Saturday, 27 November 2010

November 2010 Daring Bakers' Challenge - Who ate all the pie?

The 2010 November Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Simona of briciole. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make pasta frolla for a crostata. She used her own experience as a source, as well as information from Pellegrino Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.

A very special friend of mine was celebrating her birthday this month so, as soon as the challenge was announced, I started planning what I would bake for her. We are just entering mikan (mandarin orange) season here, so I easily settled on making a chocolate mikan crostata.

The pastry came together very well (recipe at the end of this post), I didn't encounter any difficulties while working with it. I blind-baked the pastry case and grated a layer of dark chocolate over the base while it was still warm. Once the chocolate had set, I filled the shell with my mikan custard:

Mikan Custard Filling:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 120g caster sugar
  • juice and finely grated zest 6 mikan (mandarin oranges)
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 100ml double cream
  • 60g dark chocolate, grated
  1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to line a 23cm loose-bottomed tart tin, leaving an overhang around the edges. Line the case with baking paper, fill with baking beans (I used uncooked rice), then blind-bake for 20 mins until golden. Remove the beans, then continue to cook for 10 mins until the base is also golden, cover the warm pastry case with the grated chocolate (it will melt) then set aside to cool. Chill briefly to set the chocolate. Reduce oven to 150C/fan 130C/gas 2.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling. Whisk the eggs and sugar well, then whisk in the juices, zest and cream. Scrape into a jug and set aside. Once the case is cool, trim the overhanging pastry.
  3. Carefully pour in the orange custard to the pastry case. Bake for 45-50 mins until the custard has just set, then cool in the tin. If you're making ahead, this can now be chilled overnight.
Although I was under the impression that we would be hosting a party for the birthday girl at my home, it turned out that the plans had changed... only they forgot to tell me! As I had neither transport nor a babysitter, I ended up sending my crostata along to the party with a friend (and a request to take photos), sob, sob...

It went down well, from what I hear :-) And I was delighted that they saved me a slice so that I could taste it for myself the next day!

The pastry had been so straight-forward that, when I did a cooking demo earlier this week and found myself with half a jug of pumpkin pie filling left over, I decided to make another crostada - a pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving!

I'd never eaten pumpkin pie before, but it was really very, very good! And I had lots of pumpkin puree left over even after making the pie and ended up making some pumpkin swirl chocolate brownies... and pumpkin soup...

Pumpkin Pie Filling:
  • 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pack (200g) cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  1. Cream together the cheese and sugar until smooth.
  2. Beat in the pumpkin puree, followed by the eggs then the spices.
  3. Pour into the blind-baked pastry case and bake for 40 minutes at 180c.
I really enjoyed this month's challenge - basically an enriched, sweet shortcrust pastry. Back in the UK I usually took the easy route and bought ready-made pastry, but the only pastry you can get your hands on here in Japan is puff pastry - no good for mince pies! I'll be using this recipe again over Christmas, that's for sure! Thanks, Simona, for hosting another fantastic month with the Daring Bakers! xxx

Mandatory Items:
You must make the pasta frolla using the recipe that I have provided here and use it as the base layer for a crostata.

Variations allowed:
You can make a crostata with fruit preserves (traditional) or pastry cream or any other filling of your choice. Here's where you can be creative!

Preparation time:
The following times are approximate, as the time depends on your dexterity to cut the butter and work the dough (which should not be overworked) and your familiarity with the rolling pin.

  • Preparing pasta frolla with a food processor takes 10-15 minutes
  • Preparing pasta frolla without a food processor takes 20-25 minutes
  • Allow the pasta frolla to chill thoroughly. I recommend at least two hours.
  • Rolling the pasta frolla and assembling the crostata takes 25-30 minutes, if you use fruit preserves.
  • Baking the crostata takes about 35 minutes, if you use fruit preserves.

