We spent Christmas and New Year in Barcelona and the days were heavily punctuated by some fantastic eating, as you can expect. Christmas was feasting with family out in the village. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day here in the UK) was more feasting at home. New Year’s Eve was snacking on canapes as we waited to shove grapes in our mouth with each strike of the clock at midnight. On New Year’s Day, even more feasting. Ah, that was the good life.

One thing that always strikes me about Barcelona is the way that chocolate is used with reckless abandon at all patisseries. Croissants, coques, palmiers,etc, come in both plain and chocolate-covered varieties. The chocolate coating is not a mere afterthought but a proper drenching – a thick coating! – that turns the pastry into a hefty, weighty treat. And these can be found at all patisseries! There were a couple of more unique chocolate treats that stood out during my visit though.

We went back to my beloved Forn Mistral to try a wide variety of their pastries. I particularly wanted to try their mini chocolate croissants and I wasn’t disappointed. They don’t look very promising from the outside but under that surprisingly thin layer of puff pastry is an equally surprising hefty lump of chocolate. There is a proper 50/50 ratio of pastry to chocolate in these little morsels. And if you pick some up for takeaway, there’s a chance you could get a scoop straight from the oven….mmm…. little chocolate lava morsels.

I'm a little obsessed with the mini chocolate croissants from @fornmistral ... Here's a cross section of one. Look at all that chocolate! And the portion we bought yesterday was hot out of the oven! 🍫

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume MontserratThe bakery is famous for their coques, Catalan flatbreads that are topped or filled with sweet or savoury ingredients. I noticed that there were many comments online about their coca de xocolata – pictured below – and we bought a large slice to take home. While the chocolate in the mini croissants above was pure dark chocolate, the one here was like a stiffer dark chocolate frosting, probably to hold up to a longer baking time. It was sweeter but I still liked it. I loved it. More please!

Slices of a coca de xocolata from Forn Jaume Montserrat ... Another example of the major chocolate representation at bakeries and patisseries here!

I guess it’s another way of mainlining chocolate that isn’t in liquid form!

It’s not everyday that one is invited to the Ritz. I’d never even stepped into the hotel prior to this invitation and I’ve been in London for 15 years! When one thinks of The Ritz, afternoon tea is usually the first thought that comes to mind (they serve 400 teas each day), not fine dining and I certainly never thought I’d ever see their kitchens, let alone dine there. But there I was on a Saturday morning, down in their basement kitchens, taking part in a pastry masterclass with The Ritz’s head pastry chef, Lewis Wilson.

Lewis Wilson

I forgot to ask Lewis whether he did this on a regular basis but he was a very very good teacher. He had an infinite amount of patience and explained everything very clearly. And everything was laid out, ready to go. We were going to make a vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut ice cream bombe. See that copper mould? It’s a Victorian one, sourced on ebay!

Untitled

We went through all the steps, from making the ice cream to making the hazelnut nougat parfait, to filling the mould all the way to decorating. It was fun and I certainly learned a few tricks here and there. We also learned how much work went into one of these pastries!

Here were the decorations, which had been prepared for us in advance (I mean, look at them!!!).

Chocolate Decorations

Here we are pouring the chocolate shell over the finished molded ice cream (a hazelnut core, followed by chocolate ice cream, followed by vanilla ice cream and the bottom was a hazelnut daquiose).

Pour

Here’s Lewis teaching us how to pipe (I did the other one and was quite chuffed with my results).

Piping

And here’s the fiddly decorating. It’s very fiddly and the kitchen was a bit warm so the decorations kept falling over.

Decorating a Bombe

And there’s one of the finished bombes – I say one of because we obviously weren’t working on just the single bombe that entire morning as the ice cream and chocolate needed to freeze and set in between stages. Lewis had carefully organised many bombes at various stages of production.

