Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Cherry Pie - And A Literary Classic:

I'm a big fan of Pinterest (you may have seen the "follow me" button on the right of each post) and an even bigger fan of Pintester.  Now, Pintester (a.k.a. Sonja Foust) takes a couple of popular pins each week and tests them to see if they actually work.  Some do, some don't.  Either way, her blog is a good read, and saves you from wasting time on cooking/craft/health & beauty instructions that just don't work.  I should just add a word of caution - the articles and the ensuing comments can contain some fairly ripe language, so if you're easily offended I recommend you don't read it.  If you're a bit more down to earth, please head on over to Pintester.com and laugh along with the rest of us!

Today we're taking part in a bloggy link-up of slightly epic proportions and here is the link: http://pintester.com/2013/05/the-pintester-movement-craft-all-the-things.

Sonja has organised the Pintester Movement for 31st May where around 150 of us are testing Pinterest pins that we've had in our "Must Try This" file for ages and just haven't quite got around to.  And for me...this means pastry.  I should make a small confession here: pastry is one of the very few things in the world that I find a bit daunting.  I have never had much success with it (hard as concrete, soggy bottoms, tasteless etc etc) and believe me, I have tried.  Over the years (decades) several people of a geriatric nature have told me I'll never be able to make it as my hands are too warm...well pardon me for having good circulation!  So duly encouraged by Sonja to 'step outside your comfort zone' I pulled on my big girl knickers and gave it my best shot...and here's why:

One of my earliest food memories is of cherry pie, eaten while sitting on the bench top in a small commercial kitchen. In fact, I can probably trace my fascination with all things kitchen gadgety back to that moment too.  My early years were spent in rural Warwickshire where everything did double duty - including the staff canteen/restaurant where my Dad worked. So most mornings the place was filled with paint, glue, mini trampolines and squealing kids...and as lunchtime approached everything was stacked away and the place was transformed into an orderly grown-up tables and chairs type cafe. This particular day, the cook had made an extra cherry pie and invited the playgroup staff (which included my Mum) into the kitchen for a slice. It was the yummiest thing I had ever tasted. Obviously...being more than slightly obsessive by nature...I have been in search of the perfect cherry pie ever since. The original pin from which I took the pastry recipe can be found Here, it's actually a recipe for strawberry pie - which looks amazing - but it's winter here in Oz and I would need to sell a kidney or one of the kids to buy a kilo (2lbs) of fresh strawberries...hence the cherries.

