Treacle Tart

I have eaten a lot of bad treacle tarts over the years, and more than a few of them I made myself. It took a while, but I finally figured out the perfect ratio of lemon, crumbs and syrup so that the result is light and airy rather than heavy and stodgy.

A traditional treacle tart uses breadcrumbs, but I have discovered that cake crumbs from a plain or vanilla sponge cake give a softer more velvety texture. If you haven’t got any leftover cake then make this tart using breadcrumbs as usual, but keep it in mind as an experiment next time you make a Victoria sponge.

The pastry here is a little tricky to work with because it is very short and crumbly, but it is well worth the effort. I’m sure you will agree when you feel it melt in your mouth.

This recipe requires a 23cm round tart tin, 2.5 cm deep.

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RECIPE serves 12 easily

For the pastry case:

175g plain flour

50g fridge-cold butter, cubed

50g fridge-cold vegetable shortening, crumbled

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 egg yolk

For the filling:

400g golden syrup

150ml double cream

1 large egg

100g breadcrumbs (or 100g cake crumbs if you have them)

60g ground almonds

the zest of a lemon, finely grated

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice


METHOD

First, make the pastry case:

Put the plain flour, butter, shortening and icing sugar into a food processor and pulse a few times to mix it thoroughly. When it looks like fine crumbs add the egg yolk and pulse again, then add around a tablespoon of cold water a little bit at a time and pulse for a second until the pastry starts to come together. Take care not to overwork the pastry mixture, the beauty of this pastry is that it is soft and crumbly, doing too much to it is liable to make it tough. Empty it out of the food processor onto a lightly floured surface and gently bring it together into a smooth ball.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll your pastry out into a round until it is approximately the thickness of a pound coin, this should give you the correct diameter to fill your pastry case with a little left over that you can trim off later. Always keep your trimmings as you may need to make a couple of repairs.

Lift the pastry up onto a rolling pin, drape it over your tart tin and gently drop it into the tin. Using a small piece of pastry push the pastry gently into the corners and flutes of your tart tin so there are no air pockets. Trim off the surplus pastry from the edges of the tin and liberally prick the base of the pastry with a fork. Chill for another 30 minutes.

There is no need to butter or otherwise oil the sides of the tin, this pastry will come away easily once cooked.

Cut a piece of baking parchment large enough to completely cover the base and sides of the tart. Scrunch it up, then flatten it and place it in the pastry case, then fill with ceramic baking beans if you have them, rice or dried beans if you don’t. Now blind-bake the pastry case at 200C for 15 minutes; after this time remove the baking beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further 10-15 minutes until your pastry is golden and cooked through. Now turn the oven down to 170C/ gas 3.

*Tip: The best bit of baking wisdom I ever received was this: blind-baking is not part-cooking, it is pre-cooking. In other words, your blind-baked pastry case should be fully cooked when it comes out. That’s the 100% guaranteed way to ensure that you never suffer the baker’s nightmare of a soggy bottom. Some authorities suggest sealing the base of your pastry case with a thin layer of egg white; don’t bother, it doesn’t belong there and you will be able to detect it.

Meanwhile, make the filling:

in a large, heavy-bottomed pan, gently warm the syrup. Don’t heat it until it is hot, you just want to soften it so it flows well and will accept the rest of the ingredients.

Take off the heat and whisk in the double cream, then add the crumbs and ground almonds. Break the egg into a cup and gently break it all together with a fork, then add to the filling together with the lemon zest and juice. Stir thoroughly so that everything is completely combined, then pour it into the pre-baked pastry case.

Bake at 170C/ gas 3 for approximately 35-40 minutes, until the filling is set. You can tell when it is set by setting the tin on a flat, heatproof surface and pulling it gently but sharply backward and forward. If set, the filling will be bubbling like a volcano but will not wobble.

Allow the tart to cool until it is just warm before removing from the tin. Serve with custard, creme fraiche or thick cream. Yumptious!

Llama Farmer Cottage Pie

Another Hairy Bikers’ triumph, this vegetarian cottage pie (which can easily be made vegan-friendly by substituting the cheese for a vegan product) is low in calories, easy to make and so absolutely delicious that it positively encourages over-eating. The trick here is using a gorgeous baked crust of sweetcorn and polenta, rather than mashed potato.

