Episode 10, GBBO 2012, Signature Bake

A Pithivier

This flaky, filled French frivolity is named after the town of Pithiviers in the Orléans section of France, south of Paris. It is said to have originated there in the 17th century and was traditionally made with a sweet filling, specifically frangipane, mounded atop a circle of rough puff pastry and covered with another circle to create a dome-shaped pie, decorated with curved lines radiating out from the center and rimmed by a scalloped edge.

For this signature challenge, Paul and Mary specified a savory filling. The trick, of course, is to make sure the filling is not too runny in order to avoid, you guessed it, a soggy bottom. James ended up with that problem with his chorizo, chicken and red pepper Spanish pithivier in this, the final episode of the Great British Bake Off, series 3 (The Beginnings on Netflix). But both John’s and Brendan’s bottoms were nicely browned and well-baked, thank-you-very-much.

For my pithivier, I looked to my own pantry for inspiration. It being the end of summer, I had plenty of tomatoes, a few sweet peppers and a freshly made batch of pesto from the basil in my garden. In order to make sure my vegetables weren’t too wet, I decided to roast them. I love how roasting brings out the sweetness in tomatoes and onions by caramelizing their naturally occurring sugars. It does the same to garlic, mellowing its flavor. I found this recipe, which I used as a guide, but basically made it my own, incorporating the produce I had on hand and the late-summer flavors I love.

By folding and chilling the rough puff pastry dough in between rolling it out, you should create multiple flaky layers.

I had a bit of trouble with my pastry dough, which seemed too wet and mooshy when I first made it, but I popped it in the fridge to chill overnight, and it seemed fine the next day. I used my go-to recipe, which I’ve made twice before, once for my tarte tatin and once for my turkey wellington, so I’m not sure why it didn’t turn out the same. Maybe my butter was too soft. Next time, I’d like to try the kind of rough puff recipe where you grate frozen butter and fold the dough around it. I was just running short of time and needed something tried and true.

With my dough in the fridge, I roasted my veggies. I used thin-sliced potatoes (These would go on the bottom to protect my pastry from the juices.), sweet peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic. I spread them all out on two roasting pans, drizzled them with olive oil and roasted them at 425°F for about 20 minutes, till they were browned around the edges and smelled heavenly!

While they were cooling, I pulled my rough puff out of the fridge. I divided it in half and rolled half of it out to about 1/8 inch thick. I cut it into a 9-inch circle, using a tart pan base for my template. I placed that on a parchment-lined baking sheet and rolled the other half out, cutting it into a larger circle using a larger tin as a guide. I put the larger circle of dough back in the fridge while I layered my veggies on top of the smaller one.

Starting with the roasted potato slices, I lay them on the smaller circle of dough, overlapping them slightly to protect the pastry from the vegetable juices. I topped that with a layer of pesto, then piled on the peppers and onions, followed by the tomatoes and garlic. On top, I sprinkled some feta cheese, tucking crumbles into nooks and crannies all around the pile of vegetables. 

Making an egg wash with egg yolk and water, I brushed the edges of the bottom circle of dough with the egg wash. Then I carefully placed the larger circle of dough over the entire mound of vegetables, pressing the edges together with the base to seal the dough. I brushed the entire thing with egg wash and then decorated it by scoring the mound of dough with a semicircular pattern all the way around, cutting a hole in the top to let steam escape. 

To create the scalloped edges that Mary was looking for, I tried using a small biscuit cutter to score the dough and then cutting it out by hand, but in hindsight, I think it would be easier just to cut triangles out of the edges at regular intervals and form the scallops with your fingers. The dough is very pliable at this point and will pretty much hold its shape, but remember that it will lose definition as it rises in the oven anyway, so we’re not striving for perfection here.

Once I was happy with my decoration, I popped my pithivier in the oven at 400°F for about half an hour. It should be nice and golden brown when it’s done. I would err on the side of darker brown to make sure your pastry is cooked all the way through.