For the pie crust:
2 1/2 cups plain/all purpose flour
225g / 8 oz or 2 sticks cold unsalted butter (yes I know, it's a LOT) cut into little cubes
1 tsp salt
1tsp sugar
6-10 tblspns iced water
The original recipe uses a food processor and I don't have one, but I do have a fabulous free standing mixer so I thought that would probably do. Taking into account all the "advice" I've received about warm hands and warm utensils, I measured everything into the mixer bowl, added the paddle attachment and placed the whole lot in the fridge for 30 mins.
Then I mixed it on slow for about 2 minutes.  It didn't work, I think you really need the cutting action of a food processor blade.  So, I ditched the paddle attachment and switched to my trusty old blender: it worked perfectly. 
See those little lumps in the flour?  They're butter, and they're pea-sized, so I'm back on track.  Next, I added 6 tblspns of the iced water and mixed it with a spatula...sawdust people, sawdust.  So I added the other 4 tblspns and mixed again.  This is what it looked like:
Not a whole lot better, but I was testing the pin so I stuck to its instructions precisely.  Do you see a slightly bigger wodge of dough in the bottom left of the photo?  That's the result of my "pinch test". According to the original, you take a small lump of dough and squish it as in the photo below:
If the dough holds together, it's moist enough.  Well, it was holding, so I considered it done.  I tipped the whole lot out on the bench and kneaded a couple of times to bring it all together.  I say "kneaded", but really I just scooped the piles of crumbs into the middle and squished...hard.  I don't think you're supposed to be that rough with pastry, but at least it all came together finally.  I cut the dough into 2 slightly unequal pieces, cling wrapped them both and put them in the fridge.  The original recipe says to chill the dough for at least an hour but up to a couple of days...which suited me fine as I have to do my baking during nap time and that was coming to an end!  So, fast forward about 23 hours:
Switch on the oven to 200 C  or  425 F and place a baking sheet on the middle shelf.  Next, I rolled the larger piece of dough straight from the fridge - no coming to room temperature required. But what is required is plenty of flour on the bench and more on hand to flour the rolling pin often. My pin has those convenient little discs you can slot on the ends to make sure your dough is both even and a pre-determined thickness.  I had the 3mm discs on which I think is 1/8" in imperial.  I also happen to know that the rolling pin is 35cm (14") long so I didn't worry about meauring my 14" round as per the recipe, I just kept rolling until a groove appeared in the edge of the dough - see that horizontal one at the bottom of the photo? You can roll the dough around the pin to lift it into the pie tin, but because it's still cold you can just as easily lift it by hand - as I did.  Now, I have a fabulous pie tin (thank you Mum!) which is in 2 parts.  The inside tin has holes punched in the base and sides, and that sits in an outside tin which is solid all the way round...for the first part of the baking process I used both tins together.
I always manage to put a finger nail through my pie crusts, so with the dough draped over the combined tins I pinched off a bit of the excess and used it to push the rolled out dough against the edges of the tin.  No holes in this one thank you very much...which is really important when you're about to add a liquid filling!  Then I just used kitchen scissors to snip off the excess around the edge.
Next I rolled the smaller piece of dough - again, straight from the fridge - until it was 3mm or 1/4" thick and cut strips with a ravioli wheel.  You can just eyeball the width of each strip, I only used the ruler as a straight edge to cut against. You'll need about 10 strips for a 23cm (9") pie tin.

For the filling:
2 x 700g jars (49 oz total) pitted sour cherries in their own juice
1/3 cup sugar
2 tblspns cornflour
2 tblspns of the cherry juice
Strain the cherries through a sieve and reserve the juice.  Place them in a mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Stir well to make sure the cornflour is properly mixed with the juice.  Pile the filling into the prepared pie crust.  Now comes the decorative bit!
Brush the edge of the pie crust with either a little milk or some egg wash - I used milk. Next, take 5 of the pastry strips and lay them vertically over the filling so that each end hangs over the edge of the pie. Press the top of each strip gently but firmly so that it adheres to the pie crust underneath.  Now, lift up the second and fourth strips, carefully folding them back on themselves (as in the left hand photo above). Place a strip of pastry horizontally across the pie - it will lay on top of the first, third and fifth vertical strips - press each end of the horizontal strip to secure it...see my hefty great thumb prints in the photos above! Fold the second and fourth strips back down. Then lift the first, third and fifth strips back on themselves, lay another horizontal strip across the pie and press the ends to secure them.  Repeat until you reach the lower edge of the pie. There you go...a woven lattice.
Trim the excess off around the edge of the pie - either with a knife, or I prefer to use kitchen scissors - then press the edge down with a fork all the way round.  This disguises the joins a bit and makes sure the ends are secured.  Brush the pastry top with milk (or egg wash) and bake for 30 minutes, by which time the top will be nice and brown but the bottom will still be soggy.  Cover the pie with a piece of foil being careful to only cover the top - you still want the sides of the tin exposed to the heat. Now, remember my 2 part tin?  Well, the pastry is 'set' at this point, so I lifted the inner tin out and placed it directly back on the baking sheet in the oven.  The heat gets through the holes in the sides and bottom and allows the crust to crisp up.  Bake again for 20 mins.  Place on a cooling rack and remove the foil.
See that?  That's a pie that worked.  I've made a pie that worked!
And you see the edge of the pie in that picture below?
That's a beautifully laminated pie crust.  It means the water in the butter turned to steam and made airy lttle pockets in the dough as it baked.  It's enough to bring a tear to the eye!