Chef's Finished Hazelnut and Chocolate Ice Cream Bombe

After all that hard work, we were brought up to the restaurant for lunch – what a treat! Here were all things classically English and I’m not just talking about the food! The dress code is smart…and smart for men means a jacket and a tie, as one in our party discovered. He was lent the suitable pieces that he was missing. Women, of course, can get away with a lot in the name of ‘smart’.

Anyway, dessert that afternoon would be, of course, the bombe that we made.

The Table

But first, the bread basket. A fabulous selection was brought out and I selected these two: a crispy thin white flatbread and a pancetta and caramelised onion brioche (very similar to that at The Ledbury). The white flatbread also turned out to have a thin layer of parmesan baked into it, rendering it into quite-possibly the best cheese cracker ever.

Breads

A tray of amuses was a good start to the meal proper – here were cheese gougeres, prawn crackers topped with prawns, and a curiously melting macaron of smoked salmon.

Amuses

Our starter of Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange almost looked raw but was most definitely cooked – was this cooked sous vide? Anyway, it was a fabulously moist and tender piece of fish that had some lovely accompaniments. The tiny little cucumber flower was particularly memorable.

Var Salmon, Beetroot, Horseradish and Orange

Our main course was Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas. What I didn’t expect was the other parts of lamb included. There was the beautifully cooked crusted loin. There was a roll of pressed confit lamb belly (gorgeous) and on top of that was a meltingly soft sweetbread.

Loin of Lamb, Herb Crust, Caramelised Shallot and Peas

And then there it was! A serving table had been set up behind my chair and the bombe was brought in and shown to us – was there ever a dessert so photographed? There’s something so old-fashioned and yet fun about having something large brought to you and served tableside (I also saw lobster served this way at another table and later crepes suzettes being prepared tableside).

The Chocolate Bombe

That ice cream bombe did look quite tricky to portion out, what with its solid chocolate shell and if you take too long, there’s a risk of it all ending up as a very expensive puddle. But our waiters did magnificently – here’s my portion:

A Portion of Bombe

Mmm…. the hazelnut, vanilla and chocolate layers were all distinct yet blended together beautifully. I’m not normally a fan of chocolate covered ice creams (Magnums in particular as their shells are too thick) but the layer of chocolate here was much more delicate.

We finished the meal with coffees and “frivolities”, the Ritz’s way of saying….sweets. From the front, we had salted caramel filled chocolates (they use Amadei), vanilla macarons, passion fruit jellies, and little almond cakes topped with raspberries. All were delicious but as you can imagine, we were struggling to put them down by this point.

Frivolities

Needless to say, service at The Ritz was phenomenal. Every waiter always had on a smile, could always see when we needed something, was always there with the small talk required. I would love to go back but, of course, the only thing holding me back is the cost of the meal – though I can imagine saving up for a special occasion. Or perhaps first I should go for tea!

Anyway, it was a magnificent lunch – it was a fantastic opportunity to visit the kitchens at The Ritz, to learn from their head pastry chef and to dine at their restaurant. Thank you very much to Sauce, Lewis Wilson and The Ritz for a wonderful day! All my photos from the day can be found in this Flickr set.

The Ritz London
150 Piccadilly
London W1J 9BR

The Ritz Hotel on Urbanspoon

Tau sar piah are walnut-sized mung bean pastries that are particularly associated with Penang, where my father’s side of the family are from. I remember first tasting the flaky pastry and sweet-savoury crumbly mung bean filling. It was delicious (particularly when warmed up) and of the two versions available (sweet or salty) my family preferred the salty with its strange combination of savoury shallots and sweet mung beans (the sweet version leaves out the salt and shallots). Naturally, when I attempted to make these for the first time, I made the salty kind (though I think Blai wishes they had been sweet!).

Inside a Tau Sar Piah

I adapted a recipe from Kooky Culinary and while I tried cutting down on the sugar, I’d recommend using the entire amount in the recipe. They’re easy to make but very time consuming and labour intensive as the pastry for each tau sar piah must be formed individually. The flaky pastry was fantastic and I hope to use it again for other pastries.

