Everyone has a perfect apple pie. People are suprisingly picky. Mine was always my Nana’s. Growing up, I would refuse to eat any other pie, mostly because she mashed her apples and shop-bought ones tended to have apple slices…to this day I can’t eat those slithery apple slices….
Her pastry was thick and crumbly, very traditional. But, what with the amount of mince pies I managed to consume over Christmas, I noticed the difference between shop pie shortcrust and the one I made was enormous…particularly when I tried a hand at my own minces pies and they came out like Hagrid’s rock-cakes.
I had a poke through some recipe books and all the shortcrust pastries seemed the same; even the supposedly rich ones just whacked in an extra egg or a teaspoon more sugar. THEN. In a Marks and Sparks basic, boring little baking book I was idly flicking through, out popped THE PERFECT PASTRY. Light. Sweet. Crispy on the top. Able to hold a shape rather than fall apart the minute you slide it off the dish. So I thought I’d share it with you. Prepare for appreciative silence round the table.
The ingredients are much richer than your average pastry. 350g flour. 125g butter. 125g sugar. pinch of salt. 2 eggs plus one yolk.
It didn’t even include directions, but I went with the old safe system passed down through Manchester; rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs; add the sugar and salt; make a well in the centre and pour in the eggs, very firmly whisked (I was once scorned by my Nana for ludicrously weak egg whisking…); mix together with a wooden spoon until it comes together and then get squeezing.
This is where my little confession of the week goes. In trying to get my historical consultancy business off the ground, I thought it might be useful to get an agent, for media-related roles. Now, as usual, I think the agency took one look at my CV and thought ‘Hell no!’, but, through my wit and charm (*annoying nagging), they eventually asked if I had any footage to send them, as a sort of portfolio-type thing I guess. ‘Of course!’ was my answer. ‘Of course not!’ was the answer in my head, and so I scuttled off to try and think of something I could video WITHOUT it looking like I desperately lay down to do their bidding. The only thing I could think of (as I thought me sitting before a screen, explaining the intricacies of Third Intermediate Period bowls, might not be found enjoyable by the majority of media moguls), was to make this pastry, and have my poor, long-suffering fiancé film me.
Aside from the fact I for some reason have an odd twang to my accent on camera (I blame years of watching Friends mixing with a Manchester accent), it seemed to go quite well, particularly as making the pastry nicely distracted me. Apart from the times when my British Bake Off/Nigella watching crept out to bite me on the arse. References to giving the pastry ‘a good hard squeeze’ appeared at times unfortunately, and other…interesting observations concerning the buttery, sticky nature of it. Possibly why I have never heard from the agents since. Well, if you scare that easy!
ANYWAY, back to the recipe. It’s more important than usual to let the finished pastry rest in the fridge for an hour, because it is so very very sticky; this also means it requires your hand to be in the flour bag back and forth lest it glues itself to the surface. But, it fits in the tin perfectly. I use a small piece of pastry to press the pie body into the zig-zags of a pie tin (there must be some professional word for this tin, but I have absolutely no idea what it might be…). Then you can fill it with whatever you fancy – some scrummy mushy apple in my case. Be warned in the case of tinned fruit however, lest you encounter the British Bake Off nightmare- THE SOGGY BOTTOM…..
I’m pretty content with my new pastry recipe. However, my Mum tells stories of my Great-Aunty Ethel’s pies, made of legendary, delicious pastry, the best she ever tasted; apparently made of little more than flour and lard. I keep meaning to have a go with this lard business, but thus far, the terrifyingly enormous fat content warning splashed across the front of the packaging has filled me with too much alarm. Maybe that will be my next pastry experiment…..