Friday, 30 October 2015

Fallacious Pieday

This is the Pieday about which I should have posted, well, quite a while ago.
Britons* will probably be able to calculate exactly how long I have been procrastinating when I explain my reasons.
 I blame the Great British Bake-Off.
I was ready to write this post, I was even quite excited about this post.
And then they baked almost exactly the same thing.
And, of course, they did it better.
 So I, being apparently, ludicrously insecure, have been putting this post off ever since.
But no more!
 Behold, oh puny mortals the glory that is French Silk Pie!

Or rather that isn't French Silk Pie.
For a start, this pie is not French, it's American.
Furthermore the filling is not silk**, it is chocolate.
What is more, a more pedantic*** person than I would probably argue that it was not a pie but a tart.
This is clearly nonsense: it has a filling, it is surrounded by a crust, ergo it is a pie****.

What we made, however, was not a French Silk Pie.

We started out in good faith, with a standard recipe and hope in our hearts.
Somewhere along the way, though, we wandered from the true path, resulting in chocolate pastry, chocolate cream and about seventy five percent more theobromine cacao than the average confection.
And it was good.

We didn't make a French Silk Pie


165g plain flour
25g ground almonds
120g chilled butter
190g caster sugar
3 eggs
(Optional: a spoonful of cocoa and some sort of liquid).
75g not so chilled butter
150ml double cream
Dark chocolate (opinions vary on how much, I say just buy a bar and use it)
(Optional: more double cream and more chocolate)
A dash of vanilla

First make and chill the pastry.
It feels like I've gone over this a lot, but that may only have been inside my head so here goes.
First combine the flour and almonds in a bowl.
If you want to make chocolate pastry then take out a spoonful***** of flour and replace it with a similar amount of cocoa.
Grate in the chilled butter as quickly as possible given that you suddenly have six hands all trying to grate at once and at least four of them are rather warm and two of them are...sticky...eugh.
Stir in the sugar then add the egg and stir this gloopy mass with your myriad hands until you have a soft dough.
 Assuming you added the cocoa, you will find that you have not a soft dough at all but an awkward crumbly mass.
Add a splash or so of some sort of liquid****** and continue working the mixture as quickly and lightly as possible until you do have a soft dough.
Wrap the dough in cling film and stick it in the fridge.

Scour Small Chef and Smaller Chef until they are no longer caked in dough-gunk and then scour the house for the library books.
Regret the opportunity to use a sentence involving zeugma.
Explain what zeugma is.
 On the way to the library listen to many examples of sentences that either are not zeugma or do not make sense.
When finally presented with an entirely rational zeugma-employing sentence do not shout "Yes! Yes! That's it! Finally".
 You will disturb the other occupants of the bus.

Come home, make lunch, remember you have a pie to make and get on with stage two.

Roll out the pastry, put it in your pie-dish, prick it all over, fill with parchment and baking beans and blind bake for fifteen minutes.
Take out the beans and things and give it another ten minutes, then take it out and leave to cool.

Place a bowl inside a larger bowl and pour boiling water into the larger bowl until it rises up the sides but does not spill.
Break up the chocolate and place it in the bowl to melt.
You will probably have to change the water a few times so put the kettle on again.
Mix the butter and sugar in a small saucepan and place on the heat.
Observe that Chefs Small and Smaller are now so well trained that they regard anything resembling a double boiler as though it were a nuclear bomb and yet they have no fear whatsoever of the very hot stove.
Make a note to work on this sometime.
Make a further note to look up pictures of burn victims when you have a moment.
If you're going to scare your kids, you might as well do it accurately.

Stir the eggs and sugar over the heat and keep on stirring until the mixture will coat the back of a metal spoon.
If you have a kitchen-thermometer then you should probably use it: in this case stop stirring when it reaches 160 fahrenheit.
Take the mixture off the heat, dump in the melted chocolate and a dash of vanilla and stir till smooth********.
Leave this to cool a little while you get on with the rest.

Now take it in turns to beat the butter until it is light and fluffy, dodging splatters of flying butter as necessary.
Stir the chocolate mixture into the butter and beat the whole lot until it looks fluffy again.

Take a clean bowl with higher sides than you think you will need.
Pour in the double cream and whip till it forms firm peaks.
Do not permit any chef to do this if you value your nice, clean********* kitchen.
Fight Small Chef for possession of the whisk if necessary.
 Why did you clean the kitchen the night before Pieday anyway?

Fold the peaky looking cream into the chocolate to produce something dark and wonderful and entirely healthy-looking.
Pour this into the pie shell and place in the fridge to chill.

Clean the cream and butter splatters off the walls.

If you feel the need for yet more chocolate, or if you just have a lot of cream and chocolate left over, then melt some chocolate********** in the same way as you did earlier, let it cool a little and whip the cream till it forms stiffish peaks.
Gently fold the chocolate into the cream and dollop this on top of your pie.

Shave yet more chocolate over the top with a cheese grater.

Contemplate new names for your creation.
Vote on the best one.

Save for dessert and serve in slim slices as it is very rich.
Wait till the worthy chefs are at their well-earned repose then finish the lot.

*Or at least those dwelling in Britain.

**Which would be revolting.

***Shut up.

**** Next week: I bend reality yet further to produce moussaka.
Which is definitely pie!

*****Tea or table, I won't judge.

******Milk, orange juice, whatever you like*******

*******But not that, ew,  that's a terrible idea, what were you thinking?

********Personally, I am always smooth.

**********I don't know.
Maybe a third of a bar?
How much do you have left anyway?
You know you can just eat it, don't you?

Friday, 16 October 2015

Twin Pieday

One thing that gets me horribly frustrated is when what looks like an interesting recipe turns out to go: "Buy cake mix, bake, ice* with this stuff from a tub and sprinkle with this brand of sprinkly stuff" or, worse, "Put ready-rolled pastry in tin, pour on pie-filling, bake".
Some things are truly soul-destroying.

So I decided that today we would prove, once and for all, that actually putting the time and effort into making something properly is entirely worth it.

We made two Cherry Pies.


One packet of shortcrust pastry
One emergency packet of puff pastry
Two eggs
50g ground almonds
350g plain flour
200g caster sugar
150g cold butter
A little milk
Two tins of cherry pie filling
1kg cherries**
Vanilla essence or one vanilla pod
Lemon if you like it

First make pastry for the home-made pie.
Put the flour into a large bowl and grate in the butter quickly.
Toss the butter in the flour then rub lightly with the fingers until it forms breadcrumbs.
Hand Small Chef the first egg and ask her to crack it.
Clean up the mess from the exploded egg, get another egg from somewhere and quickly crack and separate two eggs, leaving the whites for meringue-making or healthy-but-unappealling omelettes, or something like that.
Dump the egg yolks, the ground almonds and 100g of sugar into the flour mixture and mix with the hands until everyone is covered in yuck.
Add a splash of milk and work the mixture gently together till it forms a dough.
Wrap this in cling film, place in the fridge to rest and go out to the library taking special care to remember to bring your library books.

Come back from the library, find the library books and put them by the door to try again tomorrow.

Now you can start making pies.

Send both chefs to wash their hands.
Get out your laptop or music system and put on Sweet Cherry Pie.
Rock out sedately in the kitchen while waiting for their return.
Put a large pan on the stove and pour in the other 100g of sugar along with a dash of vanilla.
Turn on the heat and leave the pan to its own devices until the sugar has turned to caramelly gloop.
Issue a Terrible Warning as to what will happen should anyone touch the stove, the pan, or the hot sugar.
Make a note to find a copy of Hillaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales.
Find Smaller Chef a handkerchief.

If you have fresh cherries place on on top of a small-necked bottle, take a straw and push this through the cherry and into the bottle, neatly extracting the stone and depositing it in the bottle.
Take a moment to appreciate how amazing this trick is, then stone the rest of the cherries in the same way.
You now have a bottle full of cherry stones.
Make a note to look up kirsch recipes.

Next, roll out the shortcrust pastry and cut to fit your pie-dish.
Cut the rest of the pastry into ten strips, long enough to reach from one side of the dish to the other.
Fit the pie base into the dish.
Now open the tins of pie-filling and pour the bloop into the pie case.
Shake the cans gently to release their contents if they don't easily pour out.
Send chefs Small and Smaller to wash the pie-goop out of their hair.

