One of the reasons we started this blog was to participate in The Daring Kitchen. Basically, you join the site as either a Daring Cook or a Daring Baker (we have joined as both) and each month there is a secret (oooh!!) challenge recipe that everyone has to make. The requirement is that every person uses the same recipe (some small amends are allowed) and then they blog the results.
We liked the idea of this as it’s a way of broadening our cooking horizons by being forced to cook something that is hopefully challenging and not something we would ordinarily make. We signed up to the site in October but were not admitted as Daring Cooks until now, so this is our first challenge.
So basically, we were expected to make a fish version of beef wellington. We were pretty uninspired with this, neither of us particularly like heavy food and the recipe seemed pretty bland. We also felt that it was a dish more suited to the weather currently in the Northern Hemisphere – fish wrapped in pastry is not particularly appealing on a 30 degree day.
In any event, we put aside a Friday night to tackle the challenge. The recipe stated you could either buy pastry or make your own short-crust pastry. Given I have issues with wheat, we decided to make the pastry ourselves from spelt flour. The Daring Kitchen site had a link to a great video about making short-crust pastry – it looked pretty easy.
Step one, weigh out 450g of flour:
Next we added some salt and butter – as per the instructions, the butter was very cold:
We then blitzed the mixture in the processor until the butter and flour was combined:
Next we mixed some egg yolk and water to add to the flour and butter:
The recipe emphasised that we should not add too much liquid as it makes the short-crust pastry less “short”. We added some liquid, tried to bring the dough together, then relented and added more. In the end we used about 4-5 tbs of liquid (the recipe said use 2-3).
We dumped the mixture on to the bench to bring it together:
We were careful not to overwork the mixture, gently bringing it together. We then wrapped it in clingfilm and popped it in the fridge to chill:
While the pastry was chilling we sat down with some nibbles and wine (amusingly, after Saskia’s rant it was a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc) and had a gossip. Suddenly it was 10.30pm and we needed to get on with the rest of the recipe.
We needed to make a sauce for the salmon that would be encased in the pastry. We assembled our ingredients:
Then we put them in the food-processor:
We had a taste of the mixture and it was pretty bland – all that greenery but little flavour other than the richness of the mascarpone. We added salt, pepper, lemon juice and some grated lemon rind:
The flavour was a lot better but still needed something else. Saskia was preparing a simple fennel salad to go with the fish, so we chopped some of the fennel leaves and added these to the mixture:
With the addition of the fennel leaves and some more salt and pepper, the mixture was starting to taste pretty good. We pulled the pastry out of the fridge, ready to get rolling:
The mixture looked pretty dry at this point, but we were confident it would be fine.
The pastry was too dry and completely crumbled as soon as we started to try to roll it out. The video above said that over-dry pastry is salvageable, basically you need to put it back in the processor, add more liquid, bring it together then chill it all over again.
By this stage it was about 11.30pm, so remaking the pastry and re-chilling it was out of the question. So what did we do?
Basically we gave up.
We grabbed the salmon Saskia had bought from the fish shop in Hawksburn Village:
And we pan-fried it in olive oil (note that we placed the thinner part of the fillet up the side of the pan so it would all cook evenly):
We served the seared salmon with the mascarpone mixture, some lemon wedges and a zingy little fennel salad made from thinly sliced fennel and chilli doused in lemon juice:
The mascarpone mixture was actually pretty good with the salmon and the fennel salad added some much-needed freshness.
So what went wrong with our pastry? To be honest, pastry is one thing that I am not particularly good at making and something that I fear (even more than making souffle). I think I will blame the failure on the temperature and humidity (it was over 30 degrees) and the fact that we used spelt flour. We probably should have used a spelt specific recipe. I also think a problem was that we did not use ice-cold water and we also handled the pastry a lot, which probably made it warm up too much. I will definitely experiment with making short-crust pastry from spelt flour again, although I don’t think I will be making (or attempting to make) a Salmon en Croute ever again!
Note that I used a different spelt recipe for my chocolate, caramel and hazelnut tart and it was much more successful!
450 gr (15.8 ounces or 3.2 cups ) of plain all purpose flour
200 gr ( 7 ounce) cold butter
pinch of salt
- Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and blitz in a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp of water and egg yolk mixture (we used about 4-5 and it was still too dry) and mix to a firm dough.
- Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface.
- Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.
- For best results make sure the butter is very cold.
Salmon en Croute
- Mascarpone – 150 gr
- Watercress, rocket and spinach – 120 gr
- Zest of one lemon
- 2 tbs of lemon juice
- 3 tbs of chopped fennel leaves
- Shortcrust pastry – 500g
- Salmon fillet (skinless)- 500 gr
- egg – 1 medium sized
- Heat the oven to 200°C. Put the mascarpone or cream cheese in a food processor with the watercress, spinach, rocket, lemon juice and zest and fennel leaves and whizz the lot until you have a creamy green puree. Season well.
- Roll the pastry out so you can wrap the salmon in it completely (approx. 2-3 mm thick) and lay it on a buttered or oiled baking sheet (it will hang over the edges). Put the salmon in the middle. If it has a thinner tail end, tuck it under. Spoon half of the watercress mixture onto the salmon. Now fold the pastry over into a neat parcel (the join will be at the top, so trim the edge neatly), making sure you don’t have any thick lumps of pastry as these won’t cook through properly. Trim off any excess as you need to. Make 3 neat cuts in the pastry to allow steam to escape and make some decorations with the off-cuts to disguise the join if you like. Brush with the egg glaze.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and browned. To test whether the salmon is cooked, push a sharp knife through one of the cuts into the flesh, wait for 3 seconds then test it against the inside of your wrist; if it is hot, the salmon is cooked. Serve with the rest of the watercress puree as a sauce.
You can check out the results from the other Daring Cooks on the Daring Kitchen website – it seems most were more successful than us!