Small Birds For Dinner

It’s a truism that all the tastiest things are often small and, if referring to meat, tastier still if near the bone. With small chickens (size 10 or 11) or poussin (baby chicken) one can get a nice compromise of flavour, more succulent eating and the ability to partake of several cuts or every cut, including the tender back meat, in one sitting. My recent transpacific zoom lunch had small bird as its theme. Poussin either stuffed with mograbieh (pearl couscous), spices and pistachios or roasted with duck fat potatoes, garlic and rosemary formed part of the virtual shared table with my contribution, a dish I have been fascinated by for years but never made; b’stilla. The b’stilla (Moroccan) or pastille (Spanish) is traditionally a pigeon pie made with cinnamon dominant spices in brik pastry. The crispy baked pie is given a dusting with cinnamon and icing sugar and that combination of savory and sweet, though a little strange, marries well with the slightly gamey flavour of squab. Filo pastry can be used but it is worth making it with brik (available from The Essential Ingredient) as it creates a beautifully crisp shell-like layer when baked. At about $21 a bird (available at the Queen Victoria market stall 84, Nifra Poultry) squab are not cheap. This might take some commitment by the cook but it is worth it for the exotic, medieval-like experience. However, if you are not up to the challenge of a pigeon and dealing with a bird complete with head then poussin is a good substitute, better than chicken, if you want to approximate the leaner meat of game. The filling should not be greasy or wet with meat juices and the addition of beaten eggs binding the stock ensure this.

B’stilla

  • 2 squab or 1 poussin
  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • small pinch of saffron strands, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 2 whole eggs plus one egg yolk
  • 3 tbs chopped parsley
  • 5 sheets Tunisian brik pastry
  • 60 g butter, melted (from brushing pastry)
  • handful flaked almonds, toasted
  • cinnamon and pure icing sugar (for dusting)

For the stock

  • carcass of the squab or poussin
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 small onion
  • 8 parsley stems
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds

Make the filling the day before if you can, otherwise ensure it is cold when you are ready to assemble the pie. Remove the breast meat and thighs from the birds and set aside. Remove the head and wing tips and put them together with the whole carcass and stock ingredients into a small roasting pan and roast at 180°C for 30 minutes. Transfer to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Strain the stock into a clean saucepan and reduce to a third of the volume. Discard the vegetables. When cool remove the flesh from the bones using yours fingers.

Cut the meat off the thigh bones and slice the breasts into three pieces. Saute the chopped onion in a frypan until softened, add the spices and the thigh and breast meat and coat well with the spices. Add the stock and cook for a few minutes, then add the eggs, parsley and shredded meat and turn off the heat as soon as the mixture thickens. Cool and refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Remove the brik pastry from the packet, lay each sheet between a damp tea towel to make it pliable. Brush the base of a 20 cm round roasting or cake pan with butter. Lay a sheet of pastry down, brush with butter, and lay another sheet over the top. Sprinkle the base with the toasted flaked almonds. Cut a disc from another sheet of pastry to fit neatly over the almonds and within the overlapping layers of pastry. Spoon the filling on top of that disc of pastry, gently pressing down with the back of a spoon until even and smooth.

Tuck the overlapping sides of the pastry in towards the centre. Wet the pastry to help it fold over easily. Place another layer of pastry over the top, brush with butter and repeat with another sheet. Lay a small bread plate on top and flip the pie onto it. Tuck the overhanging edges of the pastry towards the centre to make a neat, flat disk of a pie. Place the baking pan over the top and flip it again so that the top is smooth and the overhangs are underneath. Brush with butter and bake at 180°C for 15 minutes. It should be golden brown and crisp. Cool for 10-15 minutes and then dust with a 3:1 mix of icing sugar and cinnamon.




