It’s the day we’ve all been waiting for. Fevered speculation in the last few weeks has led us up to this moment in time. A time for truth. A time for honesty. A time to tell the world.
No, not which American gets to have their picture taken with the Queen and ‘our Dave’ for the next four years, but that far more pressing, more challenging uncertainty; would I have survived the Great British Bake Off Pie Week?
Everything else that I’ve attempted so far has been within a degree or two of my comfort zone, and it shows. I know that I can make an egg custard, a basic pastry and a good loaf of bread so I wasn’t completely daunted by the prospect. But now, at week 5, it’s time to up the ante. We’re starting to enter the realms of things that I have never even contemplated trying to make, and so from here on in, let the challenge really begin.
Hand-raised pork, bacon and apricot pies. Sounds so simple doesn’t it. Just a little matter of a hot water crust pastry, layered fillings and non-leaky gelatine. I’ve only tried a hot water crust pastry once ever before, for the Chorizo and Egg Pie from one of Andy Bates Street Feasts episodes. That used a loaf tin, and I still got leaky pastry, and a fair amount of gelatine and chicken stock all over my fridge (and was rather disappointing in the taste tests just in case you’re tempted to try it) . Hand-raised (on a jam jar because I don’t own dollies), oh yes, no problems there then.
You may not be surprised that I decided that a combination of raw meat and smoking hot lard was rather less than Kitty-friendly so with my trusty Mel’n’Sue safely ensconced in the sticky glitter embraces of her nursery team, I set to.
(what do you mean, I’m supposed to use my maternity leave to prepare for the imminent arrival of the baby? We’ve got nappies, a baby gro or two and the car seat, it’ll be fine!).
The pastry came together pretty nicely and worked up the sides of my ‘dollies’ (a big Kilner jar and a little Parfait jar) and apart from not being able to remember whether to chill the pastry upside down or right side up, a problem I suspect not applicable to anyone using actual dollies, so far so good. The jars did look a lot bigger than the dollies being used on the show though, despite having a slightly smaller diameter. Only time would tell whether this was crucial, but in any event, all of my other jam jars are much smaller so the Kilner/Parfait combination it was.
I suspect the jars were easier to remove than the dollies too; a little hot water inside, some slight poking with a palette knife and a little twist as the fat in the pastry started to melt, and out they popped.
But, it soon became apparent that one of these pies was not like the other.
I have saggy sides. Possibly because my jars have curvy sides, possibly due to the difference in the weight of a big glass jam jar versus a nice neat wooden dolly, or possibly (and most likely) due to baker incompetence. With a worrying sense of deja vu, these pies started to resemble the edible offspring of my somewhat wobbly efforts at wheel-thrown pottery from Art in Action 2010 and the kind of clay moulding we did at primary school.
Still it was too late to do anything about it so I started to pack in the filling as best I could, toes crossed for nice neat layers at the end. The really big problem came with the lids. I don’t know whether it’s possible to over-chill pastry but my lids were cool and brittle. They wouldn’t ease over the filling, and when I tried to crimp them, or join them to the edge in any way shape or form, they just snapped. Clearly, I wasn’t going to have any problems in finding a hole to pour the gelatine in.
There’s also an argument to be made that I didn’t pack the filling tightly enough, or that I overfilled the pies, causing more than a few side splits, particularly on the Parfait jar based pie. You can see from Paul’s masterclass that he’s got a little hole on the side of one of his pies but he doesn’t address how to fix it, or how to stop the jelly pouring out of said hole; maybe trial, error and cling film is the answer.
And so to the oven they went. And lo! there was pie:
For all my fears, they do resemble pies, and H (to whom I imparted the whole sorry disaster by phone) pronounced them less disastrous than expected when he was finally permitted through the door of the kitchen for a viewing.
The final test though, came today with the moment of slicing and munching:
I have layers! Actual genuine layers! I’m so pleased with the layering I’m almost prepared to overlook the rather obvious fact that (as anticipated) the jelly went through on stilts, dripping out of the bottom of each concoction almost faster than I was pouring it in the top. It’s a shame really, because I’ve got some really great veggie stock and it smelt delicious as I scraped it off the baking tray cum drip catcher when washing up last night.
It also happens to taste delicious, although I’m not sure that I can claim full credit for that; a really good butcher with really good free range pork and chicken makes it hard to ruin when all you have to do is dice and slice but such as my contribution was, I claim victory.
See, you can hardly tell that it’s not the one in the book!
So, down to the serious question of marking. On the plus side I have nice thin pastry, no soggy bottom this time, my filling is layered nicely, a cut slice holds together pretty well, and it tastes good, the meat is cooked but tender and juicy. On the loosing side, technically I’ve made a filled colander not a pie, I’m taking a rustic style to shark-jumping extremes, and there is an utter absence of evidence of jelly.
I’m a bit worried that my consistently middle of the road performance is making me the Manisha of the series, and she went home on pie week. But, happily for all of us this is my over-vivid imagination we’re playing in, and on the strength of some mini key lime pies that I made for a cake sale at work a few weeks ago that sold pretty well (and looked cute to boot), I’m claiming safe passage to the next round on the basis of my Showstopper Challenge, and the Queen of Puddings awaits me.