One of my favourite classic comfort foods has to be cauliflower cheese. A chilly autumnal weeknight calls for nothing more than simple oven-baked cauliflower cheese, sometimes with a tumble of broccoli florets added in, other times with belly-pleasing macaroni. One thing they all have in common is delicious, sharp Cheddar and a crunchy golden top.
Here, I’ve combined all those glorious elements into another comfort food favourite – the pithivier. These traditional French pies are usually made with a frangipane filling but can also be savoury. I’ve opted to fill my discs of puff pastry with cauliflower cheese, butternut squash and a delicious blend of spices. In place of egg wash, they’re glazed with a thyme and honey brown butter which provides a gorgeously-golden finish.
The combination of butternut squash and a homemade gratin spice blend will give you all the autumnal feels you crave after a long day at work. If you don’t have butternut, you can use pumpkin or acorn squash instead. The gratin spice blend is unbelievable in everything from dauphinoise potatoes to mac and cheese. Make a big batch and stow it away in an airtight jar to give your oven-baked dinners an instant flavour boost.
These pithiviers can be made with puff or rough puff pastry, either homemade or shop-bought. If you’re in a hurry, shop-bought puff pastry is ideal.
The most important element here is to ensure the filling is completely cold before you encase it in the pastry. This will ensure the pastry bottom stays crispy. You can even assemble these a day ahead, cover in cling film and refrigerate – or freeze for another time.
Serve with a leafy green salad and follow up with a hot chocolate pudding.
Spiced Butternut and Cauliflower Cheese Pithiviers
700g puff pastry – shop bought or homemade
For the filling:
320g butternut squash, diced (2cm squares), cooked
300g cauliflower florets, chopped finely, cooked but not completely
1 tbsp olive oil
320ml whole milk
1 1/2 tsp gratin spice mix
120g sharp Cheddar, grated
1/2 tsp dried English mustard
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
2 green chillies, finely sliced
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper, to taste
2 sprigs of thyme, stripped
For the thyme and honey brown butter glaze:
60g unsalted butter
3 sprigs of thyme, stripped
1 tbsp honey
Small pinch turmeric
For the gratin spice mix:
1 tbsp cloves
3 tbsp whole coriander seeds
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp mace
2 tbsp cardamom seeds
1 tbsp sesame seeds
4 dried red chillies
8 star anise
2 dried bay leaves
3-inch piece cinnamon, broken
1. To make the spice blend: Toast the spices in a dry pan until aromatic. Allow to cool, then grind in a spice grinder or coffee grinder. Pass through a fine-hold sieve and store in an airtight jar.
2. To make the filling: Melt the butter in a pan, add the olive oil and garlic. Next, add in the flour and stir to make a roux. Allow to cook gently, stirring all the time until very lightly golden. Whisk in the whole milk, a little at a time until fully incorporated. Add a little bit of the spice mix and keep whisking until hot but not boiling.
3. Next, add in the cheese, two kinds of mustard, chilli and keep whisking until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the thyme. Fold in the cooked squash and cauliflower. Set aside until cold.
4. To make the glaze: Melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook until very lightly golden brown. Add the thyme leaves and set aside to cool. When warm, stir in the honey.
5. Roll out just under half of the pastry on a lightly floured surface to 5mm thick. Cut out six 12 inch-diameter rounds. Take remaining pastry and roll to 5mm thick. Cut out six 14 inch-diameter rounds. Divide cold filling mixture among half the 12-inch pastry rounds, mounding up in centre and leaving a 1 inch border. Brush the edges with water and top with the larger pastry rounds, removing any air around the mixture and pressing edges to seal – I used the back of a spoon to seal them up properly. Brush tops with the glaze and score a scalloped pattern on the top of each with the back of a knife. Place on an oven tray lined with baking paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Bake the pithiviers for 25-30 minutes until completely puffed up and golden all over.
Serve with a leafy green salad, then go make yourself a hot chocolate before bed.