Tag Archive for: puff pastry

I’m on a puff pastry roll at the moment. So to speak. No sooner had I hymned the praises of the vol au vent than I was grappling with another traditional French pie. Thanks to the arrival of a remarkable debut cookbook called simply Butter (Headline, £26). Spread the word (sic). Its author Olivia  Potts, The Spectator magazine’s ‘Vintage Chef’ and ‘Table Talk’ podcaster, is a bright new star in the cookery writer firmament. Already I’ve followed her book’ advice to make my own cultured butter, recycling the buttermilk created into a soda bread loaf; funkier till, twice I’ve filled hasselback potatoes with her signature kimchi and blue cheese butter.

With a glut of mushrooms on my hand what better next than her fungi-filled pithivier recipe? A big welcome to Wild Mushroom, Tarragon and Crème Fraîche Pithivier, which ticks so many of my boxes.

Originating in the eponymous town south of Paris that is twinned with Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the pithivier can accommodate savoury or sweet fillings under its distinctive fluted pastry dome. My own rather tasty effort (main picture) didn’t quite attain the classic round shape (see Olivia’s version below) thanks to my clumsy cutting of bought-in puff pastry. Olivia, though, is no stickler over the necessity to make your own. 

Indeed she offers a cautionary tale in the book. Volunteering to work in a Crisis at Christmas kitchen, she arrived to realise that she was in charge and no ready-made puff was in the walk-in fridge for the pies she had promised – just the separate ingredients. For a former criminal barrister this was judgement day! She rose to the occasion, making 6kg of pastry by hand, but admits: “I just about had RSI by the end but have rarely been prouder.”

If you must follow her lead, albeit on a smaller scale, Butter offers various versions, from decidedly flaky ‘rough’ to the smoothly laminated classic recipe and, finally ‘inverse’, which swaps the method. Rather than the base dough being wrapped around  butter block, and then folded to distribute even layers of the butter, the butter is wrapped around a dough block and then folded similarly.

As I said, I bought in mine, pure butter, of course, but with the proviso from an organic supplier, dorset pastry, which has no truck with the controversial and possibly harmful commercial additive, L-Cysteine (E920) (a dough relaxant derived from animal hair and feathers), which legally need not be disclosed on a pastry or bread label. It’s commonly used in the Chorleywood bread-making process. Think white pap. Say no more.

For something genuinely worth eating let’s visit Olivia’s recipe for Wild Mushroom, Tarragon and Crème Fraîche Pithivier (serves four) …

“Pithiviers are round puff pastry pies, with filling sandwiched between them. I think the word ‘pie’ in any context immediately summons up the idea of something heavy, something sturdy.While sturdiness is no bad thing, that is not what we’re dealing with here: pithiviers are the spiderwebs of pies, light, fragile, a feat of architecture. Pithiviers tend to be intricately decorated with knife marks, radiating or zig-zagging out from the centre, like fractals.

“As a pie, you can fill it with anything that takes your fancy… but for the best results, I use a filling that you can chill firm, so that when you shape the pastry round it and bake it, it will retain its beautiful domed shape. I use inverse puff pastry here, because the pithivier is such a handsome, proud dish that it makes the most of my hard laminating work, but you can use any puff you have – shop-bought is, of course, completely fine.”


20g dried porcini mushrooms; 150g oyster mushrooms; 250g chestnut mushrooms; 15g butter; 1tbsp cider or white wine vinegar; 3tbsp crème fraiche; 1 tbsp shredded fresh tarragon; ½tsp fine salt; freshly ground black pepper; 300g puff or inverse puff pastry; 1 egg yolk, beaten, to glaze.


1. First, cover the dried porcini mushrooms in boiling water, and leave to soak while you cook the other mushrooms.

2. While the porcini are soaking, halve the oyster mushrooms and slice them, and slice the chestnut mushrooms. Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat and melt the butter in it. Sauté the oyster mushrooms until golden-brown, add the vinegar, let it cook off, then set the mushrooms to one side. Cook the chestnut mushrooms in the same pan until they have given up their water and begun to sizzle.

