Sunday, February 16, 2014

Spanish cream pie, Panchineta

Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 14 February 2014
Reliving travel experiences through food is a satisfying way to keep the memories and travel bug alive. So when our companions from a recent trip ask us to a Spanish themed lunch, I cast my mind back to our shared visit to Spain. 

Spanish desserts reflect its Islamic history, dominated by the tastes of North Africa, with almonds, honey, syrupy sugar, with fresh and dried fruits. Alongside this, there’s a strong representation of custard based sweets, often infused with the ubiquitous orange.

With orange trees planted in most home courtyards and a popular street tree, it’s little wonder that these juicy golden globes are a Spanish favourite.

The Panchineta, a traditional Basque dessert of Islamic origin, is a custard based pastry cream pie which bewitched both my tastebuds and my weight while we were in Barcelona, so it seemed only right that I revive this experience for our lunch party.

Although this dessert appears complicated, it’s very simple and elegant and can be served warm or cold.

In terms of timing, the pastry cream should be made first, preferably the day before and refrigerated overnight. The pie is best served on the day it’s made.

I tweaked the traditional and original recipe a little by adding slightly more cornflour and I baked it in a glass pie dish rather than straight onto a baking sheet. This was more to avoid the custard from running out of the pie and messing up my clean oven.

I served this with an orange ice cream made with sour cream to offset the richness of the tart.

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, defrosted
120g ground almonds
150g castor sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 litre full cream milk
peel of 1 orange, peeled in a continuous peel
1 cinnamon stick
5 egg yolks
½ cup cornflour
200g chopped raw nuts
1 egg (extra) and 2 tbsp milk whisked together
1 tbsp raw sugar
icing sugar for dusting

Whisk together the ground almonds and the sugar in an electric mixer until they form a paste. Add the butter and continue beating about five minutes. Add the egg yolks, one by one, mixing until combined. Add the cornflour and mix well for thirty seconds.

Add a little of the milk to the mixture while mixer is off to loosen the mix, then whisk together on a low setting, adding the remainder of the milk slowly.

Pour the custard mixture into a large heavy based saucepan over a medium heat, adding in the cinnamon stick and orange peel. Mix constantly with a hand whisk to keep the custard moving over the heat and to stop it sticking and forming lumps. It should cook to a thick custard consistency. Remove from the heat immediately and pour into a dish and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a minimum of three hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

When the custard is cooled remove from the fridge. Fish out the cinnamon stick and orange peel and discard. Prepare the pastry.

On a floured benchtop roll out the puff pastry sheets, so they are slightly larger, to fit the base and top of a greased, twenty-four centimetre round pie dish. Place the rolled base pastry sheet into the dish, pressing to fit. Trim the edges with a sharp knife leaving an extra small margin to allow for shrinkage. Paint around the edges of the pastry base with the egg and milk wash so the top pastry sheet will stick to it.

Spoon the custard evenly onto the pastry base and place the remaining pastry sheet over the custard, pushing down on the edges to stick to the bottom pastry sheet. Trim the edges of the top sheet. Using a fork, crimp down the edges of the pastry all the way around the top. Make a few slits in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to escape.

Paint the top of the pie with the remaining egg and milk wash and sprinkle the top heavily with the chopped mixed nuts and raw sugar.

Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes until golden, checking the pie does not burn.

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for half an hour before slicing. Dust liberally with icing sugar.

The Panchineta goes down well with some tart orange ice cream and a small glass of Pedro Ximenez Sherry.