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?