First of all – hello! I’m Jo, and I’ve known Chris for an awfully long time now, and eaten many a home cooked meal with him. I’m delighted that he asked me to contribute to his blog, since I’m a keen cook and love to share my foodie thoughts. I thought I’d start with something pretty basic – pastry.
For many years, I’ve been terrified of pastry – not in the sense that I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat at the thought of it – it’s more that it’s always been one of those things that ‘proper’ cooks do, and I am far from a proper cook. Whenever I’ve need to make anything with pastry, I’ve bought it, usually frozen and ready rolled. At the moment, I find myself with a lot of time on my hands, so I thought I’d have a go at conquering my pastry demons. It turns out to be pretty easy if you follow a few basic rules.
1. Use flour and fat in a 2:1 ratio, ie 100g of flour needs 50g of butter (or lard, or whatever esoteric gloop you want to try).
2. Keep everything as chilled as possible – including yourself – sweaty hands do not good pastry make. Chilling the pastry before rolling it out firms everything up if it gets a bit too slack.
3. Simply rub the fat into the flour as if you were making crumble – or rolling a cigarette. Keep the pressure light so that you end up with breadcrumbs, and not lumps.
4. Add the bare minimum of liquid, whether that be water, milk, egg yolk or whatever. I didn’t realise that the ‘short’ in ‘shortcrust’ meant as dry as possible (whole new meaning of the word ‘short’ to me!). The penny dropped when I was making shortbread a few months ago, and was wondering why the dough was so crumbly.
5. There is no 5, it’s that simple.
So – I started with a quiche, which called for a basic shortcrust pastry – flour, butter, and water. It all seemed to come together rather well. I’m not at home at the moment, so had to improvise a few things, like a rolling pin (empty glass water bottle filled with ice cold water), and a flan dish (found an old pyrex thing at the back of a cupboard). Here’s the result:
It may not be the most beautiful quiche ever made, and my edging technique (bash it with the side of a knife) leaves a little to be desired, but the pastry held together and the filling (4 eggs to 250ml cream, handful of grated cheese) stayed contained.
Since this first attempt, I’ve managed to get hold of a loose bottomed flan tin and some baking beans (I’d previously used scrunched up tin foil as a substitute). I’ve branched out into Parmesan pastry (just add a handful of grated Parmesan to the flour and butter after the rubbing in’s been done) and sweet pastry (add a tablespoon of icing sugar after rubbing in) – and haven’t had a failure yet. I’ve done a Bakewell tart, a Tarte au Citron and today, a smoked salmon and broccoli quiche – and have plans for a custard tart tomorrow. I think I’ve conquered my fear of pastry, and it is very satisfying to be able to make your own.
I like to think you can see the progression as I get more used to this pastry making thing. There’s no end to the things you can put in a pastry case, and home made is so much better than shop bought. My next project (and I’m dreading it!) is to attempt rough puff pastry – watch this space, and happy baking!