Kate bakes along with Bake Off: Filo-ing irritated with Paul Hollywood’s layered Moroccan Pie
- Credit: (C) Kate Royall
Kate hits a stumbling block as she attempts the technical challenge from the Great British Bake Off but when she finally makes her Moroccan pie is all that hard work worth it?
Sometimes the stars are set to do anything but align - and so it was as I attempted to make this week's Great British Bake Off technical challenge.
As week eight of the competition rolled into town we were down to five contestants. It was pastry week, the doyenne of the show.
Paul Hollywood set the challenge - a Moroccan-style pie, it sounded right up my street.
The key to success was consistency, apparently it really mattered - doesn't it always!?
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The Moroccan pie was made using warka (or brick) pastry - a fine, crisp pastry that starts life as a batter-esque mixture. The batter is spread on a chapatti pan and cooked to create thin sheets of pastry which are then layered together before cooking.
Too thin and the pastry disintegrates in the cooking process, too thick and they stick to the pan - and each other.
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For this challenge we needed to make 12 very thin sheets which would be used to wrap a filling packed with typical Moroccan ingredients and flavours - chicken, butternut squash, sweet potato, ras el hanout, harissa, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, dates, apricots, chickpeas and lemon.
It was a generous pie and one fit to feed an army. I started the process at about 5pm at night, we would feast on it for supper.
The pastry was a breeze to make but not so much to cook.
I thinly spread the batter on the oiled chapatti pan (which was placed over a pan of simmering water) and waited patiently for it to start curling up at the edges - but curl it did not.
It stuck steadfast to the pan.
I persevered, swapping the pan for something a little more non-stick - a frying pan - and spread a new layer of batter across this. Stick it did.
I tried again, this time putting the pan directly on the hob.
Attempt three was more successful, I had something that vaguely resembled a layer of pastry but was incredibly brittle and shattered at the slightest of touches.
This dish was to be our supper - it had to work someway or another (there was no plan B). The answer? It had to be filo pastry.
I dashed five miles into my nearest town hoping my local Co-op would save the day - they didn't. There was puff pastry and shortcrust pastry galore but not a dot of filo to be had.
I called all the supermarkets I could think of within a ten mile radius and none of them came to the rescue. Why was filo pastry so difficult to find?
I briefly contemplated the 15-mile drive to Norwich but quickly got over that.
For me, the perks of living in the countryside far outweigh the downsides but, as it began to get dark at 5.45pm on a miserably grey and wet day, I longed to be in a supermarket where a (strangely rare) packet of filo pastry sat on the shelf in front of me.
I arrived home and had a stern talk with myself - this could wait until tomorrow.
I pulled together a simple pasta supper - tuna, anchovies, kalamata olives, garlic and tomatoes - and grabbed a glass of Gewurztraminer wine. As luck would have it I was due to be in Norwich the next day so I diligently drove to a vast supermarket to track down some elusive filo pastry - there were only two packs, I bought them both.
Maybe those stars were starting to align. Arriving home at 7pm I began to cook (not bake).
Making the filling was glorious - simply because the combination of ingredients was mouth-wateringly good, but maybe also because I think I'm a better cook than I am a baker.
There was sweet potato, chicken thighs, homegrown butternut squash, ras el hanout, onions, garlic, harissa, fennel, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, tamarind, dates, apricots, chickpeas, coriander, parsley and lemon.
Different elements of the dish were cooked in different ways and left to cool before being assembled - it took a lot of willpower not to pick at it.
I felt like cheat as I layered the sheets of filo pastry (brushed with melted butter) into a 23cm spring-form tin - in a baking challenge the only element I had failed at was the baking.
But, onward and upwards - in went the combined filling before scrunched layers of filo were placed on top. It went into the oven and after 15 minutes the aromas of Morocco flooded into the kitchen.
After 30 minutes it was time to take it out. For a dish that had caused quite a lot of activity I bloody well hoped it would be worth it.
It was Tuesday night, it was 8.15pm and we sat down to eat it with the semi-finals of Bake Off for company. I took my first bite and relief washed over me - it had been worth it.
