When the dough of a bake has Marsala wine in it you know you’re onto a winner.
And so it was with this week’s Great British Bake Off technical challenge.
It was festival week.
As predicted last week, Paul Hollywood revealed the challenge – Cassatelles – delicate little cornish-pasty-esque pastries, traditional to Sicily, filled with chocolate, orange zest and ricotta.
As it happens I love the combination of chocolate and orange but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea – a friend of mine is adverse to flavoured chocolate which always makes me feel quite sad, think of all the Chocolate Oranges, Matchsticks and After Eights they’re missing out on!
The challenge was to make 12 half moon pastries, uniform in shape and size – naturally.
The contestants had 1 hour, 15 minutes – as that was announced, relief swept over me. The revelation of the time allocated always makes my spirit rise or fall. A shorter time surely means the bake will be a breeze, a longer time must mean the challenge is going to be devilishly hard.
Paul imparted his words of wisdom – ‘the hard bit is getting the pastry thin and an even filling with no air holes in it’.
Paul claimed the cassatelles went well with a cup of tea while Prue wanted to couple hers with a glass of Marsala – I was with Prue.
I set about making the pastries and strapped myself into my apron with gusto.
I started by straining a pot of ricotta cheese.
I was sure that ricotta could – and would – work well with chocolate and orange, after all cheesecake is a magical thing.
The cheese was set in a square of muslin and left to drain over a bowl while I started making the dough.
It was simple – combine flour, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl, before adding egg, oil, lemon juice and Marsala. After a bout of kneading the dough was silky and smooth and was left to chill in the fridge.
After twenty minutes I was halfway through the recipe – this was sheer bliss.
Next it was on to the filling.
Making sure the ricotta had fully drained, it was combined with chocolate chips (three quarters of a bag – you can guess where the other quarter ended up) and orange zest.
Apparently, the best way to roll out the dough was with the help of a pasta machine.
I make pasta fairly frequently so am used to doing the job with two hands when three are really needed.
They key is to make sure the dough doesn’t stick to the rollers – polenta flour is perfect for this as it ensures the dough slips seamlessly through without drying it out.
I assisted the dough through all but the last setting on the machine, ensuring it was thin but not papery.
Now, the only thing that had put me off the recipe when it was first revealed was the fact that the cassatelles were deep fried. After the technical challenge two weeks ago where the hot oil had hindered my bake I was dreading another bought of frying.
I put a pan of oil on the heat, complete with thermometer and set about cutting out my dough and filling it with cheesy, chocolaty goodness.
I ran into the trap of overfilling them so when it came to folding my circles of dough in half there was squidgy ricotta all over the shop. I ensured the edges were securely pressed together and tipped them into the bubbling oil after a rest in the fridge (the cassatelles, not me).
They turned golden and didn’t pop open to reveal their filling – a tragedy that had hit many of the contestants’ attempt.
Delicately removing them from the oil, I set them on kitchen paper to cool and waited to try them before I cooked the rest – I was that shaken by my previous frying experience!
Five minutes later I braved a taste – they were bloody gorgeous, they had that very distinct chocolate orange flavour with the smoothness and creaminess of sweetened cheese. The pastry was light, thin and crisp and was packed with notes of lemon and Marsala.
Even so, I convinced myself that trying to cook them all to the same hue was nigh on impossible without the exactness of a deep fat fryer (I also felt slightly bad for eating yet more fried food).
I turned to the internet to garner a deeper understanding of casatelles and found out that you can indeed bake them instead – YES!!
I was delighted.
I finished compiling the final batch and popped them onto a lined baking sheet for 20 minutes at about 160C fan (brushed with an egg and milk wash).
They came out consistently golden with a seductively oozy rich and creamy filling – life was good.
After the trauma of previous challenges (beignets souffles and angel cake in particular) I was delighted with these light and zesty pastries that I really could imagine eating alongside a coffee, watching the world go by, in a square in Italy.
This recipe has already found its way onto my ‘to-bake-again’ list and it will be turned out for summer get-togethers, Christmas feasts and everything in between. .
As we head into the quarter finals I can’t help but think that the challenges are going to intensify tenfold – this week it’s pastry week – the doyenne of The Great British Bake Off…