Cherry Pie

What better reason for trying an exciting new recipe than a visit from lovely family?  None.  My wonderful Mum and her wonderful fella John made a Sunday day trip to see me in London this weekend, which was an absolute joy.  John – a self-confessed foodie – had never experienced the modern day marvel that is Whole Foods so I took them for a jaunt along High Street Kensington to have a mooch around one of my favourite shops of all time.  He was like a kid in a sweet shop, which was a joy to behold!  Bewitched, bewildered and billed, we walked back to my house for a feast of duck with baked honey-balsamic figs, sautéed potatoes and fine beans, followed by home-made cherry pie.

250g plain flour
50g icing sugar
150g unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg yolks
4tsp cold water

Cherry filling
800g fresh cherries
100g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1tbsp lemon juice
½tsp vanilla extract
50g cornflour
½tsp ground cinnamon
good grating of nutmeg

Milk for brushing pastry

Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until it becomes a sandy consistency.  Add the egg yolks and water, mix up to a soft paste then wrap well and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Pastry stage 1

Pastry stage 1

Pastry stage 2 - sandy consistency

Pastry stage 2 – sandy consistency

Pastry stage 3 - ready to refrigerate

Pastry stage 3 – ready to refrigerate

Pit the cherries.  If you’re brave and have plenty of time on your hands, do it manually.  If you’re sufficiently lazy to buy yourself a cherry pitter (*raises hand*) it’ll take you about 10 minutes.  BE WARNED: however you choose to do it, wear an apron over a short-sleeved top and be prepared for your kitchen to look like a crime scene and your hands to look like prime suspects.  Those juicy little beauties splash.

Cherries - pitted

Cherries – pitted

Throw your pitted cherries in a big bowl and scatter over the sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, spices and cornflour.  Stir through thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the cherries to macerate.

Cherries - ready to macerate

Cherries – ready to macerate

Butter and flour your pie dish.  Halve your pastry and roll out one half between two sheets of cling film.  Peel the top sheet off and use the other to move the pastry to the pie dish.  The pastry will be fragile so be careful not to manipulate it too much.

Pastry case

Pastry case

Give the cherry mixture a good stir, then tip the lot into the pie dish.  Roll out the second batch of pastry and cut fine strips for the lattice top.  Lay the first strip across the middle, then across the middle the other way.  Keep laying strips across, being careful to fold strips back when another needs to be woven underneath.  When you’ve finished weaving the lattice, smush the ends into the edges, then brush with milk and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200C.  

Cherry pie - almost there...

Cherry pie – almost there…

Cherry pie - laying the lattice

Cherry pie – laying the lattice

Cherry pie - lattice complete

Cherry pie – lattice complete

Bake for 15 minutes at 200C, then reduce the temperature to 160C and bake for a further 35-40 minutes or until the filling starts to bubble.  If the pastry starts to brown too much, cover loosely with a sheet of foil.

Cherry pie - baked

Cherry pie – baked

Cherry pie - with "slices" taken out

Cherry pie – with “slices” taken out

Cherry pie - a "slice"

Cherry pie – a “slice”

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.  YUM.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart

I went to a wonderful wedding back in January, which boasted many, many incredible features – one of which being the food.  Pudding was a stunning salted caramel tart topped with chocolate ganache and I promised myself there and then that I would give it a shot.  Four attempts later and I’m ready to share my findings.  It’ll be a relatively lengthy post, this one, so perhaps get yourself a coffee before you start…

Sweet Crumbly Pastry: 
125g plain flour
25g icing sugar
75g unsalted butter, cold
1 egg yolk
2 tsp cold water

Weigh the dry ingredients into a bowl, then rub the butter in with your fingers until it reaches a sandy consistency.  Add the egg yolk and water, and bring the pastry together with your hands into a ball.  Flatten it into a fat disk and wrap it in clingfilm.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and prepare your tart ring or loose-bottomed tart tin.

Sweet pastry, rested

Sweet pastry, rested

Tart ring

Tart ring on a lined baking sheet

Most recipes advise you to roll pastry onto a floured surface, but I prefer rolling it onto a sheet of clingfilm.  Sweet pastry is delicate and has a tendency to fall apart when manipulated, so the clingfilm enables you to move it to the tin without it splitting as it can when draped over a rolling pin.  Grab the clingfilm with the pastry on it and tip it upside down over the tart ring.  Leaving the clingfilm attached, carefully press in to the corners, against the ring.

The joy of clingfilm

The joy of clingfilm

Peel away the clingfilm and discard.  Leave the excess pastry draped over the sides so that the walls don’t drop during baking.  Stab the base all over, then refrigerate again for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, centre a shelf and preheat the oven to 170C.

Sweet pastry case

Sweet pastry case

Line the pastry case with baking paper and fill with baking beans, making sure they push right against the edges to reduce the risk of the pastry shrinking away from the sides.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Slowly remove the paper containing the baking beans, then loosely cover the pastry walls with a thin strip of foil to shield them from browning too much.  Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until it’s a nice golden colour.  Remove from the oven, trim the edges and leave to cool.

Ceramic baking beans

Ceramic baking beans

Blind-baked sweet pastry case

Blind-baked sweet pastry case

Trimmed sweet pastry case

Trimmed sweet pastry case

Sea Salted Caramel:
65g whipping cream
1/2 vanilla pod
100g sea salted butter (cubed, at room temperature)
145g caster sugar

N.B. I don’t have photographs of these stages because caramel can transform from all-going-well to absolutely-ruined-start-again in seconds, so I didn’t want to risk ruin by standing around with a camera at crucial moments.  

