A Loaf for Blue Cheese and a Custard Pie Victory

Saturday was a pleasing day. That description probably doesn’t make it sound like I had anything more than an adequate, run-of-the-mill day, but truly, I was pleased by so many things.

I was pleased to be able to make a final visit to my favourite local Saturday food market before jumping the country; I was pleased that my Saturday afternoon baking session was a success; I was pleased that we took a star-speckled evening walk to a local mountain viewpoint and got an amazing night time panorama; I was pleased and grateful that my friends hosted a ‘going away’ get-together for me; and I was especially pleased that people turned up.

So there. I stand by my adjectival use.

Please allow me to share my evening’s little baking victories with you.

First off my wonderful, wonderful fig and walnut loaf. This was divine with a slice of the blue cheese brought to the gathering by one, Mr Black. The original recipe was another Nigel Slater find from an Observer article published back in November 2006. I halved his recipe to make a single loaf; used figs rather than raisins; and used my new favourite type of flour, Bacheldre Watermill’s Oak Smoked Stoneground Strong Malted Blend Flour (which I waxed lyrical about in my earlier post, Smoking is Good). C’était incroyable. Truly.

Second, was my first attempt at Torta Della Nonna, a traditional Italian, pinenut-studded custard pie. And it worked. Oh, how it worked! To begin with, the custard was possibly the best I had ever made (probably all thanks to my lovely market egg lady) and what started out as a tricky, sticky pastry, turned out beautifully.

To the recipes.

Fig & Walnut Loaf

Oak Smoked Stoneground Strong Malted Blend Flour – 125g

Strong white flour – 125g

Fresh yeast – 21g

Honey – ½ tbsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Warm water – 175ml

Dried Figs – 125g, chopped into small pieces

Walnut halves – 25g, broken into not-too-small pieces

Tip both types of flour into a large bowl and crumble in the yeast. Add the salt and honey and stir in the warm water, mixing with a wooden spoon. When all is mixed as well as possible, get your hands in and bring the dough together.

Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 4 minutes or so, until the dough feels springy and smooth, and doesn’t stick to the work surface.

Wash the mixing bowl in warm water and dry well. Flour the bowl lightly, put the dough back into it, cover with a clean tea towel and put the bowl in a warm place for an hour. By this time, the dough should have doubled in size.

Once it has had its rising time, tip the dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead in the figs and walnuts. They will feel like they don’t want to go in, but keep at it until all have been used. Don’t knead for too long, or the figs will, er… get a bit messy.

Shape the dough into a loaf shape, replace back in the bowl, cover and return it to its warm spot. Leave, this time, for about an hour and a half, until risen well.

Bake in a 220 degrees Celsius/gas mark 7 for 25 mins, or until the loaf is browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Serve, if possible, with a wonderful blue cheese.

Fig and Walnut Cut Loaf

Now, to my latest, greatest achievement. This recipe is one of so very many, which has been lovingly but crudely cut out of a newspaper supplement and pasted into one of my recipe files, and has been waiting for the perfect opportunity to be made. It was featured in an article about an Italian restaurant in London, called Ida. (Unfortunately, I’m unable to reference the newspaper that wrote the review, since – despite frantic searching – I can’t find the review online.) Since I read the article, the restaurant has been on my list of Restaurants to Visit, but since tasting their torta, it has made it onto my list of Restaurants to Visit As Soon As Possible.

For the pastry:

‘00’ flour or plain flour – 500g

Unsalted butter – 300g, at room temperature

Caster sugar – 200g

Medium eggs – 2

Baking powder – 2 tsp

Lemon zest – from ½ a lemon

For the custard filling:

Full-fat milk – 500ml

Egg yolks – 5, medium

Whole Eggs – 2, medium

Caster sugar – 250g

Lemon zest – from ½ a lemon

Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Pine nuts – 25g

Icing sugar for dusting

Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Add all the other pastry ingredients to the well and mix these together with a fork. Once combined, start bringing in the flour from the sides and keep mixing until all is combined and the ingredients form a ball. Knead until smooth (adding more flour as necessary, until minimally sticky) and place in the fridge for an hour.

To make the custard, heat the milk in a saucepan and when it comes to the boil, remove it from the heat. In a large bowl, beat together the egg yolks, eggs, milk, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla until combined. Pour this mixture into a heavy based saucepan and gradually beat in the hot milk, stirring continually to prevent the egg from separating.

Place the pan over a low heat and continue to stir until the mixture thickens.

After the pastry has had its chilling time, divide the dough in two, so that one piece is twice as big as the other. Roll the larger piece out on a well floured surface and line a 30cm flan tin. Pour the custard into the lined flan tin, roll out the smaller piece of dough and place this over the top, pinching the edges to seal. Scatter the pine nuts all over the top of the tart.

Place the flan tin on a baking sheet and into an oven preheated to 180 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4. Bake the tart for 45 minutes until lightly browned. Allow it to cool completely (something that I didn’t do, which is probably the only thing that could have made it even better) and then dust with icing sugar before serving with pride.

This will serve 12 easily and apparently (we didn’t get the chance to test this out), it keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

Torta Della Nonna

P.S. This reeeally doesn’t do justice to the Torta Della Nonna. It was my fault. In my ‘ooh, we need to try it, we need to try it!’ haste, I forgot to take pictures of the pasticceria-perfect slices. By the time I remembered, only the messy slice was left. Darn my greed!


2 thoughts on “A Loaf for Blue Cheese and a Custard Pie Victory

  1. Great stuff – that’s a hell of day’s baking! Tell me that wasn’t all one day??

    I have met the man behind Balcheldre watermill (maybe you have too at that farmer’s market) and pleased to report he not only produces great flour but is also a nice guy. Also bumped in to him at the Fancy Food Show in New York a couple of months – so maybe the Welsh milled flour will soon be available to your American readers too!

  2. Ha-ha! Thanks so much for the comment. It was a lovely afternoon’s baking, in fact. (My kind of afternoon!)

    No, I don’t think I’ve met the chap behind Balcheldre, but they’re fairly local to where I’m from. When I visited their stall at this year’s Ludlow Food Festival, I thought I was chatting to someone who worked there (as I began quizzing him about how the oak smoking worked), but then he confessed that he was an actor who had been hired for the festival!


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