Sweet Was The Walk

along the narrow lane……. Since the start of Melbourne’s lock downs our household has been shopping at various neighborhood bakeries, incorporating the provision of the essential loaf of bread with an extended walking regime, within the mandated radius of course. Unfortunately the bakery purchases often included a sweet treat such a cardamon bun or cinnamon scroll, so while the walking has been good for the mind, the body has a bit of catching up to do. It has been interesting comparing the buns from various places and while they are all delicious I do find they are all incredibly sweet. Perhaps the extra sweetness is because they are adorned with sugar crystals or a sugar glaze but I suspect it is also the amount of sugar in the dough that is added to keep baked products moist for longer. Maybe it’s what a lot of customers want but I prefer less of a sugar hit with my cup of coffee. Poring over my new Scandinavian baking book, a present from last Christmas, I settled on a recipe for sweet bread dough and made my own cinnamon scrolls. This recipe has about 3-5 g of sugar per serve. Compared with bought bakery products these buns are not very sweet and still very enjoyable. It does make me wonder how many grams of sugar per serve are in commercial bakery products. The next time I baked these scrolls I halved the quantities and kept back all but two of the rolled portions of dough, putting the remainder in the fridge, so that I wasn’t baking all the scrolls in one day. I’d pull two portions of dough from the fridge the next morning to warm up and begin the second raising process, so they were ready to bake by lunch time. This strategy worked very well; I got that just baked freshness, no excess buns to become stale, less sugar and we saved money. The only thing needed was a little more walking.

Cinnamon Scrolls

makes 8

sweet bread dough

  • 160 ml milk
  • 65 g butter
  • 2 tsp freeze-dried yeast
  • 1 egg
  • 50 g caster sugar
  • 375 g bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Filling

  • 1 tbs soft butter
  • 1 tbs caster sugar
  • 1 tbs cinnamon

Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan and warm until the butter has melted. Leave to cool until tepid and then add the yeast. Add the flour and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. whisk in the egg to the milk and add to the flour and mix vigorously for 10 minutes. You can knead by hand if you don’t have a stand mixer. The dough should come away from the sides of the bowl and be soft and pliable. Place the dough in a neat ball in a ceramic bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until the dough is doubled in size.

Dust the bench with flour and roll out the dough into a neat rectangle of approximately 30 x 20 cm. Leaving the long edge away from you with a centimeter width strip clear of any filling, spread the dough with the softened butter and then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. Roll up the dough into a tight log, so that the seam is underneath. Using a sharp knife cut the log into 8 even slices. Place scrolls on a baking sheet and cover with a tea towel and leave to prove until doubled in size. Bake at 200ºC for 10-12 minutes.

proving
ready to bake



Remembrance of Things Past

Lingering at your favourite cafe over a coffee and some sweet morsel, especially the lingering part, may be a distant memory for Melbourne folk now in stage 4. While I was not an avid cafe goer there are certain haunts, their style of coffee and in-house specialties, that I really miss. Trotters in Carlton made a particularly delightful lemon ricotta muffin that was a perfect breakfast substitute or mid-morning indulgence. It was not too sweet, fluffy but with wholesome chunks of ricotta and the zing of zesty lemon. I tried to recreate those lovely muffins and retain that memory of lingering over coffee but baking cakes can present a problem of too much of a good thing with no one to share it with. The great thing about these muffins is that they freeze really well, so you only need to warm one up when you want to indulge.

Lemon Ricotta Muffins

makes 12

  • 2 1/2 cups S.R.flour
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • zest of a large lemon
  • juice of a large lemon
  • 1 cup natural yoghurt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup ricotta

Preheat oven to 160°C fan-forced. Oil a 12 hole muffin pan. In a large mixing bowl mix the dry ingredients and lemon zest. Make a well in the flour and add the yogurt, egg, oil and lemon juice and mix, making sure to break up the egg well before you start to lightly mix the wet ingredients through the flour. Don’t over mix, just bring it roughly together and then add the ricotta and fold through with a metal spoon, leaving large chunks of ricotta. Spoon the mix into the muffin tray and bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool the muffins in the tray for 10 minutes. You may need to carefully run a small knife around each muffin to ease it away from the tin once it has cooled. Tip onto a wire rack to cool completely.