Remove the seeds from the vanilla pod and drop the seeds and the pod into a small saucepan with the cream.  Bring to a rapid boil, take off the heat then leave on the side to cool a little.

Preheat the base of a second saucepan on a low heat.  Cover the bottom of the pan with a layer of sugar.  When it begins to melt around the edges, gradually add a little more sugar, concentrating on covering the melting sections first.  Continue gradually adding more.  When you want to bring unmelted crystals into the melted sugar, be sure only to stir in tiny circles, never allowing any air to fold in.  Watch for: an amber colour, a fine mist starting to come off the pan, and tiny bubbles in the middle of the pan increasing in speed.

Take the caramel off the heat.  Add a tiny bit of the cream/vanilla (don’t remove the vanilla pod yet), stirring simultaneously.  It will bubble up a lot, so keep your face and hands clear of the steam.  Continue adding cream until it’s all in and smooth.

Once all the cream is in and the caramel has cooled a little, add the butter a few chunks at a time and stir in.  Don’t worry if it looks split at any point; it will emulsify eventually.  Pour caramel into a heat-proof dish (still including the vanilla pod) and leave to cool.

Chocolate Ganache:
230g dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
250g double cream
60g unsalted butter, room temperature

Place the chopped chocolate in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients.  Bring the cream to the boil.  While the cream is heating, work the butter until it is very soft and creamy and leave to one side.

When the cream is at a full boil, remove from the heat and – working with a rubber spatula – gradually stir the cream into the chocolate.  Work SLOWLY, starting in the middle in tiny circles, and gradually widening out to the edges.  Continue this pattern, without creating bubbles, until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.  Leave the bowl to cool for a few minutes before adding the butter in two batches, stirring in the same pattern as before.

Tip: rescuing split chocolate ganache
Making chocolate ganache can be really tricky as it’s sensitive to things like room temperature, the speed of stirring and all sorts.  If it splits (you’ll see fats separating out of the chocolate and the texture will be odd), don’t panic; you can probably still rescue it.  Leave it in its bowl and pop it in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes.  The fats will have settled and partially solidified on the surface so it’ll look awful.  Take your clean rubber spatula and give it a good stir.  It should come together.  You may find a few tiny spots of butter, which are easily plucked out and discarded.  Don’t refrigerate it again as you’ll need it at a spreadable consistency.

Very simple, really.  Depending on the equipment you’ve used, make a decision about whether it would be better to leave the pastry case in the tin/ring so that the walls have support or to remove it now before it has been filled.

Pour the caramel into the pastry case and distribute evenly, all the way to the edges.  Gently spread the ganache over the top, being careful not to push down and displace the caramel.

(Your caramel will look more even and liquidy than this because mine had cooled a little too much so I had to spread it manually with a palette knife – but it was still gorgeously gooey when we cut into it.  Yours should be a pour-able consistency.)

Sea salted caramel

Sea salted caramel

Salted caramel chocolate tart

Salted caramel chocolate tart

If you like, you can finish with a dusting of icing sugar or grating chocolate over the top.  Cover with an upturned bowl or a cake box lid and leave at room temperature to set into a sumptuous texture.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart Slice

Salted Caramel Chocolate Tart Slice

This final photograph was an earlier – good but not quite as good – version but the picture is far superior to anything I could take so I’m posting it anyway.  (Thanks, Andy.)

Salted caramel tart slice (attempt 3)

Salted caramel tart slice (an earlier attempt)

Tarte aux Pommes

I’m off to a jolly dinner party at my friend Rich’s this evening, for which I offered to contribute a dessert.  Rich has chosen a wonderfully rich wintry menu including a duck main course (yum), so I suggested a fresh tarte aux pommes to finish.  I made a couple of these a few years ago, which featured shortcrust pastry, an apple and cinnamon purée and lots of beautifully sliced apples over the top, glazed with apricot jam.  Well, it turns out I can’t find that recipe – it took me almost an hour of sifting through a big heap of books to come to that conclusion, but there it is.  I turned, instead, to the internet, and discovered a fabulous looking recipe whose author is clearly deeply passionate about food, and has carefully honed this recipe to recapture a memory of the first time she tasted tarte aux pommes in France.  This one is similar, but uses crème pâtissière instead of apple purée and fewer apples.

As you can refer to the original for the recipe, I’ll just give a few photographs and thoughts.

The crème pâtissière doesn’t look very nice at all in this picture because of the blobs of butter over the top, but trust me when I say it tastes delicious and the consistency is beautifully thick and silky.

Irrelevant but mildly amusing, a photograph of the result of an apple corer-related mishap:

I am an absolute sucker for kitchen gadgets, so was easily seduced by a frivolous set of baking beans a little while ago, and this was my first opportunity to use them.  I must admit, they’re flipping marvellous!  Many’s the time I’ve chased roasting hot ceramic beans around my kitchen floor having buggered up the removal of the sheet of baking paper that contained them, so removing these in a second with a pair of kitchen tongs was a breeze. They also don’t rip up half the pastry, which I’ve done with paper once or twice…

When I do this recipe again – as I almost certainly will – I shall slightly change the way in which I’m slicing the apples.  Once I’ve cored and peeled them, I’ll slice the top straight across (leaving the bottom nice and curved), then use the flat edge to slice vertically.  This way, I’ll get a nice curve/point to create a more aesthetically pleasing finish.  Not bad as it is, mind.


I will also make sure I cover the pastry edges next time I do this (for everything after the blind bake), as it’s a bit too browned for my liking.


Now for the nerve-wracking bit of offering it to my friends.  Always terrifying, no matter how confident I am that I’ve chosen a brilliant recipe and followed it to the letter.  We shall see…