Tag Archives: pastries

{10} Joulutorttu

Christmas treats are often all about cakes or cookies, but today’s recipe is one from that forgotten part of the baking world…Christmas pastries!

I’ve been making joulutorttu, which are traditional star plum pastries from Finland (yes, Finnish baking is getting a double-feature this year). If you think that name is a mouthful, they are also called tähtitorttu, which means star pastries. Those names really are enough to make you give up and reach for more mulled wine…

The traditional way to make these pastries is with plum jam or prune filling. I had a look in my cupboards at home, and while I have plenty of jars of jam, I’m lacking anything made with plums. I went for the next best thing – a jar of blueberry jam, which I reasoned was suitably Nordic to be able to pass off as vaguely authentic. I also made some prune filling as a test – I just chopped up some prunes, then cooked them with water, cinnamon, orange juice and some brandy. In the first picture, I’ve used the jam in the top and bottom rows, and the prune filling in the middle row – you can see the different textures.

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There are actually a few different ways to make these little guys. If you are feeling lazy, or are busy, or have pets/small children, then it is quite acceptable to buy a sheet of puff pastry and use that as the basis for the stars. Just be sure to make good, clean cuts so that you get lots of puffing at the edges.

I, of course, opted for a more challenging version. I’ve used a pastry recipe from the Nordic Bakery cookbook. It suggests using a really rich pastry that is made with a decadent amount of butter plus the same amount of quark to bring it all together. I’ve never worked with a pastry like that, so I wanted to give it a go. However, I didn’t have quark to hand, and being too lazy to make the short walk to the main street, I swapped it for some skyr. This is a high-protein and low-fat type of yoghurt which originates in Iceland (and those Icelanders take it very seriously, swearing that the stuff you get in Britain isn’t anywhere near as good as the real thing…well, I like the stuff here just fine, and it worked in my recipe!).

The dough is very soft, and at first I thought it would not work. But I wanted to believe, so I assumed the flour would soak up some of the moisture, and after chilling it overnight, the pastry was indeed perfectly workable. It rolled out easily, and it was straightforward to cut and form into those classic windmill shapes.

Now, the real magic was in the baking. The pastry? Just wonderful. As it has a high butter content (made with equal weights of butter, skyr and flour), it is rich, soft and has a lovely deep golden colour. It is definitely worth the effort of making it yourself. But I do have to warn you – it is a funny dough too. I made my twelve stars from the first rolling of the dough, and they worked perfectly. I then gathered up the scraps and made some more…and boy did they go haywire! It might have been due to the pastry on the first batches being comparatively cool, whereas the later batch was a bit warmer, but they puffed up extravagantly, almost like puff pastry, but they also struggled to bake properly without getting too dark. To avoid this, I recommend working with the dough in two batches, and in each case roll the dough out as square as you are able, so that you minimise any offcuts and can avoid re-rolling the dough.

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Of my two flavour choices, the spiced prune was nice, but I loved the blueberry. I would happily make that flavour again. If you are making a large batch, you can also use various different flavours – plum is traditional, but apple and cinnamon would work well, and I think something sharp like raspberry would be delicious too.

All in all, these Christmas stars from the north were a great success. They are incredibly more-ish. I think I wolfed down three of them in fairly quick succession. They are also at their most delicious while still fresh. They will keep for a couple of days in a tin, but I don’t think you want to delay eating them, and frankly – they taste so good I don’t think you’ll have many hanging around for long.

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To make Finnish Christmas Star Pastries (makes 12):

For the dough

• 250g butter
• 250g skyr or quark cheese
• 250g strong white flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• pinch of salt

For the filling

• jam or marmalade (or see my prune recipe below)
• 1 egg, beaten
• icing sugar, to finish

1. Make the dough. Mix the butter and quark/skyr. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until it comes together in a dough – the dough will seem very soft. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Line a few baking sheets with greaseproof paper.

3. Sprinkle a worktop with flour, then roll out the dough thinly – no more than 5mm. Try to get as square a shape as you can. Cut out squares of 10cm x 10cm. Transfer each to the greaseproof paper, leaving some space between the pieces.

4. Make a small diagonal cut about one-third  towards the centre of the square from each corner, but do not go all the way. Add a spoonful of jam in the centre, then starting at the top, bring the top-right piece into the centre. Repeat on each side to build up the windmill effect. Secure the overlapping dough in the centre with some water and pinch together, then push down and add a dab more jam to cover. Repeat until you have a full tray (I baked them in batches of 4).

