Camembert Pithivier

I know this isn’t necessarily the most mouthwatering blog post title in the world, but will you stick around when I tell you that a ‘camembert pithivier’ is really just a ‘melted cheese pie’? And really, in life, aren’t we all just looking to eat a slab of gloriously bronzed, buttery, flaky pastry, stuffed with bits of crispy bacon and hot melted cheese? I know I am. Enter camembert pithivier.


A pithivier is just a round pie made with two discs of puff pastry that enclose some sort of filling. Traditionally they are scored with lines around the pastry dome, and the edges are scalloped, but if you don’t do that it’s not like it’s going to change how it tastes. They were originally filled with frangipane, but now people make savoury pithivier and anything goes. It’s actually one of my favourite ways to make a pie, because there’s no lining of a tin or getting pastry to fit in a dish or blind baking (see also: galette). It’s freestyle.


If you are scared off by camembert and don’t like strong cheeses, then I do beg you to reconsider. The taste isn’t really a refection of the smell, and it’s a wonderfully gentle and luxurious thing to eat. That said, you could theoretically replace the camembert in the middle of this pithivier with a big lump of any cheese that melts nicely.



This is best served straight from the oven, for maximum melted cheese joy, but it does keep and reheat perfectly well too, to give you a very superior packed lunch. You can also make it right up to the baking stage and keep it in the fridge or freezer, ready to pop into the oven when a hungry crowd arrives. If you’re freezing it, defrost in the fridge before baking.


Knob of butter
1 red onion, diced
2 leeks, diced
160g diced bacon or pancetta
5-6 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped
generous glass of white wine
2 pieces ready rolled puff pastry
1 camembert cheese
1 beaten egg, to glaze


  1. Heat your butter on a medium heat in a large saucepan until foaming. Put your diced onion and leeks into the pan and cook on for 8-10 minutes until softened. Add the bacon, turn up the heat, and cook until the bacon is starting to crisp. Add the thyme, stir, and cook for a minute more. Pour in your wine and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated (this should only take a minute or two). Season the mix with pepper (but not salt, because the bacon and cheese are inherently salty). Spread the bacon mix out on a plate and leave until completely cold (once it’s cooled a little, putting the plate into the fridge or freezer will speed this along).
  2. Assemble the pithivier. Unroll one sheet of the puff pastry. Cut out a large circle – I usually cut around a plate – and place the camembert in the centre of it. Arrange most of the bacon mixture in a ring around the cheese, leaving a border of a couple of centimetres of uncovered pastry round the edge, then mound the remainder on top of the cheese to make a dome. Brush the exposed pastry round the edge of the circle with beaten egg.
  3. Unroll the other piece of puff pastry and drape it over your cheese and bacon dome. Press it down around the edge of the pastry where you have brushed on the beaten egg. If you do this properly you shouldn’t have any leaks. As you can see from the pictures, I missed a bit and got a bit of a cheese explosion, but a river of melted cheese is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. Trim the top piece of pastry too, to match the edges of your bottom piece. Poke a hole in the centre of the dome to let steam out. If you like, you can lightly score the dome with a knife to create the classic pithivier pattern. You can also scallop the edges, but neither of these things are necessary. Brush the whole thing with beaten egg. Pop it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is completely firm.
  4. Heat your oven to 210C/190C fan/gas 5. Place your chilled pithivier on a baking sheet, and bake for around 30 minutes, or until the pastry is cooked through and gloriously golden. Cut into your pithivier at the table and revel in the delight of the moment when all the melted cheese pours out.

Vegan Feta Cheese

As we have established many times, I am in no way a vegan. But when I was teaching cookery, we once ran a Mexican class that consisted mainly of vegetarians with a few vegans in the mix, and my boss experimented with this recipe for vegan feta cheese. I’ve always been a bit wary of substituting a ‘free-from’ version of something for the real deal, because setting up the comparison often results in disappointment. But I literally could not stop eating this stuff when it was presented to me. Then I forgot about it, because I have no real need for vegan cheese substitutes on a day-to-day basis.

But, over a year later, I was throwing a vegan dinner party, and remembered the existence of this almond feta. I decided to give it a go. It was just as tasty as I remembered. Everyone else seemed to love it too, and I’ve made it a couple of times since.


I’m not going to pretend this is a like-for-like substitute for feta, because obviously it tastes different, being made from almonds rather than dairy. But it does have the same salty, savoury, addictive joy about it. It’s wonderfully crumbly and versatile. The almonds, when broken down like this, are surprisingly creamy. Here, I’ve shown it crumbled on top of a salad (because just photographed in its little dish it would look a little uninspiring, just as photographing an untouched lump of real feta would). But you can use it just as you would the regular cheese: it’s great with all sorts of salads, or roasted vegetables, or sprinkled over eggs, or baked into a frittata. You can make up a dish of it and keep it in your fridge happily for a couple of weeks, pulling it out whenever you need it.



