As I grated the frozen butter, I felt a bit like the Starship Enterprise, going where I had never gone before. I can’t say “no man” because scores of men bake, but in nearly half a century of cooking, I had not.
This may relate to the fact that my style is quick and easy cooking, with whatever’s at hand. That—I was told sternly by my guide and friend Karishma D’Souza—was not how it worked with baking. You must be precise and exact, she said. I tried to do that and keep up with her instructions.
The butter could not go soft, so not only was it kept frozen, even the grater we were using was kept cold in the fridge.
Ah, the butter. There was a big heap of it, as today’s recipe will reveal. It made me draw in my breath sharply. But, she said, you cannot make golden pastry without butter.
The decision to try my hand at baking was serendipitous, as most things tend to be in my life.
The wife has persuaded me to get rid of a pile of old books and magazines—so we can accommodate newer books. Books in our house spill out of bookshelves, sit on stools, in bathrooms, on the dining table, in the kitchen.
As I stared wistfully at the pile of magazines we were discarding, she was flipping through an old British edition of Country Living when she saw an essay and a few recipes on sardines.
Karishma flipped through the pages and spotted the sardine pastry recipe. Would you like to? she asked.
Yes, I said immediately, since I had been thinking about my avoidance of baking.
Since it was sort-of winter, there couldn’t be a better time, with so much butter involved.
I must admit it was not easy. I can turn out a full dinner for 20 without batting an eyelid but somehow, getting sardines into bed between sheets of pastry appeared to require substantially more effort—all that mixing, kneading, folding and rolling.
I doubt I would have been able to do it without Karishma’s guiding hand.
Eventually, the pastries emerged: golden, rich and crisp. Heavy artery cloggers, I am sure. It was exciting to get there but I can see why it was a far frontier.
SARDINE IN PUFF PASTRY
The original name of this recipe is “sardines in bed”—quite droll I thought—layered in pastry. A tip: This is a cold-weather recipe so you will have to keep things chilled. Store the grated butter, even the grater, and the dough in the fridge, turned to high if you are making this in an Indian summer or even spring. Let’s do this step by step.
For the dough
1 cup (227g) unsalted butter, cold
2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
1 tbsp (12g) sugar
Half tsp kosher salt (2g)
8-10 (120-150 ml) tbsp cold water
Place the butter in the freezer for 10 minutes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Grate the frozen butter into the flour. If you pause between grating knobs of butter, put the grater in the fridge, so the butter does not soften on contact. Dice the remaining end of butter that you can’t grate. Toss the butter into the flour mixture with your hands until well coated.
Drizzle six tablespoons of iced water over the mixture and fold the mixture together until it clumps together. Continue adding water, a tablespoon at a time, until a loose and crumble dough forms (it should hold when squeezed).
Gently knead the dough a few times in the bowl until a cohesive mass is formed. Shape into a half-inch thick square and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Chill for one hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough into a half-inch-thick rectangle. Fold the dough in thirds like a letter. Turn 90 degrees. Repeat rolling, folding, and rotating three more times.
Fold back into thirds, wrap tightly, then chill for at least two hours or up to two days, or place in a freezer bag and freeze for up to two months.
For the sardines
Half kg (500g) sardines, cleaned
1 tsp fresh pepper
Juice of 1 lime or 2 tsp tamarind juice
Salt to taste
2 tsp capers
2 tbsp fresh basil
1 tsp oil for frying
Marinate the sardines for an hour at least in the pepper, salt and lime/tamarind juice. Fry in a hot non-stick pan with one teaspoon oil until done. Remove flesh from both sides, avoid head and chest to sidestep bones. Mix with capers and basil.
For the pastry
1 egg, beaten
1-2 tbsp mustard
Roll the dough out into a sheet about half-cm thick. Cut into rectangles or triangles. Brush lightly with mustard. Place sardine mixture in each dough packet. Brush edges with egg and close, sealing the edges. Brush each side with beaten egg. This will give it a golden glaze when it bakes. Slash the tops of each pastry, three-four cuts.
Preheat the oven. Grease a butter paper lightly, place the pastries on it and slide into the oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius. Step up the oven to 220 degrees for another 10 minutes. Remove when golden brown, allow to cool for five minutes before serving.
Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures. @samar11 on Twitter.