Never mind the baking, these puns are getting harder to come by each week! I confess I came to this week’s baking challenge with what I hoped was a bit of an advantage. A bit of insider knowledge. A bit of an edge.
I have two good friends who are Cypriot (they’re brothers, it’s not just a huge coincidence). Each year, Katherine, the wife of the older brother, makes these and they get shared out in the pub around Easter weekend. (Yeah, all these baked goods doled out in pubs; you totally wanna be in my gang now don’t you!?) So, I’ve eaten flaounes before. And she’s a damn good cook, so they’re good, and I know what they’re supposed to taste like. Good start.
However, clearly I have not paid much attention to HOW she made them, as this mastic and mahlepi stuff is a new one on me. Fearing the worst, and (after last week’s misadventures) half expecting to find them in bags with something like UTI TREATMENT or YEAST INFECTION CURE writ large on the front, I venture into the recommended Camberwell deli.
I suspect the owner saw me coming as, after he locates what I want in their incredible cave of goodies, he looks at me, at the two tiny packets in his hands, and then back at me and sort of shrugs. “Five poun’…” he says. I’m not about to argue – who’s to know what the going price is for tree sap and the pits of the St Lucie cherry these days? And frankly it’s still cheaper than the psyllium husks – so I hand over my cash and pop into the Greek bakery next door to see if they might have any flaounes that I can sample to jog the memory. Of course they don’t. As Katherine’s husband Alex exclaimed when I sought their advice about sourcing the ingredients… “Flaounes!? In September?!”
I needn’t have fretted about the price of the mahlepi or the mastic though. That’s not the expensive bit of this recipe. Oh no. I read the recipe again and see that I need 500g of pecorino cheese. FIVE HUNDRED GRAMS! This stuff is £16 a kilo! I baulk slightly at the idea of putting £8 worth of cheese into a bake I’ll probably royally mess up, but then I reason that I’ve just spent £5 on ingredients that I will literally never use for anything else, so you know, in for a fiver…
I should also say at this point that I am not a fan of pecorino. I’m not sure why, but sheep’s cheese by and large has never really done it for me. So I substitute parmesan. Nonetheless, the stuffing comes up nicely, and so I cover it and move on to the pastry. The pastry with yeast in it. Pastry. With yeast. And sugar and salt. And milk. And a pretty low butter content (60g butter to 750g flour). Come on. Who are we kidding? It’s bread. You knead it, for goodness sake. It’s just bread. Bread that you roll out, granted, and wrap round a filling, but still bread.
First things first, I have to grind the mahlepi and the mastic. The mahlepi is a bit meh. The smell or taste doesn’t strike me as I pummel it, but then Paul says it’s only to add a ‘hint of almond’. I chuck it in. The mastic though… oh, the mastic. It smells absolutely divine. Citrussy, and woody, like walking in a lemon grove.
I have recently discovered a new favourite scent – Penhaligon’s delicious Juniper Sling. I remark to P that if I could make a perfume from the mastic, I would, and he suggests I combine the two and call it Gin-mastics. This, ladies and gentlemen, this is why I married him.
Punnery and perfume aside, I remove my wedding and engagement rings to set in to the pastry – I always do this with pastry; not because I like to pretend I’m single when I bake (although, whatever helps with the judging, eh? Eh?!), no, the truth is much more prosaic, my engagement ring is an antique and full of lots of engravings and cutaways. It doesn’t have quite the same sparkly impact when it’s full of dough, and without it, my wedding ring falls off – and I stand there pummelling the mix. As the smell of the pastry wafts up to me I fancy myself the image of all the yia yias who have gone before me, kneading their pastry (wtf!?) into submission. Although I’d be willing to bet relatively few of them have to contemplate calling their husbands to remove their fitbits before they get clogged up with dough.
Ever mindful of Flora’s caution (“it’s pastry week!”) I’m worried about how much I should be kneading. The recipe says ‘until smooth’, though, so I keep at it. By the time it’s smooth I’m pretty sure the gluten has been activated and the pastry is unlikely ever to be described as short. But who am I kidding? It has a fat:flour ratio of LESS THAT 1:10. This is the LEAST SHORT pastry I’ve ever made. So, un-short, in fact, it should just be called long pastry. Or tall pastry. Or, oh, I don’t know, I’m just picking things out of the air here, maybe… BREAD!?
I put the smooth pastry (bread) aside to prove (you can call it ‘resting’ as much as you like Mr Hollywood, there’s yeast in there, it’s going to rise. It’s proving) and go out. When we get back the dough is
rested proved, and we’re good to go. It’s at this point that I realise I haven’t vinegared my sesame seeds (again, wtf?!). I try, but figure it’s going to take them AGES to dry, so I drain them well, then pop them in a saucepan to toast a bit.
Paul’s recipe online calls for rounds, folded into triangles around the filling popping out in the centre. The challenge on the TV required the bakers to fold squares into smaller squares. So which is right?
A quick google search is completely unhelpful. Some are triangular. Some are square. I decide to go half and half.
The rolling out, folding and glazing go pretty well, and they go into the oven. The uneven heat of my gas oven (the last technical challenge I’ll do in this kitchen – woo hoo!) means I have to switch the trays over half way through baking, but the timings work and they come out lovely after 30 minutes.
When they come out, the pastry has unfolded a bit, and they look a little like Alvin’s Cypriot pizzas. But how do they taste? I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but they really are quite delicious. I don’t know if they’re technically good flaounes, and aesthetically they could certainly be a little better, but they taste darn good. Even my Cypriots agree. Although they said they were (and I quote) ‘too cheesy’. They said the bread was really good though. Bread. Not pastry. Take that Mr Hollywood. And they also swear that the slight unfolding in the oven is authentic. So, yay me! A success quite by accident. Good stuff.
I think I know what I’ll be making next Easter. Provided I start saving now for my cheese bill.
Next week: Victorian baking…
Oh dear. Running out of ideas, Bake Off?!
Until then, folks…