*As a blogger, you never know what each day will hold, what may come through email or lovely comments you might receive on each post. One day in June I got a comment that contained an offer too tempting to refuse. Chilean born Le Cordon Bleu trained chef Constanza Latorre's had read my my first post on Chile and offered to teach me all about Chilean cuisine at her home. *
She began, "I am a chef, I trained in Chile, and then again here at Le Cordon Bleu. I'm working as a stay at home mum at the moment, so I'm sure I can spare some time to teach you any recipes from Chile, if you ever feel the need to learn something from there, you would be mostly welcome. Otherwise, I am most thankful for your post, as is always interesting to learn the new things that might be happening in your home country. Anyway, if anything, you are mostly welcome to pop in for some Chilean cuisine, or Southamerican, as I can get some of my other friends (Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Colombia) to share some recipes, too. Good luck!"
After some correspondence a few months later Mr NQN and I found ourselves at her apartment - she and her husband Rod and their two daughters Sophia and Isabelle were going to show us how to make some classic Chilean dishes from Marraquetta *bread, *Pulmay a delicious seafood and meat dish, crispy pumpkin sopapillas and the classic cake that has pervaded all cultures - the Tres Leches Cake or three milks cake.
Constanza has been baking and cooking since she was a student where she baked cakes at home while studying at university. One of her specialties was a sky high incredible 40 layer raspberry filled marzipan cake. She readily and generously shares any tips and recipes that she makes.
Her husband and girls reap the benefits and when a tray of freshly baked empanadas filled with scallops and cheese come out of the oven, 9 year old Sophia and 7 year old Isabelle juggle the hot pockets in their hands while stealing precious hot bites.
Sophia watches her mother rolling the dough for marraqueta bread, a bread typical of Chile, Peru and Bolivia. It has a thin crust and a soft, spongey filling. It is baked as two balls of dough with the centre pressed down to form four pieces. Soon Isabelle joins them in the rhythmic rolling of the dough against the counter top. Constanza is trying to get rid of any lines on the top of the roll as this will allow gases to escape and deflate the rolls.
"We have pippies!" cries Isabelle excitedly, fascinated by the shells in the bucket. The next step is to make the pulmay in the slow cooker. This is a layered stew made mostly with seafood like clams, mussels and pippies but also smoked meat, potato, chicken and chorizo.
A curanto is a version cooked in the ground but the pulmay is a more home friendly option cooked in a large pot. Constanza fills the slow cooker up with layers of each ingredient and adds some white wine and then sets it to cook for one and a half hours. It is one of the easiest but most delicious meals you can serve.
"Have you tried sopapillas?" Constanza asks me. I have tried them while on our US Road Trip but the south American version is made using pumpkin and flour rolled out and cut into rounds. Constanza has a large freezer bag full of home made frozen ones which she fries in lard. She recounts her childhood maid would only fry in lard, eschewing any other kind of fat. The girls are excited about the sopapillas. It's a treat for many and usually only eaten when it is raining and gives people something to look forward to when rain comes. "Some people look outside and hope for rain so they can make sopapillas," Constanza explains.
Constanza puts the fried sopapillas out and they are eagerly eaten by all with a squirt of mustard for some as is the traditional way. If by miracle you have any sopapillas left over Chileans also make a dish called Sopapillas Pasadas which is made when sopapillas are boiled in a syrup with sugar, citrus, cinnamon and chancaca a dark solid type of raw sugar crystallised with honey.
The Chilean way on weekends is to have a light breakfast and if you are invited for lunch, you eat snacks during the day. "By the time we sit down to eat we aren't hungry anymore. And we eat lunch at four in the afternoon!" Constanza explains.
The second last item to be made is the tres leches cake. It's a soft, light sponge baked and then soaked with three types of milk: evaporated, sweetened condensed and cream. Constanza starts with eyeing off her three tins. "Do you think ten eggs?" she says and I concur. To the 10 eggs she will add 10 tablespoons of sugar and beat this until thick and creamy and then she will add 10 tablespoons of flour. Easy!
As the sponge bakes and the marraqueta breads wait their turn Constanza chops up ingredients for a Chilean pebre. This is a mix that accompanies most meals and consists of chopped tomato, spring onion, coriander and a mix called Negrita made up of mint, marjoram, cumin, coriander seed and black pepper.
This can be made up to two days ahead and the flavours develop over time. This is often eaten with bread and butter and this simple trio is her husband Rod's favourite meal ever. She slides in the marraqueta bread and above it is a tray of water - the steam helps make the bread crispy on the outside.
Constanza whips up a batch of fresh butter reserving the buttermilk. She salts it and places it on the table and we dig in. The freshly baked bread, freshly made butter and pebre are heavenly and goes to show that the best cuisine is not necessarily made of fancy ingredients. As we are eating we hear a ping and the pulmay is ready! The pippies have opened up and everything is cooked through and has the wonderful aroma of seafood, smoked meat and wine.
