I hate making pastry! Baking is made up of two schools. Those who are born into a dynasty of bakers who have been turning out buttery flans, light as a feather sponges and scones worthy of CWA approval since Eve was a girl. As wee things, they stood on a stool at the kitchen bench stirring the bowl and watching a family member push shortbread into a tin and roll out perfect ginger snaps. Over time, they became adept at complicated multi layered gateaux and perfect chocolate chip biscuits. Two dozen tart cases for the baby shower? No troubles – I’ll whip them up before breakfast. Then, there are the rest of us. A bunch of misfits who peruse recipe books and quickly flick the page when we see pastry is involved. Dry cakes, crumbly biscuits. We just don’t seem to have the deft touch and instinct when it comes to flour, butter and sugar. We were too busy pretending to be guests on The Love Boat or doing Wonder Woman bullets and bracelets to be schooled in the dark arts of baking and pastry making. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to see that the theme for this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop was ‘Sweet as Pie’.
Yeah, right…. Still, I had to give it a go. I wandered over to The Capers of the Kitchen Crusader who is hosting SABH this month to see what she had to say. I was inclined to make a tart but thought that this was cheating as KC had mentioned a pastry covering if possible. Bugger! I went through all of my cook books and spent quite a while trawling through the internet. If you’re making a tart, there are fillings, toppings and twists galore. If you’re making a traditional ‘pie’ (that is: pastry on the top and bottom with filling enclosed), fruit fillings reign supreme. Is a Lemon Meringue Pie a pie? In name only I think. Banoffee Pie? Same deal. In the end, I decided that there was actually less risk involved in making smaller pies, rather than one big failure so I opted for a recipe from my old friend Donna Hay. I have adapted her Pear & Rhubarb Pie recipe from Modern Classics 2. These are Solstice Pie because I’m publishing this post on the Winter Solstice and the filling reflects seasonal produce.
I realise that you won’t have a jar of Pulpe de Pruneaux (prune paste) just knocking about in your fridge but I did. So, I thought I’d be show offy and use it. I bought this paste in the Sunday market in Issegiac in the Dordogne. After tasting the range on offer, I opted for this one and remember having a discussion with the producer who was surprised that I would choose the unsweetened one as this was usually too ‘plain’ for les Anglais. He was most impressed with my palate and even more impressed when I told him I was Australian. Guess he doesn’t see too many prune paste buying Aussies on a Sunday morning in the South of France.
Solstice Pear & Prune Pies
(adapted from Donna Hay)
- 2 x cups plain flour
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
- 150g cold butter, chopped
- 2 – 3 tbsp iced water
- 4 x firm (not hard) Packham or Beurre Bosc pears
- 1/3 cup caster sugar
- 1 x clove
- 3 x coriander seeds
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 vanilla pod
- large piece of lemon peel
- 2 tspns lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tbspns cornflour
- 6 x pitted prunes
- prune paste or plum jam
- 1 x egg, beaten
- raw sugar for sprinkling
- Process flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until the butter is completely mixed into flour and mix resembles bread crumbs
- With motor running, slowly add iced water, 1 tablespoon at a time until pastry starts to just combine and forms a ball.
- If pastry does not come together, tip into a bowl and gently press together.
- Lightly knead pastry, shape into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for 30 minutes
- Peel, core and quarter pears. Chop each quarter into 3 or four pieces. This will depend on how big and how ripe the pears are. The aim is that they still have some shape to them after cooking.
- Place pears, sugar, clove, coriander, cinnamon, vanilla and lemon peel in a saucepan over a medium heat.
- Cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not overcook – it is better that the pears are still firm rather than being soft and mushy.
- Mix cornflour with lemon juice and stir into pears.
- Cook on low heat for 2 minutes then allow to completely cool. Remove spices and lemon peel and discard.
- Preheat oven to 200c (no fan)
- Remove pastry from fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 3mm.
- Cut out 6 x 11cm rounds and 6 x 8cm rounds.
- Grease a 6 x 1/2 cup muffin tin and line each cup with an 11cm round.
- Place spoonfuls of pear mixture into each cup, dotting pieces of prune throughout (1 prune per pie).
- Spread a thin covering of prune paste or plum jam on each of the 8cm rounds.
- Place an 8cm round on top of each pie, jam side down.
- Press edges of pastry cup and pastry top together, using a fork to crimp.
- Cut a vent in each pie to allow steam to escape.
- Brush beaten egg onto pastry tops and sprinkle with raw sugar
- Place pies in pre-heated oven and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until pies are golden
- Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in tin before lifting out onto baking paper lined wire rack. Serve warm or cold.
Where to start? For some readers, they will look at this recipe and think ‘simple’. For me, this was a real challenge. The pastry didn’t come together in the food processor, how thin is 3mm when you are actually rolling the pastry?, what do you do if you don’t have a circular template? blah, blah, blah
- You may need a little extra water to bring the pastry together as it very much depends on the flour, weather etc. Use only a small dribble at a time, lest the pastry become to wet as you knead it.
- Your cooked pear mixture may be too liquid or runny. Strain the mixture. Better to lose a little sauce than to have the mixture too sloppy in the pie.
- Use a cup or bowl that measures to the approximate sizes of the pastry bottoms and tops. Place on the pastry and trace around with a knife.
- I used prunes that had been soaking in Tawny for the past 12 months but any good eating prunes will suffice. What is Tawny? Tawny is the Australian name for fortified wine made in Australia, once known as Port. The word Port can only be applied to fortified wines from the Douro area in Portugal.
- If the pastry casings do not come all the way to the top of the muffin cup, pinch the sides up a little with your fingers so the pastry tops will have something to crimp onto.
- Extracting these pies from their tins can be a pain. The lids want to lift off and the pastry bottoms will still be soft from the heat. A large, flattish spoon can help to gently lift them out.
What a palaver! That’s my pastry quota for another year.