When they have returned and the sugar in the pan is thoroughly gloopified, pour the cherries into the resulting caramel along with a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like it, and a good splash of kirsch.
While this is cooking down, finish topping the first pie.

Take five strips of pastry and set them across the filled pie dish.
Place one strip across the centre of the dish, crossing the other strips then fold every other strip back across this centre strip.
Take the next strip and set it across the two or three strips that have not been folded back, a little away from the folds.
Unfold the folded strips over this strip and fold back the strips that were previously unfolded.
Place another strip over the strips that are now unfolded and then unfold the folded strips back over them.
 Now fold back the strips that you originally folded, again, on the other side of the dish and repeat the  previous couple of steps: laying down a strip, unfolding the folded strips and folding back the unfolded to cover that side in the same way.
You should have a charming latticework top.
Failing that, take this opportunity to discuss the work of M.C Escher.
Tuck the ends of the lattice-strips under the main pie case and crimp the edges all the way round.
Put this pie in the fridge to chill before baking.

Assuming that your cherries are now a pleasingly dark and glossy mass, sprinkle in two tablespoons of cornflour and stir till thickened.
Take this pie filling of the heat and set aside to cool.
 Now roll out your homemade pastry and cut to fit another pie-dish.
Discover that when you try to cut this pastry into strips it crumbles to fine crumbs of nothing.
Mutter "What have you done to my beautiful wickedness" and get the emergency puff pastry out of the fridge***.
Roll this out and cut strips ready to top this pie like the last one.
Place the pastry case in the fridge to chill till the pie filling is ready.

Watch Small Chef improvise interpretive dance on the subject of cherry pie.
Admonish Small Chef and inform her that dancing in the kitchen is strictly forbidden.
Enjoy the sweet tang of hypocrisy.

Fill the homemade pie case with  homemade pie filling and top with tragically unhomemade pastry strips as you did the last pie.

Cook the pies, one at a time if necessary, in a high-to-moderate oven (we went with 200 degrees) for about thirty five minutes.

Eat a slice of each, for comparison purposes, with a damn fine cup of coffee.
Wonder what you're going to do with the rest of the pies****.
Further wonder what to do with the information that everybody prefers the homemade pastry, but two out of three chefs prefer the tinned filling***** and Richard obstinately continues to dislike cherry pie.

Consider that the advantage of homemade pie is that you can tinker with the recipe until you get it right.
Wonder how many pies you're going to have to bake before you manage this.

*Actually, it usually says "frost".

**We ended up using frozen ones, as cherries are not in season, so missed out on the cool cherry pitting trick.

***What are you talking about?
Everyone has emergency pastry in the fridge, haven't they?

****The answer, of course, is: freeze them.


******Make a further note to re-read Asterix.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Vaguely Excusable Pieday

I admit, I had a different pie planned for today.
Apart from anything else it was an actual pie, as opposed to chicken nuggets and breaded mushrooms*.
This plan was tragically derailed by my traumatic experience last Saturday however.

It should have been a nice day out: we went out to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park then to a particularly good farm shop for lunch**.
All was going well until time came for dessert and I saw, in the cabinet, beside the many-coloured, many-layered fancified figments that made up the rest of the contents, a pecan pie.
Naturally I had to order it.
Dessert, and coffee were delivered to our table and the girls dove into some squelchingly sumptuous looking gateaux*** while I nibbled a forkful of my pie.
And then, disaster.
The pie was not as good as mine.
Understand that there was nothing wrong with it, it was a perfectly good pie, syrupy for my tastes, but an entirely reasonable representative of the Pecan nation and all it stands for****.
It just wasn't as good as my pie.
I was sitting, in a restaurant, thinking that the food I had been served was inferior to my own.
I had been suddenly and irrevocably confronted with the inevitable truth.
I am officially old.

So naturally after all that I had no choice but to abandon any plans to make a proper pie and to instead create something unhealthy, impractical and barely deserving of the word pie.

We made chicken nuggets.

We also made breaded mushroom things, because some of us don't eat meat


Enough chicken breast, mushrooms, lumps of quorn or whatever-the-hell-else you plan on cooking to go round
Milk, yoghurt or buttermilk (enough to cover the things-to-be-breaded when placed in a bowl)
Rice Crispies, or Ritz crackers, or Panko breadcrumbs, or something that'll work as a coating*****
Hard cheeses of your choice, or that soya-flour cheese flavoured stuff, or nothing at all
Marinade ingredients of your choice******
Cooking oil.

First chop your breadable-things into pieces and dump in a bowl.
Add the marinade ingredients and then enough milk, buttermilk or yoghurt******* to cover everything, place in the fridge then go away to watch cartoons and mourn the death of your youth.
But make them horror cartoons, because there has to be some point to being a grown up.
Wonder if you made good choices in your life.

Realise there is another upside to adulthood when alerted to it by the presence of the bright eyed and bushy tailed Chefs Small and Smaller, the one wielding a bag full of library books and the other asking whether it is time to cook the chicken yet.
Drag the kids to the library.

When you have spent a full day chasing after your manic offspring and are starting to reassess that whole "upside" thing, take out and drain your bowl full of lumps.

Put some cornflour into a sandwich bag ********.
Beat the egg in a bowl or mug.
Grate a couple of table spoons of the hard cheese, or sprinkle out about half a teaspoon of that weird cheese flavoured stuff.
Crush whatever you're going to use as a coating and mix it with the cheese or fake cheese powder on a large plate.
If you're trying to crush Panko give up: they are pre-crushed.
Set out a production line: cornflour, egg, plate of crumbly stuff and either a plate or an oiled baking tray at the end, depending on whether you intend to fry or bake your resulting nuggety thingummies.
Pre-heat the oven if you're planning on baking them.

Drop one of your whatever-lumps into the cornflour bag, twist the top to seal it tightly and award to whichever chef has been least obnoxious recently.
Allow said chef to cha-cha round the kitchen shaking the bag like a maraca until the blob is thoroughly coated.
Drop the blob into the egg, fish it out again, dump it on the plate and roll it about till lightly coated, then transfer to the receiving plate or tray.
Do exactly the same thing with all the other lumps.
When you get sick of doing it properly start just throwing in batches: they'll all get somewhat coated and that's all that really matters.
Observe that Small Chef's fingers are now rather more heavily breaded than the mushrooms.
Send Small Chef to wash her hands.
Quickly finish most of the lumps leaving just a couple for Small Chef to do, so she won't notice.
Apologise for finishing off most of the lumps.
And for doubting her powers of observation.

Put lumps of mushroom on the tray in the oven at whatever heat you like: they're mushroom, they won't care.
For chicken blobs you should probably be more careful so settle for around 200 celsius, for fifteen to twenty minutes, flipping them over at least once and poking them before you take them out to see if they're pink in the middle (they shouldn't be...I think).
Or just give up any pretence of healthiness and fry the beggars.

Tip for vegetarians: if making chicken nuggets get a meat eater to handle the breading and cooking.
That way you don't have to explain why Mummy is handling the chicken pieces with extra long cooking chopsticks while holding her breath and pretending to smile.
You also get to listen to Smaller Chef pretending to pay attention to a lecture on food safety.
And you don't have to keep poking the cooking nuggets to see if they're cooked when, honestly, you have no idea what properly cooked chicken should look like.

Serve with coleslaw, a variety of dipping sauces and either chips or sweet potato chips.

Save the left overs to eat cold the next day.
Because you're a grown-up and can do things like that.

*Crust, filling, pie.
Get over it.

**Blacker Hall Farm, their vegetarian platter thingy is rather good.

***Eleanor's was a mocha-cake, with coffee beans on top.
This may have been a mistake on our part.

****I probably shouldn't blog while Avatar is on.

*****Honestly, use crushed Doritos for all I care.

******We went with black garlic, lemon and thyme, but you could use garlic, ginger and cumin (in which case, skip the cheese) or something of your own devising.

