The British Egg Custard Tart

Egg custard tart (Asda)

A month ago (10th January) I posted a note about pasteis de nata. I mentioned that whenever I am in the UK I buy egg custard tarts, and I did so today!

The English egg custard tart looks similar to the Portuguese pastel de nata but the origin of this product is much older than its Iberian cousin. The pastry is different – the English version is made from a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is based on puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese pastel has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

Pasteis de nata

There is a difference between the Portuguese cream pastry and the British custard tart both visually and, more so, in the taste and texture. I like both and will post recipes in a few weeks time.

I prefer the freshly produced egg custards from a small bakery or cake shop but I have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version off the shelf if there is no fresh stock. I like both varieties!

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Brazilian wine

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An old wine barrel outside a winery in Vale dos Vinhedos, Rio Grande do Sul

I love wine. I was brought up on the stuff from an early age (a glass or diluted red wine at mealtimes was common in many Italian households). My maternal grandfather was Venetian hence my wine preference is that of Italy, though I do like Chilean, French and Portuguese wines.

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Sunlight through the winter red leaves of a grapevine

Brazil is a wine-growing country. Its immigrant populations arriving from Italy and Germany brought with them skills in viticulture and the initial vine stock from their original homelands, so when I first came to Brazil a little over 20 years ago I decided to try the local wines. Not a pleasant experience! The issue was that I could rarely get past the bouquet which I found to be very strong and heavy. The grapes that grew in the garden of the rented house where I lived had the same taste – a leathery skin and thick pulp that I didn’t enjoy. When I eventually summoned up the courage to taste a wine I found it unpleasant for similar reasons. I stuck to imported wine for a few years before taking a journey to the wine valleys of Rio Grande do Sul.

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Wine is so important to Bento Goncalves that even the main church takes the form of a wine barrel

Bento Goncalves is the heart of wine production in the south of Brazil. In the centre of town, there is a fountain across the road from the Mayoral building that squirts out red water in homage to the town’s principal product. Many of the wineries have been awarded prizes in internationally acclaimed wine contests. Those wines tend to be quite good but I find them to be expensive. For the same price in the shops, I can get better quality imported wines.

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Wine fountain in the centre of Bento Goncalves

My first visit to Bento Goncalves was in 2005 though in September ie at the end of the austral winter. Wineries were still working though not all open to visitors. I had made arrangements to visit the Miolo winery, one of the more famous brands, to take have a conducted tour of the complex, to take photographs, and to sample the wine.

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Staff at the Miolo winery putting the tops on the bottles ready for sale

I visited the Miolo winery again last year but the place was crowded with busloads of tourists so didn’t do the tour. The wine shop (and indeed the whole complex) had undergone something of a transformation – expanded, freshly decorated all round, and more of a tourist destination that a winery, though wine production seems to have expanded too.

Miolo is not the only big winery in Rio Grande do Sul, there are several including Chandon which produces sparkling white and rose wines (champagne style). Some of these wines are certainly world class, while some are at the opposite end of the spectrum. I have not yet established which wines I would buy on a regular basis – I am not keen of white wines generally, but I shall experiment.

                            Wine barrels and bottles in the heart of the Miolo winery

As a footnote, I recently discovered that the neighbouring state of Santa Catarina, also in the south of Brazil, produces wines. The small town of Urussanga held a wine festival that I decided to visit. I was able to sample just one of the red wines, which was enough (!) but the one Catarinense wine that I found in a supermarket (at about £5 a bottle) proved good enough for me to buy on a regular basis. More on the wines of Santa Catarina at a later date.

 

 

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Pitanga

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       A handful of ripe, partially ripe and unripe Pitanga fruit

Found in Brazil and several South American and Caribbean countries pitanga is a fruit with an unusual shape – like a small Chinese lantern. It is known by a number of names, depending on the country, though pitanga and Brazilian cherry are probably the most well known – I have seen the name Barbados Cherry incorrectly applied to pitanga since Barbados Cherry is an alternate name for acerola (Malpighia emarginata) hence I always include the scientific name when referring to plants or animals to avert confusion. The scientific name of pitanga is Eugenia uniflora.

The plants are also to be found in parts of Africa and in India where, apparently, the plant originated. Many fruit trees have been, over the centuries, taken from their place of origin to become established on another continent. This can be said of pitanga, mango, cashew and cocoa among others.

The plant itself is a large shrub/small tree that can be grown easily within its range as an ornamental specimen, a hedge or specifically for its fruit. It is an important plant with benefits derived from both its fruit and leaves.

 

 

   Ripe fruit on the tree                       Flower buds and partially ripe fruit

The fruit starts life as a dainty white flower before natural transformation takes it from a small green swelling at the end of the peduncle behind the sepals, growing to its final shape and size while still green, then changing through yellow to bright red.

