Sunday, 1 December 2013

Reach for a Star

Piccola Stella di Natale
Little Christmas Star

So, what do you think of this pretty little pastry, eh? It's some kinda wonderful for sure, isn't it? It looks delicate and complicated to make, but the truth of the matter is that it is really quite simple! It is quick, easy and guaranteed to please at any time of the year- but with Christmas coming up- just how lovely are these? They will be sure to be the STARS of your Christmas coffee-time spread!

Of course these are not an invention of mine and if you check the internet or magazines and cook books you may well have seen these before- and indeed, they seem to be all the rage in Italy this year... But this is MY version from this morning. The great thing about them is that you can make them with any number of fillings- the method remains the same and the results will always be pretty as a picture :-)

This was my first experiment with making one of these beauties and I made it in a small, individual-serving size. The usual size would be a regular pie-tray size, so that it would be a family-sized treat- and which would obviously make it easier to make as it is then not so small and delicate to handle... but the principle remains the same.

This can be made out of any kind of pastry that is soft enough for you to twist without breaking- or even for pizza dough. The only 2 things you need in order for this to work, is to remember to NOT over-fill it- less is most definitely more- and also to have a very sharp knife, as a clean cut is all important here. And the rest is child's play- literally! Just look and see!

Ok- all that you need to do is to cut out 2 circles of pastry...

Spread the pastry with any filling you like- usually this tends to be Nutella for most people- haha, but a marmalade or fruit preserve would also be great... but remember- don't spread on too much! You won't be doing yourself a favor if you do and making it extra yummy- all that will happen is that it will all ooze out during baking... got it? Got it!

For my individual, saucer-sized serving today I used just 1 teaspoon of strawberry jam and 1 teaspoon of Nutella which I simply stirred together with said spoon- easy :-) That might sound strange but it tastes delicious! You like chocolate-dipped strawberries don't you? Well then!

I spread the topping out evenly with a spoon and then added a dusting of cassis powder. This is absolutely not an essential... but I have some- and I added it! It gives a great berry flavor without adding any sweetness or moisture- perfect to give this little treat and extra kick of flavor!

Whilst we are on the subject of flavors- let me just say that if I were to make this again and was not having to deal with reduced spice foods at the moment, I would definitely have added cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and coriander to this to really make it taste of Christmas... but with 3 weeks to go- I may still get a second chance and be able to do so next time :-)

And then I added a nice sprinkle of ground pistachio- just to make it ultra-amazing! You could use any kind of chopped nut or even crated coconut if you wanted- or just leave it plain and simple.

All that needs to be done now is for the second circle of pastry to be placed on top and gently pressed down... and then the fun can really begin!

Using a very sharp knife, make the first 4 cuts, at 90° to each other, as you see below- making sure to leave plenty of the circle intact in the center so that the star holds together safely.

Next, revolve the pastry and cut in-between the first 4 cuts, so that you have 8 in all- make these cuts a little bit shorter.

And then finally, make one more cut in the middle of each section, dividing the 8 sections you already have into 16... see- it IS really easy!

 Now- take hold of the little sections of pastry, two at a time and twist them twice, facing each other and then pinch the ends together as you can see in the image below. It's easier than it looks- and there is no need to fuss and obsess over how perfect they are- this is hand made and home made and it is fine if it looks that way :-)

Once the star is complete it is of course ready to go into a nice hot oven and to bake and  puff up beautifully. Unless of course you decide to pop it into a frying pan and give it 3-4 minutes on a hot stove-top as you know I like to do!

I like to use a non-stick pan and high heat to get the base of the pastry nice and firm and crisp- there is nothing worse than soggy pastry. So you don't have a non-stick pan with an oven-proof handle, eh? Well- neither have I! But for the 10-15 minutes or so it will be in the oven, I simply wrap the handle of my frying pan with aluminum foil... and other problems? Nope- I didn't think so!

I gave the star 3-4 minutes in the pan on the highest setting, shaking it gently every now and then. As soon as it comes loose from the bottom of the pan, that is the sign that it is firm enough to be finished baking in the oven- and so that is when you pop it in, on the middle rack, at 350°F for 10-15 minutes.

After that time, the pastry will have puffed up, become lovely and golden- and have transformed into this! So wonderful- and so easy!

With a final sprinkle of pistachio on top, my little star was finished and absolutely lovely as it was. Of course you could add icing, or drizzle yours with chocolate etc... there are no limits to the possibilities! Have fun trying out flavors and fillings... I am seeing a savory version on my horizon sometime soon! Isn't it nice to know you can say to someone "I am going to make you a star!"- end then go ahead and do it? :-)

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