Saturday, December 16, 2017

Mince Pies

Because it's just not Christmas without mince pies! And it's a good opportunity to practice sweet shortcrust pastry.  This time I tried Paul Holywood's pastry recipe, which has a very high fat to flour ratio, making for a slightly more sticky dough that needs a bit of patience to work with as it tears quite easily, but equally it's easy to pat it back together again.   I was inspired by Nigella to top my pies with cut out shapes rather than traditional lids.  However, the high butter content makes the cut pastry loose its shape a bit when baked, so my nice sharp snowflakes look a bit melty on baking.  I must admit I did cheat and use store bought mincemeat, but I actually really like the shop bought kind so what the hey!

Large jar of mincemeat, I used Waitrose 800g jar
375g plain flour
260g butter
125g caster sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
1 large egg beaten

Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs-I used my stand mixer to do this.
  • Stir in the sugar.
  • Beat the egg and sprinkle over the flour mixture.
  • Use a knife to stir the mixture until it clumps together, then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead gently into a smooth paste.  Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30mins.
  • Preheat the oven to 220c/200c fan/gas mark 7
  • Once rested, cut the dough in half and roll out to 3mm thickness.  Using a round cutter, cut out rounds for the pie bases. Press gently into the muffin trays.
  • Fill the pastry cases with the mincemeat.
  • Reroll the pastry and cut out snowflakes or ivy leaves and top the pies with them.
  • Continue cutting out the pastry til it is all used, I got 14 pies from this quantity of pastry.
  • Brush the tops with egg wash or milk.
  • Bake for 15 to 20 mins until golden brown, then leave to cool before turning out of the tins.  Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tarte au Citron

In my continuing attempt to master pastry I decided to make a Tarte au Citron this week.  I used the recipe from my Leith's Baking Bible but instead of making a Pate Sucree I used the sweet rich shortcrust pastry recipe as its a lot simpler! The Pate Sucree recipe involves many more complicated steps and french terms, when I have the hang of shortcrust I may try it, but not just yet...

For the Sweet Rich shortcrust Pastry for a 20cm/8inch tart tin
170g/6oz plain flour
A pinch of salt
100g/3 1/2oz cold butter
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons ice cold water

For the filling
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
200g/7oz caster sugar
150ml/ 5 fl oz double cream
grated zest and juice of two lemons

To finish
icing sugar, sifted

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.  Cut the butter into 1cm cubes and add to the flour.
  2. Rub the butter into the flour, either by hand, or in a food processor or a stand mixture.
  3. Stop when the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Mix the egg yolk with the water and sprinkle over the flour mixture
  4. Stir with a knife until the mixture begins to clump together.  If the mixture is still a little dry sprinkle in a little more water.
  5. Bring the mixture together with you hands and gently press into a smooth paste. Form into a disc, cover in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30mins
  6. Once rested, take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out onto a lightly floured surface or a piece of bake-o-glide.
  7. Line an 8 inch tart tin with the pastry and return it to the fridge to rest again for another 30mins
  8. Preheat the oven to 190C/ Fan 170 
  9. Line the chilled pastry shell with baking parchment and fill with baking beans and blind bake for 15 mins
  10. Remove the beans and bake again for 5-10mins until the pastry is golden and sandy to touch.
  11. Lower the oven temperature to 170c/Fan 150
  12. Mix the eggs, yolk and sugar together until smooth, then strain through a sieve to remove any eggy threads.  Stir in the cream.  
  13. Add the lemon zest and juice; the mixture will thicken considerable.
  14. Pour the lemon filling into the pastry case and bake for 50mins until almost set.  Check the tart periodically and if the pastry and filling is starting to brown too much cover with foil.  Be careful not to let the foil touch the filling as it will stick.
  15. When the tart is cooked remove the tart tin and leave to cool
  16. To serve dust thickly with icing sugar and serve with cream. 

I was quite pleased with how the tart turned out, the pastry was nice and short with no soggy bottom, and it certainly tasted good.  Sadly, the foil I covered the tart with to prevent it burning got stuck to the filling so the surface was a bit ruffled up, but a good helping of icing sugar helps cover it up.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Plum and Marzipan Pie

I like to think that I am a pretty proficient baker, but I do have a kryptonite.... pastry.  It's a completely unreasonable fear, as all pastry is, is a mixture of fat, flour and water - fundamentally not scary at all!  But I've had a few bad experiences with pastry not working and I must admit that I usually just buy pastry ready made cos its easier.... But no more! I refuse to be scared of a food, so I am going to practice making pastry til I can do it properly (and I'll get pie!), it shall be my pastry project.  I've managed a pecan pie and a lemon meringue pie so far, but I thought I'd do a blog about a lovely pie I found in my BBC Goodfood magazine which uses sweet shortcrust pastry.  It's a Plum and marzipan pie, two of my favorite things.