*******You know, you could probably use something completely non-dairy-related here, if you wanted.

********If you don't have one, do this bit in a bowl, but expect clouds of cornflour to go everywhere.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Apricot Pieday

I make no apologies for the lack of a pastry recipe with this tart pie.
This is probably unconscionably rude of me, but this recipe comes in the middle of a number of pies-with-pastry-recipe and at some point I was bound to get sick of describing the whole butter plus flour equals breadcrumbs process.
Anyway we didn't make pastry for this one, because I wanted to focus on learning a couple of new techniques, we bought a pre-made pie-case instead*

We made an Apricot Tart


One pre-made pie case***
A couple of punnets of apricots, or decent tinned ones if apricots are out of season and horrible***** like they are by now.
100g caster sugar.
Four egg yolks******
500ml milk
40g cornflour
40g butter
A dash of kirsch*******
Apricot jam
Icing sugar.

Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour.
Put the milk into a pan, on the stove, turn on the heat and add the vanilla in whatever form you have it.********
Once the milk is just boiling take it off the heat and pour a little into the egg and sugar goop.
Deal summarily with any argument as to who goes first via the ancient rite of Ip Dip Dip and award a whisk to the winner.
Watch the victorious Smaller Chef wreaking havoc upon an innocent bowl of mixed sucrose and dairy products.
End this carnage by taking back the whisk, pouring the results back into the milk and letting Small Chef have at it.
Be very, very glad things did not fall out otherwise.
Pour the resulting mess into a large bowl and stir in the butter.
Leave to cool.
Once cool attempt to place in the fridge until needed.
Wish you had used a smaller bowl.

Attempt to explain the difference between crème pâtissière and custard.
Recognise that nobody is listening and move on.

To skin the apricots, cut a small cross in the bottom of each then place them in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes.
Remove an apricot plunging it immediately into icy water.
In theory this will loosen the skin, allowing you to peel it away with ease.
Note that theory and reality do not always match.
Try not to look troubled by the way some of the slippery little beggars try to cling to their skins.
If Small Chef wants to know whether this method would also work on Smaller Chef you may permit yourself to look troubled.
Explain to Smaller Chef that no-one will be plunging her into boiling water today.
Wonder why she isn't concerned about the parts involving Very Sharp Knives.
Halve each of the skinned apricots.

Take the crème pâtissière out of the fridge and stir in a teaspoon or two of kirsch.
Pour this mixture into the pastry case, smooth it out and arrange your halved apricots on top.

Warm three tablespoons of the jam and one of kirsch in a pan on the stove until runny.
Brush the resulting glaze all over the tart.

Take a moment to bask in the glossy beauty of your creation.

Contemplate the effect of a light dusting of icing sugar over the top of that gleaming, amber surface.
Contemplate the effect of two children with a tea-strainer full of icing sugar on your relatively gleaming kitchen.
Put the icing sugar away.

Chill the apricot tart until wanted.
Serve in reasonable slices, noting that there is enough left for a civilised afternoon tea with friends, the next day.

Put Chefs Small and Smaller to bed.

Consign friends to perdition and eat the lot.

*But it was a really good one.**

**I know.
That doesn't make it any better, honestly.

***Or slave over proper pate sucre, see if I care.****

****I care.
Dear gods I care.

*****But to be honest, in that case, you might as well just make something else.

******I see a lot of meringue in your future if you keep following these recipes.
Or egg white omelettes.
Those are supposed to be healthy for some reason.

*******At some point we will make a cherry pie.
This will provide me with an abundance of cherry stones with which to make kirsch.
In the meantime I settled for buying it online.

*******A pod or two worth of seeds would be lovely, but a splash of decent vanilla essence will suffice.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Dimly Remembered Pieday

This is not the pie we made today.
It is not the pie we made last week.
It is not even the pie we made a month ago.
It is, however, the pie we made the week that we went on an unintentional hiatus due to my not knowing how to write up this year's trip to Circus Camp and then getting into a rut.

Fortunately, some things stick in the memory.
This is one of them.

This particular pie is called a flamiche* and according to Wikipedia it is much like a quiche, but made with a puff pastry, or brioche-style shell and a base of low fat cheese.
Not one of the flamiche recipes that I have found so far contains either a puff pastry or brioche shell or a low fat cheese base.
A little research has brought me to the conclusion that flamiche differs from quiche in two specific ways.
Firstly, it is called flamiche.
Secondly, unlike quiche which frequently features beside salads in the Lighter Options section of the menu, there is no way flamiche could ever pretend to be healthy.

We made a flamiche.


250g plain flour
150g butter (chilled) plus extra for greasing things (but honestly, just use the wrapper)
Six egg yolks.
One whole egg
400g leeks.
300ml double cream
150g camembert (or brie, or other oozy cheese that tastes good when heated)
Nutmeg, salt and pepper.

Put the flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt and stir it .
Quickly grate in 125g of the butter******* and rub the resulting sticky yellow worms into the flour till it looks like a mass of breadcrumbs.
Dump in two egg yolks.
Mix the egg yolks into the flour mixture with your hands.
Observe that, while perfectly happy to finger-paint, sculpt with clay, dig in the flowerbeds and digitally explore all manner of messes, neither Small nor Smaller Chef is inclined to put their fingers in the egg yolk.
Demonstrate your skills in oration to persuade chefs Small and Smaller to poke the damn egg before the mixture grows warm.
While they are washing their hands, use yours to finish mixing the egg yolks into the flour and butter mixture, adding cold water, a spoonful at a time until you can achieve a smooth mixture that doesn't cling too much to the sides of the bowl.

If your pastry is damp you overdid the water.

Roll the pastry into a ball, squash into a disc, wrap in cling film and put it into the fridge.
When the inestimable chefs return from their ablutions and realise that they have missed the opportunity to become even messier, explain that this is what happens when you become suddenly squeamish.
Endure their protestations and increasingly elaborate list of Things We Would Happily Prod all the way to the library and back.

After lunch, or three hours after you put the pastry disc in the fridge (whichever is longer) turn the oven on to a moderate pie-cooking temperature (we generally go with 200c).

Take out the pastry and roll it to fit your pie dish (or quiche tin actually).
Place neatly in the dish, adjust it until it is actually in the dish and not hanging over the edge, frantically patch the pieces that tore when you moved it and prick all over with a fork.
Realise that you forgot to grease the pie tin, consider any occasions on which you may have left previous******** such tins ungreased, dump out the pastry, grease the tin and somehow get the pastry back into the tin again.
 Fill this pie-shell with baking parchment and baking beans.
If you do not have baking parchment and baking beans, an old, slightly smaller, quiche tin filled with rice works remarkably well.
Place in the oven for ten minutes.

While it cooks, clean the leeks and slice into rounds.
Prevent Smallest Chef from wearing these on her fingers.
While Smallest Chef washes her hands, throw the now less-than-clean rings of leek into the bin, wash your own hands again and place the remaining butter in a pan over a low heat.

At some point during this nonsense the ten minutes will be up.
Remove the pie-shell from the oven, take out whatever weight you used and place the now unburdened shell back into the oven for another five minutes.
After this, take out the shell and set aside, turning the oven down a little (180c works for us, but we have a fan oven).
Cook the leeks in the butter till they are soft and glossy.

Beat the cream and remaining egg yolks vigorously with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Remove whisk from the hands of Smallest Chef.
Wash egg splashes from the hair of Small Chef.
Explain that cold water is best for this as hot water may cook the egg on the hair.
Discuss the temperature required to cook an egg.
Agree that washing the egg out with hot water would be an interesting and potentially useful experiment.
Decide to do it another day.

Cut two opposing sides off the camembert or brie and set aside.
Explain that neither chef should eat them as the rind is made of mould so, in the end, they would just be eating sliced mould.
Discover that Small Chef now really wants to find out what it is like to eat mould.
Smallest Chef was not listening and, as such, simply wants to eat them anyway.
Accept that you are fooling nobody.
Place these extraneous slices of cheese on a plate, on the highest shelf of the fridge.
Now slice the rest of the camembert-or-whatever into creamy lengths ringed with delicious mould.

Spread the squidgy leek-rings across the base of the pie-case, pour over the cream and egg mixture, and lay the sliced cheese across the top.

Return the whole thing to the oven for half an hour till it is just set in the middle and not yet burned outside.

Serve with salad********* and a health warning.

