Home Economics was one of my favourite classes through my high school years, right up there with History, English/Creative Writing and Asian Social Studies. For starters, there were a couple of guys in the class—both had a great sense of humour and, yes, they both were cheeky and naughty too. So even the washing up was fun (there were no dishwashers in classrooms back then)—we had more than a few 'sword fights' with the dish mops (the fellas always came out worse!). And if we were super bored (such as when frumpy Mrs M was talking about toad in the hole, fried brains and bacon, or cooking for convalescents), we'd make tiny wet pea balls from paper towelling and shoot them through our pens onto the stuccoed ceiling!
It wasn't all play, however, and we did actually learn some sterling cookery basics, especially when Miss Ovens joined the school as the teacher. Yep, that was her real name, and she was really hip or 'way cool', as the teens might say today. In the 1970s, Home Ec students cooked their way through the Commonsense Cookery Book and I have fond memories of experimenting with rough puff pastry, flaky pastry, and shortcrust pastry too (or as the French say, ée
Last summer, for example, Peter and I bought a cherry pie from a roadside stall at an orchard in regional New South Wales. I wrote about 'that pie' when I posted my first recipe for cherry preserves and a rustic cherry pie. We almost celebrated the eating of 'that pie'. But, oh the disappointment on first bite. The pastry was so thick and lacked flavour. And inside the thick, hollow pie shell were a few marble-like cherries loosely rolling around. We could hardly believe our eyes! Hence, I've made it my business to bake the perfect cherry pie and, while my decorating skills need more work and the pie is somewhat La Rustica (watch this space), the pastry and cherry filling are, if I may say, quite outstanding thus far.
Let's first recap the recipe for cherry preserves and then look at making pâte sucrée. You can use the preserves in desserts, served with ice cream or cream, or bake them into strudels and pies.
2kg pitted cherries*
1 cup vanilla infused caster sugar, less if you prefer
1/2 teaspoon almond essence
Spread the pitted cherries into a non-stick pan and sprinkle with the sugar and the almond essence. Simmer over a low heat until the sugar dissolves and the cherries release their juice. Try not to overcook the cherries, so cook them until the fruit is tender, but remains intact. Allow to cool. If you wish, you can ladle the preserves into airtight freezer-safe containers and snap freeze. Defrost as you are ready to use. To use the cherry preserves in a pie, thicken the mixture with a tablespoon of cornflour mixed with water. Cook gently until the mixture has thickened slightly. *If you find that it's too onerous to de-stone cherries, you can buy them frozen from the supermarket with the work done for you!
PÂTE SUCRÉE or SWEET SHORTCRUST PASTRY
200g plain (AP) flour, sifted (this aerates the flour)
1/2-1 tablespoon pure icing sugar
100g unsalted butter, diced
1 free range egg, lightly whisked
1-2 teaspoons water, as needed
If you feel like releasing the Earth Mother from within, make the pastry by hand. Combine the flour, icing sugar and butter in a bowl and rub the butter into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (oh, and do brush a little flour onto your cheek, so that you partner can see and appreciate your efforts!).
According to my 1970 edition of The Commonsense Cookery Book, you should lift the flour/butter 'well out of the basin during the process to admit the air' or in plain terminology, to aerate it. Then you add the water gradually, as needed, to make a pliable, but not-too-dry dough. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
If you like you can also use a stainless steel pastry blender to cut the butter into the flour, rather than your hands. I have also successfully made pastry in my food processor. To do this, combine the sifted flour, icing sugar and diced butter in the bowl of the processor and pulse until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Then add the whisked egg and pulse again. Now add the water (not all of it), just until the dough comes together. Place the dough onto a floured bench top and shape it into a ball. Please don't knead the dough or over handle it, as it will become tough.
CHERRY PIE A LA LIZZY
650g cherry preserves
1/2 to 1 cup of rice crumbs or almond meal
a little milk, for brushing
Chill the pastry for about 30 minutes or so, then roll it out and line the base and sides of a 26cm/10-inch pie dish or tart pan, allowing more pastry at the sides (for shrinkage). Save some pastry for the pie lid and chill it until ready to use. According to my copy of Le Cordon Bleu's Complete Cooking Techniques (which is my go-to cookery bible), 'to prevent baked pastry shrinking, take care not to stretch the dough when rolling it out and fitting it into the tin.' So, when you roll out the dough, allow a few centimetres larger than the tin size and unroll it loosely over your tin. Another good tip from the experts at Le Cordon Bleu is that 'you should use a small ball of excess dough to press the dough over the bottom and into the seams of the tin'. Then 'roll the rolling pin over the top of the tin, pressing down firmly with your hand to cut off extra dough'. And prick the bottom of the pie shell with a fork (see image below).
Chill the pastry shell, as this will help to keep its shape. Next, you blind bake the pastry until it's golden (180 degrees C for 10-15 minutes), then remove the baking paper and beans. Meanwhile, roll out the pastry for the pie top. Cool the shell slightly, then spread the rice crumbs or almond meal evenly over the base, followed by the cherry preserves. Cover with the pastry top and brush with a little milk. Use a pie bird or cut a few small slits in the top of the pastry to allow the steam to vent. Bake at 180 degrees C until the top is golden (about 30 minutes). Allow to cool. Serve sliced and dusted with icing sugar.
The process in pictures...
I call it 'La Rustica'...
Cherry pie a la Lizzy...
Season's eatings from my kitchen to yours...
This is my final Good Things recipe for 2013, dear friends. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support and readership throughout the year. You really are the best!
May you and yours have a happy and peaceful festive season. I'll be back in January with a fresh selection of recipes for all seasons and, as usual, they'll be quirky but nice. Warmest regards, Bizzy Lizzy xo
Postscript: Last Christmas I took a photo of my most treasured ornament, a delicate hand painted Christmas bell, which had been in my family for as long as I could remember. It still had the strand of old pink wool that my mother used to hang it on the tree. Shortly after taking the photo, I heard a crash and when I went into the living room to investigate I found that the tree had toppled over and the little bell was smashed to pieces. Such is life dear readers. Things can happen in a matter of moments... so if you're travelling over the holidays, please take care and stay safe
Cooking and writing have been a lifelong passion.
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- Liz Posmyk
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.