Pastry By Association

There are some things that I really hated when I was growing up, mushrooms was one of these things, and waiting for my dinner was another. Now I know how impatient most children are with food, but after gambolling (is that a Black Country term?) around for a few hours I used to be practically clawing at the oven to get my din dins with my brother and sisters.
This nostalgic moment comes after contemplating the fast food world of modern culture. It’s not new, at all, and it’s be written about to death so I won’t go into the whole McDonalds-is-evil thing…even though it is. It was more the actual concept, fast food, for people who need food, fast. When I think of this for some reason I always think of business men and women, trotting about on their lunch breaks trying to get something as fast as possible before going back for the afternoon, but it has sort of taken over people’s actual intake of food. It’s not just for people in a rush, not even a little bit. It seems to have turned into something for people who are just trundling around during the day kind of food, for drunk students (myself included) at four in the morning because there’s nothing else open kind of food, and for lazy people who don’t want to cook kind of food. This made me a little sad, ‘fast’ has gotten a bad reputation because of these people, and it’s not done anything wrong, it’s just tried to get people from A (hungry) to B (full) very quickly. Poor ‘fast’, it’s been slated by association because of this laziness.
It also made me think of the trending of foods in general, and the transition between fast food being trendy, and then slow food taking over in recent years. Slow cooker and pressure cooker sales have soared because investing in a good slow cooker can reduce your food bills by bunging a load of good ingredients together and cooking it for a very long time. Blah blah blah it’s helping with this recession, etc. You get the idea. But it’s true, slowing down in life has become sort of normal now, where it was once a wonder that you could get a meal in under two minutes, it is now a a little more wondrous to know that effort, care and time has gone into the creation of your food. Not to say that care and a short amount of time hasn’t gone into the fast food that you’re eating, but you get my general drift. 
It’s a nice thought to think that a chef still enjoys what they do. Because I know personally how hard I will work to open my own little place, and how much I would enjoy every damn minute. Living the hypothetical, overdone dream, I know. 
But onwards from my unoriginal musings. I promised you a pastry recipe, and i’m going to provide one so sexy you will never need another sweet pastry dough in your life (not in the least bit overreacting here either!).
This is part way between a traditional Sable dough – kind of like a shortbread but not as rich – and a workable pastry. It isn’t a particularly easy dough to work, but it’s easy to make and is so ridiculously nice that you will forgive it’s shortcomings otherwise. 
Before I go ahead I have to quickly mention that this isn’t my personal recipe, it’s from the most amazing book Pieminister. It’s got some pretty amazing recipes, and a cute commentary to go along with it, definitely worth your time. It ever so slightly tweaked with timings and sugar and what-not but other then that it’s left entirely untouched. Just as a note before you start though you should begin this the day before you need your pies!
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry Dough
Makes enough for 20 small pies (baked in a cupcake pan) or 1 large-ish pie, depending how thick you roll it.
250g unsalted butter
80g-100g icing sugar (depending on how sweet your filling is)
1 tblsp double cream
1 egg yolk
350g plain flour
NB – to make it the best possible pastry, you really should use butter, not Stork or other margerines, I used Yeo Valley and it was perfect. Oh, and don’t leave the butter in the fridge because it will take you an absolute age to soften and make your life very, very difficult.
– If you have one, get your electric hand mixer out and cream the butter on medium speed until it is somewhat fluffy. If you don’t, you are going to have epic forearm muscles beating the hell out of it with a wooden spoon.
– Beat in the icing sugar until fully combined, then add the cream and egg yolk and mix.
– If you were using an electric hand mixer turn it down to low and mix in the flour, if not, add the flour in batches and stir it relatively firmly until just combined. It should look a relatively moist dough. Flatten it into a sort of thick disc, about three inches high and eight or nine inches across…roughly, I didn’t measure it.
– You absolutely need to rest this dough. In short, you will not have a chance in hell in rolling this mother out without chilling it first. If you can, leave it for a whole day double wrapped in the fridge, if you can’t 4 hours is the absolute minimum time you should leave it for. The longer you leave it the better it’ll be for you though!
– With regards to the filling, obviously it’s entirely up to you, apple, cherry, mincemeat are all good, but you do need to alter the amount of sugar you use depending on how sweet your filling is. I find if you’re making apple pies it will serve you better if you take a little bit of sugar out of the apple filling and more in the pastry, it tastes so much nicer. The original recipe actually called for 150g of icing sugar but it was far too sweet for me, so I just reduced the amount, but it’s your call, if you like things really sweet, you can put 150g in. 
– After you’ve chilled it, flour your surface and rolling pin and roll it out to about 5mm. You may have to top up your flour to keep it from sticking to your surface, and don’t worry if it cracks, just a break a bit off the edge and patch it up it blends quite easily. 
– It will crack at the edges, there’s no doubt about that, but the degree of the cracking will depend on how well you’ve chilled your dough. This sort of cracking was after about a day and a half of chilling, just so you can compare yours.
– Cut and fill to the shape of your pan, fill with your filling (don’t be stingy!) and roll out a little pastry for the tops.
– Put them in the oven, about 190C/170C fan oven/gas mark 3-5  for about 15 minutes, but keep an eye on them, you don’t want them to brown too much, they’re beautiful when pale.
– Leave your beautiful little pies to cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to fully cool. Or eat them warm, whichever you fancy really.
Evidence that I had to patch up my mince pies a little bit too.
They should look something like that, in theory. But there you go, a recipe for some lovely pastry, if you pair it   with the traditional mincemeat I made just before Christmas, you’ve got yourself some pretty sexy mince pies. You will honestly never need another sweet shortcrust recipe, this is just too perfect.