Pastry has to be, without doubt, the best cradle, blanket or hat for any rich, sumptuous bed of fruit, meat or vegetables. It is that crunch, that warmth and that way it crumbles which makes it just so. I thought of pastry as my nemesis. Stupid stuff that was invariably delicious when prepared by anyone but myself. All this was to change when I met Jane.
Jane makes an awful lot of pastry. She is Jane of Jane’s Kitchen and prepares a marvellous amount of amazing pastry each week for different farmers’ markets around the area. There are trout and caper parcels, Moroccan mountains, seasonal fruit tarts and some classic pies. Best of all Jane uses as many ingredients as possible from the farmers’ market.
A few weeks ago I asked Jane if she would be kind enough to share some of her pastry knowledge with a complete and utter pastry dunce – me. She was more than happy to share her wisdom and I can now pass on this wisdom to anyone else who counts themselves as a pastry novice.
The most important thing I learnt was not to be afraid of the pastry. It’s hard to believe anyone can be intimidated by some butter, flour and water but when you’re thinking, “Don’t overwork it!” and, “Don’t let it get warm”, you can find yourself all of a fluster. You need to be brave and show it who’s boss. This is extremely useful information when coupled with the second most important thing I learnt; don’t faff around too long.
Using a food blender has two advantages; it’s quicker and it keeps everything colder. Get yourself a pastry recipe. You may have previously sworn at the recipe, cast it off as useless and decreed that there’s something wrong with the proportions but actually it might have been the method that needed tweaking. Put the flour and butter into the processor and blend until it looks like you have breadcrumbs. Two important things to note here; the butter must be as cold as possible and it takes a surprisingly short length of time for it to get to the breadcrumb stage. Once you have breadcrumbs turn the blender off. Get your liquid ready, again as cold as possible, turn the blender back on and add the liquid slowly. Stand back and watch as a ball of pastry starts whizzing round your blender. Turn off as soon as it comes together.
Now, this is where the no faffing around is most important. Get the pastry and roll it out with poise, dignity and most importantly brute force. If you roll it out like you have the arms of a Greek god then it will be at your required thickness in no time. This means it is staying as cold as possible and it’s not being overworked. You can now do with your pastry what you will. If you think the pastry is not quite cold enough, refrigerate before rolling it out. One more thing to note is that sometimes after it has been refrigerated it can be too cold to roll out. This can mean your pastry rips and tears when you try. Leave it out of the fridge for a few minutes to warm up just a tad.
With all this knowledge and a bag full of pastry I set to work on my quince and apple pie. I love quince and it is having somewhat of a comeback. I planted a quince tree last year which sadly has not yet fruited but I’m hopeful for next year. They are one of our most ancient and delectable fruits. A quince has a slight fur on the skin and smells indescribably good, almost tropical. It looks a little like a pear but is firmer and much rarer.
When dealing with a quince it is essential that you have an inexhaustible supply of lemons, I know of nothing else that goes brown as quick as a quince. Lemon juice up your peeler, your knife and squeeze some into a bowl of water.
Peel, core and chop your quince as fast as your dexterity allows. Plop them into your bowl of acidulated water and do the same with your apple. I used two large quinces and one apple for this pie.
Divide your (sweet) pastry into two pieces one slightly bigger than the other. Roll out the larger bit to line your pie dish. Put the quince and apple pieces into the dish and sprinkle over some sugar. It is hard to say how much you need as it depends on the tartness of your fruits. I put in one large handful.
Roll out your second bit of pastry and place on top of the pie. Crimp the edges together with a fork or other chosen utensil. Brush the top and edges of the pie with a little beaten egg. I don’t trim the edges of the pastry off until it comes out of the oven as it shrinks when it cooks.
Put into a preheated oven for 5 minutes at 200C then turn it down to 180C for another 35 minutes or until it is a beautiful golden brown.
This is a lovely autumnal pudding. Crisp, sweet pastry with a thoroughly British interior. I was surprised that the quince came out of the oven slightly orange in colour and not brown. Although my recent pastry lesson doesn’t bode well for the waistline it does mean I can look forward to a few months of proper, soul warming food.