A Pastry thing..

Its a pastry thing. I’m ticked off.. we can’t make pastry. We’ve forgotten how. Laziness, no time.


Its not all that often I see a blog or post from the UK that makes me dribble, but when I saw a pic of a beef pie with a shiny pastry that was based on lard. I decided that life without pastry was not a happy place.


A gastro pub in suburban London was serving the simplest of British foods cooked traditionally and well. It made me think. I have ranged far and wide, explored food from across the globe. Became opinionated, gathered a little knowledge. Yet ended up divorced from the foods I have loved, often confused about cooking techniques.


Things like a roast dinner, a pie, a fine quiche, a jam tart, a fruit pie. My grandfather lived to the ripe old age of 94, ate fat on every bit of meat that passed his lips, could not contemplate a meal without desert and enjoyed morning and afternoon tea and, should someone be up to getting it for him, supper.


Breakfast would have been a couple of slabs of Tommy Digby’s white high tin bread, toasted then slathered with butter and jam (homemade marmalade was his favourite), perhaps a couple of eggs in eggcups, washed down with a pot of tea. Lunch a bit of cold meat and a shred or two of lettuce, ice cream and stewed fruit or left over last nights pudding. Dinner, meat and three veg, a fine roast with all the trimmings, some fried fish, regardless it would have been followed by a hot desert, steamed pudding or similar. Morning and Afternoon tea would have been a pot of tea (very occasionally coffee.. Turban coffee essence) some slices of cake, plain or sultana. In the event Pop was hungry, then even a scone with jam and cream. My grandfather was nothing but thorough in his dedication to food. His second wife, the amazing all dancing, all smoking, all cooking Pearl White was up to the task and the cake and biscuit tins were always filled. Pearly, like Poppy smoked unfiltered Turf or Craven A cigarettes, 25 a day. Pop said his first cigarette was at the age of 6 and he never stopped. When you add to that, a decent amount of whisky a day, you have the full picture.


What’s my point? As ever it’s how. We have so many health warnings, so many doctors telling us to be aware of the hazards of over consumption. Perhaps its all about manufacturers being greedy, adding chemicals to the mix that endanger our existence. I claim that I eat little by way of chemical since I rarely eat food that is not cooked by myself. It could be said that I have no control over chemicals in meat, true. The same could be said for other raw ingredients, but I try to always eat organic. While I am, like my grandfather, not a faithful and devoted fan of the medical profession, I have been diagnosed as having Diabetes 2, a disease that I suspect did not even impact in my Grandfather’s time. Poppy was a big man, big tummy, spreading ass since he so rarely got off it, yet until the last few years of his life when no one in the family was up to living with his rambunctious ways and he was at the age of 93, handed over to the good nurses of the Port Fairy aged facility where he soon had control of the functionaries.


In those halcyon days, the food was still cooked in the large lower ground floor kitchens of the Port Fairy hospital, by local women known for their ability to cook ‘decent’ food, they were not trained and often had learned cooking in hotel kitchens. I recall having a similar conversation with a male nurse at the Alfred Hospital Rehab unit who could remember the days when that unit cooked the best roast dinners in Melbourne. Not now, they don’t even have a kitchen.


I was a frequent visitor to Pop in hospital, although I don’t think my visits gave him much pleasure. In the end he simply didn’t know who I was, but the nurses still treated him with great respect and never ever allowed him to be served anything but the best the kitchen could muster… and that was not half bad.


The mystery of life now and life then must remain unanswered and subject to further conversation. The question of the foods we ate then…


Basic Shortcrust Pastry

250gr (8oz) flour

1 tspn salt

2 tspns caster sugar (for sweet pastry, omit for savoury)

75gr (2 1/2oz) cold unsalted butter

75gr (2 1/2oz) shortening or lard (increase the butter to 150gr (5 oz) if you wish)

1 egg yolk (optional)

60mil (2floz) cold water (more if needed)

Sift the flour with the salt and sugar, add the butter and shortening. If you are using a pastry cutter, use that to cut the shortening through until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. If you do not have, try doing it with two knives. If this doesn’t work, use your finger to rub it gently through. Keep lifting the mixture to aerate it.

Make a well in the centre, add the egg yolk if you are using one, if not begin adding the iced water, a spoon full at a time until you have formed bigger crumbs. Add just enough water to get the mixture to the big crumbs/start to stick together stage.

Work the dough lightly with your fingers and form into a rough ball. Chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Roll into whatever shape you require.



Pate Brisee (The French Version Of Shortcrust)

a plastic or metal scraper is useful for this job.

200gr (6 1/2oz) plain flour

100gr (3 1/2oz)  of cold butter cut into smallish pieces

1 egg yolk

1/2 tspn salt

2 tspn sugar (for sweet crusts)

45 mil (1 1/2fl oz)cold water or more if necessary

Sift the flour onto a work surface, make a well in the centre. Add the butter that you have flattened a little with the egg yolk, slat and sugar.

Using your finger tips, begin to draw the flour in from the edge, working in the butter, egg yolk, salt and sugar, add the water as you go.

Keep working with your fingers until coarse crumbs are formed. Scrape these together with your scraper to prepare for kneading.

Lightly flour the work surface and begin to knead the dough with the heel of your hand. 1 – 2 minutes is enough and the dough should now be very smooth.

Shape into a ball and chill for 30 minutes. Roll and use.


*for a savoury pie dough, substitute 45gr (1 1/2oz) of lard for the half the butter and use a whole egg.

* for a different savoury flavour, substitute 30 – 45mil (1 – 1 1/2floz) sour cream for water.