The good news is that if you DO over-eat (and in my experience that is quite likely) you still won’t have eaten too many calories. Dividing this between four people gives exceedingly generous portions, each serving coming in at only 400 calories.

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RECIPE serves 4 – 6 

1 tsp olive oil

1 large red onion, finely chopped

2 celery sticks, finely chopped

1 large carrot, small dice

1 red and 1 green pepper, each small dice

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 dried chipotle chillies, finely chopped

1x 400g can of kidney beans

1x 400g can of butter beans

1x 400g can of chopped tomatoes

300ml vegetable stock

small bunch of finely-chopped fresh coriander

Topping:

500g sweetcorn kernels

3 tbsp fine cornmeal (polenta)

1 tsp baking powder

15g unsalted butter (vegetable oil if making it for a vegan)

50g mature cheddar (or vegetarian/vegan equivalent)


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large pan over a medium heat, add the onion, celery, carrot and peppers, with a pinch of salt and a splash of water and sweat, covered, gently for around fifteen minutes until softened.

Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring, for a further minute, then add the beans, tomatoes and stock. Stir thoroughly and bring to the boil.

Reduce to a simmer and leave it to reduce to a thick sauce.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 190C/ fan 170C/ gas 5.

Make the topping: in a food processor, blitz half the sweetcorn with the polenta, baking powder, butter and a generous pinch of salt. At this stage you want a smooth paste. Now add the remaining sweetcorn and pulse the food processor until the texture is rough but all the sweetcorn has broken down. Check and adjust the seasoning.

Check and adjust the seasoning of the filling then pour it into an ovenproof dish and carefully spoon the topping thinly and evenly over it. Sprinkle with the grated cheese and a good grinding of black pepper. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is a deep golden brown and the filling is piping hot.

Microwave-Steamed Sponge Pudding

For every ten times that I fancy a steamed pudding, I probably act on it once. It’s just such a colossal faff, all that wrapping, and string, and steam, and forgetting to top up the water…

The results are always worth it, but sometimes life is just too busy. Imagine my delight then when I spotted Rose Elliot’s foolproof method for cooking a steamed pudding in a microwave. I have made this successfully with golden syrup and maple syrup, but the method lends itself to experimenting with all kinds of steamed puddings – including Christmas pudding. We have missed the boat on that one, but this year I’ll be testing it in the run-up to Christmas.

In general, it is a truth that in life every shortcut has a cost. Not this time; this shortcut saves hours of time and a load of energy, and the results are exactly the same as if you had done it the long, traditional way.

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RECIPE 

175g unsalted butter, room temperature

175g golden caster sugar

175g self-raising flour

100ml whole milk

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

3 medium hens eggs, or 2 duck eggs

5 tbsp (approx) syrup


METHOD

Put the butter, sugar, flour, milk, baking powder, eggs and 1 tbsp of the syrup into a mixing bowl and beat together until light, fluffy and creamy. If you don’t have a mixer you can achieve great results with a wooden spoon and elbow-grease.

Pour the remaining syrup into the bottom of a lightly-greased plastic or Pyrex microwaveable pudding bowl, then spoon the sponge batter carefully on top.

Put the bowl in to the microwave, uncovered, and cook on full power until the sponge has risen and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The time it takes will vary, depending on the power of your microwave. Anything between 10 minutes for a 600W machine, down to around 5 minutes for an 850W machine. There’s no need to worry, you can cook it for a few minutes, have a look, cook it a bit longer and have another look and continue until it is ready. It won’t ruin it.

Allow the pudding to stand for a few minutes then turn it out onto a warmed serving plate so that the syrupy top is uppermost. You can add a little more syrup if you want to be really indulgent.

Lime Cream Cheese Cake

Don’t be fooled by the name, this isn’t a cheesecake, rather it is a cake made with cream cheese. Now, that might strike you as a strange thing to use to make a cake, but actually it is no stranger than using butter, they are both dairy products after all.