*From Flemish, apparently.
It's a Flemish pie**.

**Or possibly a pie that looks Flemish, or that someone thought was Flemish, or that someone just decided would sell better if they called it Flemish.
There are a lot of those around, like Danish pastries***, French**** silk pie***** and, of course Hamburgers******.
Flamiche is apparently a Walloon speciality.
Whether it was originally Flemish, or they just liked the name I have no idea.

*** The Danes call them Vienna Bread.


*****Coming soon.

******Also American.

*******It helps if you have cut a line into the butter at roughly the point where you will need to stop grating.
This can make a wonderful opportunity for a maths lesson: weighing the butter, then working out what proportion of the 150g will give you the 125g you need here.
Or you can just estimate it.
Estimation is maths too, right?

********And I'm just thinking out loud here, but something with peppery leaves, asparagus tips*********, maybe some halved, sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes would be wonderful.
You could add boiled new potatoes too, or go completely insane and parboil the new potatoes then cut them almost all the way through into slices and roast them in olive oil before sprinkling with salt to make Hasselback potatoes.
I gave you an extra recipe.
And, if you do eat all that at once, possibly a heart attack.

**********They were in season when we made this.
They really were.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Eleanor does Gender Studies

I should probably write some kind of apology for the hiatus here, with assurances that I won't do it again.
But that's boring*, so let's just move along.

There are days when everything goes neatly into the box I expected it would, and days when I'm completely foiled in my attempts to educate.
There are also days when a simple idea becomes something so monumental that I want to run about screaming with excitement** but I can't because we're too busy doing whatever it is.

Then there are days where, without any prompting from me, one of the girls will pick up an idea, or ask a question, and suddenly we're studying a completely different topic to the one I'd intended.

And then there's Eleanor's Week of Gender Studies.

It started innocuously enough: I'd set Ellie the task of imagining a person from a world completely unlike ours, and then considering what that person would think of some simple items from our home***.

So she wrote out a description of her person:

"They are from Neptune.
 They are half fairy and half alien.
 They are both male and female.
They are very small and their hair is green tentacles".



I had a few questions about this.

First I asked her what she meant by both male and female: did she mean the people on Neptune could be male or female, or something else?
No: she meant that her person was both male and female, like all the other people on Neptune.
Then did she mean that they were emotionally or mentally genderfluid****, or was this a biological trait.
Biological: people from Neptune have both boy parts and girl parts.

There followed a long conversation during which I mentioned that there were people just like that on Earth, offered the term intersex as being more appropriate than "both male and female", discussed the varying degrees by which a person could be male or female or otherwise, touched upon the differences between sex and gender, mentioned the us of ze as an alternative to he or she*****, confirmed that yes "they" would be fine for her Neptunian if the Neptunians preferred that, asked how said Neptunians would know the difference between one person or several and somewhere along the lines realised that I was having this entire conversation with a six year old.

Then she went back to her desk****** and wrote about the ways in which a tentacle headed, six inch high, intersex person from Neptune would view some simple household objects.
It turned out neither sex nor gender really had much impact.

And then we got on with our day.

That was on the Tuesday.
Wednesday passed with nothing unusual bar a few questions as to why people thought some things were for girls and others for boys..
On the Thursday we set off to ballet class.*******

All proceeded as usual until it was time to get changed for Phoebe's class, when, seemingly out of nowhere Eleanor suddenly asked: "Mummy, why do we have different changing rooms for men and women?"
 This being a question which has occasionally bothered me, I found it a little different to answer.
Eventually I settled for explaining that some people weren't happy about dressing or undressing in front of people who might be attracted to them, or to whom they might be attracted, and that sometimes they might have to worry about people looking at them in a way that made them uncomfortable.
I declined, at this time, to discuss rape, in a public changing room, with a six-year-old, however pretty much everything that she said next applied pretty well in that case too.

In a voice clearly designed to carry into every corner of the building, Eleanor declared that this, was silly.
She further added that it "wouldn't even work, because boys can be in love with boys and girls can be in love with girls, and anyone can be attracted********* to anyone and if they're that worried why don't we just have cubicles?"
And some more that I can't quite recall at present.
I think she may have punched the air a few times.

So I agreed that, yes, it was quite silly when she put it like that, and she was preaching to the choir here anyway, and preaching to the choir was just an expression that meant I already agreed with her, and yes, people did have stupid ideas but could she perhaps lower her voice just a bit because now she seemed to be making that lady over there a little uncomfortable with all the shouting?

And then she muttered something about people needing to be uncomfortable if the world was stupid and we went off and waited for their teacher to arrive.

I rather thought that would be it for that day.

During Phoebe's class the parents tend to congregate outside, letting the children learn on their own, but staying within reach in case we're needed.
Naturally this leads to conversation.
One of the mothers (and it is all mothers and grandmothers out there, except for Eleanor) noticed that Ellie was reading Doll Bones by Holly Black and asked if she enjoyed horror stories.
 From here we began discussing our own literary preferences and it transpired that everyone there enjoyed horror, James Herbert being the most popular author, while no-one had any interest in the sex-and-shopping or romance novels generally marketed towards women.
So we talked about the foolishness of stereotyping for a bit, before it was time to go back in and collect our various offspring.

As we walked through the door I heard one mother observe to another that, yes, her daughter loved ballet too, "I think it's something girls just naturally gravitate to".
At this point I became both incredibly glad and rather sorry that I'd asked Eleanor to lower her voice earlier, as she grabbed my sleeve and whispered "Do you think she listened to anything she was just saying?"

And then we went and did a maths activity involving buried treasure.

On Friday we went to the library, where Eleanor got out a number of books about a girl's adventures in fairyland.

Because that's fine too.

*And, honestly, I will do it again.

**Or blog about it.

***For our archaeology project: when you think about it, this is often what an archaeologist is like when they first approach a site.

****Yes. I explained the concept of genderfluidity to a six-year-old.

***** "But some people don't like that either darling, so it's better to ask, if you don't think it would be impolite to do so".

******It's an antique school desk with an inkwell and a place for a pen and I love it.

*******Our Thursday: I get up and drag anyone who isn't up out of bed.
After two bus journeys, (during which we read, to various values of the word read) we grab lunch somewhere and either shop or visit a soft play centre where I will spend seventy five percent of my time looking for one daughter on behalf of the other.
Following this we have Phoebe's ballet class, then a gap where they get changed then sit with a friend and do some activity I've cobbled together (usually sneaky maths).
Then Eleanor has her class while Phoebe and I sit in a coffee shop with friends and re-enact Sex in the City******** with two adults and two three year olds, then we take Eleanor to Rainbows, then there's dinner, then games night and then I fall over.

********I have never seen Sex in the City.
But I have seen adverts.

********* Although she actually said attractled, instead of attracted.
She also mispronounced cubicle.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Shakespearean Pieday

We have made far too many pies with pre-prepared pastry lately.
Clearly then, it was time to stop messing about and get our hands dirty* again.

Furthermore having spent quite some time messing around with cup measures, pecans, non-traditional muffins** and other such transatlantic faradiddles I felt the time had come to create something unarguably British.
We embarked, therefore, upon a confection of unquestionable provenance***, a pie greased with the patina of ages, a delicacy with which one might cry "God for England, Harry and St George".

In short

We made a Westmorland Tart


175g flour (kept in a covered bowl, in the fridge or freezer until needed)
A pinch of salt (with which to take the authenticity of this recipe)
2 tbsp caster sugar
110g of butter (also kept in the fridge till needed)
Another 25g of butter (not kept in the fridge)
1 egg yolk (make meringues with the rest)
200g of raisins
85g of chopped dates
85g dark muscovado sugar, or whatever soft**** brown sugar you can get.
Half a lemon (make those lemon meringues)
A good slug of orange juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
3 tbsp rum (and use the good stuff, not the sort you could use to clean the silver with)
100g walnut halves.

