October 3, 2018 10:30 am Leave your thoughts
Pastry: it’s possessed by the devil, says Jon – turn your back on it and it will eat you alive. With some trepidation, the bakers enter the tent this week, prepared to encounter ‘the dark side’ of baking. Rahul, of course, is terrified anyway (special plinky music is used to illustrate this). Dan appears fairly insouciant, but deep down, there’s just a sense that he’s starting to lose his nerve.
Why are so many people petrified of pastry? I’ve only ever tried shortcrust myself, and for a time was nervous of that (until I came across the perfect, really easy recipe for it – see below). I’ve never dared go anywhere near choux, hot-water-crust, rough puff, full puff or flaky. I’m frankly intimidated by suet. And I’m clearly not alone: ready-made, shop-bought pastry is big business.
What makes pastry the ‘bad boy’ of baking? It is, as the judges say, ‘beautiful in its simplicity’, requiring only a few ingredients, a bit of mixing and some good timing. The danger of it lies, however, in the constant level of alertness required. There’s more to it than following a recipe: you have to be alive to the feel of it between your fingers, the exact temperature of your ingredients (my top tip: don’t try making it in a tent on a blazing hot summer’s day), the amount of liquid the mix absorbs (which can easily be significantly more or less than your recipe suggests), and the length of time it takes to cook thoroughly in the oven. It’s something rather intuitive – you have to develop a relationship with pastry, coaxing and encouraging it through to perfection. Constant vigilance! as Mad-Eye Moody barks in Harry Potter. It really is, therefore, a suitable subject for Week 6 of the GBBO.
Scared of samosas?
First, the bakers were asked to make crispy, thin, light, signature samosas, both savoury and (more unusually) sweet. They came up with wonderfully flavoursome and imaginative fillings, as if let loose on a trolley-dash round the shelves of Naturally Good Food. We had:
- Orange and crème patissiere
- Date and almond paste
- Coconut, ricotta and cashews
- Stilton, pear and walnut
- Banana and caramelized hazelnut
- Chilli, chai and crystallised ginger
‘A juggernaut of flavour’ Paul confirmed to Ruby of her samosas (with a handshake).
The pastry for samosas needs to have a crunch and a melt-in-the-mouth texture, but be sturdy enough to hold the filling. ‘Fry well, friends’ Ruby saluted her samosas – but nevertheless, many of the bakers’ little darlings crackled, burst and exploded.
Which flour for samosas?
The bakers seemed to plump for plain flour for their samosas. In many places where traditional samosas are made, gram flour is used instead. This flour is made from ground chickpeas; it brings a nuttiness and a high protein element to the casing of the snack. It’s a truly delicious option and well worth a try. After all, no-one can be a chicken around a chickpea, can they?
Terrified of the technical?
Continuing their tactic of freaking Manon out by choosing French bakes that she’s never heard of, the judges selected Puits d’amour (Wells of Love), which the viewers were promised would be scandalously erotic in shape. We were disappointed, frankly. But anyway, they looked lovely.
‘Why have you chosen these beautiful cakes?’ queried Paul. ‘Mainly because they’re very difficult’, beamed Prue. A mixture of rough puff and choux, involving blowtorches, this wasn’t a challenge for the faint-hearted.
Things began to unravel almost immediately. Rahul accidentally melted his butter. Jon downed a jug of raw egg whites. A buzzard circled the tent (and Noel’s shirt). Some bakers fell down a puits of despair. For others, their end-results really were the puits.
Which flour for Wells of Love?
Panicked by pies?
The showstopper was a shaped banquet pie, fit for a Tudor King. The bakers used hot-water-crust pastry, rough puff and full puff, pounding the living daylights out of ingredients, mincing them with mini toilet brushes, shaping and sculpting, spraying and praying. In an ‘empire of pastry’, they forged mermaids, fish, Welsh dragons (‘where are its wings?’ asked Paul. ‘Not all dragons have wings’ glared Jon), butterflies, crowns, plaits and an octopus. Briony suddenly surged ahead, with a full A-Level recreation of Alice in Wonderland on a hat.
Paul is the Big Bad Wolf of pastry. ‘Looks more like a monkfish’, he snarled at Dan’s salmon, before taking issue with the arrangement of Manon’s octopus tentacles. Prue gamely played miniature cake-croquet with a tiny hedgehog ball.
Which flour for pies?
For full puff pastry, Paul Hollywood recommends strong white bread flour (and I’m too scared to argue with him). On the other hand, he also recommends two lots of overnight chilling, which is hard to achieve in a tent.
Fears and tears
Briony, with her pretty, flawless pastry, became Star Baker. But Dan went. ‘He has a gift’, pronounced Paul – but this week, he also seemed to have a death-wish. His quest for the ‘perfect puff’ ended in resignation. ‘It didn’t take Nostradamus to see that coming’, he sighed, musing sadly on the sense of purpose competitive baking can give to a stay-at-home parent.
The perfect shortcrust pastry
If you’re a beginner with pastry, and yet want to make your own pies, quiches, tarts and pastries from scratch, there’s really only one pastry you need to master. It’s the very simplest and works perfectly well in many forms. It’s a forgiving type of pastry (more Prue than Paul): if your water isn’t iced and from a spring in Normandy, or you don’t have more than five minutes to chill it, it will still work fine. I don’t even bother blind-baking it before adding the filling.
I’ve been making this pastry for years and it has yet to let me down. Even so, I still have a little shiver of nerves before getting the mixing bowl out. Pastry does that to people.
Simple, perfect shortcrust pastry
This makes a family-sized pie, with enough for the bottom and the lid.
225g plain white flour
50g baking margarine
(if making sweet pastry: 25g caster sugar too)
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and rub in the fat. If using sugar, add this now.
Using a knife, mix it with cold water, a spoonful or two at a time, until it all sticks together in a firm dough.
Wrap in foil or clingfilm and put in the fridge for a while (from 5 minutes to overnight: you’ll be OK whatever).
When you’re ready to use it, cut it in half and roll both halves out on a floured surface. One half can form the bottom of your pie, the other the lid. Alternatively, cut into other shapes and use as you wish.
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This post was written by Yzanne