Preparation time for other types of crostata vary. For example, making crostata with pastry cream requires the time to make pastry cream (25-30 minutes) and a longer baking time. If you make crostata with fresh fruit, you'll need time to prepare the fruit, besides the time needed to prepare pastry cream. In this case, you assemble the crostata after the crust is baked.

Equipment required:

  • bowls, as needed
  • fork
  • knife
  • bench (or pastry) scraper
  • rolling pin
  • pastry brush
  • 9 or 9.5-inch [23-24 cm] fluted round tart pan with removable bottom, about 1 inch [2.5 cm] high.
  • 1/2 c. minus 1 tablespoon [105 ml, 100 g, 3 ½ oz] superfine sugar (see Note 1) or a scant 3/4 cup [180ml, 90g, 3 oz] of powdered sugar
  • 1 and 3/4 cup [420 ml, 235 g, 8 1/4 oz.] unbleached all-purpose flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 stick [8 tablespoons / 4 oz. / 115 g] cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • grated zest of half a lemon
  • 1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten in a small bowl

Making pasta frolla by hand:

  1. Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a bowl.
  2. Rub or cut the butter into the flour until the mixture has the consistency of coarse crumbs. You can do this in the bowl or on your work surface, using your fingertips or an implement of choice.
  3. Make a well in the center of the mounded flour and butter mixture and pour the beaten eggs into it (reserve about a teaspoon of the egg mixture for glazing purposes later on – place in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to use).
  4. Add the lemon zest to your flour/butter/egg mixture.
  5. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the solid ingredients, and then use your fingertips.
  6. Knead lightly just until the dough comes together into a ball.
  7. Shape the dough into a flat disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Place the dough in the refrigerator and chill for at least two hours. You can refrigerate the dough overnight.

Making pasta frolla with a food processor:

  1. Put sugar, flour, salt, and lemon zest in the food processor and pulse a few times to mix.
  2. Add butter and pulse a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of coarse meal.
  3. Empty food processor's bowl onto your work surface
  4. See step 3 above and continue as explained in the following steps (minus the lemon zest, which you have already added).

Monday, 15 November 2010

Live action!

Just been into the boys' room to open the shutters and noticed something exciting happening in the fish tank (occupied not by fish, but a zarigani (crayfish) J and W decided to home during the summer). A good few weeks ago, K decided that it was time for the zarigani to be released back into the wild, when he noticed a clutch of eggs tucked under her tail! Needless to say, Mrs Z got transferred to a larger, nicer tank for observation over the coming weeks, and...

There look to be hundreds of tiny babies about to be dropped. We are pretty sure that mum with start to eat her offspring straight away, so K has suggeested that I transfer her to a different tank as soon as possible... um, would you want to stick your hand in there?!

Sunday, 7 November 2010


When we moved here just two years ago, our little church used to meet in our pastor's home. The church was very few in number, but our family's arrival added another five to their congregation and things were getting more than a little snug! We relocated our Sunday service to M & H's home, but it was a temporary move and we knew that when they returned from the US we would need to find somewhere else to meet. And just look at what we found!

Nestled between rice fields and lakes lies this old farm house. Not exactly what you'd expect a church to look like, eh? But as soon as we saw it, we knew that it would be perfect. The large building on the left is the church building, with a large (warehouse-type) room for worship, a kitchen and bathroom downstairs, and three large, bright and airy rooms upstairs, as well at a prefab building joining the church to the pastor's house (below).

Isn't the house lovely? The location is so beautiful and peaceful.

As you can see, there is still an awful lot of work (and money!) needed to complete the renovations, but today was a big day for us as we held a special dedication service for the church. Members from our sister churches in the area came to join us, and we hosted around 100 visitors for the celebration - it was a full house, with every seat taken!

It was a wonderful service, the building was filled with singing and praise! And of course, there was an amazing spread of food...

From meeting in someone's living room to this... wow! :-D Talk about prayers being answered!

Watch this space - God is working here!