The cream cheese adds a delicate, moist lift to the sponge itself, while the lime is sharp and exciting. Every time I make this sponge I wonder why I don’t make it more often, in fact I think I will make it again this evening…

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RECIPE

For the cake:

175g unsalted butter, at room temperature

150g full-fat cream cheese, at room temperature

the finely-grated zest of 2 limes

250g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs, at room temperature

1/2 tsp vanilla extract (my own vodka vanilla extract works brilliantly)

225g self-raising flour

For the syrup:

4 tbsp lime juice

50g caster sugar

For the glaze:

150g icing sugar

the grated zest of a lime

approximately 20ml lime juice


METHOD

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking parchment.

Put the butter, cream cheese and lime zest in a mixing bowl and beat thoroughly until soft, fluffy and creamy. This is easiest done if you have a stand mixer with a beater attachment. Scrape the sides of the bowl down then gradually add the sugar, beating as you go. If using a stand mixer get it to maximum speed and beat, and beat, and beat… and when you think you’ve beaten it enough, beat it some more.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl with the vanilla extract and whisk them together. Gradually add the eggs to the beaten butter mixture, beating well after each addition. If the mixture curdles just add a tablespoon of the flour and beat it in – the best way to avoid curdling is to ensure that all of your ingredients are at the same temperature.

Once all the eggs have been incorporated, gently fold the flour into the batter using a metal spoon until it is just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for approximately 50 minutes until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, shortly before the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the lime syrup: put the lime juice and sugar in a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. keep it warm.

Keeping the cake in the loaf tin, place it onto a wire cooling rack. Prick the surface all over and spoon the hot syrup all over it, it will absorb into the cake as it cools. Allow the cake to cool completely.

When the cake is cool, loosen the sides with a broad knife and carefully lift out using the parchment as a support. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and grate the zest of a lime into it. Now gradually add sufficient lime juice to make a thick but runny icing. Spoon over the top and allow it to set.

Curried Fish Pie

If you’re not a fan of curry, fear not. The spices fade into the overall mix of heady flavours and aromas and there is no heat to speak of. This just leaves you with a fish pie taken not just to the next level, but the level beyond that.

I love fish pie; whether topped with mashed potato or puff pastry it is one of my ultimate comfort foods. I thought my existing recipe couldn’t be bettered, but when I spotted this while browsing through Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Every Day’ there was no question that I would make it, and no question that we would love it.

Hugh is one of that all too rare breed of cookery writers whose recipes work, every single time, and they are always delicious. I have cooked probably close to a hundred of his recipes now, and without exception they have been loved by us all. The trouble with that is: how do you get time to cook new stuff?

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RECIPE – Serves 6

For the fish:

600g of firm white fish fillets, I use a mix of hake, haddock and sea bass
200g kippers
750ml whole milk
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns

For the pie:

75g unsalted butter
75g plain flour
1 tablespoon sunflower or groundnut oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoon curry powder or curry paste (I use Mauritian curry powder)
2 handfuls of raw peeled prawns (optional)
a small bunch of chopped coriander
250g puff pastry
A little beaten egg for glazing


METHOD

Put all the fish in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Place over a low heat. As soon as the milk comes to a simmer, switch off the heat and cover the pan. The fish will carry on cooking in the hot milk. After about 5 minutes, it should be just cooked through; if not, leave it in the hot milk for a little longer, then drain in a sieve placed over a bowl, reserving the milk. Discard the vegetables, bay leaf and peppercorns.

Now make a béchamel sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well to make a roux. Cook gently for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, then gently whisk in a third of the fishy milk until the sauce is smooth. Add another third of the milk, whisking all the time until the sauce is again smooth, and then the final third, so that you end up with a smooth, creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper, turn the heat down low and cook very gently for 2 minutes.

Peel the skin off the fish, check for any bones and gently break the flesh into chunks. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, until translucent and soft. Stir in the curry powder or paste and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the curry-flavoured onion to the béchamel, then stir in the flaked fish, the prawns, if using, and the coriander. Taste the sauce and add more salt, pepper or curry powder/paste if you think it needs it.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and cut it to fit the top of the dish. Put the filling into the dish. Dampen the rim of the dish, lift the pastry over the filling and press down the pastry edges to seal. Brush with a little beaten egg and place in an oven preheated to 200C/ Fan 180C/ Gas 6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is golden and puffed and the fishy sauce is bubbling underneath.