First quickly sift together the flour, salt and sugar.
Next get out the grater and, again working quickly, grate the butter into the flour mixture.
Explain that yes, this does seem rather silly, but actually keeping everything cold stops it melting together before you cook it and produces a better pastry.
Realise that you've been standing there, holding the butter in your warn little mitts as you explained this and that it is now no longer, by any stretch of the imagination, cold.
Finish grating the butter into the flour and quickly rub the stringy yellow worms into the rest of the mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Now break in the egg and stir it together to produce a stiffish dough.
When If it proves to be too crumbly to hold together, add a spoonful or so of water.
Resolve argument between co-chefs over who is to provide the water: Small Chef broke the egg so Smallest Chef will be water bearer.
Accept censure over unfair egg-bias: Small Chef always gets to break the egg because when Smallest Chef breaks eggs you get a bowl full of shell and she gets a fist full of slimy fragments.
Acknowledge fault in this issue and agree that more eggs will be broken by all in the near future.
Plan to make omelettes tomorrow.
And to buy more kitchen detergent.

Work the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and stick back in the fridge.
Make a cup of tea and go off to water the garden or something.
Drink the tea before it goes cold.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees or whatever counts as a moderate pie oven in your house.
Roll the pastry into a circle, press gently into your pie tin of choice, prick with a fork, apply baking parchment and beans or scrunched-up-tinfoil-filled with rice***** and bake blind for about twenty minutes until you have a nice, lightly golden pie case.

Now put everything else except the walnuts into a pan on a low heat and stir gently until the butter has melted.
Once it has done so, bring the pan to the boil and then immediately turn off the heat.
Allow it to cool, then stir in the walnuts.

Spoon the resulting, stickily brown mixture into the pie case and return the whole thing to the oven for another five or ten minutes.

Remove tart from the oven, go and put on Henry the Fifth, retrieve a slice or two of tart******* and watch the former with the latter.
Do not join in with the speeches.
Well, not with your mouth full, anyway.

Finish pie.
Wish you had but one ten thousand more.

*Well, not dirty, exactly, but definitely not clean.
Just faintly gritty with flour and sugar and that awkward buttery texture that's a pain in the neck to scrub off.

**It has come to this: last week I saw a packet of muffins labelled English Breakfast Muffins.
O tempora, o mores. 

***Except it was probably invented in Colorado in the nineteen fifties, knowing my luck.

****Do not use granulated sugar.
If you use granulated sugar in this recipe then Drake's drum will beat and the heroes of Britain's chequered past will arise to point at you and laugh.
Or something.

*****Or whatever you use to bake pies blind.
Not using anything will not fill your house with Elizabethan zombies******, but may result in a puffed up pie case with less room for its delicious filling.
You have been warned.


******* Optional extra: Cumberland Cream.
Take 150ml double cream, 20g icing sugar and 2tbsp good rum.
Whip them all together and chill till needed.
Eat on the hot tart********.
Do not give any to the kids.

********There will probably be a lot left over.
Fortunately it also goes wonderfully in coffee, hot chocolate and other such non-traditional vehicles.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Ancient Roman Pieday

I think I've mentioned before that I write the Pieday blog entries with a buffer, so the pie we make on Friday is generally not the pie I then write about.

This gap grows vaster yet when I fail to post for an entire week due to being in a field*.

So here's the pie we made for our Roman feast, to wind up our Roman project.
More on that later.


We made placenta**


60g semolina
60g plain flour
One packet of Filo pastry***
340g ricotta (or painstakingly recreated ancient Roman soft cheese)
190g honey

Pour the semolina into a bowl, add enough water to cover it and leave it for an hour while you get on with your day.

When you return to the semolina drain out as much water as possible, squiggling it down to press out the last drops.
Observe that yes, it does look like quicksand, but is probably too shallow for anyone to get sucked down and drowned in.
Knead in the flour to produce a dough.
Scrape the sticky bits of dough off the knuckles of chefs Small and Smaller and send them off to investigate the properties of a nailbrush.
Leave the dough to rest while you get on with the next bit.

Beat the cheese together with 90g of the honey.
Use a fork, not a rotary whisk, unless you feel like destroying kitchen utensils today****.
The fork also allows a little more control and helps prevent splatters.
Actually, make sure you use a nice big bowl too.
And put an apron on Smaller chef.
And a headscarf.
Actually, better run a bath while you're at it.

Now take a large round dish and layer the filo sheets inside it, setting each one at a slight angle to the one before so that you have a rough circle or star of overlapping corners.*****
Brushing each sheet with melted butter gives a better finished effect, but is even less authentic.

Now divide the semolina dough into six balls.
No, they won't stay ball shaped, they are essentially weird, droopy pieces of sand coloured silly putty.
Prevent Small chef from throwing one at the wall to see if it will bounce.
Prevent Smaller chef from eating any.
Promise Small chef that bouncy-semolina experiments will be attempted another day.
Take smaller chef into the bathroom to vigorously scrub teeth.
Re-divide semolina dough into six balls well out of the way of any other chefs.

Stretch the first ball into a rough disc and place on the pastry base in the dish.
Observe that it immediately starts to creep back on itself.
Thwart this attempt by dolloping a sixth of the ricotta honey mixture on top and spreading it out over the whole surface of the semolina.
Now repeat this with the next ball blob of semolina and keep on stretching, dolloping and layering until you run out of gooey oozy things to play with.

Next fold the pastry around and over the cheese and honey morass: lift one edge and pull it up and over, then take the next edge and do the same, pulling it across to slightly overlap the last edge******.
Keep going round until you have achieved an attractive, rounded cake-pie creation.
Observe that yours is neither attractive, nor truly rounded, but forge ahead anyway.

Cover the dish with a roasting tin or similar and put the whole caboodle into a hot (about 220 celsius) oven for around fifty minutes until golden brown and puffy and crisp in a way that it probably wouldn't have been if you had used the proper pastry.

While it cooks rearrange you front room to resemble a triclinium with the addition of camp-beds, throws, cushions and random proppy things.

Once the placenta is out of the oven leave it to cool a little while you pour the rest of the honey into a pan and warm it on the stove.
Place the placenta on a serving dish, pour the warmed honey over the top and serve as part of a Roman feast alongside quails' eggs, lentil-and-chestnut stew, chickpea paste (ok, hummus) and honeyed dates.

Eat with your fingers, while reclining.

Go and run another bath.

*At Foolhardy Circus Camp.
And it was amazing.

**And once again, ew, moving on now.

***The proper version of this uses flour to make something like strudel paste.
I've made it that way before but am, frankly, dreadful at stretchy, delicate things and do not feel inclined to entrust that task to my terrifying abominations children.
For the more authentic recipe see The Classical Cookbook by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.
A recipe for seadas will also give you a good idea of what this ought to taste like.

****Well you might.
It could be a mini-project: first work out why the whisk broke, then try to fix it, then when you can't fix it, estimate the cost of the new whisk and look up various whisk-selling websites to see what the average price is before subtracting the estimated price from the real average and seeing how much more everything costs than you expect.
It's a learning experience.

*****Yes, this a truly awful description.
And no, I don't have a photograph to help you.
Look, just get the sheets into the dish so you have a flattish roundish pastry base.

******This description is, if anything, even worse than the last one.
Just pull the pastry over to cover the filling: you'll probably figure out what I meant and if you don't you'll still have achieved filling-inside-pastry and beyond that who honestly cares at this point?

Friday, 22 May 2015

The mathematical value of Pieday

Ok, everyone knows how to do maths with pie.
Cut the value of Pi into the top before you bake it, make an open-topped pie chart with different fillings, measure the diameter, circumference, radius and depth: pie-based maths is fairly intuitive really.

Today, however is not about maths with pie pie, or even maths with Pi-pie.
In fact, it wasn't originally going to be about any kind of mathematical pie.
It was going to be about an ancient Roman cake-pie thing called placenta* which we were going to make for the Roman feast we had intended to make tonight, however a change of plans and an untimely stomach bug** later, here we are.

This isn't a recipe, I won't be listing ingredients or going into the method, or anything like that.
This is just a rough approximation of how, and why we make mathematical muffins***.

Start by convincing yourself that muffins count as pie****.
This may seem an unnecessary step but, just like salting and draining aubergines or adding that pinch of turmeric to a curry, it will have a huge, if unnoticed impact on the final result.
Remember that pie is a filling surrounded by some sort of crust.
Note that the glossy top of a muffin is somewhat crust-like and that, while a muffin may not be glossy and crusty all over it is still made from the same muffin mix and therefore, spiritually, all crust.
You have only to add a filling to achieve pie.