3. Drain and roughly chop the rehydrated porcini mushrooms. Combine the porcini, oyster, and chestnut mushrooms, along with the crème fraîche and the tarragon, and season generously with the salt and some pepper. Line a bowl approximately 15cm across with clingfilm, spoon the creamy mushroom mixture into it, pack it down into an even layer (don’t worry, it won’t fill the bowl) and freeze for an hour until firm.

4. Meanwhile, roll out the puff pastry to the thickness of a pound coin. Later, you’re going to need to cut one 20cm and one 23cm disc from the pastry, so check that your rolled pastry is big enough to accommodate this. Divide the pastry in half, then transfer the two sheets of pastry on to a chopping board or tray with a sheet of baking paper between them. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

5. Cut out two discs, one 23cm, one 20cm, from the chilled pastry. Place the smaller disc on a baking paper-lined baking tray.Turn the chilled mushroom mixture out on to the centre of the pastry, removing the clingfilm from it, and dab a border of water around the edge of the pastry. Lay the second, larger disc on top. Smooth the top layer of pastry down over the mixture, to reduce air bubbles, and press the edges down with the tines of a fork to seal. Paint all over with egg yolk, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Paint the pastry with another coat of egg yolk and then, using the back of a small knife, make swooping marks from the centre of the pastry down towards the edge. Prick a hole in the centre, to act as a vent. Bake for 15 minutes, then drop the temperature to 170°C and bake for another 45 minutes until puffed and golden. Serve hot.

Some cookbooks have a longer shelf life than others. Well-thumbed, splattered indelibly with ingredient stains, they’ve stayed the course. Many courses, if you forgive the culinary jeu de mot. One such tome is The Carved Angel Cookbook by Joyce Molyneux, a bastion of my recipe collection since it was published in 1990. It sold 50,000 copies despite the chef’s lack of TV exposure or reluctance to self-publicise. Unlike a certain Mr Floyd, who ran a gastropub upriver from Joyce’s Dartmouth, Devon base. Until bankruptcy.

Her  book celebrates the very special restaurant on the riverfront, where she made her name. I mention it now because this groundbreaking female chef turns 90 this month after being retired for well over two decades. 

Happy Birthday, Joyce (and fellow legend Shaun Hill, 75 this week and still at the stove in his Michelin-starred Walnut Tree, near Abergavenny). 

An appropriate dish to cook in Joyce’s honour might well be the famous Salmon in Puff Pastry with Stem Ginger and Currants, invented by her mentor George Perry-Smith when she worked for him at The Hole in The Wall, Bath in the Sixties. It accompanied her to Dartmouth when in the early Seventies he set up her and his stepson, Tom Jaine, to run the Carved Angel.

One hitch, though. It’s not in the The Carved Angel Cookbook. I’d got it in my head that  it was. An easy enough mistake to make. You’ll certainly find it in two Jane Grigson books, her Fish Book (1993) and The Observer Guide to British Food (1984),where this great food scholar/cook writes: “I’d gathered that the source of the idea was a medieval recipe, but then I found something almost identical in the Cook and Confectioner’s Dictionary by John Nott (1726, reprinted in 1980). In that more fanciful time, the pastry was scored to look like a fish; inside were mace, butter and ginger in slices, along with the salmon.”

For the salmon Perry-Smith insisted on best Wye, then Tamar when he moved his own restaurant to Cornwall; for Joyce definitely Dart?

There was an obvious affinity between Joyce and Jane (who died of cancer in 1990). Tom recalled Jane and her irascible poet/critic husband Geoffrey coming for dinner to the Angel once. Joyce was apprehensive because at least one recipe had come straight from one of Jane’s books. Fortunately all went swimmingly.

Years later, Joyce would hang a grand Jane Bown portrait of Jane at the threshold of her kitchen and, one further link, Jane’s daughter Sophie was co-author of The Carved Angel Cookbook.

All of which I find fascinating but it still leaves me adrift of a birthday dish. Easy really. Let’s keep the puff pastry. Joyce provides a recipe: you could buy it in but insist on butter. It provides the light casing for a very springlike dish – A Pastry of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce. Wild cepes would be a luxury addition but are not essential. Check out the recipe at the end of this article. As for that definitive salmon and ginger en croute dish Google and ye will find. Versions are all over the Public Domain.