My pithivier came out looking beautiful (no soggy bottom!) and tasting wonderful! I think my pastry could have used more layers, so I’m still puzzling about what went wrong. If any of you have insight into rough puff pastry, I’d love to hear your theories! Overall, though, I loved the flavor combination of roasted veggies, pesto and feta cheese. I’m calling this my End of Summer Pithivier. It’s a fairly easy recipe and a great way to celebrate the late season harvest, easily adapted to whatever you gather from your garden or pick up at the local farmer’s market.

End of Summer Pithivier

Credit for the pastry: BBCGoodFood.com (Adapted for American bakers)
Recipe for filling adapted from: LoveFrenchFood.com

For the pastry:

  • 1¾ c. white bread flour
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 c. + 2 T. unsalted butter, room temperature but not soft
  • 5 oz. cold water (approx.)

Directions

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Roughly break the butter into small chunks, add them to the bowl and rub them into the flour loosely with your fingers. You still need to see bits of butter in with the flour. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in about 3 ounces of water, mixing until you have a firm, rough dough, adding more water if needed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes in the fridge.
  2. Turn out onto a lightly floured board, knead gently and form into a smooth rectangle. Roll the dough in one direction only, until three times the width, about 8 x 20 inches. Keep edges as straight and even as possible. Don’t overwork the butter streaks; you should have a marbled effect. Fold the top third down to the center, then the bottom third up and over that. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before rolling to use.

For the filling:

  • 1 small potato, sliced thin
  • 2 sweet peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 2 small onions, cut into wedges
  • 4-6 small ripe tomatoes, cored and halved
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. pesto sauce
  • 50 g. crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 t. water
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Prepare two large, rimmed baking sheets by spraying with vegetable oil or coating lightly with olive oil.
  2. Spread potatoes in single layer on half of one baking sheet. Spread peppers and onions in single layer on the other half. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the tomatoes on the other baking sheet. Sprinkle the garlic slices among the tomatoes. Drizzle with the other tablespoon of olive oil. Place both baking sheets in the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, use a large metal spatula to turn the vegetables over. (Try to keep the potatoes in one layer, separate from the other vegetables.) Roast for another 10-15 minutes until tender and browning around the edges.
  3. Remove from oven and place baking sheets on a rack to cool. If your tomatoes seem juicy, place them in a strainer over a bowl to drain. If the other vegetables are greasy, lay them on paper towels.

To assemble and bake:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove pastry dough from refrigerator and cut in half. Put one half back in the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until it’s about 1/8 inch thick. Cut into a 9-inch circle using a cake tin or tart pan base as a pattern. Transfer to the parchment paper.
  2. Take the other half of the dough out of the fridge and roll it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut it into a 10-inch circle using a larger pan or plate for a template. Put it back into the refrigerator until you’re ready for it.
  3. Place potatoes on the smaller circle of dough in one layer but slightly overlapping, leaving a ¾-inch border around the edges of the pastry. Spread a layer of pesto on top of the potatoes, top that with the peppers and onions, and place the tomatoes and garlic on top of that. Sprinkle the feta cheese on top, poking some into the nooks and crannies in the pile of vegetables.
  4. Lightly beat the egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water to make an egg wash. Brush the edges of the pastry circle with the egg wash. Carefully drape the larger circle of dough over the mounded vegetables, and press the edges together to seal. Brush the entire thing with egg wash, then use a sharp knife to score curved lines from the top of the dome down to the edges. Make a small hole in the top to allow steam to escape. Create a scalloped edge around the base, either using a crescent-shaped cookie cutter or cutting small triangles out of the edges at even intervals and pushing the remaining dough into semicircles. (Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, it will lose definition as it bakes.)
  5. Bake for 30-35 minutes until puffy and golden brown. Cool slightly before serving.
Next week: Fondant Fancies

2 thoughts on “A Pithivier”

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