5. Brush each pastry with the beaten egg, then bake for around 8 minutes until a rich golden colour, turning after 4 minutes to get an even bake.

6. When done, remove from the oven, and leave to cool for a few minutes on the paper. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then dust with icing sugar before serving.

To make plum filling: finely chop 100g of prunes. Add 150ml water and a large pinch of cinnamon. Bring to the boil then simmer until the mixture seems thick and almost too dry. Add a tablespoon of brandy and a tablespoon of orange juice. Mix well and leave to cool.

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Gazelle Horns

I’ve done an awful lot of British food recently, so today we’re going to look somewhere slightly more exotic to banish the winter blues. We had snow flurries last week, and the mornings are still frosty, so this is a bit of an antidote to that – traditional Moroccan pastries called gazelle horns (or kaab el ghzal, which actually means gazelle ankles).

It’s probably pretty evident from the shape of these sweet treats how they get their name!

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Gazelle horns are made with an almond paste filling wrapped in thin, crisp pastry. When I say thin, I mean thin. Look at my cross-section picture – can you see the pastry? Exactly! It needs to be wafer thin! Takes some time to make, but well worth it.

There are numerous versions of these things (I imagine that each Moroccan granny would have their own secret version, unless they just buy them in – they can be fiddly to make!), but I have flavoured the filling with lime zest and rose water, while the pastry has orange blossom water and olive oil. It is also possible to add flavours like orange zest, cinnamon or mastic gum, but I was keen to keep to almonds and some aromatic flavours. The orange blossom water in the pastry, in particular, is a nice touch and something that makes these pastries really very different from more usual baked goods.

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These pastries look rather spectacular, but they are easy to make. However, as I suspect you’ve already realised, they demand quite some time commitment to make properly, so it’s the sort of thing you should set a good few hours aside to undertake. But fear not! They also keep really rather well, so you can enjoy the fruits of your labours for a long time after spending all afternoon elbow-deep in pastry.

Once I had made these (and eaten quite a few) I served them are a dessert – the gazelle horns were rolled in icing sugar, piled high on a Moroccan vintage metal plate and served with lots of mint tea. A nice and refreshing alternative to a rich dessert! It’s interesting to see your guests proclaim that they can really only manage one, only to make short work of four or five of these fellows.

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To make gazelle horns (makes 40):

For the filling:

• 300g  ground almonds
• 175g caster sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
• juice and zest of 1 lime
• 1 tablespoon rose water
• almond extract, to taste

For the pastry:

• 250g plain flour
• 1 egg, beaten
• 60ml olive oil
• 2 tablespoons orange blossom water
• cold water

1. Make the filling – put everything into a bowl and mix until you have a smooth and firm (but not wet) paste. If you are using almond extract, add it a drop at a time – it helps to provide a subtle almond flavour, but be careful as it is easy to go too far. (The filling can be made the day before and refrigerated overnight).

2. Make the pastry – throw the flour, egg, oil and orange blossom water in a bowl and knead to a soft, elastic dough. Don’t worry about over-working it, as you need to pastry to be stretchy and capable of being rolled out thinly. Add cold water if too dry, or some flour if too wet. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least half an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper.

4. Divide the filling into equal pieces (I find it easiest to roll it into a long sausage, then cut into equal slices). Roll each piece into a ball, then shape into a small cigar (fatter in the middle, thinner at the ends – about 4 centimetre/2 inches long).

5. Take portions of the dough (a quarter at a time) and roll it out as thin as you can (really – if you think it’s done, go thinner!). Cut into squares, and then place an almond paste “cigar” diagonally onto the square. Wrap the pastry around the filling, trim the excess then seal the edges. Smooth the seams and roll the ends into points. Bend the pastry shape into the “horn” shape so they look like small croissants. Place seam-side down

6. Bake the pastries for around 15 minutes until just starting to colour – golden at the points, but not dark (this is easier to do in batches). Remove from the oven. If any of the filling has leaked, use a knife to push it back into shape while they are warm. Leave to cool.

7. Roll the cold pastries in icing sugar before serving.

Worth making? I’ll be honest – these were a total faff to make, but it was quite fun to do on a rainy afternoon while listening to a radio play. The results are well worth it though, and last for a while, so overall – recommended!

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