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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Latvian Piragi

For Dough: makes about 25 piragi
4 cups plain flour (I like to use organic unbleached)
half a tsp. cardamon seeds crushed
1 tsp salt
30g compressed yeast
2 tsp white sugar
one and a quarter cups milk
3 quarters cup of unsalted butter
extra flour or milk as required

Pre-heat oven to about 190 degrees Celsius (about 375 degrees Fahrenheit)

Bacon & Onion Mix
1 Onion, finely diced
300g bacon, diced small
pepper to taste
your favorite dried herbs (good shake)
freshly chopped European parsley
pinch salt

Heat oil in pan. Fry onion until transparent, add bacon, pepper and herbs, cook gently for about 5 minutes until cooked through, don't brown the onions though.

Making the dough & the Piragi
1) Sift the flour and salt and crushed cardamon seeds into a large ceramic mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre.
2) Cream the yeast with the sugar in a cup. (Takes a little while - leave it about 3 minutes and you will see the yeast dissolving in the sugar, so give it a good stir).
3) Warm half a cup of the milk to blood temperature (when you dribble a bit on the inside of your wrist you shouldn't be able to feel it. If it's too hot you'll kill the yeast and if it's too cold the yeast won't rise).
4) Mix the warm milk with the sugary yeast in the cup and pour it into the well in the flour. Stir in a bit of the surrounding flour to make a soft batter in the middle.
5) Cover the bowl with a tea-towel and stand in a warm place until the batter in the centre looks spongy and is full of tiny bubbles (waiting time about 5-10 minutes. I like to put my bowl on the opened oven door (I have an electric oven whose door opens downwards, so my bowl sits comfortably on it).
6) Heat about three quarters of a cup of unsalted butter and when melted add about three quarters of a cup of cold milk. Test again on your wrist. Only blood temperature please. You might need to add extra cold milk before you try this as hot butter is, well, HOT butter. And you don't want to kill your nice spongy yeast/flour mixture.
7) Pour onto the spongy mixture in the bowl and mix to a soft dough with a large wooden spoon. Then knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is soft and elastic. If too dry add a bit of oil straight from the bottle, if too moist add a bit of flour. Shape dough into a ball and sprinkle with sieved flour top and bottom.
8) Cover with a tea-towl and let it rise in front of the oven for about half an hour until it has doubled in size. Now some cooks would then knead the dough again and puti it to rise again, but I don't.
9) Pull off a chunk and roll with hands into a longish sausage shape. Cut off slices about 2 and a half cm thick and pull gently into a flat elastic shape with your fingers so it resembles a mini pizza base about 8 cm diameter.
10) Put about 1 tsp full of the bacon & onion mixture into the centre of the mini (pizza) base and pull the edges together and press shut wth your fingers. Put on a greased tray with the pulled-together edges underneath.
11) When you have filled your tray with piragi, brush the tops of the buns with beaten egg/milk mixture and bake in the top half of the oven (but not on the top shelf) for about 15 - 20 minutes at about 190 degrees Celsius until golden brown on top. (Ovens vary, so may your baking times).
12) If you find you still have some dough left over and no more bacon mix, just form little buns and sprinkle with caraway seeds (after you've brushed them with egg/milk) and press a little knob of butter into their middle and a pinch of salt.

Piragi can be frozen straight away and then gently re-heated in the oven (covered with alfoil) for about 10 minutes. Excellent served fresh with a mug of beef bouillon sprinkled with chopped European parsley. No Latvian celebration is complete without piragi. Other nationalities like our delicacy too.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cinnamon & Spice Biscuits

Subtitled: "Teddies in white trousers"

With Christmas just around the corner 'tis the time to be a-baking, tralalla, trallalla and all that.

These delightful looking (and tasting) bikkies are easy to make and good therapy to bake after a long day at the office. With the waft of spices through the house it will lift the most jaded to renewed optimism. My dear husband was offered 2 teddies and he gave the seal of approval, saying: "Don't change anything about this recipe! These are good. Would sell well at markets." Somehow I doubt teddies will get that far, as they are marching straight into the mouth here at home....

150g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon honey
2 and a half cups plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
half a tsp ground cinnamon ("Alba" is best if you can get it. In gourmet shops)
icing sugar, to dust

Now the easy part:
Pre-heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
1) Beat the softened to room temperature unsalted butter and sugar with a large wooden spoon until creamy (about 2 - 3 minutes).
2) Add the egg and honey and beat with wooden spoon to combine smoothly (another minute)
3) Sift over flour and spices, first stirring with wooden spoon and then kneading by hand to form a malleable dough. If still too sloppy add more flour. It needs to feel buttery in your hand, nontheless firm.
4) Put some cling wrap around the ball of dough and pop in fridge for 10 minutes. You want it a little firmer, but not hard.
5) Line a couple of baking trays with baking paper.
6) Take dough out of fridge and with your rolling pin (I use a wooden one) roll it to about 8mm thickness.
7) Take a teddy shaped cutter (or whatever your favorite is) and cut out biscuits, sliding a knife underneath them to ease onto the baking tray, about 5mm apart. Pop little currants on for eyes and mouth.
8) Bake for 10 minutes (use timer) until golden on top.
9) Cool on wire rack. While still warm clothe teddies gently with icing sugar dusted through a sieve. They look so cute in their white trousers.

Supposedly they keep well. I guess that means in homes where people don't eat freshly baked yummies.