For the pastry
225g cold unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
350g plain flour
50g icing sugar
1 large egg yolk (save the white for brushing the pastry)

For the filling
1kg plums (Victoria or Excalibar plums are delicious if you can find them), halved, stoned, then halved again
100g golden caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp ground almonds or fine polenta
1 tsp almond extract
200g marzipan, chopped into 1½ cm cubes
egg white, for brushing (reserved from making the pastry)
cream or ice cream, to serve

  1. Put the butter and flour in a food processor with 1/4 tsp salt and blend until the mixture resembles damp breadcrumbs.  Or do this by rubbing the butter and flour together in a big bowl with your fingertips. (Or you can use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment).  Add the sugar and stir to combine.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk with 2 tbsp ice cold water and drizzle over the flour mixture.  Stir with a knife to blend the mixture until it starts to form larger clumps.  If the mixture is too dry add a little more water a tsp at a time.
  3. Tip out onto a work surface and briefly knead the dough to bring it together as a smooth ball.  Avoid overworking or it will become tough.  Flatten the dough into a puck shape and wrap well in cling film.  Chill for at least 30 mins, or for up to two days, or freeze for 2 months.
  4. Tip the plum,s sugar and cornflour into a large pan and toss to coat.  Simmer for 3-5mins stirring now and then, until the plums have just begun to soften.  Tip them into a sieve suspended over a large bowl and leave for 30 mins - 1 hour stirring every 10mins, until the juice has all collected in the bowl.
  5. Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into 2 pieces, one slightly bigger than the other. Re-wrap the smaller piece of dough and set aside.  On a lightly floured surface (or a piece of bake-o-glide, seriously nothing gets stuck to it!) roll out the dough to the thickness of a 50piece, or until large enough to line the base of your pie plate or tin, with a little pastry overhanging.  Roll the dough on your rolling pin and lift onto the plate or tin and press it well into the corners.  Scatter the almonds or polenta over the base.
  6. Stir 2 tbsp of the strained plum juice and the almond extract into the plums.  Spoon the filling into the pie dish, dotting the marzipan between the layers of plums as you go.  Heat the oven to 190c/170c fan/ gas mark5 and place a baking sheet on the middle shelf.
  7. Top the pie with a lattice crust. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into 1.5cm wide strips.  You can see step by step images on creating a lattice crust here.  First, arrange the pastry strips on top of your pie, with a small space between each one.  Fold back alternate strips from the centre then lay a strip across the middle near the folds.  Next flip the folded strips back to cover the middle pastry strip.  Fold back the strips that are woven under the middle piece.  Lay another strip across the middle and flip alternate strips back again.  Repeat until you have a woven pattern.
  8. Once covered, whisk the reserved egg white and brush over the pastry/  Scatter with a little extra sugar and bake for 45 mins until golden and bubbling.  Cool for 10mins before serving with cream or ice cream.
Now I must admit I got a bit of pastry shrinkage on baking, which probably means I added a bit too much water when making the dough.  Also, the recipe does not chill the pastry once in the the dish, which I've seen recommended on other websites as helping to stabilise the dough.  Next time I'll try this and hopefully get less shrinkage.  But the pie tastes lovely and was definitely a successful attempt at sweet pastry.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Where have I been...

...well not on my blog.  It's been a year since I last posted, because basically I haven't had anything I've felt like blogging about. Sadly, my mum has developed Alzheimer's disease, and so Dad and I are now caring for her pretty much 24/7, and I'm not going to lie it is really hard.  Added to that, I've been put on steroids permanently now and they really don't do my mental health any favours.  So there just hasn't been anything going on in my life that I felt like sharing as frankly it's all been a bit shit...  However, I want to resurect my blog in some way or other, so watch this space for something happening, I'm not sure what yet, but it will hopefully be something amusing...

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wedding dress!

