Pork, potato, pastry - the holy trinity
Pork, potato, pastry – the holy trinity

So how’s all that ham going? I basically lose interest with it the minute Christmas lunch is over so much of my time is occupied with recipes using the leftover ham. To, you know, use the remaining SIX kilos of it.

Christmas was wonderful. A relaxed day here feeding family with lots of laughter, delicious food and plenty of sparkling shiraz.

It was followed by my MIL’s birthday celebration, also here. It will go down in history as the Festival of Ham. With cheesecake. Divine divine cheesecake.

The boys have all been rather delicious – I believe I will look back on this next little episode of our lives with a full heart. My boys are not babies anymore and who they will be is slowly revealing itself – a process I feel absolutely blessed to witness. Even if at times my head wants to explode from the less pleasant aspects of it.

Oscar loves his basketball hoop for the trampoline – possibly the finest example of highway robbery by a company I’ve ever been party to. Felix is smitten with his cruiser skateboard and ZOMG he will be 13 this year and that makes my chest tighten. Jasper got his long-pined-for Halo rocket ship. A Megabloks hellzone. There were three lots of tears on Christmas Day at being so overwhelmed by it. I ended up building most of it. Ask my chiropractor how that worked out for everyone. Grover was conflicted, apparently Santa “got it wrong” with his Lego but all was forgiven with a Dr Who sonic screwdriver.

Mum’s left knee has totally packed it in – she’s basically incapacitated so between the two of us we cut quite a pair.

What better way to counter chronic pain and, in mum’s case, now unavoidable joint replacement surgery in 2013 than eating ham. A lot of ham.

It's a pie of promise (with a quiche in the background for good measure)
It’s a pie of promise (with a quiche in the background for good measure)

Ham and potato pie

  • Shortcrust pastry – you can NOT go past Maggie Beer’s sour cream pastry, it has revolutionised my fear of working with pastry – it’s hugely forgiving, ridiculously easy to work with and tastes DIVINE.
  • 5-6 waxy potatoes – cooked, peeled and cut into 1/2-1cm slices
  • 700g ham, sliced thinly off the bone
  • handful fresh basil, finely chopped
  • handful fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup milk
layer upon layer upon layer
layer upon layer upon layer
  1. Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 24cm springform tin
  2. Roll out 2/3 of the pastry to about 3mm thick and line the tin – try and do it in one whole piece but don’t stress if it breaks – just smoosh the broken edges together
  3. Place a layer of the potatoes in the bottom, top with ham, then scatter over herbs and seasoning – go light on the salt depending on how salty your ham is
  4. Keep layering and end with ham and herbs then press the filling down firmly
  5. Mix the eggs with the milk and cream, pour over the layers then pop a pastry lid on the top, cut some slits in it and glaze if you feel so inclined
  6. Let it sit for 1/2 hour and then bake for 1-1.5hrs. I always bake it for 1.5 and it comes out a treat – just stick a knife in it and if it’s piping hot it’s good to go.
  7. Leave it to sit for 10-15 minutes once it’s done and then serve with a simple green salad.
Tasty AND pretty.
Tasty AND pretty.

Goats Cheese and Leek tart

Man, do I love a tart. And considering how much I love leeks and adore goats cheese, this is an absolute winner in my books. The recipe comes from an old Gourmet Traveller or Vogue Entertaining, I’m afraid that is as much as I remember so my sincerest apologies to the original author.

Leek and goats cheese tart
One batch of Maggie Beer’s sour cream pastry and bake a 9″ pie crust blind. (You’ll have pastry left over for another tart or use. You’re welcome.)

  • 2-4 leeks (depending on size and personal taste really)
  • 40g butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g fresh goats cheese
  • 1 cup cream
  • salt and pepper
  • nutmeg to taste
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped chives
  1. Preheat oven to 190C
  2. Wash the leeks and chop the white section up finely
  3. Melt butter in a pan and saute the leeks until softened but not browned
  4. In a bowl beat the eggs, cheese and cream until smooth and season
  5. Place leeks in the bottom of baked pastry shell, pour over egg mix and sprinkle over chives
  6. Cook for 30 minutes until just golden and set in the middle
  7. Allow to cool slightly then serve with crusty bread and a cracking great green salad.

Asparagus and ricotta tart

I made this for our recent family reunion – 44 people for lunch – at which several people had a variety of dietary constraints including coeliacs disease. I made this with the gluten-free pastry and it was an absolute hit.

Oh, I also couldn’t get white asparagus so just used green, laying them on top in a alternating pattern of the tips and part of the spear.

And as you can see from the picture this is it uncooked. I forgot to take a photo of it cooked. Whoops. Just imagine it golden with the ricotta mix puffed up and golden and the spears cooked.