Amaretti Morbidi

As I wrote the words, amaretti morbidi, for these little Italian almond cookies, auto correct, perhaps understandably, changed morbidi to morbidity. However, morbidi in Italian actually means soft and there’s nothing to be morbid about when you have some of these delightfully moist almond cookies. Amaretti morbidi are very easy to make but everything is in the timing, too long in the oven and you will end up with amaretti friabile (hard), the crunchy variety of amaretti, better for dunking into your coffee. Italian language lesson aside amaretti are composed of three base ingredients; almond meal, sugar and egg white. There is no requirement for electric mixers, just your hands to do a little kneading and rolling. Amaretti can be flavoured in a variety of ways by the addition of lemon zest, orange zest and cocoa powder, almond essence, vanilla essence, dried sour cherries or the almond meal can be substituted with ground pistachio nuts. Once you get the hang of them you can start to be creative by adding a piece of glacé fruit or an almond on top and even package them as gifts. Just remember 12 minutes is the magic number.

makes approximately 40

  • 300 g almond meal
  • 250 g caster sugar
  • 2 egg whites from larges eggs
  • pure icing sugar for dusting

variations

  • zest of a lemon
  • 3 drops almond essence
  • 2 tbs unsweetened cocoa and zest of a small orange
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence or paste
  • 1 tbs finely minced dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan-forced. Line baking trays with baking paper or silicon sheets.

In a medium sized bowl mix the almond meal and sugar together, add the zest or other desired flavourings and mix well to distribute evenly. Now you will have to trust me here, there is no need to beat the egg whites, just add them to the bowl and stir and then use your finger tips to knead and bring the dough together. The mixture will seem dry at first but surprisingly will quickly moisten as you begin to work it into a ball of dough. Pinch off a small walnut-sized amount and roll it between your hands into a smooth ball. Continue to roll out the rest into about 40 small balls. Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl to remove any large lumps. Roll one or two amaretti balls at a time in the icing sugar and then roll the ball between your hands to even the coating. Place the ball on the baking tray and gently press down with your thumb to slightly depress the middle. These cookies do not spread on baking, so you only need an amaretti’s width in spacing between them. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.




Walnut And Apple Tart

The ground walnut filling for this apple tart is the filling for a Viennese walnut crescent-shaped pastry, called Nuss Kipferl. I had some filling left over and decided it might be nice as a base for a crispy apple tart. It turned out my idea was sound, so here is the recipe. I hope you enjoy it.

Use bought pastry or pastry makers use this recipe which is just enough for a 22 cm tart shell, with removable base.

Short Crust Pastry (pâte brisée)

  • 90 g plain flour
  • 120 g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • pinch salt
  • 3 tbs cold water

Walnut Filling

  • 75 g ground walnuts
  • 50 ml milk
  • 35 g sugar
  • knob of butter
  • zest of half a lemon

Heat the milk, sugar and butter until the sugar is dissolved. Add the ground walnuts and zest and cook on medium heat, stirring until it forms a thick paste and darkens slightly. (approx. 5 min).

Tart Filling

  • 1 large Granny Smith apple
  • 50 g unsalted butter, melted
  • quince jelly or apricot conserve for glazing

Roll out the pastry and line the tart tin. Chill the lined tart for 15 minutes in the fridge and preheat oven to 180°C. Line the tart with baking paper and pastry weights and bake blind for 12 minutes. Remove paper and weights. Let the tart cool slightly and then spread the base with the walnut filling. Core and cut apple in half and slice thinly on a mandolin. Sprinkle cut slices with a squeeze of lemon juice. Layer the apple on top of the walnut filling in a neat overlapping spiral of slices. Brush well with melted butter and bake for approx. 20-25 minutes. If there are pieces of visible fruit in the conserve for the glaze you may need to sieve them out after warming the conserve in a small saucepan. Brush the still warm baked tart, including the edges of the pasty, with the warmed quince jelly or conserve to give the tart a nice shiny professional glaze.