Every now and then, we go through phases of pie-obsession. From apple pie to Christmas leftover pie and quiches, anything that comes with a deliciously crisp shortcrust pastry, or a buttery but light and airy puff. In this piece, we want to share with you our favourites. In the case of shortcrust pastries, we find that, adding acidity - either a dash of lemon juice or vinegar- to the dough really helps with getting that flakiness in the crust. We also particularly like recipes that use eggs, which give shortcrust pastries an extra richness. The recipes included below - one sweet, one savoury- are based on our experiments of various recipes.
As for puff pastry, we recently came across an article on store-bought vs. homemade. We agree, that when time is pressing, and you just simply don't have the time to make absolutely everything from scratch, store bought pastries and pesto and mayo... are very handy indeed. So on one recent occasion we opted for the store-bought option... We were very much disappointed by the options available at our local supermarket. None of those are 'all-butter'. And even for the branded product of a well-known butter brand, it was far from 'all-butter'. Most of these are made with margarine of vegetable oil only and honestly taste extremely disappointingly poor. So from now on, we will only make our own - we simply will opt for a non pastry dish if we really don't have the time!
We tend to use a rough puff pastry in the interest of time. We have tried Gordon Ramsay ("GR") and Valentine Warner's ("VW") recipes and found that GR's was way too buttery (VW's is definitely buttery enough!) and again, that addition of lemon juice in VW's recipe really gives the pastry an extra flaky lift! So we stick with VW's, available here. To us, the result of this rough puff is good enough but we will leave that to readers to judge - afterall you, not us, will have to eat / be judged on that puff!
Once you master the pastry, the pie filling combination - sweet or savoury - really, is endless. Below are just some of our recent lunches and dinners (and snacks)! Feel free to use different vegetables, fruits, cheese, meat... We have also included links to some of our previous recipes using shortcrust or puff pastries below:
1. Savoury shortcrust pastry - recipe makes two 20 - 23 pies
110g chilled butter, cut into cubes
A small pinch of salt
1 large egg yolk
2 - 3 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp cider or white wine vinegar
In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, salt and butter using your fingertips until it resembles find breadcrumbs. Avoid using your palm which will melt the butter. Add egg yolk and milk, and mix well using the tip of a knife. Once well mixed, add the vinegar. Again, mix well using the tip of the knife. Quickly bring the dough together using your hand. Divide the dough into two and flatten each into disc. Wrap each with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until needed.
NOTE: If you want to freeze the dough, we would recommend replacing the egg yolk with 1 Tbsp cream cheese as we don't prefer freezing food that contains raw eggs.
2. Sweet shortcrust pastry
50g icing sugar
A small pinch of salt
1/2 lemon, zest only (optional)
1 large egg yolk
2 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp vinegar
In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt and butter using your fingertips until it resembles find breadcrumbs. Avoid using your palm which will melt the butter. Add the lemon zest, if using. Add the egg yolk and milk and mix well using the tip of a knife. Once well mixed, add the vinegar. Again, mix well using the tip of the knife. Quickly bring the dough together using your hand. Divide the dough into two and flatten each into disc. Wrap each with cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes until needed.
3. Rough Puff (see Valentine Warner's recipe here)
4. UFO spanakopita surprise
This is not the average Spanakopita - whole eggs are added into these delicious pies to make them a wholesomely substantial but light dish for a light dinner or to take with you to the park for picnics! Serve with a simple tomato salad.
4 small or medium eggs, or 8 quail eggs, soft-boiled, and shell removed (See step 1)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
A pinch of nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
A handful of dill, chopped
100g Feta, crumbled
500g puff pastry
Egg wash made with 1 egg, beaten
1. For the soft boiled eggs:a. For normal eggs, use small or medium eggs. Once water is boiled, add the eggs. Make sure the eggs are fully submerged into the water. Cook for 7.5 minutes. Remove from heat. Run the eggs under cold water until completely cooled. Peel and set aside.b. For quail eggs - once water is boiled, add the eggs. Make sure the eggs are fully submerged into the water. Cook for 2.5 minutes. Remove from heat. Run the eggs under cold water until completely cooled. Peel and set aside.
