Fruit Mince Pies

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I shared these fruit mince tarts with an English friend and I could see in their expression, as they bit into the crumbly pie casing, that they were tasting nostalgia as much as spiced fruit mince. These merry morsels are historically British you see, heralding from the Crusade era when the English brought back Middle Eastern recipes mixing meats with fruit and sweeter flavours as well as exotic spices.

Mince Pies have always been associated with Christmas, though as time has gone by the recipe has evolved to leave out the meats but amp up the sweets! For this recipe I left my fruit mince to soak in brandy for 24 hours, but some people have told me tales of their grandmothers soaking it for months!

Fruit mince pie

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Ingredients:

  •  250g dried figs
  • 300g raisins
  • 150g Slivered almonds
  • 250g dried apricots
  • 300g currants
  • 300g sultanas
  • 3 granny smith apples
  • 200g mixed peels
  • 110g macadamia
  • 150g hazelnuts
  • 200g brown sugar
  • 150mL brandy
  • 1/3 cup Verjuice
  • 4 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 175g unsalted butter

Method:

  1. Peel and coarsely grate the apples, then cover with verjuice to prevent discoloration.
  2. Chop the apricots, raisin, figs, macadamia and hazelnuts.
  3. Combine them in a large mixing bowl with rest of the ingredients except the butter and mix thoroughly.
  4. Cover with cling film and leave at room temperature for 24 hours, stirring from time to time.

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Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 175g unsalted chilled butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 55g icing sugar
  • 1 free range egg
  • 2 Tbspn iced water

Method:

  1. Dice the chilled butter
  2. Blend the flours, icing sugar and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. If you do not have a food processor use the tip of your fingers to mix the butter and flours together.
  3. Add the egg yolk and iced water and mix until the dough comes together. Form a ball and flatten it a little bit, it will make your life easier when you start rolling, wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge for an hour to rest.
  4. Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius (392F).
  5. Take the pastry out of the fridge 15 minutes prior to rolling it.
  6. Roll the pastry on a lightly floured clean surface to the desired thickness (about 2mm).
  7. Stir the fruit mince one last time before filling the pastry.
  8. Line the moulds with pastry (a cupcake tin works perfectly for this) and fill them up with the mince to about 3/4. Press the mince down gently in the pie. Using a star shape pastry cutter, cut a star for each of the pie and place them on top. Press down a little bit and brush them with egg wash.
  9. Bake for 18 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown on top (some oven might cook a bit faster or slower).
  10. Allow to cool on a cooling rack before serving with.

Cherry Clafoutis

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Early summertime is cherry season and traditionally this means adorning the top of a freshly baked pavlova with these juicy little jewels for Christmas day dessert. But if you want to try something a little different (and you wouldn’t be food lovers without a sense of culinary adventure) then may I introduce a dainty little dish called the clafoutis.

This fabulous flan-like dessert is a traditional dish of the Limousin region of France and is rather peculiar in that it contains cherries that are unpitted. It may sound odd and like a lot of work to ensure you don’t chip a tooth with every bite, but believe me when I say that the pips add an extra nutty nuance that makes it worth the effort. Just make sure you let your guests know before they tuck in!

Traditional cherry clafoutis:

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Ingredients:

  •  185 mL thickened cream
  • 125 mL full fat milk
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 3 free range eggs
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 50g plain flour
  • 30g almond meal
  • 400g cherries
  • 1 Tbsp Kirsch

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 F).
  2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan. Split the vanilla pod in two, scrape out the seeds and add both to the cream.
  3. Heat the cream gently for a couple of minutes, remove from the heat, add the milk and leave to cool. Take the vanilla pod out.
  4. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until the mixture becomes slightly white and foamy.
  5. Sieve the flour, mix it with the almond meal and then add it to the egg mix. Whisk well to avoid lumps.
  6. Gently add the cooled cream and whisk until combined.
  7. Arrange the cherries at the bottom of your cake tray (use a 23cm or so baking tray), pour the mix over the cherries to about ¾ of the tray.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden on top. A good trick to check if your Clafoutis is cooked is to plant a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean then it’s cook!
  9. Dust with icing sugar and serve with a dollop of cream while still warm.

With this delicious dessert i recommend a Chateau Coutet “Sauternes” available from http://www.airoldifinewines.com.au

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Christmas Eve Dinner “à la Française”: Part 2

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Pork Loin with an Almond, Sour Cherries, Pistachio stuffing and a Cherry sauce.