Asparagus and Ricotta Tart
Donna Hay magazine, Spring issue, Year unknown

  • 200g white asparagus, trimmed and peeled
  • 200g green asparagus, trimmed and peeled
  • 8 sheets filo pastry*
  • 30g butter, melted
  • 450g ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup semi-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
  • sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Cut the asparagus into 10cm lengths, finely chop any remaining asparagus and reserve for the filling
  3. Trim the pastry sheets to 20cm x 42cm (8 x 16 3/4 in) 
  4. Lightly brush 1 sheet of filo with butter and place in a greased 12 x 35cm rectangular tart tin, letting the excess pastry fall over the sides
  5. Repeat with the remaining pastry sheets, brushing butter between each layer
  6. Combine the ricotta, parmesan and eggs in a food processor until smooth 
  7. Place the mixture in a bowl and combine with the tomatoes, parsley, reserved asparagus and seasonings
  8. Spoon into the pastry-lined tinand arrange the asparagus on top, alternating colours
  9. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden, serves 4-6.
* or use a pastry of your choice. The gluten-free pastry I use I don’t blind bake but if I was using the sour-cream shortcrust or standard shortcrust I would. 

Gluten-free pastry

Now look, my limited experience of a wheat/gluten free diet was traumatic and blessedly brief (a few years when Oscar was little and we embarked on a low-allergy diet as part of the Blitz that was trying to limit the impact his dodgy chromosome would have on him – as if we could trick genetics) but I made this last week for some vegetarian tarts I was making for the 2009 Family Reunion as some of Mum’s family have coeliac’s disease.

It is a Maggie Beer recipe from her wonderful book Maggie’s Kitchen. In terms of full disclosure, I should confess here that my adoration of all things Maggie is bordering on creepy – the woman is a true national treasure.

 As with her sour cream pastry it is an absolute dream to work with and tastes fantastic. I am presuming the tiny amount of xanthum gum goes a long way to stabilising the dough because it just comes together a treat. A word of warning though – Maggie stipulates you may not need all the eggs and in my experience you won’t. And don’t be tempted to add one more dash – I did and made it far too wet. Just go with your gut on this one.

Oh, Maggie also says you can use a gluten-free flour from the supermarket or equal amounts of potato flour, rice flour and maize flour. I did the latter and it was fabulous.

Gluten-Free Pastry
From Maggie’s Kitchen, Maggie Beer

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tblsp salt
  • 180g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 300g gluten-free flour 
  • 4g xanthum gum 
  • 5 free-range eggs
  1. Combine the water, salt and butter in a heavy-based saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium-high heat
  2. Add the flour and xanthum gum and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon
  3. Decrease the heat to low and cook until the pastry comes away from the side of the pan and is well combined
  4. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature
  5. Whisk the eggs together and then add a little of the eggs at a time into the cooled flour mixture with a wooden spoon until a dough forms
  6. Incorporate each addition fully before adding the next bit as you may not need all the eggs
  7. Turn the dough onto a bench dusted with a little gluten-free flour, then knead until shiny
  8. Try not to incorporate too much extra flour or the dough will become crumbly
  9. Wrap the dough in plastic film and chill for at least 10 minutes

When ready to use

  1. Roll the pastry out between two sheets of baking paper (otherwise the dough is too hard to handle) until 3mm thick 
  2. Fill with cooled pie filling, top with remaining pastry and bake in a 210C oven for about 20 minutes or until pastry is golden*
* when I used it with quiche-like fillings I baked it for 35-40 minutes at 180C and it came up a treat!


Daring Bakers Challenge – Vol au Vents


After quite the hiatus this month I resumed the mantle that is a Daring Baker and well, if it wasn’t irony I don’t know what it was. The challenge posted to us all by A whisk and a spoon was to create vol-au-vents. VOL-AU-VENTS! Forget your initial ‘how retro’ reactions and move straight to the O.N.E. pastry, about the O.N.L.Y. recipe I shy away from and definitely one I have never ever made or attempted and VOILA! You have puff pastry.

I just thought it would be fiddly and hard and a disaster waiting to happen.

DUDES – having made them today I realise that fear has lost me a good FIFTEEN years of puff pastry goodness.

Oh look, I know I know, the lovely little layers you’re meant to see are not there, but this was my first attempt and it tasted divine and was still quite flaky.

Best of all? It is so GODDAMN easy. No really, it is. And you know what? Home made puff pastry is seriously up there in goodness and flavour and nomnomnomness. Like, the Mt Everest of home baking. I’m still on quite the high.

What a way to come back into the fold! (haha! geddit! fold! Oh. Never mind.)

Michel Richard’s Puff Pastry Dough
From Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Yield: 2 1/2 pounds dough

Go watch this video for a Julia Childs hit and for technique.