So what makes Joyce Molyneux and the Carved Angel so special 30 years on?

I happened to be in Bath this year for International Women/s Day. By odd coincidence that city has been Jan’s home since she retired in 1999, having taken ownership of the Angel years before. I called her groundbreaking before. That she certainly was, as was evident during the infrequent dinners we booked there. Joyce was always there in the properly open kitchen – an innovation in those times – with a larger quotient of female sous chefs than you’d normally encounter. And a sense of calm.

It’s seen as cool these days for kitchen staff, not just servers, to bring out  plate to table. That was the norm there. Local sourcing? Farm to fork? In the book there’s a shot of the chef patron harvesting from her own lofty allotment above the winding River Dart. She made exemplary use of the seafood on her doorstep and first introduced me to samphire plucked from the foreshore.

The menu, invariably just a few dishes, no plate overcrowded, avoided the Froglification of ‘fine dining’ at that time. Still I couldn’t resist substituting feuilleté for puff. The true French influences are obvious, yet they are filtered through the acutely Gallic sensibilities of Perry-Smith, Grigson and, inevitably, Elizabeth David. I can’t recall how many covers there were. Not many. Everyone appeared to be enjoying themselves. We certainly did.

The story of how Joyce achieved such eminence, even for a while keeping a Michelin star,  is striking. Read Rachel Cooke’s tribute as The Observer Food Monthly gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

It traces her journey from domestic science classes designed to equip a gal for marriage (Joyce never wed) via a revelation what gastronomy could be during an eight stint in a Stratford restaurant to the Hole in The Wall epiphany.

How The Carved Angel soared and then, post Joyce, began its descent

When the Good Food Guide named The Carved Angel the Best Real Food Restaurant of 1984 it was a remarkable reward for Joyce Molyneux’s persistence in following her culinary vision. She took over completely when Tom left the following year. In his memoir of that time he quotes a poem about the Carved Angel written by adopted Devonian and regular customer Poet Laureate Ted Hughes: 

‘The Angel carved in wood

Resisted all temptation.

She fasted and withstood

Libidinous immolation

And anointings of breasts

Of birds and thighs of beasts.

She did not bat an eye

When those two loose-mouthed harlots

Claret and Burgundy

Turned glass and drinker scarlet.

She barely coloured – say

Chassagne Montrachet.

She only cracked when Tom

Plucked Sally from the shrine as

A cork out of the Dom.

This bomb among the diners

Shattered the Angel – left

Her not so carved as cleft.’

Joyce continued to run The Carved Angel until 1999. Since her retirement it’s had highs and lows under several ownerships. As The New Angel under turbulent celebrity chef John Burton Race it briefly regained its Michelin star. Nowadays, rebranded The Angel, the kitchen is in the hands of 2018 Masterchef: The Professionals finalist Elly Wentworth. Along the quay the big chef name in town now is Mitch Tonks at The Seahorse. His culinary hero? Joyce Molyneux.

A Feuilleté of Quail’s Eggs and Asparagus with a Herb and Cream Sauce (serves 4)


100g puff pastry; 8 quail’s eggs; 225g green asparagus tips; 1 egg, beaten; sesame or poppy seeds; Messine herb sauce; chervil or watercress, to garnish.


Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to form a 20cm square, 4mm thick. Trim edges and divide into four 10cm squares. Place on a baking sheet; rest in fridge for at last 30 minutes. Boil  pan of water. Add egg for one and half minutes drain, rinse with cold water and place in a bowl of cold water to rest. Tie the asparagus in a bundle, cook in boiling, salted water until tender (5 mins). Drain and keep warm.

Brush pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds. Bake in a pre-heated oven, gas mark 9 for 5-7 minutes until golden brown and risen. Out of he oven cut each so there’s a lid. Store the lids in a warm place for use later.

Re-heat the eggs in hot water for a minute and heat the sauce thoroughly. Drain eggs and place two in each pastry case with asparagus and coat with sauce. Cover with pastry lids and garnish.