2. Prepare the spinach. Wilt the spinach in a steamer or in the microwave for 2 - 3 minutes. Drain and squeeze out as much excess water as possible. Chopped the drained spinach roughly and set aside.
3. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan. When hot, add chopped onion, cook for 1 - 2 minutes then season with a pinch of nutmeg and pepper, to taste. Sauté for a further 5 - 10 minutes until softened. Add chopped spinach and cook for another 3 - 5 minutes until liquid from mixture has evaporated. Set aside to let cool completely.
4. In a mixing bowl, mix spinach mixture, chopped dill and crumbled feta. Mix well.
5. Heat oven to 180C. Roll out the puff pastry. Using a knife or pastry cutter, cut out 8 rounds of 15cm-diameter. Set four of the rounds aside. On four of the pastry base, use a blunt end-knife to make a mark (but do not cut through) along the edges, about 0.5-1 cm away from the edge. Evenly spread spinach mixture onto the 4 pastry rounds inside the marked circles. Then make a dent in the middle of the filling and add an egg into each of the four rounds or make two small dents into each filling for 2 quail eggs per pie). Brush a bit of egg wash along the edges of the four filled pastry bases. Carefully cover each with another pastry round (roll it out a little if you are finding it difficult to cover the filling and eggs!) and seal the edges. Brush the top of each pastry with the remainder of the egg wash. Make a small cross incision on to the top of each pie to let steam escape from inside the pies.
6. Bake in the heated oven for about 20 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top and thoroughly cooked through. Serve with a tomato salad.
5. 3-tiered pie - recipe makes 10 - 12 individual tarts (about 8 - 9cm in diameter)
For the pastry - use 1 disc of the savoury shortcrust pastry above
For the green filling
250g frozen petit pois / green peas / garden peas
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
Zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp almond butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
For the red filling
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp red wine or red wine vinegar
250g mushroom, chopped into cubes
100g diced chorizo
10 - 12 quail eggs
1. Prepare the pastry. Leave in the fridge until required.
2. Prepare the red filling. In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. When hot, add smoked paprika and diced onion. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes, until fragrant, then add red wine or red wine vinegar. Cook for a further minute before adding the diced mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper at this time. Cook for 5 - 7 minutes until mushrooms are cooked through and that the water from the mushrooms have evaporated. This is crucial to help prevent a soggy bottom! Tip the mixture into a mixing bowl and set aside. In the mean time, fry the diced chorizo in the same frying pan for 4 - 5 minutes, until crispy. Tip the chorizo into the mushroom mixture and let cool completely. When completely cooled, add the ricotta and mix well.
3. Prepare the green filling. Heat a pot of water. When it is boiling, add the petit pois and cook for 3 minutes. Then immediately plunge the peas into a large bowl of ice-cold water to prevent further cooking. Drain well. Set aside 1/3 of the peas. Add the remaining peas, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice almond butter and olive oil into a blender. Blitz until smooth. Mix the smooth pea paste with the 1/3 of the whole peas that were set aside.
4. Heat oven to 180C. Roll the dough out to 0.5 - 1cm thickness. Cut out ten to twelve 10 - 12 cm rounds and another ten to twelve 8 - 9 cm rounds. Lightly grease a baking tray with twelve 8 - 9cm mini pie base with butter or sunflower oil. Line the bottom with the larger rounds. Fill the pastry evenly, first with the chorizo mushroom filling. Then carefully break a quail egg onto each, then followed by a layer of the petit pois filling. Cover these with the smaller pastry rounds. Prick the edges to ensure they are sealed properly. Make a X incision in the middle of each pie. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 - 30 minutes until pastry is golden brown on the top. Serve with salad or roasted carrots and brussels.