Sunday, August 19, 2007

Recipe of the week: Birds' Nests

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I decided to make the Birds' Nests for various reasons, not the least of which is that I have never made pastries topped with glazed fruit before, and I love them. It is also by far the fiddliest of the 6 recipes. You can get excellent ones from the Danish bakery which is located a couple of streets away from where I live: little bowls of pastry filled with vanilla custard and topped with glazed strawberries. I have a clipped recipe somewhere for those, but the Birds' Nests will be good practice. As to the other recipes, I have put them on my To Do list, especially the Napoleons which I want to make for my mother (who loves them) the next time she visits me.

Written as each stage was completed.

I began yesterday by making some pastries. It didn't start well: I nearly burnt them. Marzipan pastry should ideally only be baked to a light golden colour, retaining a chewy, almost raw, centre inside a crisp shell, but I ended up with brown ones. Fortunately they don't smell burnt and are not hard through. This is entirely due to a little bit of carelessness on my part: I started doing the washing-up while the pastry was baking and lost track of the time. This wouldn't have mattered so much if I had a regular oven, but I have a temperamental convection oven where seconds can decide whether baked products will turn out just right or too much. I lowered the temperature to 180°C, as you don't need quite as high temperatures when using a convection oven, but forgot the time and at 13 1/2 minutes the pastries were darker than they should have been, meaning that 12 minutes at that temperature would probably have been about right. Lesson learned for next time.

Next time being today: I only made a half recipe yesterday, but I wanted to do this just right, so today I made another half-recipe of pastries. As yesterday's pastries were a bit larger than the recipe states and also somewhat uneven in size, I made circles of the right size on the baking paper with a pair of compasses and piped the dough inside the circles to get even sized pastries. These turned out much better, although they were unevenly coloured, which I blame on the convection oven. Since the dark patches were on the sides this could not be fixed by turning the cookie sheet around in the oven. Just as well they will be covered with icing and chocolate.

A pastry base:
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The butter icing had a somewhat raw sugar taste when ready, so I added a little vanilla which gave it a smoother taste. It was still too sweet for my tastebuds, but I figure the chocolate will temper the sweetness.

The chocolate stage went well for the most part, except the chocolate didn't hold very well onto the icing so there were little pockets of white icing showing through here and there. I tried redipping one pastry, but then part of the previous coat of chocolate slipped off, so I didn't bother with the rest. I quickly had 19 pastries covered and cooling in the refrigerator.

I ended up using canned mixed fruit in light syrup to top the pastries. Unfortunately there were only 2 cocktail cherries in the entire can, so 17 pastries only have whitish, orange and yellow fruit pieces on them (pears, peaches, pineapple) but no splash of red to give them a bit of ooomph, but this is only an experiment so it will do for now.
I had my usual problem with the gelatine: I thought it would never gel, but when it finally did it happened so rapidly that I had problems getting it to cover the last few pastry toppings evenly, but it worked even if it was a bit bubbly from my vigorous whisking.

These are not the prettiest pastries I have ever made but all in all I think they turned out rather well for an amateur's first attempt. Of course the taste test is left. I'm off to visit some friends to get a final judgement.

My friends pronounced the pastries "very good", and I agree. They are a bit oversweet with preserved fruit and we agreed that fresh strawberries and darker chocolate would improve them. You really only can eat two or three in one sitting, and I strongly recommend serving coffee with them to counteract their sweetness.

Now for how I would change the recipe for future use. Firstly, I would make the rim of the nests from piped pastry, not icing, and make them a bit deeper. Then I would cover the rim in chocolate and fill the nests, not with icing, but with custard or vanilla pudding, top with fresh strawberries or peach slices and cover with a glaze made from sugar syrup rather than fruit juice. They could still be called Birds' Nests, since the shape would be retained.

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