This recipe is adapted from the version we used when I was teaching, but I’m afraid I have no idea where that was from originally. Do shout if you know!


This does take a bit of time, but it’s largely completely passive time, where you can happily leave the nuts to do their thing and go and get on with your life.


200g blanched almonds
90 ml lemon juice
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for the baking dish
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1½ teaspoons salt
125 ml water


  1. First, soak the almonds. Place them in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Leave to soak for an hour.
  2. Drain the almonds, throwing away the water. Pop them into a food processor of other blender with the lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and 125ml water. Blitz thoroughly until you have a relatively smooth paste.
  3. Line a sieve with muslin, a clean tea towel, or a coffee filter. Put the almond paste into the lined sieve and leave to drain for at least three hours (or leave it overnight if you like).
  4. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 3. Lightly oil a small baking dish or tin. Pop the almond mixture in, smooth the surface, and lightly smear a little more olive oil over the top. Bake for around 25 minutes, or until starting to turn golden. You can use the almond feta warm or cold from the fridge, as you wish.

The Taste Test: Mature Cheddar Cheese

Last week I told you that the taste test this week would be looking at chocolate, which, I suppose, proves I am a filthy liar. This week, I am looking at mature cheddar cheese. I decided that after the massive chocolate-fest that was my Paul A. Young review a couple of days ago, it was time to mix it up.

In the interests of fairness, I tried to choose cheeses here that were as equivalent as possible: all of these were rated 5, so you’d expect a sharp and mature cheese with a strong flavour. That said, there isn’t that much regulation. These days, cheddar cheese doesn’t actually have to be from Cheddar, as it’s not a protected term, although this tasting process has made me quite keen to actually go to the town of Cheddar and see how their cheese compares. Because that’s the kind of thing I find fun. Because I’m quite sad.

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of cheddar or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which supermarket had made A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Cheddar Cheese


Cheddar Cheese
per 100g

A – Sainsburys – 5/10

  • Soft, pliable texture – not very crumbly, a bit plastic-y. Perhaps good for melting, but not ideal for grating, as it’s quite soft. Decent flavour. Sharp taste, seems like a standard mature cheddar, but nothing exceptional and a disappointing texture.

B – Lidl – 8/10

  • Crumbly, firm: a good texture with a little bit of delicious salty crunchiness from tyrosine crystals, which you can often find in matured cheeses. A lovely strong, interesting flavour – sharp, but not sour. My favourite.

C – Tesco – 3/10

  • Another crumbly cheddar with a decent texture, but no crystals from maturation. Not a great flavour – almost sour, and a bit unpleasant. Not a fan.

D – Aldi – 4/10

  • On the soft and bendy end of the cheddar cheese spectrum. Weaker and milder than the first cheeses, which is a shame for a mature cheddar. A rather strange aftertaste, almost like melon, which isn’t unpleasant in itself but seems odd for cheese.

E – Waitrose – 7/10

  • Another cheddar that’s nicely firm and crumbly in texture, not at all plastic-y, with a lovely crunchiness to it. Strong and sharp in flavour: a decent cheddar that I’d happily eat on its own. The only cheddar that came with a resealable pack, which is handy.


The cheddar from Lidl was so tasty that I absent-mindedly continued to eat it after I’d finished the actual taste test. I was surprised by how much the cheeses varied in taste and texture, because if you look at them in terms of caloric content and the levels of fat, protein, salt and so on, they are nearly identical. I rarely buy supermarket cheddar cheese to eat on its own: if I were buying cheese as a treat for the sake of eating cheese after a meal I’d get it from a the Jericho Cheese Company if possible. Cheddar cheeses like these in this house tend to be an ingredient in another dish rather than the star of the show. That said, I’d definitely buy the Lidl cheese just for the sake of eating it.

*Prices correct at time of writing.


Leiths: Foundation Term, Week 4

Let this week go down in history as the week that I actually seasoned some things correctly. On Monday, I made cauliflower cheese, and the seasoning was pronounced acceptable.

Let us all take a moment to consider this achievement.

Let’s bask in the glow of a correctly seasoned cauliflower cheese.



The ride continued when, on Tuesday, I produced well-seasoned spinach and chicken in tomato sauce. Then, on Wednesday and Thursday, well-seasoned fish. Want to know the secret? Loads of salt. Seriously. You season something as you normally would. Then add more salt. Add more salt. Think that’s enough? Ha. Fool. Add more salt. Now you’re good.