 

Ingredients for the stuffing:

  •  150g almond meal
  • 1 brown onion
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 bunch sage
  • 1 small bunch rosemary
  • 150 g sour cherries
  • 100 g pistachios
  • 1 egg

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Method:

  1.  Preheat the oven at 200 degrees Celsius (392 F)
  2. Finely chop the onions, grate the garlic and finely chop the herbs.
  3. Heat up a medium saucepan with some olive oil on a medium heat. Cook the onion, garlic and herbs for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Leave to cool. Roughly chop the cherries and the pistachios and keep aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl mix together the cherries, pistachios, almond meal and the egg. Add the onion mix and stir well, season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Open up the pork loin so you a “flat” piece. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Place the stuffing in the middle and wrap the meat around it. Tie up the loin tightly (not too tight) with cooking string.
  6. Scar the skin using a sharp knife and rub the skin with a little olive oil and salt, this will give you a perfect crackling. Place the pork loin in a roasting tray and cook in the hot oven for 3 hours on the middle shelf of the oven. If you see the crackling is getting too dark, you can cover it with foil for the last part of the cooking.

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Ingredients for the sauce:1 brown onion

  • 1 brown onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 50 ml port
  • 400 g sour cherries (in juice)
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 350 ml cherry juice

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Method:

  1.  Finely dice the onion and grate the garlic.
  2. Heat up a medium size saucepan with olive oil and cook the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the port, half the cherries and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  4. Add the cherry juice, the stock and Reduce by half. To thickens the sauce mix a little bit of corn flour with water and mix it through the sauce until you reach the desired consistency. Then add the rest of the chopped cherries and check the seasoning.

I have chosen to serve a simple green salad freshly picked from garden and dressed with sherry vinegar and olive oil with this delicious Christmas dish.

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I recommend a Chateau “Le Bourdieu” Médoc 2010 available from http://www.airoldifinewines.com.au

Bon Appétit

Le Fermier

 

 

 

Lune Croissanterie: A crescent-shaped piece of France in Melbourne

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I love croissants. I ate them for breakfast every morning when I was growing up in France. My Mum would wake up before everyone else and pop them into the oven so that the rich smell of butter and pastry would fill our noses as we woke up and dressed for school. We ate them hot, crispy and with a cup of black coffee (once we were old enough).

Now in Melbourne, it’s amazing how many places sell croissants but how far they all are from tasting like the ones I ate as a boy. For the most part, I find them too sweet, too dense and too soft.

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You can imagine my skepticism then when Mrs. Fermier started raving to me about this little hole-in-the-wall croissant shop in the seaside Melbourne suburb of Elwood. She’d waited 1 hour in line and bought the last too croissants (they sell out every single day they are open).

In a word, they tasted like “home”.

As it turns out the master behind these edible little crescents is an Aussie-born but French-trained pattisière, named Kate. I had the pleasure of chatting to her one morning, and I learned that she even imports some ingredients from France to get the taste and texture of her vienoisseries just right. It’s no surprise that with such a dedication to quality ingredients and a clearly wonderful talent, every piece from Lune Croissanterie tastes like the real deal.

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It’s not just the basics that Lune nails. There’s a wide repertoire available including pain au chocolat, ham & gruyere croissants, specialties like Kouign-Amann (a Breton pastry pronounced “Ku-in A-mun”),“cruffins” (a mélange of muffin and croissant), and la pièce de la résistance, the “twice-baked”. Traditionally in France, left over croissants from the day before are filled with all manner of delicious things and then baked again. The Lune versions are only available on the weekend, sell out in a flash and come in ever-changing, mouth-watering varieties like Almond, Turkish delight and banana split!

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If you’re thinking about indulging in one of these baked pieces of heaven (as well you should be!), don’t even think about sleeping in and wandering down at about 10am on a Saturday. You’ll need to be waiting in line from at least 6:30am if you want your pick of the menu, but thankfully the amazing Lune team is busily making coffees for patient customers so there’s something to keep you going until they open.

 

Lune Croissanterie is located at 29 Scott St, Elwood and is opened Fridays from 7:30am, and Saturdays and Sundays from 8am, until sold out. http://lunecroissanterie.com

Cheese platter with homemade fig and walnut bread

 

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Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you the many facets of my biggest food obsession – cheese. Few things, culinary or otherwise, are more ubiquitous with the hexagon nation than fromage. You’d be surprised at how many varieties and subtleties of flavour exist and so I just couldn’t fit everything into one post. For today, I’ve started at the end, showing you a platter of a few of my favourites (at least from the selection we are able to purchase in Australia, but that’s another story.)