Concede that, while filled muffins are an oozy nuisance*****, if you want to call this Pieday then filled muffins you must make.

Get out the emergency box of muffin mix.
Assuming your mix is blueberry, go and get the jar of blueberry conserve from the cupboard.
Make up the muffin mix.
Add a little lemon zest****** because it's there, and because lemon and blueberry go so well together.
Consider swapping the blueberry conserve for lemon curd.
Determine that no, these are blueberry-pie muffins, so blueberry it must be.

Feel a moment's sympathy for the writers of those so-called recipes which list cake-mixture and packaged icing on their ingredients.
Quash this ruthlessly.

Note that at least the blueberries in the package are tinned and not dried because otherwise these would be dried-blueberry muffins not blueberry muffins: it's not as though you call scones******* with raisins in grape scones.
Not that that matters here.
Because these are pies.

Sort out the oven, muffin pie cases and so on.

Now spoon half the muffin mixture into the cases.
Add a teaspoon of the fancy jam in the middle of each splodge of mixture.
Top with the rest of the muffin mix.

Put the pies into the oven, set the timer and have a cup of tea.
Get distracted contemplating apple-pie muffins made with a really good plain muffin mixture with lots of melted butter, and a proper, non-gloopy, apple-pie filling with two kinds of apple, and a crumbly topping made of soft brown sugar and cinnamon*******.
Ok, so not all filled muffins are an abomination

Once the muffins are done take them out, let them cool a little and get on with the maths.

The thing about mathematical muffins is that it's not how they're made********* that makes them mathematical, it's what you do with them.
So count them.
Do addition and subtraction, cut them into halves, quarters and thirds, talk about the number of cuts needed for each and how many times you would need to cut them for each.
Talk about why that isn't the same.
Do most of the things you could do with a normal pie.
Measure them.
Figure out the height of an average muffin, then work out the height of six average muffins balanced on top of one another.
Balance them, giggling madly, and measure them to see if it's the same.
See how many times you can cut a muffin into equal-sized pieces before it crumbles.
Eat them.
Time yourselves cleaning up.

Make some more so you can check your results.

There, now that's out of the way we can get on with the blog.

**Apparently contracted by text.
I suppose it's a natural evolution of the computer virus.

***Which are still American Muffins, but also still get away with murder due to the awesome power of alliteration.

****Because this is Pieday.

*****And, frankly, just rather disappointing cupcakes.
Which are themselves just overblown fairy cakes.

******But not juice, as this would throw off the acidity of the mixture and mess with the raising agents.
Resolve to experiment with lemon muffins another day.

*******And I hope you mentally pronounced that correctly.

********Because cheese on a sweet muffin would be a thousand kinds of wrong.

*********Although obviously weights and measures are all sorts of fun.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Nutty Pieday

Baklava is clearly pie: delicious nutty filling encased in pastry and drenched in syrup, that's definitely some sort of wonderful diminutive pie.
 So, since I had a hafla* to go to and was looking for a different sort of pie to those that we've attempted lately, baklava it was**.
They are far easier than you might imagine, at least the way we made them as we don't make our own filo***, and well worth the frankly negligible effort.

So we made Baklava.


300ml of water
500g caster sugar (but adjust sweetness to taste)
Two packets of filo pastry
One lemon
Three small bags of pistachios (about 300-400g)
About half a block of butter.

First boil the kettle, half fill a bowl with boiling water, place the butter in a second, smaller bowl**** and gingerly place the one inside the other***** taking care not to get any water in with the butter.
Instruct Small and Smaller Chefs to be careful because that water is hot and could burn them.
Observe that both chefs now treat that whole countertop as though it were an unexploded bomb.
Decide this is better than the alternative and get on with things, occasionally pausing to refresh the boiling water in the bowl as it cools.
 The point of this, in case you hadn't realised, is to melt the butter.
You can do it a different way, if you have one that works.

Grate a little of the zest from the lemon and set it aside.
Do not allow Smaller Chef to eat some of the lemon zest.
Or do, if you want to see the face she makes.
Grate some more while Smaller Chef washes her mouth out.

Pour the water into a pan (not too small in case it boils over) stir in the sugar, then cut the lemo in half and squeeze the juice from one half into the pan.
Put the pan on the stove and bring to the boil.
Issue an appropriately awful warning about the dangers of boiling sugar then invite Chefs Small and Smaller to stir the pan.
Observe that they now cross the kitchen as though they were navigating a minefield.
Stir the darn syrup yourself.
Allow to boil for five minutes, the take it off the heat and pour in a couple of tablespoons of rosewater.
Decant the whole thing into a jug, leave it to cool, then stick it in the fridge till you need it.

Next chop or crush the nuts.
You can do this by hand or in a Mechanical Whirry Blendy Device of Doom.
Should you choose the MWBDD, do not attempt to chop all the nuts at once.
Instead do a packet at a time, taking turns to push the button or whatever it is your particular contraption requires.
Note that while the Chefs Diminutive each quail away from the noise of the MWBDD when someone else is operating it, neither has any problem with the volume when the power is in their hands.
Muse on the implications of this while reducing the pistachios to a pleasing gravel.
Stir the nuts and lemon zest together.

Now turn on the oven to a medium sort of heat (we went with 200c).

Take a roasting tin or foil tin and brush the sides and base with the melted butter.
If you have a small tin****** brush that with the butter as well.

Now lay one of the packets of filo in the tin, a sheet at a time, brushing each sheet thoroughly with butter after you tuck it neatly in.
The filo should come up the sides of the tin a little.
Assuming you have an overhanging end of filo each time, which you probably will, cut it off and put it in the smaller tin.

Once the whole packet of pastry has been used pour in the pistachio and lemon mixture and smooth it off to cover the whole bottom of the pastry lined tin.
If you have a smaller lined tin too, share the nuts between the two.
Then repeat the filo-and-butter routine with the second packet, to cover the nuts.
Make sure you butter the top layer too.
Use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into neat squares or diamonds.
Make sure you cut down through every layer*******.
Note that the minor chefs, while treating a bowl of boiling water like weapons-grade plutonium, have absolutely no problem wielding blades.
Bask in the warm glow of pride.

Put the tin in the oven for half an hour and have a cup of mint tea or something.

When the baklava are puffy and golden and lovely, take them out and pour half of the jug of syrup over the top.
Once this has soaked in add the second half.

Allow the baklava to cool, then wrap carefully to take to a party the next day.
Or not if you have nowhere to be.
Save the smaller tray, should there be one, for when you get back.

Take baklava to party.
Observe the speed at which they vanish.
Do not get any baklava yourself.

On returning home observe that the contents of the reserve tin have been mysteriously reduced to a single square.

*A sort of bellydance party, with performances and generally a table of nibbles to which attendees can add things.

**I cheated: we made these on Wednesday, today was instead dedicated to maths with muffins.
I should probably call them American muffins, as I loathe the recent tendency to call plain, teatime muffins English muffins, at least in England, but I'm a fool for alliteration so I didn't.

***I'm cooking with kids here: time and fiddliness aside, home-made filo is a bridge too far.

****We used one of the little plastic bowls we got for the kids when they were tiny, these are generally pretty handy when cooking for weighing ingredients, separating eggs and so forth.

***** Or rather, the other inside the one.

******Or if you though ahead and bought some of those little tinfoil things curry sometimes comes in.

*******If using one of those flimsy foil things, take care not to cut through that as well as it will leak syrup all over the place later on.
I know this because reasons.

Friday, 8 May 2015


We made a pie.
But it was not a pie.
It was a scone.

There will be a slight piatus while I debate the ethics of posting about savoury scones on pieday.

Fear not*.
I will return.

*Unless you live in fear of my blog posts, which is honestly the more sensible attitude, but in that case just don't read them.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Immeasurable Pieday

Well, unmeasurable, anyway: our scales are still broken.

Unable to make anything involving weights and measures, and desperate for success following the coconut-pie debacles*, we decided to go with something simple this week.

We made Blueberry Tarts


One sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry**
Two punnets of blueberries
One small, or half a large tub of mascarpone
One lemon
Icing sugar to taste
A little milk or beaten egg

First turn on the oven to a medium heat (200 in our case), get out baking sheets and line with baking parchment.