Serve with peas and broccoli, with smooth buttery mash. Yum!

Pretzels

There seem to be several thousand different ways to make pretzels, and I’m sure that most of them work, though one or two recipes that I have tried have been abject failures. All that matters is the end result, and this method – which I found in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book – delivers every time.

You can make pretzels sweet as well as savoury, just sprinkle them with demerara sugar instead of salt before baking.

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RECIPE – makes 8 large pretzels

175ml hand warm water

1/2 tsp caster sugar

1 1/2 tsp active dried yeast

300g plain flour

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp bicarbonate of soda

1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp melted butter

flaky sea salt (or demerara sugar if making sweet pretzels)


METHOD

Mix the warm water with the sugar and yeast and leave in a warm place for 5-10 minutes until the mixture starts to bubble.

Put the flour into a bowl and make a well in the centre, add the yeast and stir with a wooden spoon until you have a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes until the dough starts to loose it’s stickiness.

Flatten and spread the dough out into a loose square, and sprinkle the salt over it. Knead for a further five minutes, this will distribute the salt thoroughly throughout the dough. When the dough is smooth and elastic, roll it into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with cling film or a damp cloth, in a warm place for 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 170C/ Gas 3. Put about 1 1/2 litres of water in a large pan with the bicarbonate of soda and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, punch the dough back down and give it another brief knead, then cut it into eight equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a long thin rope, about 45cm (18 inches) long.

Take one end of the rope and bring it to the centre, then take the other end of the rope and bring it across the first end and twist it underneath to form a knot in the centre, then bring it to the middle. Press the ends tightly on the top edge of the dough rope to seal them – see the picture for the end result.

Gently lower each piece of shaped pretzel dough into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, you can probably do 3 at a time. After about ten seconds they will start to rise to the top, but allow them to boil for 30 seconds before removing with a slotted spoon and placing onto a baking sheet lined with parchment while you do the rest.

Once the pretzels have all been boiled, brush them with the egg and butter glaze and sprinkle with the sea salt. Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 45 minutes until they are a deep and glossy brown, and crisp. Cool on a wire rack before eating – you might want to have the dough for eight more proving in a corner, these go fast!

Perfect Bread Machine Loaves

I make bread at home at least once a week, and though I will make it by hand as often as I can – just for the pleasure of it – there is no disgrace at all in using a bread machine. I’ve been ill for a few weeks, so I have been filling my time doing a lot of experimenting with small differences in how my bread is made, both by hand and by machine.

I have come to a few surprising conclusions, chief among which is that for a standard white loaf there is no need to pay top-dollar for the ‘best’ bread flour. Whether you judge a loaf on its taste, on its ‘crumb’, on its chewiness, its looks or its crust, there is absolutely no difference between the own-brand flour from my local Lidl and the most expensive boutique flours. Under identical conditions, back-to-back tests illustrate that all of the characteristics of a loaf are determined by the kind of yeast you use, and what the baker does, not the flour.

I know that is close to heresy in some peoples’ eyes, but there it is.

I have been reading some fascinating books about bread; seriously, I had no idea that such a narrow subject could be so diverse and fascinating. I’m not yet at the point where I can offer a masterclass in bread-making, but I am willing to offer a couple of tips that will improve the bread that comes out of your bread machine.

The first tip concerns how you add the ingredients to the bread machine. All the instructions that I have ever read direct you to put all the ingredients into the pan, select the appropriate settings, turn it on and walk away for a few hours. That, after all, is what a bread machine is all about.

But what if I told you that by being just a little more organised and doing five minutes preparation, a couple of hours before you turn the machine on, you will get a machine loaf that is probably 98% as good as a loaf made by hand? Interested?

All you need to do is take a little of the water, a little of the flour, all of the yeast and all of the sugar specified in a recipe, put it into a small bowl and mix it all together with a fork so you end up with a smooth, very sloppy porridge consistency. Now cover it with a damp cloth and walk away for a few hours.

