How does one start off making pastry? Do you prefer to use your food processor or take a step into the slower lane and use those wonderful tools that are carried around with you everywhere, your hands? For me, its my hands. They are my most favourite "tool" in the kitchen. Creating pastry in this way and rubbing the butter into the flour makes me physically slow down, breathe and go off into my own little daydream. Its kitchen meditation at its best and it always reminds me of how the ladies (and perhaps the men) in the "olden days" would have created everything in their kitchens using their hands. My Great grandmother's "Granny's" hand-held "Swift Whip" beaters hang from the shelf in my kitchen and although they are quite dusty now, would have done their fair share of beating and whipping back in their day.
It wasn't until the late 1960's that a commercial food processor was introduced "The Magimix" arrived in the UK from France and from then on in a number of other manufacturers designed different models for this competitive market. They were obviously onto a good thing as hundreds of thousands of machines were sold in the late 1970's. Therefore changing the way many went about their meal preparations. Imagine their excitement!
I actually don't own a food processor myself, although I do have a little mini hand-held one that is perfect for making pestos or blitzing up Beau's food when need be. Sometimes I think I should probably get one but then there are always ways and means of getting by without it. Its just another contraption to find a space for in the cupboard, is it not?
Ok, on we go..... I find as Beau is getting older its becoming a little more difficult to find the time to sit down and write. He is quite happy to play by himself for a little while but then before I know it there he is clawing at my legs and burrowing his face into my pants, pulling and writhing his way up almost as if he's wanting to say, "Mama, I just want to see what you are doing!!" Such a curious creature he is.
As soon as I pick him up his little hands stretch out for whatever is at closest reach. Pointing to this and that with an "Oh" "Ah" "doot" and many other little sounds. He is particularly fond of the kettle and the sink. Perhaps he wont mind doing the dishes.....???
So, I find myself writing either at night when all is quiet and calm or as I am doing now, writing in snatches at stolen moments of time whilst I await a batch of vanilla bean cupcakes to work their magic in the oven. I am standing over the oven and the aroma of freshly baked cupcakes is wafting out from beneath me which is making me quite hungry to say the least!
Mum and dad have taken the little man out for a walk down to the park, they are rugged up and even though that winter sun is casting a gorgeous golden light over everything the air is still crisp and icy but somewhat refreshing.
We are well and truly in the depths of winter now, the fire place has already had a fair work out and the heater has been on all day today. We had one of our coldest mornings on the weekend and torrential downpours in the city to go with it. The heavens opened and the rain pelted down leaving a trail of dark puddles and the crunch of hail stones underfoot.
We stayed up in town the weekend before and I always manage to fit in a trip to the South Melbourne Market. That place is heaven and I am always buzzing with inspiration by the time I get back to the car, where Ben eagerly awaits to see if I have bought him back a treat. This time it was 2 fried dim sims and a generous handful of sliced hot salami. If only you could have seen how his face lit up.
The roads were wet but the warmth we walked into as we entered our friends home was one that was full of love and happiness albeit a slight sense of sleep deprivation for these two gorgeous souls who have entered into the world of parenthood, welcoming their little man into this world just over 8 weeks ago.
In the hope that by each one of us bringing something delicious to lay out on the table to create a feast that we could all enjoy without the new parents having to do much at all, I set about creating and re-testing these little parcels of buttery, crisp pastries which were full of roasted winter vegetables that are taken to the point of caramelised goodness in the oven and stirred through soft and creamy leeks and the cheesey indulgence that is gruyere.
I used to make these every winter at the café and they were always a huge hit. It was a matter of first in best dressed. I have played around with the recipe quite a bit since those days, with the original recipe coming from Karen Martini which I have adapted over time. She actually adapted hers from a Stephanie Alexander creation, isn't that the beauty of creating and the joy that comes from recipes. I love how so many people put their own unique touches on them, ultimately making them their own over time. So please feel free to do the same here and continue this wonderful cycle.
Makes 8-10 pasties depending on the size.
For the Pastry
300g cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
60g cream cheese
500g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
4-5 tablespoons cold water
Preheat your oven 200 degrees.
In a large bowl add the flour, salt, butter and cream cheese and then using your fingertips rub the butter and cream cheese into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. A tip I remembered learning back in home economics class was to give the bowl a bit of a shake side to side on the bench top so that the larger pieces of butter would come to the top ad you can then make sure that all the butter has been rubbed in somewhat evenly. Add in the egg yolk and enough cold water to bring the dough together.
If you sort of make a claw with your hand use your fingertips to bring it together before kneading it lightly on a floured bench. shape into a disc and push any cracks that form around the edges back together so that its lovely and smooth. Cover in cling wrap and pop into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. (You can make this a day or two ahead, but just take it out of the fridge at least half an hour to an hour before you want to use it so that its not rock hard and makes it easier to handle)
Meanwhile for the delicious filling......
600g pumpkin, skin removed and deseeded. cut into 1cm pieces
200g sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 cm pieces
200g parsnip, peeled and cut into 1cm pieces
150g carrots, cut into 1cm pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
a good handful of spinach, washed and cooked in a small pot with a touch of water until wilted, squeezed of excess moisture and chopped
2 red onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 leeks, finely sliced
a good handful of parsley, chopped
1 egg and the remaining egg white
50g parmesan or pecorino
black sesame seeds for sprinkling
milk for brushing
On a large baking tray lined with baking paper place the pumpkin, carrots, parsnip and sweet potatoes, drizzle over 2 tablespoons of oil, the fennel seeds, salt and pepper. Mix it all together then pop into the oven for at least 50 minutes until starting to brown around the edges and caramelise.
In a large frypan over a medium-low heat, add the remaining oil and the onions, leek and garlic and cook until soft and starting to caramelise.
Then stir in the vegetables, spinach, parsley, gruyere, parmesan, beaten egg and egg white. Taste to see if it needs any more salt or pepper.
Take the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured bench. Cut out a 14cm round and then roll it out again to take it out to about 16cm. I use a bowl and knife to do this.
Place 2-3 tablespoons of mixture into the centre and then dab your fingers in a little milk and drag this around the edges. Bring the pastry up to meet one another and then crimp together with your fingertips. Place onto a baking tray lined with baking paper (there will be some leftover pastry here too, so you can either freeze it or use it to line a rectangle tart tin and get creative with the fillings) I recently made a golden beetroot, ricotta and bacon tart and it was delicious! Brush the pasties with the remaining milk and scatter over the sesame seeds. Pop into the oven for about 30 minutes or until they have turned a lovely golden brown.
Allow to cool a little (You don't want to go burning your tongue) then enjoy with a dollop of chutney. They are also great to freeze, just wrap them individually or place them in an airtight container. When you want to re-heat them just place them on a baking tray covered with baking paper or foil.