon of corn flour with some milk and add it to the custard. again see how things go for you. the size of the egg yolks you use will play a part. if the custard doesn’t thicken add more corn flour. it isn’t a problem at all.
all of a sudden this custard is thickening in a very uneven manner. i take it off the heat and whisk the bejeezus out of it. i end up with a nice smooth custard that looks distinctly lighter than the last custard i made for milk tart. from this experience i am lead to believe that flour might not be the best thickening agent. side note: if you have to cater for gluten-intolerant people, corn flour is a better option. you can then bake the filling in cupcake holders. they miss out on the pastry but they still get to indulge in the filling.
i whip the egg whites to soft peaks and fold it into the custard. the mixture does not look great at this point but keep folding in gently. don’t over mix.
pour the filling into the shell and bake for 10 to 15 minutes. my filling was probably about 2cm deep so 10 minutes was enough. i had some leftover filling which i baked in cupcake holders.
i noted the different baking time needed for differing depth based on the fact that the crustless milk tarts were runnier. they were about 3 to 4cm deep. use this as a guideline.
i dusted the baked milk tart with cinnamon and left it to cool. if you cut it when it is still too warm you run the risk of the custard being too runny and making a mess. be patient. the custard sets as it cools.
good thing we had some hearty lamb shank to help us bide the time. we were all ready to pass out after lunch but we held it together long enough to have some milk tart…and by some i mean two rounds. we are however trained professionals. don’t try this at home.
lessons learnt: a change of scenery is good. i had a great time baking in a different setting.
additional note: in case you missed it i just posted my own recipe. granted i have had a couple of months of learning to back it and i must acknowledge yuppiechef’s shortcrust pastry recipe and hummingbird cookbooks custard tart recipe which formed the starting point of my journey.
i am well chuffed with me. muhahahahahahaha!