When you come back to it and lift the cloth, you will find that the top is covered in foaming bubbles and smells a little like beer. It will also have grown; by how much depends purely on how long you left it – don’t leave it too long, a few hours only, otherwise you run the risk of exhausting the yeast.

Now grab a fork, or a whisk, and whip the mixture for a minute or two. You will find that it is all stringy, like melting cheese. That is the gluten, developing before you even begin kneading. The smell and the volume increase is the yeast, digesting the sugar and flour and releasing carbon dioxide as it does so.

Now add all of the remaining flour, water, oil and salt to the bread machine pan, pour in the yeasted mixture, give it a stir with the fork to combine it all, then walk away.

When you come back after the 4 or 5 hours the bread machine cycle takes, you will find that your loaf looks, smells and tastes remarkably better than it used to. The loaf will be slightly bigger, with a more pronounced crown, and when you cut into it you will find that the crumb (the distribution of air bubbles) will be uneven and more open. On tasting it you will find that it has a little more ‘body’, is a little chewier and has a flavour all its own. All this just from pre-activating the yeast and the gluten.

The second tip concerns salt. I used to think that salt was included in bread dough purely to add flavour to the finished loaf; not so, actually salt plays a crucial role in gluten development.  If you make bread, or you watch any baking programmes, you will be aware that bread dough is kneaded in order to activate the gluten proteins in the flour. Without going into the chemistry of what happens, and in simplified layman’s terms, by working the dough the protein molecules combine into longer strands, and it is these strands which give the bread the strength to trap air and rise. The presence of salt in a dough gives the gluten greater structural strength, so it is better able to hold onto the carbon dioxide released as the yeast feeds on the flour, sugar and water, trapping it as the bread proves, and then holding it when the loaf goes into a hot oven, at which point the trapped air expands and the loaf springs into its final shape.

Paradoxically, though salt is necessary when the gluten has developed, it actually inhibits the initial development of gluten. Experiments show that adding the salt later means that your finished loaf has greater structure for the same amount of kneading, or, if you’re making it by hand, you can get away with kneading the bread less.

So, if you’re using a bread machine to make a basic white or wholemeal loaf (sample recipes are below), the first step is to pre-activate the yeast and gluten by mixing all the yeast with all the sugar and some of the water and flour, then leaving it for a couple of hours before whipping it and adding it, with all of the remaining ingredients, to the bread pan. This of course includes the salt, the absence of which in the initial yeast mixture allows the gluten to get a good head start in developing.

Both of these principles apply equally to hand-made loaves, and the trouble with all this is that I have been making some exquisite bread recently, and it isn’t good for my waistline…

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RECIPES 

White Bread Machine Loaf

Medium

Large Extra-Large
Strong white flour

400g

475g 550g

Dried active yeast

¾ tsp 1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Sugar

1 tsp

1½ tsp

2 tsp

Butter/olive oil

15g

25g

25g

Salt

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Water

270 ml 320 ml

360 ml

70% Wholemeal Bread Machine Loaf

Medium

Large

Extra-Large

Strong whole meal flour

300g

350g

400g

Strong white flour

100g

125g

150g

Dried active yeast

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Sugar

1 tsp

1½ tsp

2 tsp

Butter/olive oil

15g

25g

25g

Salt

¾ tsp

1 tsp

1¼ tsp

Water

280 ml

340 ml

380 ml


 

Steak and Ale Pie

It’s not often I get to make something properly meaty. Being married to a vegetarian and having several vegans in the family means that my diet is 90% vegetarian as well, so when my dad comes to visit it’s always a good excuse to make something seriously meaty, and seriously delicious. Eating steak once a year, as I do, also means that I appreciate it when I do have it.

A quick internet search for steak and ale pie brings up 14 million results so, as you can imagine, selecting just one recipe can be a lottery so why would you choose to make this one? Personally, I always look at a recipe as a starting point, modifying it, enhancing it (or trying to) and making it as good as I possibly can. I made this yesterday and everybody gushed so my advice would be, make it my way, then modify it and make it your way, and you will also end up with a pie that your family will love.

