Pumpkin pie with maple cream

Slices of pumpkin pie served with maple cream
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 for pumpkin pie with maple cream
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
2 eggs

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.
Chunks of fresh pumpkin to be cooked in a microwave
Cooked pumpkin chunks
2. Roll the pastry out so it’s a little bit bigger than your pie dish. Lift carefully, with the help of your rolling pin (/wine bottle), onto the pie dish. Gently coax the pastry into the dish, and press into all the edges. Leave some of the pastry overhanging the tin – you can cut this away to neaten up the pie after baking the case. Short crust pastry, and in particular sweet short pastry, can be tricky to work with as it breaks easily. First of all, make sure everything is cold – the pastry, your hands, even fling open the windows to chill the room down. Secondly, don’t panic if the pastry rips because it can easily be patched up with some excess pastry (as you can see in my pictures!). Once the filling is in no one will ever know…
Sweet shortcrust pastry for a pumpkin pie
Lining the pie dish with sweet short crust pastry
3. Line the pastry with foil, baking parchment or cling film and then fill with ceramic baking beans, dried beans or even rice.
Blind baking the sweet short crust pastry
Bake for 20 minutes and then remove the baking beans and bake for a further 10 minutes without anything on the pastry until it’s a nice golden brown colour. Now you can neaten up the edges of the pie with a sharp knife.
Cooked pastry case
Tidying up the cooked pastry case
4. Blend together the pumpkin, double cream, sugar, spices and eggs.
Pumpking pie filling ingredients
Pumpkin pie filling
5. Turn the oven down to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Pour the filling mixture into the pastry case and bake for about an hour. The filling might puff up a little, but will fall back down when it cools.
Filling the pumpkin pie
Baked pumpkin pie
6. Whip the rest of the double cream with the maple syrup.
Pumpkin pie
Pumpkin pie is great both hot and cold. Serve with the maple cream, or some vanilla ice cream if you prefer while the pie is hot.
Pumpkin pie served with whipped maple cream

Steak Pie with Flaky Puff Pastry

Inside the steak and mushroom pieSteak 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 for homemade steak and mushroom pie with puff pastry
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
Vegetable oil

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.
Casserole steak covered in seasoned flour
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.
Frying the seasoned and floured steak
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.
Frying the casserole steak in batches
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.
Frying the onion, garlic and carrots
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.
Adding the mushrooms
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.
Adding the seasonings and liquid
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.
Homemade beef stew for a steak pie
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.
Ingredients for rough puff pastry
Combining the ingredients for rough puff pastry
Rough puff pastry ready to be rested
8. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Spoon the beef stew into your pie dish and spread out evenly.
Chilled beef stew for steak pie
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.
Ready to assemble the steak pie
Rolling out the rough puff pastry
Topping the steak pie
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.
Steak and mushroom pie ready to be baked
Steak and mushrom pie with puff pastry
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.
Steak and mushroom pie served with green vegetables and red wine
Steak pie for Sunday dinner
A glass of red wine is not essential, but advised.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Pie

Rhubarb and strawberry pie served with vanilla ice cream
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 for a homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie
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.
Rhubarb for roasting
2. Roast the rhubarb for 5-10 minutes until just tender.
Roasted rhubarb for a rhubarb and strawberry pie
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.
Lining the pie dish with sweet shortcrust pastry
Lining the pie dish with sweet shortcrust pastry
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.
Filling the pie with rhubarb and strawberries
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.
Rhubarb and strawberry pie ie ready to egg wash and sprinkle with sugar
Crimping the pie crust
Rhubarb and strawberry pie ready to bake
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!
Rhubarb and strawberry pie
Pie-fect (sorrynotsorry) served with lashings of cream or a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Slice of homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie with ice cream
Homemade rhubarb and strawberry pie
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.