Now here's the comparison: mine on the left, the original pin on the right.  It's possible that I'm having a proud parent moment - you know, where all parents think their child is the most beautiful - but I have to say, I think I did a pretty good job here!
The original recipe says to leave the pie to cool for 3 hours.  Yeah.  Like that was ever going to happen.  I cut a slice purely to take a photo for you, so you could see that it's crispy, flaky, and slightly oozy...just like it should be.  And now, I'm about to have a Proustian moment, I have found my "Temps Perdu" and I didn't even need the Linden Tea. This pin definitely worked, I recommend it to you, and I recommend you find something you've been putting off for a while purely because it seems a bit daunting and just DO IT, you'll feel brilliant!
Now...I have a load of cherry juice left over.  What to do...what to do...Cherrytini, Chergarita?

Monday, 20 May 2013

"Free" Banana and Walnut Bread:

Hello...I'm back!  It's been ages since my last post and I do apologise, we've had all sorts of family things going on here and my little blog had to take a back seat for a bit.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been baking, oh by jimminy no...I just haven't been writing it all up.  Now, one of the things I've been experimenting with is what I call "free cooking", by which I mean sugar free, gluten free, fat free, dairy free etc. etc.  Partly to address allergy requirements, partly to address lifestyle choices, but mostly because when it comes to fat and sugar: less is more (providing the finished article is still completely yum!).  Now, hands up if you knew that you can substitute apple sauce for butter or oil...nope me neither.  But you'd be amazed what you can find out when you start looking. Please don't panic there will still be butter and sugar a-plenty in the weeks and months to come...but there will also be "free" recipes sprinkled amongst them.

And so to the banana bread: now, there are times when the bananas in my fruit bowl look like they have just lost the will to live.  Sometimes I throw them in the freezer for future use in a smoothy (yay, how thrifty of me) but now and again I just send those suckers to the great fruit bowl in the sky (boo, wasteful).  But no more...here comes a recipe that actually NEEDS them to be squishy...even to the point of soupy.  And I'm dedicating it to my Dad, who never met a manky banana he wouldn't eat!  I found this recipe on the web and you can link to the orginal version here.  I added some walnuts because it needed the texture but you could leave those out if "nut free" is a requirement.

2 cups wholemeal/wholewheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt or 1/4 tsp table salt
1/2 cup of good sharp apple sauce (or stewed bramleys, you need that saucy texture)
3/4 cup runny honey
2 eggs
3 bananas...the mankier the better
2/3 cup chopped walnuts**
  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F / 170 C. Either grease and flour a 9x5 loaf tin, or line it with a paper liner.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. I like to use a whisk because it adds air to the mixture.
  3. If it's a cold day place your jar of honey in a bowl of hot water for a couple of minutes just to make it a bit runnier.
  4. In a large jug (or bowl) mash the bananas with the back of a fork then mix together with the apple sauce, honey, and eggs. 
  5. Pour all the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir well, but don't over mix it or the bread will be tough.  Stir in the chopped walnuts.
  6. Pour the batter into your prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes or until it passes the clean skewer test. 
  7. Allow the bread to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes then turn it out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
** You really don't need to be painfully accurate on this particular measurement.  I just found that 1/2 cup wasn't enough and a full cup was really too much so I compromised.  Please, add the quantity that makes you happy!

Now, much as it pained me, I managed to make this loaf last 4 days (unwrapped) in an airtight tin with no loss of texture or flavour.  And it was in and out of that tin over the course of the 4 days I can tell you!  But in case you were wondering, the bread part of it freezes beautifully well - though the nuts had a bit of an odd texture when they thawed.  If I were to make this for the freezer I would probably add the same volume of raisins and leave the nuts out.  Also, from the photo you'll see that I sliced it and spread it with butter like a tea bread.  I turns out that this was completely delicious...and completely uncesessary.  Seriously, this can be TOTALLY fat free if you want it to be.

Now go and check your fruit bowl...!