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          Delicate white, four-petaled flower of the Pitanga shrub

 

The leaves, which can be made into a tea with medicinal benefits, start life as a reddish/bronzy colour before turning green.

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 New leaf growth starts out a reddish bronze hue before turning green

The fruit can be used green (in cooking as a flavouring or as a chutney ingredient) or fully ripe (red) to be eaten raw, made into jam or juice. When fully ripe the fruit is soft and sweet with a taste similar to that of sweet, juicy orange.

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Unripe fruit can be used in sauces and chutney

 

Nutrition

Pitanga is rich in vitamin C, also providing vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), and vitamin A. Its mineral content includes calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

Eating the fruit helps in weight loss or weight maintenance regimes as pitanga is low in calories and acts in reducing excess body fat.

Medicinal benefits

Many fruits have traditional or tested medicinal benefits. Among them, pitanga has numerous including anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antifungal properties. Beneficial applications include cardiovascular, cancer, skin, eye and common cold treatment.

Preparation

Eat raw to obtain the best benefit. The seeds are not edible but the skin and pulp can be eaten or made into a juice.

Cooking: remove the seeds, chop and add to whatever dish is being prepared.

 

 

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Jabuticaba

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An unusual but important fruit found in Brazil is Jabuticaba, Plinia cauliflora. The unusual aspect of the fruit, which grows on a small tree, is that they form on the trunk of the tree as well as on its branches and twigs. A mature tree with ripe fruit looks as though its trunk is protected by plastic balls that surround the circumference in a tight profusion of berries.

The Jabuticaba fruit is about the size of a grape thus giving it a common name in English of Brazilian Grape Tree. The skin of the fruit, black when mature, is firm with a slightly sharp taste reminiscent of black-currents, while the pulp is white and sweet, hiding within it a single red seed.

A few ripe and near-ripe Jabuticaba fruit in front of a bowl.

Nutrition

There is a multitude of health benefits in consuming jabuticaba. The fruit is low in calories and carbohydrates and high in protein as well as high in numerous minerals and micronutrients including calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamin C. It is an important source of antioxidant.

Medicinal benefits

Good source of folic acid and calcium means its a great fruit to eat during pregnancy. The anti-oxidants prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals, while its anti-inflammatory content can help ease arthritis and similar issues.

Preparation

Jabuticaba is best consumed fresh, washed and raw, eating the skin and pulp but not the seed. The fruit doesn’t travel well so it’s hard to find outside its growing rage.

It is possible to make jam from the fruit – the product having the same appearance and consistency as damson jam. Great on toast for breakfast or a snack between meals.

 

 

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Pastel de Belem

Pastel de Belem, with added fruit as a breakfast treat

Egg custard tarts, also known in UK simply as custard tarts, are very popular and are available in boxes of 6 in supermarkets, or individually in specialist bakeries. Either way, I have always loved them – the pastry tends to be soft and the custard topped with a touch of nutmeg combine beautifully. I always buy them when in UK and have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version if there isn’t a small bakery or cake shop with fresh stock.

In Brazil, it is often possible to find pasteis de nata in local bread shops (padarias) but, on visits to Lisbon, I found the best of these non-English versions of the humble custard tart – the Pastel de Belem.

Technically the pastel de Belem is another name for the pastel de nata, but the Pastel de Belem has a history going back two hundred years wherein catholic monks prepared pasteis de nata to raise money for themselves, having been evicted in an action against the church. The pastry then became known as Pastel de Belem after the area in Lisbon where they were made and sold mainly to visitors to the Tower of Bethlehem (Torre de Belem), or so the story goes.

There is a bakery, the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém, that has been selling these tasty tartlets since those times and which, now, is a tourist magnet with crowds queuing to buy freshly baked pasteis.

The Pastel de Belem looks similar to the traditional (and historically much older) English egg custard tart. The pastry is different – the English version is more of a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is a puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

I like both. No, I LOVE both!!

I haven’t yet tried to make my own Pastel de Belem though it isn’t difficult but, when I get around to it, I shall post the recipe that I use.

Note:

Portuguese                English

Pastel                           Pastry

Pasteis                         Pastries

Nata                             Cream

Belem                          Bethlehem

Fabrica                        Factory

A remote gem

Amor em Delicias Cafeteria, Canelinha – SC

There’s a road that takes one from the main highway (BR101), at a town called Tijucas, into the Atlantic Rainforest countryside towards the town of Brusque in the state of Santa Catarina, Brazil. The road, narrow but well maintained, cuts through some villages and small towns that few people would have heard of unless they are local.

We had taken this route in order to avoid traffic but also for us to see as much of the countryside as we could, despite the rain, on the leisurely drive from Florianopolis airport to our hotel in Brusque. Having had a disappointing lunch in a village called Biguaçu shortly after leaving Florianopolis we were ready for a mid-afternoon snack and still had about an hour still to go to reach our hotel in Brusque. We were about to exit the village limits of Canelinha when we saw a small cafe – so we stopped.