Another first, though less triumphant: this week I got my first burn. Not my first burn ever, obviously, but my first at Leiths. I took a tray from a 200 degree oven using oven gloves that had a hole in them. I didn’t realise they had a hole in them until the whole pain and burning flesh bit. Ow ow ow. Aren’t burns annoying? You sort of forget how inconvenient they are until you get one and then you remember the stinging. Oh, the stinging. On the plus side, that was on the Monday morning that we made roast beef as a table of four, and everything went surprisingly swimmingly. We had so much to do that morning that we thought we’d be stymied from the off, but we worked efficiently as a group and hit the service time perfectly. Also, best lunch ever.


Continuing down First Lane, we had our first real and proper exam this week: the WSET Level 1. Now, luckily we weren’t examined on our wine tasting skills, because as I have mentioned before, I am a bit, um, terrible at tasting wine like a professional. It tastes of booze, damnit, now bring me the bottle and stop asking questions. Instead, we had a 45 minute multiple choice question paper. Luckily they don’t tell us the results until just before Christmas, so I’ve got ages before I have to find out how badly I’ve done.

On Wednesday, we filleted sole. Tip: do not wield a very sharp filleting knife if your hands are shaking. Luckily we got to have another go at filleting on some beautiful plaice on Thursday and I managed to avoid completely cocking it up. We also made delicious meringues of joy (technical term for you there). You know, I thought I wasn’t that mad on meringues – I mean, I’ll eat them, I’m not crazy, it’s dessert – but when Hannah made them in the dem last week they were so good that I changed my mind, and luckily mine went well too. Perhaps I have just been doing them wrong for years. Anyway, I am a meringue convert.


We also had a cake dem with Sue, which was amazing because, well, cake dem. Scones, fruit cake, Swiss roll, ginger cake, yoghurt cake, Victoria sandwich… this was right after the meringues as well, so I floated home on a cloud of sugar. That’s a lie, obviously: it poured rain that day and I slogged back to the station to cram onto a train as always. But that’s a less romantic image.


This week, we also made Christmas cakes. In October. We’re going to lovingly feed and nurture them with alcohol for the next few weeks until we get to decorate and, hopefully, eat them. I must admit that traditional fruit cake is not usually my favourite, but when we tried some in Sue’s cake dem it was actually delicious. I am quite happy with how my little cake came out and am really looking forward to tasting it. In a few weeks. We’re all about the delayed gratification.


I went into the week thinking that Friday would be a lovely day, as we were starting with a slow-cooking meat dem and finishing by making lots of cake. Unfortunately, I reckoned without my comically brilliant ability to injure myself in ridiculous ways. I got up at 5.30am as usual, got into the shower, leaned down to pick something up, and my back went. I’ve been having issues with my back since an accident way back in July (I was trying roller derby and the universe always warns me off organised sports by making terrible things happen to me), but this is the first time I have had the experience of my back going from fine to completely not fine in one second for no apparent reason. I was literally paralysed, couldn’t move my legs, and thought I was going to black out from the pain. Poor James was sleeping, as normal people generally are at 5.45am, and was roused by me hysterically shouting for him in panic. He had to carry me out of the shower and lay me on the bed and together we slowly worked to get my legs moving again. Romance isn’t dead, people.

At this point, I was crying with pain, prostrate on my back, and half-paralysed, but bullish and determined to make it into school because I am a massive idiot. I took many painkillers and put on a heat pack and practised walking slowly around the bedroom until I felt less like collapsing. Of course, this all took such a long time that I missed my train, and I knew there was no way I’d be able to ride a bike for 4.5 miles at the other end of the journey anyway, so I decided to drive from Oxford to London. It was after I’d been stuck in solid, unmoving, accident traffic on the M40 for half an hour, still in agony and starving because I’d not had the chance to have breakfast, that I started to think that perhaps I should have admitted defeat and stayed in bed.

It was all worth it in the end though, because Heli did the slow cooking dem for us, and the food was pure, delicious comfort. Cottage pie, lamb daube, carbonnade of beef, oxtail stew, and loads of mashed potato. I sat in the dem room and slowly calmed down, aided by occasional injections of slow cooked meat and carbs. Then I limped through an afternoon of baking. My Victoria sandwich was one of the messiest cakes I have ever made, but I was happy with my Swiss roll, and even happier that I got to gently medicate myself with sugar all afternoon.


On Monday we begin Week 5, the completion of which will mark the halfway point of the first term. Somehow it’s nearly November, the leaves are going, I’m back in wool tights and knee-high boots, and the fact that there are Christmas things in the shops doesn’t seem utterly ridiculous.

I bought some Calvados to feed my Christmas cake. That’ll work, right?