05 May, 2006
The ingredients in Northern Cyprus can be variable in quality, but recipes are designed to take this into consideration, says resident Brian Binns
Northern Cyprus is not the best country for anyone who enjoys good food and expects high levels of quality. Years of underinvestment has left the food industry woefully lacking in the wide variety of raw materials available in the UK and, indeed, most other European countries.
The basic materials for bakery production can be of a good standard, but the lack of quality assurance systems means there is wide variation. Despite this there are some very good bakery products and the level of craftsmanship is high.Bakers tend to use scratch recipes that are robust enough to withstand variations in raw material quality or, alternatively, enable the craftsman to adjust to the situation.Having to skin almonds to make almond paste, using fruit as it comes from the tree and vegetables as they come from the grower can be an eye-opener. Icing sugar is made by pulverising granulated sugar, clever starches and stabilisers are unknown, and savoury flavour concentrates are too expensive to use – it is cheaper to increase the meat content or make your own stock.Some products from ingredients suppliers Puratos and Dawn are available, but again, expense and import restrictions make obtaining them difficult, so the country’s bakers make most things from scratch.Northern Cypriot people also tend to believe that their food is the best and they do not need to learn from other countries. Having worked in developing countries, where people thirst for knowledge, I find this attitude difficult to live with. But there are supermarket groups that are starting to show interest in introducing European products and systems.Turkish bakery products vary little in appearance or eating quality – be they from small or large bakeries. I put this down to the fact that all use the same recipe, which they consider the best, and no one cuts corners.Effort and enthusiasmI hope my recent back-to-basics experience and knowledge of high-tech production will allow me to offer some exciting ideas with easy-to-obtain raw materials, ways to improve what you already make and simplified processes. That said, effort and enthusiasm are required, if you want to make the best of anything.The following recipes are made using puff pastry. You can use any type you wish and these recipes will work, but if you want the best, your pastry must be the best. A full puff pastry, made with butter, cannot be beaten. One tip gleaned from the pastry-making section of a top French patissier is to make a very soft dough and use what seems to be a wildly excessive amount of dusting flour. The resulting baked pastry was unbelievably light, tender, and kept its delicate crispiness for days.Being of a somewhat scientific bent of mind, I calculated how much dusting flour was absorbed in the process – it was sufficient to reduce the butter content to 85%.Quiche LorraineYour immediate reaction might be: ‘What is new about quiche Lorraine? It will never be a best seller.’ But I have never seen one in the UK that was remotely like the original.It is best to pre-bake the base, depending on your oven, but it must be baked through.Use the trimmings from butter puff pastry or perhaps use the Scottish method – introducing laminating fat at the dough-making stage rather than later in the process. Roll it 2mm thin to line your chosen tin. Individual quiches in an 8cm tin or foil are preferable, but whatever the size, it should be shallow – 2-2.5cm deep – and, when lining, an allowance must be made for shrinkage. All the components can be made in advance.The bacon should be smoked, roughly cut into 3mm squares, then fried or baked in your oven until golden. Drain off the fat and keep the bacon until needed; a small quantity of this fat will give a delicious flavour to savoury short pastry. Do not be tempted to use cheap, mass-produced bacon – it may be alright for a BLT, but not for a quality quiche.The savoury custard is a mix of whipping cream – vegetable cream works very well and is half the cost – and for each litre, add half a litre of beaten whole egg, 15g salt and white pepper to taste. You can add a little grated cheddar if desired, but only around 50g.Spread the cooked bacon over the bottom of the pastry and fill nearly to the top with custard. For each litre of custard you need approximately 400g of uncooked bacon, but be generous – it is the bacon that gives the taste. Bake at 200ºC until pale golden and the custard is just set – about 25 minutes – but do not over-bakeOnion tartProperly made, using onions or leeks, this is wonderful. Use the savoury custard as in the quiche above, but with a little more cheese – around 100g.Slice the onions (or leeks) into 3mm thick half rings, fry them in butter without colouring, until they start to soften, but retain some crispness. Allow them to go cold, then follow the procedure as for quiche Lorraine.Puff pastry crowns As bakeries in Northern Cyprus do not have blocking machines, I had to devise a simple way of lining tins. Cut 2.5mm-thick pastry into squares, a little larger than your baking tin/foil. Position the squares over the tin, fill with whichever filling you like then fold the corners into the centre, as shown in the picture. You can also make the crowns straight onto a baking tray.Suggested fillings are below. Portions are given in percentages or parts, so that they can be adapted to the amount required.Spinach and cheese (spanakopita) fillingSpinach, cooked very well, then drained. Frozen leaf works well (100% required)Crumbled cheese – for example, a mixture of feta and cheddar (25% required)One whole egg (20% required)Onion, 15mm diced, fried in a generous amount of butter until soft (10% required)Whipping or vegetable cream (2% required)Nutmeg, dill, salt and black pepper to tasteChicken and coriander filling Minced chicken (100% required)One whole egg (20% required)Chopped fresh coriander (5% required)Day-old bread soaked in creamy milk (10% required)Salt and white pepper to tasteMix the ingredients together and use like sausage meat. I like to add about 5% of cottage cheese because it gives a touch of acidity and increases the creamy mouthfeel. It also freezes really well.Another popular filling is made with a tomato conserve. Cook tinned tomatoes very slowly with butter, sugar, herbs, and salt and pepper until they are the consistency of jam. Spoon this into the pastry and top with fresh tomatoes, before baking. All the crowns can be frozen and baked off. Puff pastry casseroles of salmon and asparagus with a pastry handle.This uses a vol au vent made from butter puff with an optional pan handle, which is also made from puff pastry. All components can be prepared in advance and stored for easy assembly and baking to suit your customer pattern.Put a layer of drained, canned asparagus in the bottom, top with lightly poached salmon, fill with savoury custard and bake. For a touch of class, decorate with a puff pastry pan handle, pushed into the centre of the ‘casserole’.