Next cut the pastry into eight equal squares.
Use a sharp knife to draw a wide border around the outside of each square, then prick the middle of each square with a fork.
Brush the border with milk or beaten egg to make it nice and glossy when it bakes.

If you want to leave the filling uncooked, for fresh, light tarts, pile baking beans into the middle of each tart case and pop them into the oven for fifteen minutes.
 When you realise you have no baking beans in the house, scrabble wildly in cupboards until you come up with an acceptable substitute.
Make sure whatever you use is non-toxic and won't get stuck in the pastry***.
You probably ought to buy baking beans at some point, really.

Take them out when they're done and allow them to cool before continuing.

When they have cooled, or immediately if you want to bake the filling, for a more cohesive and somehow richer-seeming tart**** move on to the mascarpone.

Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the mascarpone and beat with a fork.
Add a few tablespoons of icing sugar and beat vigorously.
Taste a little and add more icing sugar if necessary.
If it tastes too sweet, you needed to add less.

Dollop the mascarpone into the cases, or spoon onto the uncooked pastry bases taking care not to over-fill as it will flow out when baked.
Stud all over with blueberries.

If you pre-baked the pastry cases your work here is done.

If you plan to bake the filling, then stick the whole lot into the oven for twenty minutes.
When done replace any blueberries that have been washed overboard and allow to cool before eating.

Serve after something Small and Smaller Cooks don't much like and see how fast they eat it with the promise of tart for dessert.

*I bought a bottle of Malibu for those things.

**The pastry is pre-made as we had no way of weighing ingredients, but obviously this recipe would be even better made with fresh, home-made puff pastry.

***We settled for making little parcels of tin foil wrapped around rice.

****Somewhat galette like, in fact.

Friday, 24 April 2015

The continuing failure of Pieday

So, last week's Pieday was an utter failure.
But, refusing to give up, we soldiered on and attempted another coconut pie.
It failed too.
More specifically, it failed to be pie.
It also failed to be the wonderful lesson in conversion and measurement I had intended, as my scales were broken so we wound up just using the recipe as written, which I'm afraid, uses cups rather than ounces or grammes.

We made an Impossible Pie.


110g butter (or one stick, this bit I had to convert anyway, fortunately the butter packet has marks showing where to cut)
1 3/4 cups caster sugar
1/2 cup self raising flour
2 cups milk
Optional malibu
2 cups shredded coconut (or monkey around as I did for the last recipe)
4 large eggs

First we melted the butter in a large pan over a low heat.
Once it was all melted I sent the girls to wash their hands again and surreptitiously poked the pan a few times to make sure they wouldn't burn themselves if they touched it*.
 When they had returned I stopped prodding the pan** and we beat in the sugar.

Next we debated the eggs.
The recipe calls for large eggs.
We buy boxes of mixed, free range eggs.
I have no idea whether any of them count as large,
We fished out the biggest four and used those.

Once we had beaten the eggs into the mixture we stirred in everything else, removing a couple of tablespoons of milk and replacing them with malibu.

Then we poured it into a couple of very well buttered pie dishes and put them into a low (180) oven for an hour to see if this mess would some how turn into pie.

It didn't.
According to the recipe it should form a miraculous crust on the outside, transforming it into pie.
Alas, this did not occur.
What we received was somewhere between a coconut pudding and a coconut cake, it is possible that less time would have resulted in a wobbly middle and firm outside, or that more time would have produced a crisp*** outside and cake-ish filling, but I can conceive of no possible universe in which this recipes could produce something worthy of the name of pie.

We ate it anyway.

The quest continues.

*This is not a clever thing to do.
Seriously, do not do this.
Just pour the butter into a bowl or something.


***Otherwise known as burned.

Friday, 17 April 2015


Alas, poor Pieday.

We tried, we really tried.

Consumed by the idea of a malibu-infused* coconut pie I bought desiccated coconut** and coconut cream*** then went trawling the net for recipes.
Unfortunately all I could find were recipes for coconut cream pie which, it transpires, is not a pie made from coconut cream but a coconut-custard pie.
I mislike custard pies.
 So I decided we could invent our own pie.
All hail discordia, quoth I, and off we set.

We Made a Thing


Cookie dough: I used the roll of molasses-chocolate chip cookie dough I put in the freezer last time we made cookies, you could use pre made, or go with your favourite recipe, but you really shouldn't because this is not a good recipe.

200g desiccated coconut
50g coconut cream
Two egg whites
100g caster sugar
Baking powder (1/2 tsp)
Rum, but not malibu, because I couldn't find any.

All the following instructions are highly unrecommended.

heat the oven to a reasonably low setting: we went with 180 celsius.

Fish out all the ingredients, along with several other things, decide which ones you're going to use (they're the ones in this list).

Improvise thus.

Slice the cookie dough into rounds and set them out in the bottom of your pie tin, overlapping the sides slightly to form a crust.
Don't worry about the gaps, as the cookies should spread as they bake.
Put the tin into the oven to bake for ten minutes while you get on with the rest.

Grate the coconut cream.

Whisk the egg whites till frothy.
Add the baking powder and whisk in.
Add the sugar, a little at a time, and whisk some more.
Keep whisking till it's glossy and holding peaks.

Stir in the desiccated coconut, the coconut cream, the vanilla and the rum (just a splash of each).

Take out the pie tin, turn the oven up just a little, and pile the coconut mixture into the cookie "crust".

Bake for twenty to twenty five minutes.

Take out, cool, maybe drizzle some melted chocolate over the top out of desperation.


The results will not be pie.

What you get, in fact, is a sort of giant coconut macaroon on a rather squiggly layer of cookie-dough...stuff.
It is not pie.
It is a failure.

According to Eleanor and Phoebe, failure is delicious.
According to Richard, failure is not bad, but has a little too much coconut.
According to me, failure is wodgy, unpleasant and both too dry and too damp at the same time.

Do not attempt this pie.
The pie is a lie.

I have since found a recipe for something called Impossible Pie.
It looks both possible and somewhat un-pie-like.
We may attempt that one day.


**Because I couldn't get shredded: shredded is better.

***To make up for the sweet dampness the desiccated lacks.
Seriously, if you're buying grated coconut, get the shredded stuff.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Onward to adventure!

We're currently about two thirds of the way through a project on the ancient Romans* so it seemed like a good time to pay a visit to Vindolanda**.

Vindolanda, for those who don't know, is a Roman fort along Hadrian's wall.
As well as the archaeological site and ongoing dig, there are two museums: one at the site, and the Roman Army Museum nearby.
 The Vindolanda Charitable Trust's website recommends visiting the Roman Army Museum first, then going on to the fort itself afterwards so, not having visited either before, that is what we did.

Before we went I had stocked up on worksheets, downloaded and printed off from the education section of the trust's website***, in addition to which we were handed the museum's own treasure hunt to complete, so we were sure of having plenty to do.
First stop was the School room, which is set up for school trips, with seats for a classroom, a video "lesson" from a dummy teacher and various interesting facts and fables set out around the walls.
 I was pleasantly surprised to find this room open to the public, as the website seemed to imply that it was intended for use by school groups only.
The presentation was, in fact, clearly geared towards school groups, with references to the "class" and "your teacher", but this in no way reduced the enjoyment the girls found in it.
 Once the dummy teacher had finished expounding, we searched the walls for the answers to our many worksheets, took special note of the bust of Pliny the elder who "died when he breathed in Mount Vesuvius, Mummy", ignored my exposition on the subject of Seneca, and were off to the next gallery.