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RECIPE serves 8

For the filling:

10g dried porcini or mixed wild mushrooms

2 tbsp vegetable oil

1kg chuck steak (it may be sold as braising or stewing steak)

2 large onions, roughly chopped

4 large carrots, chopped into 5mm thick slices

2 tsp golden caster sugar

4 tbsp plain flour

300ml dark ale (I use Guinness)

400ml beef stock, or two beef stock cubes in boiling water

a small bunch thyme, bay leaf and parsley, tied together as a bouquet garni

200g smoked bacon lardons

200g chestnut mushrooms, halved

For the pastry:

650g plain flour

1 1/2 tsp English mustard powder

125g fridge cold butter

125g fridge cold lard or vegetable shortening

1 egg, beaten, to glaze


METHOD

Cover the dried mushrooms with boiling water and soak for 20 mins, then squeeze them out but keep the soaking water. Chop the chuck steak into large chunks.

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large casserole dish then brown the meat really well, in batches, then set aside. Add the onions and carrots to the pan, adding a drizzle more oil, then cook on a low heat for 5 mins until coloured and just starting to soften. Chop the soaked mushrooms small, then add and cook for a minute more, then scatter over the sugar and flour, stirring until the flour turns brown. Tip the meat and the released juices back into the pan and give it all a good stir. Pour over the ale and stock, and strain the mushroom soaking liquid through muslin or a J cloth into the broth, this will catch any grit released from the dried mushrooms. Season lightly, add the bouquet garni and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid and place in the oven for about 2 hrs, until the meat is really tender.

Chuck steak contains a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking, thickening the broth as it does so. It will be tough and chewy for a long time but eventually, when the connective tissue has all broken down, it will be melt-in-the-mouth tender.

While the stew is cooking, heat 1 tbsp more oil in a frying pan and cook the bacon lardons for 3 minutes until starting to brown, then turn the heat to high, add the mushrooms and cook for another 4 minutes until golden. Remove from the heat and, when the stew is cooked, stir them through it.

Remove the bouquet garni and leave everything to cool completely. You can make this up to 2 days before you eat it and keep it in the fridge for the flavours to mingle and improve.

Cube the butter and lard and add to a food processor with the flour and mustard powder, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Pulse until completely combined, then gradually add up to 200ml of ice-cold water, pulsing it to make a soft dough. Tip it out onto a lightly-floured surface and bring the dough together with your hands, being careful not to over-knead it, then wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 1 hr. The pastry can also be made up to 2 days ahead.

When you make the pie, heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and place a flat baking tray in the oven.

Heavily grease a large pie dish and dust it well with flour. Cut a third off the pastry and set aside. Roll out the remainder of the pastry to a size that will easily line the pie dish with a little overhang, then line the dish. Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork then put the lined pie dish in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is dry and biscuity. This will give you a lovely crunchy base to the pie.

Turn the oven up to 220C/200C fan/gas 7 .  Add the cold stew to the dish using a slotted spoon. leaving the vast majority of the gravy behind, you don’t want too much gravy in the pie. The filling should be slightly higher than the rim of the dish. Add sufficient gravy to cover the bottom of the dish, and keep everything moist while the pie cooks. Put the rest of the gravy aside for now.

Roll out the remaining pastry so it is just big enough to cover the dish. Brush the edges of the pastry in the dish with beaten egg, then cover with the pastry lid. Trim the edges, crimp the pastry, then re-roll your trimmings to make a decoration if you wish.

Brush the top with egg and make a few little slits in the centre of the pie, place back on to the hot baking tray and bake for 40 mins until golden. After twenty minutes re-brush the top of the pie with whatever beaten egg is left, this will make the top deeply golden.

Leave the pie to rest for 10 mins.  Meanwhile, heat up the remaining gravy and serve in a jug alongside piles of buttery mashed potato and vegetables of your choice.

Apple Pie

I hadn’t made a standard apple pie in years, until this afternoon. I guess I’ve been so busy jazzing it up with blackberries, swapping apples for pears, and generally messing around with it that I forgot just how delicious a simply-made, straightforward apple pie can be.

This one ticks all the boxes: a simple, sweet pastry; a luscious, jammy interior and just the right mix of firm and melting apples. It’s easy to make, is great for introducing children to the delights of baking, and it tastes really, really lovely.

This is delicious served with cream or custard… mmm, custard, there’s something else I haven’t made in a long time.