Tau Sar Piah

The only thing that was missing? That unmistakable flavour you get when the pastry is made with lard. I’d love to hear if you’ve made this or other similar pastries with lard!

Tau Sar Piah
adapted from Kooky Culinary.
makes 32.

For the filling
200g peeled dried mung beans (yellow), soaked for 2 hours
70g sugar (I would increase this to 100g)
1 tsp salt
60g sunflower oil
3-4 shallots, minced (or 1/2 a small onion)
(For the sweet version, leave out the salt and shallots)

For the oil dough
80g plain flour
45g sunflower oil

For the water dough
150g plain flour
80g sunflower oil
60g water
1/4 tsp white vinegar

1 egg yolk

Drain the soaked mung beans and place in a heat proof bowl. Steam for about 20 minutes until cooked through and soft enough to mash. Let cool and then mash well with a fork.

Mashed Steamed Mung Beans

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Fry the shallots until soft and then add the salt, sugar and mashed mung beans. Fry together until all are combined well; this should take a few minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Mung Bean Filling

Now make the doughs. For the oil dough, mix together the oil and flour until it comes together into a thick paste. Set aside. For the water dough, mix all the ingredients together into a thicker dough. Knead together for a minute and then also set this aside for at last 20 minutes.

Divide each of the three parts (filling, oil dough, water dough) into 32 equal pieces. (It’s easy as 32 = 2^5 and so it’s just a matter of dividing in half multiple times.)

Now to put them together! Flatten a piece of water dough and use it to wrap a piece of oil dough evenly. Form into a ball and flatten it with a rolling pin. Roll this flat pancake like a Swiss roll and then turn it 90 degrees so that it appears vertically to you. Roll flat again and again roll it up like a Swiss roll. Form this roll into a flat round and use it to wrap a piece of filling. There’s a great pictorial guide to this process at the bottom of this post by ieatishootipost.

Place the pastries on a lined baking sheet (they won’t spread so they can sit close together – see the photo below). Beat together the egg yolk with a little water and use it to glaze all the pastries.

Unbaked Tau Sar Piah

Bake in a preheated 190 Celsius oven for 15-20 minutes, until the pastries are golden brown.

I had a block of shortcrust pastry taking up valuable ice cream space in my shoebox sized freezer and I knew I had to use it up somehow. My last visit (actually, I should make that “final visit”) to Oriental City had me walk away with another boxful of the delicious roast meats from China City Express – I always ordered a mixture of char siu, that reddish barbecued pork, and siu yoke, the roasted pork with gorgeously golden brown, crunchy skin. With half a silver takeaway container of char siu on my hands, I knew I had to make these char siu pastries.

Char Siu Pastries Straight Out of the Oven

The filling was meaty and salty and sweet and the pastry crumbly. Of course, homemade shortcrust would be better but sometimes there’s just no time! And when you decide to make at 10pm, it’s nice to have the shortcut.

Inside a Pastry

Char Siu Pastries
makes about 15

1.5 cups char siu, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
sugar
1 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

around 250g ready made shortcrust pastry
1 egg yolk mixed with a little cold water
sesame seeds

Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the oil. Toss in the chopped onion when the oil is hot and fry until translucent and perhaps even a little brown. Add in the chopped char siu and stir together until the char siu is heated through. Add the soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil and stir through. Add sugar to taste – you might like the filling to be a little sweeter. This will also depend on how salty your other sauces are. Finally, add the cornstarch mixture – this will cause all the liquid to thicken and the onion and char siu mixture will start to pull together. Set aside until cool.

Roll out the shortcrust to about 1/8 – 3/16 inch thickness. Cut into rounds a little larger than a mug diameter and fill with approximately 1 tbsp of filling. Fold in half and seal by pleating the edges. I used a curry puff maker that I purchased in Malaysia ages ago – this saved me a lot of time! Or feel free to enclose the filling using any shape you fancy. Lay on a baking tray lined with baking paper and brush the tops with the egg mixture. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake in an oven preheated to 200 degrees Celsius for about 15-20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.