Pate Sucree

This is a shortcrust sugar pastry used only for sweet tarts. It is made in exactly the same way as pate brisee.

100gr (3 1/2oz) flour

100gr (3 1/2oz)  cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces

100gr (3 1/2oz)  caster sugar

4 egg yolks

1/2 tspn salt

1/2 tspn vanilla essence

Sift the flour onto a work surface, make a well in the centre. Pound the butter to soften it .

Add the butter and the rest of the ingredients to the well and begin to bring the flour in from the edges to mix with your fingertips until coarse crumbs are achieved. Use the pastry scraper to form into a ball, knead for 1 – 2 minutes and chill for 30 minutes before rolling into shape.

The rolling is a little more difficult with the high sugar content.



*substitute 90 gr (3oz) of crushed nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts for 1/2 the flour, omit two of the egg yolks.

* for many Italian pastries, the same recipe, but add the grated rind of one lemon with the vanilla.


Basic Flaky Pastry

This along with puff pastry is one of the more difficult pastries. Doing it a few times will build your confidence and it will become a breeze.

250gr (8oz) of plain flour

1 tspn of salt

125gr (4oz)  butter cut into pieces of about the same size

60 gr (2oz)  of butter or shortening

150 mil (5floz) water

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl, add half the butter and form the mixture into coarse breadcrumbs, make a well the centre and add the water until you have a coarse breadcrumb mix , form this into a dough.

Flatten the dough into an oblong 15cm wide x 45 cm long. Lay on a floured surface. Cut the rest of the butter into about 16 pieces of the same size, lay these on 2/3rd of the rectangle. Taking the piece that has no butter,(1/3rd remaining) bring it over the first 1/3rd of the butter covered pastry. Then fold again to encase all the butter into two folds of the pastry. Seal the ends by pressing, chill for thirty minutes.

When you begin to roll the pastry, give it two more turns, that is fold it over itself twice to form layers.

Having rolled and cut the shapes, chill them for 15 minutes before using.


Braised Steak And Onions

750gr (24oz) braising steak cut into serving size pieces, not necessarily into bite size.

seasoned flour (flour with salt and pepper added, in a plastic bag is great)

1 tblspn of good olive oil

1 tblspn butter

3 large onions sliced 50mm thick in rings

1 – 2 cloves of garlic chopped fine

1 1/2 cups of good beef stock (if you are using a stock cube and nothing wrong with that, cut back on the salt in the flour)

1 bouquet garni


Preheat the oven to 160°c/310°f

Dredge the meat with the flour but shaking it in the plastic bag.

Melt the butter and oil in the bottom of a good solid cast iron casserole, brown the pieces of meat a few at a time in the hot oil/butter. Set aside.

Add the onions, you may have to add a drop more oil if it has all been absorbed by the meat brown them well, towards the end, add the garlic. When the onions are well browned, add the beef stock and the herbs, bring to the boil and add the meat. Stir the pot to mix everything together.

Cook in a medium oven for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Taste for seasoning before serving and adjust.

Pile into a pie dish and cover with a good shortcrust pastry and bake.


Steak And Kidney Pudding

This recipe is cooked in a suet crust.

Suet Crust

2 cups self raising flour

pinch of salt

125gr (4oz) fresh suet or packaged shredded suet

approx 1/3rd cup of cold water

If you are using fresh suet, remove the skin from the suet and, using a grater, grate on the fine shredding side. Measure the suet required.

Sift the flour and salt, stir in the finely shredded suet, cutting it through the flour with a knife. Begin to add the water, still cutting with the knife, when the dough begins to form, gather it into a ball, you may still have to add more water, begin to knead it lightly until the dough is smooth. (it will never be completely smooth, that is fine, the suet will melt in the cooking as it should.)

Meat mix is..

1kg (2lb) chuck or blade steak cut into  2.5cm cubes

1 calves kidney or 2 sheep’s kidneys, cored and chopped

1tblspns flour

1 tspn salt

1 tspn black pepper

1/2 tspn mixed dried herbs

1/2 cup water

2 tblspns Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tspns nutmeg

dash of cayenne (optional)

onion and garlic are also options (1/2 onion in rings, 2 garlic, chopped fine)


Place the meat and all ingredients in a saucepan, cover and simmer gently for two hours or until the meat is well cooked. This can also be done in the microwave. Add more water if necessary, the mixture should be on the wet side.

Roll out the suet pastry and line a 4 cup basin, that you have buttered and floured, saving some for the top, the lining should not be thicker than about 5mm. Pour the meat into the basin, don’t fill more than 1cm from the top. Fit the top piece of pastry on the basin, using cold water to seal the pastry together. Cut two holes in the pastry to allow steam to escape.

Cover the top with a piece of greaseproof paper (or foil) and then cover with a cloth that you have folded double thickness, dampened and floured (flour side down) tied down the basin 2 cm from the top. Tie securely. Take the four corners of the cloth and tie above the basin in a knot, it makes it easier to remove.

Have a pot of water boiling that will take the basin easily, the water should come up the side of the basin at least 3/4 of the way (not more), boil for 3 – 4 hours, as the water evaporates, replace with boiling water to keep the depth the same.

Serve straight from the basin with mashed potato and green peas.


The same meat can be used to make a pie with a shortcrust pastry lid.


And now I am seriously hungry, even when the day is hot! Its hard to forget when mum would bring the suet crust pudding in its basin to the table all tied with a tea towell… the first whiff of deliciousness when the top was broached was nectar.

~ by peterwatson on December 22, 2013.

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