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RECIPE serves 6 

For the filling:

3 Bramley cooking apples

4 eating apples (I like to use Braeburn)

3 tablespoons light muscovado sugar

the zest and juice of a lemon

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

a handful of raisins or sultanas

a splash of water

For the pastry:

225g plain flour

140g fridge-cold butter, cubed

85g caster sugar

the finely-grated zest of a lemon

a pinch of salt

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp cold water

Plus:

1 egg, beaten, for egg-washing the pastry


METHOD

First, make the filling. Do this first because it needs time to cool completely before putting under pastry.

Peel and core the apples, then cut the Bramleys into large chunks, and the eating apples into eighths. Toss the apples in a large pan with all the other filling ingredients and cook gently under a lid for ten minutes until the eating apples are just softening – the cooking apples may already be mushy. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

While the filling is cooling, make the pastry. Put the flour, butter, caster sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor and pulse briefly until it resembles breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolks and water and pulse again to bring the mixture together. Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface and mould into a ball. Try not to handle the pastry too much or it will become tough as the gluten in the flour becomes activated. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.

Butter an 8 inch metal pie dish, take 2/3 of the pastry and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until it is 5mm thick. Line the inside of the pie dish with the pastry.

Tip the cooled filling into the pie dish, then egg-wash the edges of the pastry. Roll out the remaining pastry until it is just big enough to form a lid, drape over the top and pinch the pastry together. Trim off any excess and use it to patch any tears in the pastry – it doesn’t matter if the pastry doesn’t look perfect, apple pies are at their best when they are rustic.

Egg wash the top of the pie, cut a couple of slits in the top and bake in the centre of the oven for around 50 minutes. Remove when the filling is perfectly soft and the pastry is golden brown.

If you wish, you can dust the hot pastry with a little caster sugar.

Chicken and Sweet Leek Pie

There are times when only a pie will do…

Family gatherings are when this crowd-pleaser normally comes out, the filling can be made the day before so you can spend your time with your family, rather than closeted away in the kitchen.

This delight comes courtesy of Jamie Oliver, the not-so-secret ingredient being the balls of sausage meat. The burst of savoury flavour as you hit one of those little delights is just one of the things that makes this a real treat to eat.

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RECIPE serves 6-8

a good lug of olive oil

50g unsalted butter

1kg boneless chicken thighs, chopped into medium chunks

2 medium leeks, sliced into 1cm rounds

2 medium carrots, thinly sliced

3 sticks of celery, finely sliced

2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp plain flour

125ml dry vermouth

250ml whole milk

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

250g pork sausages

500g all-butter puff pastry

1 egg, beaten


METHOD

In a large casserole dish over a medium high heat, add the olive oil and butter and, when melted, add the chopped chicken. Brown for a few minutes, then add the leeks, carrots, celery and thyme. Cook, uncovered, on the hob at a gentle heat for fifteen minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, then add the plain flour and stir into the liquid that has been released. Keep on stirring for a few minutes until it is all cooked in, then add the vermouth and cook for a couple of minutes more.

Now add the milk and a wineglass (125ml) of water, season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook gently for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and cook uncovered for ten minutes more. The sauce should be thick and creamy.

Squeeze the sausage meat out of the skins and roll into small balls. Brown the balls in a separate frying pan with a little oil, then add to the chicken mixture. Now transfer all of the mixture into an appropriately-sized pie dish, check the seasoning and allow to cool completely. If the mixture is still warm when you apply the pastry, the heat will melt the butter in the pastry and it will be ruined.

When you are ready to cook the pie, heat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan/ gas 7.

Roll the pastry out to approximately 5mm thickness, to a size and shape that will comfortably drape over the edge of the pie dish with minimal wastage.

Brush the edges of the pie dish with the beaten egg, then drape the pastry over it, sealing the edges firmly with your fingers. Trim off any excess pastry. There is no need to cut any holes in the pastry for steam to escape – remember, the filling is cold at this point.

Wash the top of the pie with beaten egg, and decorate the pie with the pastry trimmings, any way you like.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and risen, and the pie is piping hot.

I like to serve this with piles of buttery mash, and peas.