  • 2 1/2 cups (12.2 oz/ 354 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups (5.0 oz/ 142 g) cake flour (I replaced this with 120g all purpose and 25g cornflour)
  • 1 tbsp salt (you can cut this by half for a less salty dough or for sweet preparations – I used 2 tsp)
  • 1 1/4 cups (10 fl oz/ 300 ml) ice water
  • 1 pound (16 oz/ 454 g) very cold unsalted butter

1. Mixing the Dough

  1. Put the all-purpose flour, cake flour, and salt in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse a couple of times just to mix. 
  2. Add the water all at once, pulsing until the dough forms a ball on the blade. The dough will be very moist and pliable and will hold together when squeezed between your fingers. (Actually, it will feel like Play-Doh.)
  3. Remove the dough from the machine, form it into a ball, with a small sharp knife, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and beat it with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that’s about 2.5cm thick. Take care that the butter remains cool and firm: if it has softened or become oily, chill it before continuing.

Incorporating the Butter:

  1. Unwrap the dough and place it on a work surface dusted with all-purpose flour with your rolling pin, press on the dough to flatten it and then roll it into a 10″ (25cm) square. 
  2. Keep the top and bottom of the dough well floured to prevent sticking and lift the dough and move it around frequently. 
  3. Starting from the center of the square, roll out over each corner to create a thick centre pad with “ears,” or flaps.
  4. Place the cold butter in the middle of the dough and fold the ears over the butter, stretching them as needed so that they overlap slightly and encase the butter completely. 
  5. If you have to stretch the dough, stretch it from all over; don’t just pull the ends you should now have a package that is 8″ (20cm) square.

To make great puff pastry, it is important to keep the dough cold at all times. There are specified times for chilling the dough, but if your room is warm, or you work slowly, or you find that for no particular reason the butter starts to ooze out of the pastry, cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it . You can stop at any point in the process and continue at your convenience or when the dough is properly chilled.

Making the Turns:

  1. Gently but firmly press the rolling pin against the top and bottom edges of the square (this will help keep it square). 
  2. Then, keeping the work surface and the top of the dough well floured to prevent sticking, roll the dough into a rectangle that is three times as long as the square you started with, about 24″ (61cm) (don’t worry about the width of the rectangle: if you get the 24″, everything else will work itself out.) 
  3. With this first roll, it is particularly important that the butter be rolled evenly along the length and width of the rectangle; check when you start rolling that the butter is moving along well, and roll a bit harder or more evenly, if necessary, to get a smooth, even dough-butter sandwich (use your arm-strength!).
  4. With a pastry brush, brush off the excess flour from the top of the dough, and fold the rectangle up from the bottom and down from the top in thirds, like a business letter, brushing off the excess flour. 

You have completed one turn.

  1. Rotate the dough so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. 
  2. Repeat the rolling and folding process, rolling the dough to a length of 24″ and then folding it in thirds. 
  3. This is the second turn.

Chilling the Dough:

  1. If the dough is still cool and no butter is oozing out, you can give the dough another two turns now. If the condition of the dough is iffy, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. 
  2. Each time you refrigerate the dough, mark the number of turns you’ve completed by indenting the dough with your fingertips. 
  3. It is best to refrigerate the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns.
  4. The total number of turns needed is six. 

If you prefer, you can give the dough just four turns now, chill it overnight, and do the last two turns the next day. Puff pastry is extremely flexible in this regard. However, no matter how you arrange your schedule, you should plan to chill the dough for at least an hour before cutting or shaping it.

Steph’s extra tips:
-While this is not included in the original recipe we are using (and I did not do this in my own trials), many puff pastry recipes use a teaspoon or two of white vinegar or lemon juice, added to the ice water, in the détrempe dough. This adds acidity, which relaxes the gluten in the dough by breaking down the proteins, making rolling easier. You are welcome to try this if you wish.

-Keep things cool by using the refrigerator as your friend! If you see any butter starting to leak through the dough during the turning process, rub a little flour on the exposed dough and chill straight away. Although you should certainly chill the dough for 30 to 60 minutes between each set of two turns, if you feel the dough getting to soft or hard to work with at any point, pop in the fridge for a rest.

-Not to sound contradictory, but if you chill your paton longer than the recommended time between turns, the butter can firm up too much. If this seems to be the case, I advise letting it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes to give it a chance to soften before proceeding to roll. You don’t want the hard butter to separate into chunks or break through the dough…you want it to roll evenly, in a continuous layer.

-Roll the puff pastry gently but firmly, and don’t roll your pin over the edges, which will prevent them from rising properly. Don’t roll your puff thinner than about about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick, or you will not get the rise you are looking for.

-Try to keep “neat” edges and corners during the rolling and turning process, so the layers are properly aligned. Give the edges of the paton a scooch with your rolling pin or a bench scraper to keep straight edges and 90-degree corners.

-Brush off excess flour before turning dough and after rolling.