Now, it’s not just the cheese that matters on a cheese platter. What you eat your cheese with is equally important. A good quality crusty loaf of bread is a must and a touch of sweetness like a fig or quince paste can really enhance the flavour. I’ve combined the two in this delicious fig and walnut bread recipe that you can easily make at home and impress your guests with.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 kg baker’s flour
  • 100g fresh yeast (or 35g dried yeast)
  • 800mL luke warm water
  • 35g salt
  • 200g walnut kernel
  • 150g dried figs
  • 150g dried apricots (optional)

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Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees on fan force.
  2. Mix the yeast with a little bit of water, just enough to dilute it.
  3. Put all the dry ingredients into a big mixing bowl and give it a stir before you add the yeast. You don’t want the yeast to be in direct contact with the salt, as it would “kill” it.
  4. Roughly chop the walnuts, figs and apricots (if you are including them) and keep aside.
  5. Add the yeast to the dry ingredients then add the water. Knead the dough well for about 5 minutes, by hand or using an electric mixer with a hook attachment.
  6. Put the dough on a lightly floured bench, spread it a little bit and arrange the nuts and dried fruits in the middle. Knead well for a further 5 minutes by hand to make sure the garnish is evenly spread.
  7. Put the dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to proof until it doubles in size, then knock it back down with your fists (as if you’re punching it).
  8. Portion the dough in 300g balls and using the palm of your hands, form an oblong shape, kind of like a big Baguette.
  9. Cover the bread with a towel and leave to proof until nearly double in size.
  10. Bake the bread until golden and crunchy around the outside (about 15 minutes). To know when it’s ready, gently knock on the bottom of the loaf and if it sounds hollow, then it’s ready.

 

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I paired this wonderful bread with a cheese platter in which I used the following cheeses:

  1. Pico goats cheese : Perigord region, France. Soft ripened cheese
  2. Fourme D’ambert: Puy De Dome in Auvergne France. Semi Hard blue cheese
  3. Brebirousse d’argental: Lyon region, soft ripened bloomy rind sheep’s milk cheese
  4. truffled brie: Rouzaire Ile De France, soft cheese

I also used dried apricots, dried figs, grapes, crackers and moscatels on the platter

All those are available from feast in Hampton or Richmond café and Larder cheeses, you can also visit their website: www.rhcl.com.au

With this amazing cheese platter I recommend a Chateau “ Ollieux Romanis” Corbiere red available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au .

Steak Tartare

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Steak tartare is a dish of culinary legend as it was originally thought to have come about from the tenderised pieces of meat that Tartar horsemen would carry under their saddles. In actual fact this was to help heal their horses saddle sores and definitely not to consume (ew!). More accurately, the dish evolved from raw and cooked minced meats brought to Europe by eastern Europeans. At the end of the 19th century anything served with tartare sauce was known as “à la tartare” and somehow this really stuck with steak. The dish served most popularly as we know today with a raw egg on top, became fashionable in the 1950’s and is now a staple at most French cafés and bistros.

Some say this dish isn’t for the faint hearted, but I disagree! If you can put aside your judgments on raw meat and let your taste buds guide you, most people would be surprised at how tasty steak tartare actually is!

 

Classic steak tartare for 2:

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch chive
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 lemon juice
  • 50g cornichon
  • 50g capers
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ small bunch parsley
  • 5 drops Tabasco (optional)
  • 200 grass fed rump steak or eye fillet (you can ask your butcher to mince this for you fresh)
  • 2 free range egg yolk
  • 1 baguette

 

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Method:

  1. Finely chop the meat with a sharp knife or if you have a mincer, put it through that, or the easiest option is to ask your butcher to mince a quality piece of meat fresh for you.
  2. Finely chop the shallots, capers, cornichons, chive and parsley.
  3. Heat up a grill pan on a high heat.
  4. Cut little slices of the baguette, brush them with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper. Grill them on both sides until golden and crunchy.
  5. In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients except the Tabasco, egg yolk and lemon juice. Mix well then add the lemon juice and Tabasco to taste, you want it to have a bit of a kick but not over power it.
  6. On a plate, using a pastry cutter form the mince into a round shape with a hole in the middle big enough to contain the yolk. Gently put the yolk in the middle and serve with the croutons.

With the steak Tartare I recommend a Chateau Mouthes Le Bihan “Vieillefont” available from www.airoldifinewines.com.au