I had a pastry fail the other day. It was when I was making the treacle tart last Saturday night and the pastry was just not right. It crumbled and cracked, and I ended up splodging it into the tart tin as if it were a pastry jigsaw. The treacle part was fine but the pastry was not.
There was a time when I thought that I made good pastry – many many years ago – but in the last twenty or so years I’ve avoided it, choosing to buy pastry instead, so now I’m wondering whether the pastry I used to make back in the day was actually okay after all.
On the few occasions that I have attempted to flex my pastry muscle they haven’t all been fails – this one I made in Eucumbene last year worked really well, although it wasn’t as beautifully elastic as the ones James Martin makes on the TV shows I watch. In the pic above you can see it crumbling as I rolled it. Maybe it tasted as good as it did because I made it outside with a wine bottle for a rolling pin. There was, however, no denying that last weekend’s attempt was not a good one.
So, I decided, after years of buying frozen pastry and avoiding making the real thing it was time I went back to basics and mastered this – and that meant going back to Nigella’s How To Eat.
Nigella confides that she too had similar fears about pastry, but once she worked out that pastry is at its simplest just flour with half the flour weight in fat and a little cold water, the rest was relatively easy. How hard, I thought, could this really be?
Aside from the basic quantities – I used 300g flour, a pinch of salt and 150g butter (cut into little cubes) for a medium-sized double crust pie and a small pie – there are, Nigella says, some other pointers which help:
- Use Tipo 00 plain flour. In case you’re not fully up on all your different flour types, this is different from ordinary plain flour and different to the flour that we use to make bread which is strong plain flour. It is, instead, the plain flour that Italians (at home not in factories) use to make pasta. It does, Nigella says, give an almost pasta-like elasticity to the pastry which is a good thing.
- Keep everything super cold – from the butter to the ice-cold water that you dribble tablespoon by tablespoon into the dough. Nigella goes as far as putting the flour with the diced butter into the freezer for about 10 minutes.
- Once the ten minutes is up you can either pop it into a food processor or use your stand mixer with the paddle attachment (which I did) on a slow speed until the mix resembles oatmeal. Then add some iced water (with a squeeze of lemon juice added to it) tablespoon by tablespoon (I used about five) until it just starts to come together – but before it actually does. Then you switch the machine off, take the dough out and bring it together with your hands – taking care not to knead it. Divide it into two balls and flatten the balls into discs before wrapping in clingfilm (or pop into a freezer bag) and letting it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes before rolling out.
And you know what? It worked. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it rolled like it does on TV. I was, to put it bluntly, well chuffed with the result – so chuffed, indeed, that I’ve declared that I really need to practice more and make more pies and because I’m making more pies, I need more little pie tins to make them in. Of course, we all know that pies are a sometimes food, and wouldn’t normally belong on a mid-week menu. That hasn’t stopped me thinking about potential fillings. Maybe the next instalment in the Brookford novel series should feature a pie-maker – that is if I ever get Escape To Curlew Cottage finished and published.
On this occasion though, we went with steak and Guinness. The recipe I used was this one by James Martin – although I used Guinness instead of stout. It made for a fabulous pie with perfect gravy.
Next time, I think, I’ll experiment with rich shortcrust pastry, or perhaps shortcrust with herbs or crème fraiche…Borders might be closed but I have a whole new pastry world open and waiting for me.