This post may get a bit long, in fact 'm fairly sure it may end up being more than one post!  It took ages for me to finally decide what I wanted to wear when I got married.  Mainly because what was most important to me was that I felt like me.  I went and tried loads of dresses on with my marvelous cousin Emma, and whilst it was great fun flouncing around in acres of satin and net, none of the dresses were right. I know some people have that 'moment' when they try on the perfect dress and fireworks burst over head, the orchestra plays and everything goes tra la, but I wasn't really expecting that to happen to me as I haven't known what I want to wear as a wedding dress since I was four!   There were several ones that I really liked and if I could not sew then I might have gone with one.  Over the years I have learnt what kind of dresses suit me and what styles I like;  I am a big fan of 1930's evening wear a la Vionnet, Schiaparelli and the Fred and Ginger movies. I love the simple lines and elegance of this period of fashion and I'm lucky that being fairly skinny and flat chested, I can wear bias cut without worrying about bulges (too much!).  From trying dresses on I also knew I wanted a cowl neck, as its very flattering to the less than amply endowed!  Bias cutting is not my favorite thing when drafting patterns, the additional dimension of the stretch across the bias means you pretty much chuck out the usual rules for pattern drafting... So I decided to save myself a lot of time and swearing and check to see if any of the pattern companies had something similar that I could adapt.  I was so lucky that Vogue had this pattern, V2965.  It had all the main points, slightly 1930's feel, cowl neck and bias cut; the low back would also be approved of by my future husband ;-)

My fabric choice was kind of made for me, in that bias cut really only works in fabric that drapes beautifully and preferably is a natural not man-made fabric. Natural fibres have more stretch and every time I've made a bias cut dress, the silk ones just work better than the man made fabric. I did think about having a patterned fabric but in the end I opted for a rich, strong colour (being as pale as I am, white or ivory really don't suit me - unless dragged from the grave is a look you find attractive!).  I found my material at the wonderful shop Borovicks on Berwick Sreet in Soho.  I was originally looking for a pale blue, but the assistant showed me the peacock silk in the sunlight of the shop front and I was sold!  There was also matching silk habotai for the lining and georgette for the detachable train.

I followed the pattern pretty closely, marking the silk with thread tacks rather than chalk or carbon paper, so there would be no danger of it leaving marks and spoiling the dress.  Vogue patterns have always been my favorite of the commercial brands as they always go together really well with no fudging to get marks and seams to match.  My main deviation was the embroidery I designed to cover the top of the detachable train.
Bias cut layout.
many, many thread tacks!

Because the dress has a slight 1930's feel I wanted the beaded cover for the top of the train to have an art deco feel to it.  The design is very geometric and was inspired by some architectural elements I found in one of my many art deco books.  I used my embroidery machine to embroider a template to follow, then hand beaded all the gorgeous beads onto it by hand,  They were a mixture of Swarovski crystals and silver lined teal Toho seed and bugle beads  (I bought them from the marvelous online bead shop I-beads) .  It took quite a long time to make but was definitely worth the effort.  I made the motif as a seperate entity to the actual train so that you can wear the dress with the motif and the train, or just with the motif by itself.
Embroidered template

The detachable train is a really lovely idea and I added some more beads over the chiffon for extra sparkle, cos you can never have too much sparkle! The pattern went together really easily with no problems matching up seams and markings. So thats it, the tale of my wedding dress. I'll finish with a couple more of PaulmWhite's wonderful photos.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Throwback Thursday

These are some fabulous pictures that Alex Beckett (photographer extraordinaire) took of Lizzie Cooper, Ruby Lorcan and I a couple of years back.  We had such fun modelling my hats and Alex did a fantastic job creating such atmospheric shots- enjoy! 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Catching up

I've been on a blogging break of late- I've not really been up to anything particularly interesting for a while in sewing terms and I've had a lot of anxiety and stress with starting to consider transplant.  If I'm honest the transplant issue has rather knocked me for six and totally shaken my confidence, so blogging and a lot of other things have rather gone by the wayside.  However, I've got a couple of things to post about now so it's time for a quick catch up.  The first are a couple of hats I made for an old friend Martin who I used to do costume work for back in the day.  He was designing a production of Urinetown in Norwich and wanted a couple of steampunky mini top hats.  I really enjoyed making these and it was really nice to get some hatting done again.  
I've also been doing some more embroidery recently, as my beautiful Brother V3 has Ben sitting idle for ages and needs some more use.  I'm currently working on some cherry blossom designs to go on a kimono style jacket, these are my first sew out on some old silk crepe-

I'm pleased with how they turned out, they need a little bit of adjustment with which stabiliser I use to eliminate all the wrinkles.  So hopefully I'll be doing lots more embroidery to actually have something worthwhile to blog about:-)