The cafe, Amor em Delicias, (roughly translating to Love in Delights, although there is no exact translation in English), was indeed delightful – very simple in design, very clean, and delicately decorated. The place is a gem despite being so remote. The photo above was taken on our return journey, with better weather, hence the nice blue sky.

There were a few people in the cafe when we entered, not full, but almost. There was seating available on the veranda too but, presumably, only smokers would sit out in rainy weather! I didn’t actually count the tables but, from what I remember, there was seating for about 30 people indoors and another 12 outside.

We sat at a small round table in the centre of the cafe and were quickly provided with menus. Plenty to choose from: cakes, pies, puddings, tarts, croissant, teas, chocolate and coffee. Spoilt for choice in fact, and all looking very tempting.

On our first visit, we had hot chocolate, a slice of chocolate cake and a slice of banoffee pie, while on the second visit we just had expressos.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows

The hot chocolate was good, though having had a really good one (several times) in the town of Canela (Rio Grande do Sul) this one

Chocolate cake

The cake was delicious, light yet tasty

Banoffee pie

Expresso, with a biscuit

There seems to be a regular tour of the region for those interested in Italian Immigrant history, and this cafe is on the path. Well worth visiting.

The veranda

 

Where

Rodovia SC 410, Km 18
88230000 Canelinha, Santa Catarina, Brazil

 

How to get there

Map - Canelinha SC

BR 101 northbound from Florianopolis (state capital of Santa Catarina), or southbound from Balneario Camboriu, to Tijucas, then SC410 towards Sao Joao Batista / Nova Trento.

The BR-101 Transcoastal Highway, also known as the Governador Mário Covas Highway, runs from Touros (Rio Grande do Norte) down the length of the Atlantic coast of Brazil to Porto Alegre (Rio Grande do Sul) – a total of 3,000 miles. I drove the whole length in 4 days with only one speeding fine!

Tiramisu

Quick watercolour sketch of a tiramisu pudding by the author

The classic tiramisu has been a popular dessert in many Italian restaurants throughout the world for a long time. Records of its creation date back to the late 1960s though there are several accounts of where and when it was first made including suggestions that it’s creation occurred centuries earlier.

One account is that it was first made in a restaurant called La Beccherie in Treviso by the restaurant owners at that time. Clearly they are keen to take credit for the invention of this great dish. While La Beccherie continues to serve tiramisu on its menu the original restaurant closed a few years ago and reopened under new management – though still under the Campeol family ownership.

Another story credits the place of invention in Siena some 300 to 400 years earlier.

I am inclined to believe the true origin of this dessert in the style “tiramisu”, which is one of my favourites, is in Le Baccherie. In my humble opinion, the confusion over the date of tiramisu’s birth arose from one of its key ingredients: the savoiardo biscuit. Savoiardi are the sponge cakes that are used to make tiramisu. They are also used in English trifles (known as zuppa inglese) which were originally produced in Elizabethan times. The English trifle of the 16th century supposedly used the savoiardi biscuits, so a principal ingredient found its way from Savoy to England.

Savoiardi, created in the Duchy of Savoy in the 15th century, are also known as Lady Fingers, champagne biscuits, sponge fingers and a host of other names in countries around the world. Tiramisu is a truly Italian dessert – more accurately, a Venetian desster and, more accurate still, a Trevisan dessert from the kitchen of Le Beccherie!

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Tiramisu at Twister, Porto Santa Margherita, Veneto

During my last trip to Veneto I sampled Tiramisu in two restaurants (Netuno and Twister) in Porto Santa Margherita. Both versions were very good though the one at Twister was the better one for me. While I spent some time in Treviso on that trip (August 2017) I did not have the opportunity to eat at Le Beccherie – which now serves meals in a modern style though continuing to serve the tradition tiramisu alongside a “molectular” version. Next trip!

 

My Recipe

  • 350 ml strong brewed coffee or espresso, cooled to room temperature
  • 250 ml Marsala wine (optional, but without? Really?)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 150 grams sugar
  • 450 grams mascarpone cheese
  • 40 savoiardi-style biscuits (depending on the size of dish)
  • Cocoa powder

The original tiramisu did not have the liqueur but I think marsala adds a nice taste – like sherry in English trifles. Some people add coffee liqueur or another spirit. To taste!

Mix the coffee and marsala in a shallow bowl.

Mix the sugar, egg yolks and mascarpone in another bowl

Place the biscuits in the coffee/marsala mix and allow to soak but not oversoak. The biscuits should not be allowed to go soggy!

Place the soaked biscuits in a glass dish – square or circular – whichever is available.

When the first biscuit layer is ready, add a layer of the cheese mix on top of the biscuits.

