About this recipe
This was the dish I made when I auditioned for MasterChef. Yes, I auditioned for MasterChef. It was many moons ago but I look back on that time fondly. It was, however, a time characterised by many other F-words too; fight and flight were the frontrunners. Auditionees were not required to cook a dish there at the studios but instead you had to plate pre-made food to serve while the production team grilled you on your desire to be the next MasterChef. So, the appropriate F-word for that part of the event was ‘faltering’, as I shakily squeezed my sauce bottle onto the plate. Needless to say I failed the audition. But I wouldn’t change the experience for the world. And I haven’t looked at MasterChef in quite the same way since, which is probably why I wrote my paper – you can find a blog post about it here.
I spent a lot of time concocting my audition dish. I wanted to demonstrate some skill, so I went for pastry, and in the spirit of cultural creativity, I decided to revamp a traditional Cypriot dessert: mahalebi, a soft, rose-scented, wibbly-wobbly blancmange. I purposely used the word ‘coulis’ in the title of my dish to show that I was au fait with nouvelle cuisine, although it probably just showed that I had watched the fruit episode of Delia’s Summer Collection far too many times. Using rosewater cordial in the dish makes it bubblegum nostalgic, both in taste and memory, of milkshakes I would make as a child. If you cannot get hold of rosewater cordial, simply use rosewater – you won’t get that candyfloss pink colour in the mahalebi but it will certainly be ‘good enough’.
For the pistachio pastry:
- 150g plain flour
- Pinch of salt
- 85g chilled butter
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 25g ground pistachios
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons water
For the mahalebi filling:
- 600ml milk
- 3 tablespoons cornflour
- 1 teaspoon rosewater cordial
- 3 tablespoons sugar
For the coulis:
- 400g raspberries
- 2 tablespoons icing sugar
- ½ teaspoon rosewater cordial
- Chopped pistachios to finish
This quantity of pastry will line a 20cm/8inch flan tin, which is what you need for this recipe.
You can of course do steps 1 and 2 using a food processor (8-10 long pulses will achieve the required breadcrumb texture) but here I have gone old-school and used the traditional method I learned at Leiths.
- Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl containing the flour. Take two cutlery knives and ‘cut’ the butter into a flour – try to mimic a scissor action. Using knives, instead of your fingers, is helpful for keeping everything cool at this stage.
- Once the butter has been cut down to little pea-sized pieces, use your fingertips to gently, but quickly, rub the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles a fine, pale, crumb – you don’t want any large lumps of butter remaining. If the mixture starts to become greasy, pop it back in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to chill the butter.
- Stir the sugar and ground pistachios into the flour and butter crumb.
- Whisk the egg yolk and water together in a small bowl. Using a table knife, stir in a couple of tablespoons of the yolk mixture into the crumb mixture – you will see it start to turn into large flakes. Add just enough liquid to bind it – use the flat of your knife to gently press together the large flakes and the dry crumb, then pull the pastry together with your hands. Remove the pastry from the bowl and on a clean work surface shape it into a flat disc, a couple of centimetres thick. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 20-30 minutes before rolling out.
- When you are ready to blind bake the pastry, heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Flour both your work surface and your rolling pin (you only need a little, it’s just to prevent sticking). Roll the pastry to a circle large enough to line the bottom and sides of a 20cm flan tin (the pastry will be around 3mm thick). The best way to line the tin is to carefully wrap the pastry circle over the rolling pin and unfold it, with a gently flop, over the flan tin. Ease the pastry into the nooks and crannies of the tin, ensuring the dough is smoothed up the sides. Take your rolling pin and roll along the top to remove the excess pastry. Feel free to use any leftover pastry to patch up any holes (you can also make yourself a little biscuit out of any that remains – chef’s treat).
- Take a piece of greaseproof paper larger than the flan tin and scrunch it up. Unfold it and place it on top of the pastry. Add a layer of baking beans and fold any excess greaseproof paper as neatly as you can over the sides of the tin. Bake the pastry case for 15-20 minutes. After this time the sides will have set and will not look translucent anymore; instead they will have started to achieve a golden biscuit colour. Carefully remove the paper and the beans and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes; it is ready when the base is dry and sandy to the touch and the edges will be hobnob golden, with an underlying pistachio green hue. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you make the filling.
- To make the mahalebi, mix together the cornflour and rosewater cordial with some of the cold milk until combined and silky smooth (Cypriots work in cups/glasses so I use a small cup’s worth of milk for this step).
- Place the remaining milk in a saucepan together with the sugar and warm until the milk is scalded. Pour in the rose-cornflour mix and whisk continuously over a gentle heat until thickened and the mixture has the consistency of a voluptuous, thick custard – this will take you around 4-5 minutes.
- Pour the mahalebi filling into the pastry case. Leave to cool and then refrigerate until you are ready to eat.
- Serve the tart with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios and raspberry coulis; to make this, all you do is simply whizz the raspberries, icing sugar and rosewater cordial together in a blender and pass through a sieve; be gentle – don’t press it through too hard because you’ll extract bitterness from the raspberry seeds. Chefilly, or chaotically, drizzle as much coulis over your own slice of mahalebi tart as you wish.