Constanza finishes off the tres leches cake by making the pastry cream which she cools. She then mixes the three milks together for the cakes that have turned out perfectly risen out of the oven.
While the pastry cream cools we sit down to the pulmay and it is absolutely delicious. The chicken is perfectly cooked til it falls apart easily yet the pippies and mussels aren't tough at all. The girls are eager for the pippies and mussels over the meat. Sophia uses the pippie shells as castanets while Isabelle uses a mussel shell as a scoop for the soup.
Next up is assembling the cake. Isabelle offers to help as she loves sweets whereas Sophia doesn't eat them. Constanza places the bottom layer of sponge on a cake board which will make lifting the milk soaked sponge easier. She then ladles some of the three milk mixture on the cake. She advises that the bottom layer should be soaked the least because it will absorb the most naturally.
If the cake is hot then it will easily soak up the milk but since they are cooled, they use skewers to poke holes. She layers this with the pastry cream and adds the next layer and repeats, adding a bit more of the three milks and poking holes just in the middle layer.
Repeating the process she adds the last layer before spreading home made strawberry jam on top. It is a Peruvian style touch whereas other countries use meringue on top. I slice into the cake and it is so soft and we take bites of the soft, spongey cake. It is sweet but not tooth achingly so and the softness absorbs much of the cream. Constanza explains that usually the tres leches cake is a three day process. First you bake the cake and let it rest for a day. Then you soak it and let it absorb for a day and on the third day you eat it.
And with the meal done Constanza opens up her recipe box and shares the recipes with me and with you Dear Reader. Read on for the recipes!
So tell me Dear Reader, if you had to show someone the dishes from your country or background, what would you choose? And is there a cuisine that you haven't tried but would like to?
- 500g/1.1lb. flour
- 300ml/10.6fl ozs. lukewarm water
- 10grams/0.35ozs. salt
- 8g/0.28ozs. instant dried yeast
Step 1 - Mix the water and salt together until dissolved. Mix the water with the flour and yeast and knead until elastic. Allow to prove in a warm, draught free place for 1 hour until double its size. Cut into 100g/3.5ozs balls and roll into a ball. Place on a lined baking tray and place two next to each other. Allow to rise again for 30 minutes.
Step 2 - Preheat oven to 200C/400F and place a tray of water in on the shelf above with half an inch of water in it. Using a lightly floured stick (a clean paintbrush or chopstick will do), press an indent into the dough. Bake for 20 minutes until golden and cooked through.
- 1.5 cups pippies or clams
- 1.5 cups mussels
- 2 or 3 chicken marylands (thigh and drumstick)
- 2 chorizo sausages, whole
- 2 slices spare ribs smoked on the bbq or smoked speck (if the smoked speck is too salty, soak in water in the fridge overnight and change the water a couple of times)
- 3 potatoes, whole and unpeeled
- 1 bottle white wine (we used pinot gris)
Step 1 - Layer everything in a slow cooker along with the white wine. Cook in the slow cooker for one and a half hours.
Tres Leches Cake
A three day process, the results are absolutely worth it. This is the Peruvian version that is topped with strawberry jam. You can also top this with meringue.
- 10 eggs, at room temperatures
- 10 tablespoons caster or superfine sugar
- 10 tablespoons plain all purpose flour
- 450ml/15.9fl ozs. pure cream
- 395g/13.95fl ozs. jar evaporated milk
- 395g/13.95fl ozs. tin sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup strawberry jam
For pastry cream
- 500g/17.66 ozs. milk
- 100mls/3.5fl ozs. cream
- 50g/1.7ozs sugar
- 50g/1.7ozs. cornflour
- 4 whole eggs
Step 1 - Line three 20cm/8inch round baking trays with parchment on the base. Whisk the eggs and sugar for about 8 minutes or so until very thick and fluffy. Measure 10 tablespoons of flour and then sift this in at a height. Fold until the flour is incorporated but make sure not to deflate the sponge. Scoop into the prepared tins. Bang the tins on the table gently to get rid of the large air bubbles. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool completely and then cover with cling film and rest overnight.
Step 2 - The next day make the pastry cream. First mix a bit of the sugar with the cornflour and then mix it thought a bit of milk, it will prevent it from forming lumps. Boil the cream and the sugar and the rest of the milk. Whisk the eggs and the cornflour. Once the milk, cream and sugar boils, add the cornflour and egg mix to the boiling milk but strain it as you add it in. Then stir until it comes to a boil again, and then cover in cling film and cool in the fridge until ready to use.
Step 3 - Mix the cream, evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk together until well combined. Take a round cardboard cake base and place under the first sponge. Ladle some of the milk cream over it. You want to use less than a third of the milk mix as the bottom layer will soak up the most milk naturally. Poke holes into the cake vertically, don't do this at an angle or you may break up the cake. Spread some pastry cream over this layer. Repeat with the second layer making sure not to poke the skewer to the bottom, only through the second layer. Repeat but do not put the pastry cream on the top layer. Instead spread with strawberry jam. You can also use meringue and torch the meringue.