Repeat to create a second layer.

Optionally, place a thin layer of the cheese mix in the dish before adding the next two layers.

Top off with a dusting of the cocoa powder.

If there are any savoiardi biscuits left over, eat them with a cup of coffee … well deserved after spending half an hour preparing a great dessert!!

Done!

Chill in the fridge before serving.

Eat and enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

Acerola (Shoot Froot)

Acerola (Malpighia glabra) or Acerolla

Name:                   Acerola

Scientific name:  Malpighia emarginata

Other names:      Acerola cherry, Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepe myrtle

 

Description:

Evergreen shrub originally from Yucatan, Mexico.

The cherry-sized drupes are juicy and a rich source of vitamin C. It can be eaten ripe, prepared as a juice, or preserved in the form of jam, jelly or syrup. Taste is quite sharp, so many people add sugar or honey.

Nutritional Benefits:

Acerola fruit is rich in vitamin C and is a good source of nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)                   1644 mg (1826.67%)

Copper, Cu                                             0.084 mg (9.33%)

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)          0.303 mg (6.06%)

Carbohydrate                                       7.54 g (5.80%)

Vitamin A                                              37 µg (5.29%)

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)                     0.059 mg (4.54%)

 

Health benefits:

Antioxidant benefits, prevents liver damage, treats diarrhoea and dysentery, acts as a cold and cough remedy. Also used to prevent diabetes and obesity.

 

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NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

Sweet stuff

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I like to read stuff about food and drink to check trends in what is being eaten, by whom, where, why etc. and while I wouldn’t describe myself as a nutritionist, certainly not a professional one, I do have some (diploma) qualifications in nutrition that enable me to comment confidently on what I see, read or do in respect of food and drink.

The headline of an article published in the NY Times yesterday caught my attention so I had to read it.

Opinion

Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy

By Erika R. Cheng, Lauren G. Fiechtner and Aaron E. Carroll

The writers are professors of pediatrics.

It was the headline that prompted me to read the article. Although it had the desired effect in calling my attention, the headline was clearly WRONG and therefore misleading! Juice IS healthy and should be part of anyone’s diet (unless there are medical reasons not to drink juice or eat fruit).

There is a huge unwritten caveat in the article, one that should have been highlighted at the beginning. One that is probably needed in countries where all foods and drinks are bought in supermarkets! Pre-packed industrially-produced juices are not healthy.

The simple fact is that if one buys fruit and puts it in a squeezer or blender with water then the resulting juice IS healthy. The nutrients are there. If sugar is added (as in the case of the majority of packaged juices) then the health benefits are undermined.

Fruit contains sugar. There is no need to add more sugar. The problem is that so many people have become addicted to sugar from an early age that they feel a need to add sugar to juices … and even to savoury sauces. It is simply NOT necessary to add sugar to anything.

The global sugar trade is growing and is worth trillions. Clearly, not all sugar is destined for the dining table but it is, nonetheless, a staggeringly huge business.

The packaging of industrialised fruit juices, in many countries, will indicate the content of the product – especially added flavours, colourings etc. It makes sense to read the label of anything bought from a supermarket but many people do not have the time or knowledge to understand the meaning of these labels.

So, an article that tells people that juice is not healthy is misleading AND counterproductive … “experts” should be trying to educate and encourage people to make good, healthy choices. Now some readers will believe that fruit juice is not healthy!! It is.

Drink natural fruit juice – with no added sugar or sweeteners!!

V and V+

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Want to become vegetarian (V)? Or even vegan (V+)? Much easier to do so at home where ingredients are under control. More difficult if the entire household sticks to being omnivorous! Like most people I like to eat out occasionally and, while vegetarian food can be found in many restaurants it is rare to find vegan-friendly establishments.

The search for vegan food can become frustrating.

If restaurants in the area don’t offer vegan food on their menu how do you get them to start doing so? Firstly, perhaps, by planting the idea. When calling to make a reservation, ask if they have both vegetarian and vegan options. If they do, great.

If they don’t, suggest that they consider doing so. One reservation perhaps lost, but possibly a new option in future if they take the message seriously.

Secondly, make meal suggestions if the V+ menu is thin. The benefit here is that vegan dishes are by default vegetarian while vegetarian dishes are not all acceptable to vegans. Many pasta dishes are vegan by nature (using an egg-less pasta recipe!).

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Third, pass the message to others if you find a good vegan restaurant.

Restaurants may not change overnight, and some may not change their menus too often but when they do they can add V+!

By suggesting amendments to the menu and V can become V+. Educate.

Note: I am neither vegetarian nor vegan but I am reducing the non-veg content of my meals by moving to healthier options.

(V) and (V+) are the annotations that I have adopted for my reviews of vegan food and restaurant. V = vegetarian and V+ is vegan ie more than vegetarian

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