The next room contained two more films as well as with various models of roman soldiers alongside appropriate artefacts.
 The films were reasonably entertaining, but were a lot to sit or stand still for, after the long car journey to the wall.
Unfortunately the answer to one of the questions on Eleanor's worksheet was only available in the less interesting of said films.
 After missing the information twice, due to bad timing, we decided to return later to find that answer****.
 So, on to the next room to dress up as legionaries, listen to a recording (no film!) about the life of Emperor Hadrian and discover, to Eleanor's horror, that Hadrian had never been to Sardinia.
Uniforms returned to their place we next took our seats for yet another film: this one a three dimensional offering on the life of a Roman soldier on the wall.
It was a very good film, in point of fact, and kept everyone's attention nicely, but by the time it was over we all seemed rather sick of watching things we could have downloaded on YouTube.
 So, on to the next room.
There was a film playing in this room too, but I have no idea what it was about as we all ignored it.
Instead we wandered through various army artefacts and other displays, on equipment, weaponry, Roman food, and the number of people actually on the wall (as opposed to off sick) at any given time; translated the password of the day from Latin to English, and tracked down the last answers for our worksheets.
 By which time everyone was getting hungry and we were more than ready to hand in the treasure-hunt and round up some lunch.

After lunch we hied us to Vindolanda itself

The site was awesome, in the proper sense of the word, and it was incredible just to walk around it, looking at the various ruined buildings, trying to figure out what they were, reading the descriptions of what historians think they were, and squelchily discovering that the ancient spring still ran just fine.
 We rambled about for a while, filling in the second lot of worksheets, before happening upon the active dig.
We watched politely for a while, quietly discussing the archaeology and guessing at what various finds might be, until one of the archaeologists came up and offered to show us some of the day's finds.
 She explained the various pieces she had set aside: some unrelated pieces of pots, a cow's tooth and a game piece, then invited us to ask questions.
Alas, under Eleanor's inquisition she was forced to admit that they had yet to find a mosaic, butshe was able to tell us that the building they were working on was a shrine and tomb*****, unless it wasn't, as they wouldn't really know until they finished excavating, if ever.
 Despite the lack of extraordinary finds the girls seemed as thrilled as we were to look over the dig and appeared to happily accept my statement that archaeologist was "the coolest and least glamourous job ever".

And then they rampaged on.
 We discovered replica shops with recorded dialogue, a replica nymphaeum (Eleanor's favourite thing of the day) a tea-shop rather better than the one we had lunch in, another museum (this time with more artefacts****** but less films) and, finally, replica buildings of fortifications from the wall itself.
 Having scaled these (from the inside, thank gods), our now decidedly weary family headed back to the car park and set off for home.

It was surprisingly hard to leave.

Should we go up again I suspect we'll make a few changes to our itinerary, such as visiting the fort first, leaving the museum till we're tired enough to want to sit down and watch things, instead of haring all over the place.
We might even find somewhere to stay for the night.
After all, we didn't even visit Housesteads, this time round.

*Which has involved all manner of fun that I may go into later.
Or I may just post the photographs of the Roman feast with which we plan on ending this project.

**We would have liked to go to Pompeii and Herculaneum, since the tentative plan for this year is Romans, followed by Archaeology, followed by volcanoes, but Vindolanda is rather cheaper and therefore actually achievable.

*** There are sheets for both the museum and the fort, these are labelled for particular age-groups, but it's worth reading them through before you print them off as all children have different strengths and weaknesses.
 In the girls' case Eleanor was perfectly happy with the sheets labelled as being for nine to eleven year olds, while Phoebe worked through the sheets for seven to eight year olds with a lot of help from her daddy.

****We did, we still missed it and settled for talking to her on the subject instead.

***** Everything at Vindolanda seems to be a something and tomb: we saw a temple and tombs, shop and tombs, house and child's grave and a mausoleum.
Given the apparent local propensity for just shoving people in the nearest temple or burying them under the tiles, we assumed that either the mausoleum belonged to someone terribly impressive, or the residents of Vindolanda were curiously morbid.

****** Including roman horse armour, which was Eleanor's favourite thing on those occasions that the nymphaeum wasn't.

Friday, 10 April 2015

American Pieday

At this point I suspect that this blog is at least eighty percent pie.

It may not have escaped your notice that March the Fourteenth, Two thousand and fifteen was American* PiDay.

So, of course, we baked an American pie.
Alas, this pie was made to take to friends, so the girls didn't get a nibble of it.
Naturally, therefore, we had to make another one.

Pecan** Pie

Note that as this is an American pie it uses American cup measurement rather than imperial or metric.
If you are baking it with the kids I recommend you make them do the conversion and call it their maths for the day.
Or buy a set of measuring cups: that works too.


One packet of ready rolled pastry***
One cup of soft golden muscovado sugar, or whatever sugar you have in, I am not the sugar-police
Three cups of golden and maple syrups in whatever proportion you prefer (or just use the golden syrup on its own)
Two tablespoons dark**** rum
A quarter-cup of softened butter
Three large free-range***** eggs
One teaspoon pure vanilla extract extracted from actual vanilla
A tiny pinch of salt
A largish bag of pecans, or one small bag of pecans and one small bag of salted pecans (bliss).

Roll out the pastry, put it in a lined (trust me on this) pie tin, trim it, put it in the fridge and get o with the fun part.

Put the sugar, syrup and butter in a larger-than-you-think-you-need saucepan.
Add the rum.
Admonish Small Cook for carelessly splashing the rum over the counter, pointing out that this is Mummy's good rum.
 Endeavour to explain how the rum can be good when rum is alcoholic and you said only yesterday that alcohol is bad for you.
Try not to sound like Homer Simpson.
Discover, to great relief, that Smallest Cook has started snapping her teeth at both Small and Desperate-For-A-Distraction Cook.
Interrogate Smallest Cook on this matter: learn that rum is for pirates and crocodiles eat pirates and  that is why she is now a crocodile.

"Honey-Child, fetch Momma's shotgun, there's a 'gator in the house".

Note, with some dismay, that neither child points out the difference between crocodiles and alligators.
Resolve to focus on Natural History in the near future.

Put saucepan on stove turn on heat and stir the whole boiling lot until it is boiling a whole lot.

Boil for another minute.
Allow Small and Smallest cooks to take turns stirring the mass of boiling sugars.
Take photographs, possibly as evidence for social services.

Allow the syrupy mess to cool.

Meanwhile smash the nuts into itty bitty pieces with the end of a rolling pin.
Turn on the oven to a low pie heat (around 180 celsius for us)
Put an oven tray on the bottom shelf.
Make sure it's on you don't particularly care for.
Pour the broken nuts into the pie-case.
If using the salted pecans make sure you combine the two kinds of nuts thoroughly.

Beat the eggs.
Stir the eggs, salt and vanilla into the cooled syrup.
If the syrup isn't cool wait till it is: you are not making scrambled eggs right now.
Do not check the temperature of the syrup with your fingers.
Do not use Smallest Cook's fingers either.
No matter what she says.

Pour the egg-and-syrup mixture over the nuts.

Put the pie into the oven for approximately fifty minutes.

While you are waiting wash everything before the syrup mixture has time to turn to glue.

Take out the pie when it is golden and lovely and pecan pie-like.
Failing that, take it out when it starts to burn.

Try to clean the burned-on syrup splashes off the oven tray.
I told you not to use a good one.

Allow pie to cool.

Serve with whipped cream or good vanilla ice cream.

Try to scrape the kids off the ceiling in time for their bath.

*I specify American, as PiDay derives it's name from the date: 3/14/15.
Since for many of us it would be 14/3/15 the phenomenon is less than global.
Fortunately, as the wonderful Vi Hart has pointed out, every day is Tau day so the rest of us can celebrate that, instead, I suggest doing so by baking something round such as, for example, a pie.

**Pronounced Picon, or possibly even P'Con as though it were some sort of comestible Vulcan or something.

***The first time we did this made it properly, with a proper dessert pastry, the second time we were in a hurry so we cheated.
It's what the original recipe said anyway.

****Move away from the Bacardi.
And the Malibu.
I mean, seriously?!
Actually, if you were making a coconut pie...

Watch this space.

*****I am totally the egg-police.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

We Apologise For The Inconvenience

I'm fairly sure my last post was some sort of placeholder-ish thing apologising for the general lack of posts and assuring my loyal reader* that normal service would be resumed shortly.
 It wasn't.

For this I can blame any number of things, chief among them the far too early death of Richard's father, Mick, who we all miss very much.

Life, however, goes on, the world turns, the sun continues to shine even when the moon gets in the way, and children continue to grow in all manner of unexpected directions.

So the blog is back in all its rambling, ranting, footnoted, pie-eyed splendour.

Sorry it took us so long.

*I'm sure we had one.