The spices were warming and comforting, the texture was soft and crunchy, the flavours were fruity, earthy and fragrant - all I needed was an accompaniment of sunshine.
My relief was short-lived - the next technical challenge was announced in the background - Prue was sending us from Morocco to France to make Gâteau Saint Honoré (puff pastry, creme chilboust, choux pastry, caramel and creme Chantilly).
There was nowhere else we could have been heading - it was of course patisserie week.
For this I'd need to invite some hungry friends round - it was gargantuan.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, had I been on the show I'd have cracked weeks before now - thank goodness I'm still in the safety of my own kitchen…
* Read Kate's blog www.diaryofacountrygirl.com
Paul Hollywood's Moroccan-style pie
For the filling:
5 tbsp olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, diced
700g diced butternut squash and sweet potato
2 tsp ras el hanout
½ tsp crushed sea salt
2 large onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp harissa paste
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
100g pitted dried dates, chopped
100g pitted dried apricots, chopped
400g can of chickpeas, drained
1 vegetable stock cube
25g coriander, chopped
25g flat-leaf parsley, chopped
juice of ½ large or 1 small lemon
For the brick (warka) pastry:
200g plain flour, sifted
2 tbsp fine semolina
½ tsp fine salt
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp olive oil
vegetable oil, for brushing
25g butter, melted, for brushing
You will need:
Large, non-stick flatbread (chapatti) pan
5cm pastry brush
Kitchen paper sheets
23cm springform cake tin, greased with butter
Start the filling. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. When hot, add the diced chicken and cook for 15 minutes, until cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
While the chicken is cooling, start the pastry. Sift the flour, semolina, salt, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add 250ml of water. Beat until smooth with a wooden spoon, or blitz with a hand-held blender, to a smooth, flowing batter.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Place the large, non-stick flatbread pan on top of the pan of water. Pour a little vegetable oil onto the surface and spread with kitchen paper. (Note you do this only once at the start of the process.)
Using a 5cm pastry brush and working from the outside edge of the pan, paint the batter thinly in circles, until the whole pan is covered in a thin layer of batter. Cook for 2-4 minutes, until the brick pastry begins to peel away from the edges.
Lift the brick off the pan (it should be as thin as filo pastry and have no holes) and lay it on a sheet of kitchen paper. Lightly brush the surface with vegetable oil and place another sheet of kitchen paper over the top to prevent it drying out. Repeat steps 3-5, until you have 12 sheets of brick interleaved with kitchen paper. Set aside while you finish the filling.
Heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/Gas 7. Tip the butternut and sweet potato onto a roasting tray. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle over the ras el hanout and salt. Using your hands, mix to coat the vegetables in the oil and seasoning. Roast for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas 6.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a deep-sided frying pan or large saucepan and add the onions and garlic. Cook on a low heat for 5 minutes, until starting to soften, then add the harissa paste, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, ginger and cinnamon. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the pomegranate molasses, dates, apricots and chickpeas.
Crumble in the stock cube, then pour in 250ml of water and cook, stirring for 4-5 minutes, until the sauce has reduced to almost nothing and the mixture is sticky. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander, parsley and lemon juice. Tip into a shallow tray and set aside to cool, then carefully fold in the roasted squash and sweet potato and stir in the chicken.
Lay one sheet of brick in the prepared tin, so that one edge sits in the middle of the tin and the opposite edge is overhanging the tin. Continue lining the tin with another 7 sheets of brick, overlapping each other around the inside of the tin and overhanging the edge. Place a 9th sheet on the base of the tin and brush with butter.
Spoon the filling into the tin, then fold over the overhanging brick, scrunching up over the filling and giving the brick some texture. Don't worry if the brick doesn't cover the filling. Brush the 3 remaining sheets of brick with butter, then scrunch them up and press them over the top of the pie, to cover any gaps and hide the filling.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the brick is crisp and golden brown and the pie is cooked through. (Cover with foil after 20 minutes if the top is beginning to brown too much.) Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove from the tin and serve.