Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sweet afternoon

Well, what a fun afternoon this has been so far, and it's not over yet. I've just baked a cheesecake for our first-ever staff bakeoff, a little competition that will take place tomorrow over at the offices of the magazine I work for. Now, this wasn't our brilliant idea. I'd first come across the idea at Charlotte Wood's food blog, How to Shuck and Oyster, when she blogged about being one of the judges at another publishing company's rather expert and competitive staff bakeoff. Never mind, plagiarism is rife in publishing, and we just thought it was an excellent idea well worth stealing, so we're carrying on the tradition, so to speak. Besides, they probably pinched it from someone else years before?

Now, I don't have a sweet tooth at all, so I'm also planning to make some Greek-style spinach pies (using home-grown spinach of course) for the savoury section of the competition. But I won't be making them till tomorrow morning. This afternoon, for the sweet section, I thought I'd stick with the Greek theme and bake a Honey Pie, a nice sounding name for a baked ricotta cheesecake flavoured with honey. Here's how it all went...

First, obtain battered family heirloom style Greek cookbook. Easily done, as Pam has one on our groaning kitchen bookshelf. This wonderful book was put out by the Recipe Club of St Paul's Greek Orthodox Church of Hempstead, New York, in 1981. God bless them! It is one of our most treasured and excellent cookbooks.

Second, follow recipe and don't dare deviate! Are you a recipe follower or a recipe deviator? My Pammy is a deviator by instinct, I'm a follower for starters. Then I might deviate second time round if I'm looking for someone to blame. I'll give the full recipe at the end of the blog, so don't strain your eyes reading this! But outlined below are the basic steps, in pictures.

For some people making your own pastry is not on and they just buy the ready-made stuff. For others making pastry in a food processor is an appalling short cut – it should be done by hand, they insist. Well me, I'm a processor boy, but I'm not much of a pastry chef, with countless disasters blotting my cooking copybook, year after year. Yet I keep coming back for more! My results making pastry by hand are even worse, in case you're wondering. So, into the food processor bowl goes flour, eggs, sugar, butter and 2 tablespoons cognac. Whizz till it forms a ball. Flatten to a disc shape then refrigerate half an hour, to let it recover from the whizzing.

While the pastry cools, make the filling. In a bowl, mix together ricotta (the Greeks use a cheese called Mizithra, which is essentially their version of ricotta, but it's hard to find locally, while ricotta is everywhere); eggs, sugar, grated lemon rind, honey, flour.

Bring pastry from fridge and roll out. Line a greased pie plate with it. It only took 10 seconds to type out that instruction, but it took me about 15 minutes and three attempts before I got it right. Due to the trauma of being rolled and handled by me yet again, the pastry in the pie dish then went back into the fridge for 15 minutes of resting, while I made a cup of tea for myself and had a rest, too.

Then I poured the filling into the pastry case and, finally, dusted it with powdered cinnamon.
Bake at a preheated 350°F (180°C) for 1 hour. Well, that's the theory. After 30 minutes the top of the pastry had turned rather brown, and so I made a cute little alfoil ring to cover it up and stop the burning. After 50 minutes the top of the cheesecake looked plenty brown enough for me, and so out it came.

And so this is how tomorrow's entrant in the sweet division – Greek-style Honey Pie – came out. Very home-made looking, but it will collapse back down over the next our or two, as it cools. I'm hoping that it will taste nice, too! My secret magic ingredient is the honey – Leatherwood honey from Mole Creek in Tasmania. I love the stuff, but it's not your bland, average kind of honey. It's out there with a very distinctive flavour. Pam is probably right in suggesting, for authenticity, that I should have used the Greek honey flavoured with wild thyme sold in our local Greek deli, but I just love Leatherwood honey too much!

However, all this Greek themed cookery (with the Spinach Pies to come tomorrow morning) is only the start of the Greek themed weekend. It just happens that there's a Greek film festival on at a local theatre, and so we're heading there this afternoon to see something. And in the evening, where else? A Greek Taverna! So, to conclude, here's the Honey Pie recipe.

Honey Pie – (this recipe originally comes from the island of Siphnos).

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cognac

1 pound (450g) mizithra or ricotta cheese
3 eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
3 tablespoons flour
ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).

To prepare the pie shell, mix the flour, sugar and butter together. Add the eggs and cognac and blend well. Roll out the mixture and use it too line a 9-inch pie plate. (This amount of pastry will give you more than enough for a 9-inch pie plate, by the way. Use or freeze the rest for some other sweet item.)

Mix all the filling ingredients together, except the cinnamon, and pour into the unbaked shell. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and bake for 1 hour.

As I mentioned above, my pie was cooked and brown in 50 minutes, but ovens vary so you'll just have to keep an eye on yours as it gets to about the 45-minute mark, and use your own judgement from then on.

1 comment:

charlotte said...

Good luck Jamie! And snap - I made spanakopita on the weekend and am going to blog on it this week - lord, it's a goody. Love the sound of your honey pie and wish you great success in the bakeoff.