Pumpkin pie was a revelation to me. I had never tried it until a couple of years ago, when I decided to give it a go from scratch for a Thanksgiving meal. I loved it. The pastry is crisp, the filling is smooth and the sweet pumpkin is amazing paired with Christmas-y spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. You can make pumpkin pie with pumpkin from a can, but it’s actually so easy to prepare fresh pumpkin…using a microwave. I came across that tip in a BBC Good Food recipe and it works perfectly. If you don’t have a microwave you could probably steam the pumpkin until soft, but a microwave is quick and simple.
The pastry for this pie needs to be blind baked – baked without any filling – which keeps it crisp even once the wet filling has gone in. You can use proper ceramic baking beans for this, if you have them, but any sort of dried bean will do the job just as well, as will uncooked rice. Just don’t try to cook and eat the beans or rice after you’ve used them for blind baking!
Ingredients 700g piece of pumpkin Sweet short crust read-to-roll pastry 150ml double cream 150g light brown muscavado sugar 1 tsp cinnamon 1 tsp ground ginger Grating of whole nutmeg
150ml double cream
1 tbsp maple syrup
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/ Gas Mark 6. Cut the skin off the pumpkin using a very sharp knife and chop into large chunks. Place in a microwaveable bowl and cover with cling film. Microwave for about 15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Drain away any water and leave aside to cool.
Steak pie is a dish that is strongly associated with childhood memories for me. Just last week my sister and I were reminiscing about those rare evenings when we’d get home after school and spot a Marks and Spencer steak pie in the fridge – what a treat! We absolutely loved the rich, meaty filling and the crispy top on the puff pastry, but sometimes the best part was that bottom bit of the puff pastry right next to the beef which would go a little bit soggy. A serious pleasure. I still think you’re hard-pressed to find a better ready-made steak pie than those at M&S (apart from at a butchers I suppose), but a homemade one has all the same qualities – the melt-in-the-mouth beef, the rich gravy and the flaky pastry – with the added satisfaction that you get when you make a pie.
My method for steak pie is basically to make a delicious beef stew, allow it to cool and then pile it into a pie dish and top with pastry. I usually pack as much flavour into my stew as possible with extras like mustard, redcurrant jelly and herbs. A little glass of red wine or a dark beer will also add flavour to the stew, and I almost always add mushrooms, partly because I like the texture but also to bulk up the stew without spending lots of money on beef. You can cook the stew on the hob, but I find that a couple of hours in a low oven is the best way to achieve melting chunks of beef. You can also use short crust pastry – puff pastry is just my personal preference when it comes to steak pie, probably from those M&S ones – and shop-bought pastry is perfectly acceptable if you’re short on time. Or patience. This puff pastry follows the exact same method as I showed you before, and the ingredients are nearly identical. The one difference is that I substituted a small amount of the butter for white cooking fat for added flakiness. Never a bad thing.
Ingredients (serves 4) 450g casserole or stewing steak, cut into large chunks 2 heaped tbsp seasoned flour 1 white onion, diced 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped 2 carrots, diced 250g mushrooms, cut into quarters if large 1 tsp dried rosemary 2 tsp dried thyme 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar Few drops of Worcester sauce Small glass of red wine or ale (optional) 500ml beef stock 1 tbsp Dijon mustard 1 tbsp red currant jelly 1 bay leaf
190g plain flour 100g butter 25g white cooking fat 20 tbsp iced water
1 egg, beaten
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/ Gas Mark 3. Toss the cut beef in the seasoned flour. You can do this in a bowl, but I find it easiest to pop everything into a freezer bag, tie the top and give it a good shake.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a casserole pan (the casserole pan needs to have a lid and be able to go in the oven). Fry the beef until golden brown and remove onto a plate with some kitchen roll to soak up the excess oil.
It’s best to do this in batches, so that the beef is just in one layer at the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry if the meat sticks to the pan, and leaves behind crispy bits – this is all added flavour in the end.
3. Throw the onion, garlic and carrot into the hot oil and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any residue from the beef that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft and turning golden brown.
4. Tip in the mushrooms and continue cooking for a few more minutes, then add the beef back in, along with the dried herbs, and give everything a good mix.
5. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and let it bubble for a few seconds. If you’re using wine or ale then add this now and bubble for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced a little. Otherwise go ahead and add the stock, mustard and red currant jelly. Bring to the boil, tuck the bay leaf into the stew, top the pan with the lid and pop it into the oven.
6. Cook for about 2 hours or until the beef is tender and the liquid has thickened to a gravy consistency. Check the stew after about an hour – give it a stir and add a little extra stock if necessary. Once ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
7. While the stew cools you can make the puff pastry. This follows exactly the same steps as the puff pastry I showed you here (with more pictures): mix the fats into the flour; add the iced water and bring roughly together with a knife; tip onto a floured surface and shape into a rectangle; fold the top third down, the bottom third up, roll, turn and repeat. Once you have a smooth pastry, cover in cling film and pop into the freezer for 10-15 minutes to rest.
8. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Spoon the beef stew into your pie dish and spread out evenly.
9. Roll out the puff pastry until it’s about 1cm thick and bigger than the pie dish. Lift the pastry onto the pie and press down firmly round the edges – a little egg wash round the lip of the pastry dish will help to stick it down. Cut round the pie with a sharp knife to remove the excess pastry.
10. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate your pie if you like. Brush with egg and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. If you’re not ready to bake the pie right away, you can leave it in the fridge until you are.
This pie will easily feed 4 people, served with a pile of lightly steamed and buttered green vegetables. However, you could definitely make it stretch to 6 people if you also make a generous helping of mashed potatoes.
A glass of red wine is not essential, but advised.
There have been a lot of savoury recipes on the blog recently: pizza, lamb shanks, spring vegetables and fresh pesto. I make no apologies for this – this blog was never intended to be sweet-only; all food was created equal – but with “pudding” in the title it seems only fair to throw in a dessert after so many main meals. And what better to satisfy a sugary craving than a generous slice of pie. You might remember (if you have been reading the text in my posts and not just skipping through to the pictures…I know, I do it too) that a few weeks ago I was contemplating what to do with the next crop of rhubarb from my dad’s allotment. On Saturday he dashed round in his gardening gear, threw some stalks of rhubarb at me without even crossing the doorstep, muttered something about “we’re leaving for Oxford in 30 minutes and I still need to have a shower” and then ran back to the car. Needless to say, I was very grateful for the delivery and knew I had to do the fresh, ruby-red stalks justice. Rhubarb and strawberry is a classic combination, and paired with sweet and crumbly short crust pastry it couldn’t really go wrong.
Making your own short crust pastry from scratch can be a stressful experience. The “short” in the name refers to the shortening, or fat, that is added to the pastry and gives it a light, flaky texture. This means that the pastry can be hard to work with and often breaks when it is rolled out. However, that said, the blessing of short crust pastry is that it can easily be patched up no matter how delicate it is. Any holes can be covered up with another small piece of pastry and after cooking no one will notice. So if you’re being bold and making your own, don’t worry about the flimsiness of the dough – keep calm, carry on and it will turn out perfect in the end. If you’re short on time or just not in the mood for a battle with flour and butter, then the ready-made pastry that you can buy from the shops is a great substitute.
Ingredients (serves 8-12 using a large pie dish approx. 28cm across the top) About 10 stalks of rhubarb 1 tbsp sugar 2 tsp vanilla extract 450g plain flour Pinch of salt 200g chilled butter, cut into small cubes 30g chilled white cooking fat, cut into small pieces 50g of caster sugar mixed with 10 tbsp cold milk and chilled 750g fresh strawberries, husks removed and halved if large 1 egg, beaten
White or Demerara sugar for sprinkling
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. Chop the rhubarb into chunks and lay out in a roasting tray, sprinkled with the sugar and vanilla extract.
2. Roast the rhubarb for 5-10 minutes until just tender.
3. Make the pastry following my previous recipe. The only difference here is that we have double quantities but the steps are exactly the same: rub the butter and fat into the flour and salt, add the sugar and milk to combine and knead the minimum amount of times needed to bring the dough together. Wrap the pastry in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. If you leave the pastry to chill for longer (there is no problem making it a day ahead) then give it 30-60 minutes out of the fridge otherwise it will be too hard to roll. 4. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 again. Cut the pastry in half and pop one piece back in the fridge while you roll out the base of the pie with a rolling pin (wine bottle). Use plenty of flour on the surface as you roll since the high butter content can make the pastry sticky. Roll into a rough circle 1cm thick and lift into your pie dish. Press into the edges, leaving the excess pastry to hand over the sides.
5. Fill the pie with the roasted rhubarb and fresh strawberries. If you have a sweet tooth then you can sprinkle with some extra sugar.
6. Roll the second half of the pastry out to top the pie. Press the crust down firmly to seal the pie and crimp the edges either with your fingers as shown below or with a fork. Brush the pie with egg and sprinkle with a little sugar. Cut two slits in the top to let the steam escape while the pie cooks.
7. Bake the pie for 40 minutes until golden brown. If the edges begin to brown too quickly then you can cover them with some tin foil, though I found this tricky because by then the pie was very hot!
Pie-fect (sorrynotsorry) served with lashings of cream or a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
As you can see, this pie produces a lot of juice from the strawberries – don’t let this delicious syrup go to waste and drizzle it over your slice of pie or spoon of ice cream.