As most people gather kilos over the festive season I'm inclined to shed weight. This is a busy time for chefs and, while keeping guests well fed, the last thing on our minds is feeding ourselves! Yes, we taste a lot but seldom sit down to a real meal.
So, as we moved into January, my craving was to make hearty food in my own kitchen that would ooze the aromas of pastry delights. If I remember correctly, my love of cooking stemmed from my desire to bake something sweet and pleasing that we, as a family, could enjoy.
Over time I have learnt the necessary techniques, and with many years of experience under my apron, I could never resort to 'buying' over 'making'.
Regardless of how many times I make puff pastry it's always thrilling to see the perfectly laminated layers of butter. Remember to bake this pastry between 200 - 220°C to ensure the oven is hot enough to crisp the pastry otherwise you'll have butter oozing out, spoiling all your hours of love and labour. It really is very easy if you follow this step-by-step recipe. Puff pastry is versatile for either sweet or savoury dishes. A perfectly-roasted beef Wellington wrapped with chicken-liver-flavoured mushroom duxelle and blanketed with hand-rolled puff is my idea of a hearty meal.
Brioche - this enriched bread is jam-packed with a sugary butter that adds a savoury but sweet flavour. It delivers an interesting fine, almost-aerated crumb and it freezes like a dream. If defrosted properly, your guests will think it has been newly baked! In a perfect world I would always have a loaf by my side!
Doughnuts... Wow, they bring on childhood flashbacks! We spent every holiday at our family beach cottage in Pennington Park. The local baker lived opposite us and before I was even awake my younger sister had walked to the bakery and had munched through her daily fix of a jam doughnut. In those days (oh dear I sound just like my parents!) it was safe for us to walk around, unaccompanied by an adult. The doughnuts were so memorable, and I have tried to create a recipe worthy of the man who thrilled our sweet teeth many years ago. The only person who'll be able to tell me whether I have succeeded is my dear sister who, I know, will willingly take up the challenge!
Genoise, used for making several different types of cakes, is a basic ingredient for many French patisseries. I, however, believe it was originated in Italy. If you have a good genoise recipe you will never get stuck. Think a flan base, in-season, fruity cream cake, drenched with liqueur; use in a trifle; or as 'lady finger' biscuits in a tiramisu. Use less flour and add cocoa for a chocolate genoise. It's so versatile and well worth memorising the ingredients.
Phyllo pastry... this is something I haven't made in years but I was recently inspired when a local resident brought me a few tastings of her homemade Greek specialities. If she could do it then so could I! Time is of the essence but the result is worth it. Sweet or savoury - phyllo pastry has a place in the kitchen.
When it came to profiteroles/éclairs we, as a family, were guilty of overindulgence. I clearly remember the excitement of going to functions when my aunt, Molly Cameron, was catering because at dessert time the tables, groaning with the weight, would be laden with these delightful treats! For my final exam at St John's School I made a perfect savoury profiterole/gougere (a bite-size variation on the long éclair) and I knew Aunt Molly would have been proud of me... many years of perfecting the art of eating them gave me insight into the making!
Here’s to stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new, or perfecting a skill you have been considering for years - 2014 is the time for this. May it be kind to all of us...
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Visit www.jackiecameron.co.za to find out more about my women's chef range, JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME and all my foodie adventures. I always look forward to hearing from you. Jackie Cameron (Head Chef: Hartford House - 033 263 2713). For the latest on local foodie news add me as a friend on FACEBOOK. Find me on Twitter - @jackie_cameron.