-Make clean cuts. Don’t drag your knife through the puff or twist your cutters too much, which can inhibit rise.

-When egg washing puff pastry, try not to let extra egg wash drip down the cut edges, which can also inhibit rise.

-Extra puff pastry dough freezes beautifully. It’s best to roll it into a sheet about 1/8 to 1/4-inch thick (similar to store-bought puff) and freeze firm on a lined baking sheet. Then you can easily wrap the sheet in plastic, then foil (and if you have a sealable plastic bag big enough, place the wrapped dough inside) and return to the freezer for up to a few months. Defrost in the refrigerator when ready to use.

-You can also freeze well-wrapped, unbaked cut and shaped puff pastry (i.e., unbaked vols-au-vent shells). Bake from frozen, without thawing first.

Homemade puff pastry is precious stuff, so save any clean scraps. Stack or overlap them, rather than balling them up, to help keep the integrity of the layers. Then give them a singe “turn” and gently re-roll. Scrap puff can be used for applications where a super-high rise is not necessary (such as palmiers, cheese straws, napoleons, or even the bottom bases for your vols-au-vent).

Forming and Baking the Vols-au-Vent
Yield: 1/3 of the puff pastry recipe below will yield about 8-10 1.5” vols-au-vent or 4 4” vols-au-vent

In addition to the equipment listed above, you will need:
-well-chilled puff pastry dough (recipe below)
-egg wash (1 egg or yolk beaten with a small amount of water)
-your filling of choice

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
  2. Using a knife or metal bench scraper, divided your chilled puff pastry dough into three equal pieces.
  3. Work with one piece of the dough, and leave the rest wrapped and chilled. 

If you are looking to make more vols-au-vent than the yield stated above, you can roll and cut the remaining two pieces of dough as well…if not, then leave refrigerated for the time being or prepare it for longer-term freezer storage. See the “Tips” section below for more storage info.

  1. On a lightly floured surface, roll the piece of dough into a rectangle about 1/8 to 1/4-inch (3-6 mm) thick. 
  2. Transfer it to the baking sheet and refrigerate for about 10 minutes before proceeding with the cutting.
  3. Make clean, sharp cuts and try not to twist your cutters back and forth or drag your knife through the dough. Half of these rounds will be for the bases, and the other half will be for the sides. 
  4. (Save any scrap by stacking—not wadding up—the pieces…they can be re-rolled and used if you need extra dough. If you do need to re-roll scrap to get enough disks, be sure to use any rounds cut from it for the bases, not the ring-shaped sides.)
  5. Using a ¾-inch cutter for small vols-au-vent, or a 2- to 2.5-inch round cutter for large, cut centres from half of the rounds to make rings. 
  6. These rings will become the sides of the vols-au-vent, while the solid disks will be the bottoms. You can either save the center cut-outs to bake off as little “caps” for you vols-au-vent, or put them in the scrap pile.
  7. Dock the solid bottom rounds with a fork (prick them lightly, making sure not to go all the way through the pastry) and lightly brush them with egg wash. Place the rings directly on top of the bottom rounds and very lightly press them to adhere. Brush the top rings lightly with egg wash, trying not to drip any down the sides (which may inhibit rise). If you are using the little “caps,” dock and egg wash them as well.
  8. Refrigerate the assembled vols-au-vent on the lined baking sheet while you pre-heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). (You could also cover and refrigerate them for a few hours at this point.)
  9. Once the oven is heated, remove the sheet from the refrigerator and place a silicon baking mat (preferred because of its weight) or another sheet of parchment over top of the shells. This will help them rise evenly. 
  10. Bake the shells until they have risen and begin to brown, about 10-15 minutes depending on their size. 
  11. Reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (180ºC), and remove the silicon mat or parchment sheet from the top of the vols-au-vent. 
  12. If the centres have risen up inside the vols-au-vent, you can gently press them down. Continue baking (with no sheet on top) until the layers are golden, about 15-20 minutes more. (If you are baking the centre “caps” they will likely be finished well ahead of the shells, so keep an eye on them and remove them from the oven when browned.)
  13. Remove to a rack to cool. Cool to room temperature for cold fillings or to warm for hot fillings.
  14. Fill and serve.

I filled mine with some left-over chicken pot pie filling (recipe to come) I had in the freezer. I topped it up with some additional cream and young asparagus spears. DIVINE.

More tips!
*For additional rise on the larger-sized vols-au-vents, you can stack one or two additional ring layers on top of each other (using egg wash to “glue”). This will give higher sides to larger vols-au-vents, but is not advisable for the smaller ones, whose bases may not be large enough to support the extra weight.

*Although they are at their best filled and eaten soon after baking, baked vols-au-vent shells can be stored airtight for a day.

*Shaped, unbaked vols-au-vent can be wrapped and frozen for up to a month (bake from frozen, egg-washing them first).