Sunday, 27 November 2011

Apple and Rhubarb Pie

Staying with the Mothership this weekend, I figured it was the ideal opportunity for a masterclass in how to make pastry.  Many moons ago - before I was born - she was a pastry chef at the biggest hotel in Southampton so I thought I couldn't go wrong.
The finished pie (it leaked a bit)

I normally buy ready made pastry because it's easier and quicker and always tastes good.  Despite this, I still have shrinkage problems when I'm making mice pies and other small pies.  So I decided it was time to go back to basics and learn how to make my own.



And then she handed me her copy of 'Practical Cookery' by Ceserani and Kinton (1967 edition) and left me to get on with it!  Thanks mum.  I duly chose method two which she'd highlighted as the best option when she was a student in another lifetime.

It's a real chef's book because it's well thumbed, covered in prehistoric food splashes and annotated as she learned her craft and improved the basic recipes with her own twists.  In contrast, like me, she has a pile of pristine, glossy, celebrity chef scribed books that have barely had the spines cracked and have never even been near the kitchen - just salivated over with thoughts of a grand dinner party that never happens.

And yet, despite using a real chef's book, rather than a celebrity chef's book, I still had trouble.

First I made the mistake of asking why people say you should mix pastry with a round ended knife.  If there's one mantra I remember my mother chanting to me as a child (aside from 'don't get pregnant before you're married) was 'fingers were made before forks'.  This obviously applies to knives because she insisted that I use my hands like a real chef.  Even my comment that I remember always watching my beloved grandma using a knife to make her pastry as she lovingly crafted an apple pie (whilst I stole bits of apple when her back was turned) fell on deaf ears.  So if someone can tell me why I should use a knife, please email or tweet me.
Pastry made to a sixties recipes - looks like it was made then too!

The pastry didn't come together very well.  After a heated discussion, I was offered a second egg.  And yet the pastry still cracked every time I tried to roll it.  Apparently this is because sweet shortcrust pastry is similar to shortbread and more biscuit-like than regular shortcrust.  I'd really like the proper scientific explanation such as how it's something to do with the temperature of the butter or the gluten in the flour but Heston wasn't around when my mum was in chef school so the best answer I got was 'Because...'

Anyhow, the finished result wasn't all that bad.  The base pastry was a bit too thick as I struggled to roll that layer out without it breaking - but it cooked well and meant that the juice from the fruit didn't seep through.  No soggy bottom.  Result!

Ready for baking
The filling was from my mum's garden - half windfalls and half late rhubarb with a scatter of sugar and a water sugar glaze on the top.

The only thing I'd've changed was to use a bit more fruit but we were at the mercy of the garden supplies. Other than that, not bad for a first attempt.  Now to try a slightly different pastry recipe for my mince pies.

I now need to try and liberate the book and its brother - 'Patisserie' by L. I. Hanneman from her bookshelves - both are fantastic books with all the basic recipes that you then add your own twist to.  I could learn so much from these books - such a shame they're not still in print - everyone should own a copy.

Pate a Sucre (Sweet Pastry) Recipe


  • 500g flour
  • 150g chilled butter or margarine
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 1 egg (I used two in the end)
  • pinch of salt



  1. Rub the butter and flour together to make fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Make a well in the centre, pour in the sugar and egg and combine until the sugar dissolves.  Gradually incorporate the flour and butter mixture.
  3. Keep mixing until a smooth paste is achieved.
  4. Leave to rest for 20 minutes before using.

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