One of the sillier questions one is occasionally asked is to state one’s “guiltiest pleasure”. Disregarding the fact that if one felt truly guilty about eating something (a few ortolans, perhaps, or a nice whale steak or half a dozen plover’s eggs) one would keep shtum about it, I absolutely refuse to feel guilty about my penchant for wine gums, a Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie or cheap milk chocolate. Some may think them guilty pleasures, they may even be regressive, but I see no reason to feel guilty.
One of my favourite childhood foods was the Lyons individual fruit pie and I hanker after it still. I especially remember these pies in apple, blackberry and apple, and strawberry flavours, although I’m not sure I was that choosy about which one I would spend my precious pennies on as I returned from school. Yet my internet researches make no acknowledgment of the existence of a Lyons strawberry pie – I have clearly invented my own childhood. We know we do this in theory but it is always worrying to have it so clearly demonstrated.
One can understand if the Lyons technicians in Cadby Hall – a huge factory site roughly where Olympia London is today – were flummoxed by the strawberry pie. How do you get rid of the fruit’s very high water content? I daresay these days, with the gels and thickeners much loved by the chemically inclined cook, this is not so much of a problem. My method is more primitive and does not represent a complete solution. As you can see from the photograph, there is still quite a lot of delicious syrup bubbling upwards into the top crust and the ingenuity required to avoid a “soggy bottom” is also considerable.
I do have a few tricks. I roll the strawberries in cornflour, which thickens the juice as it is released; a little scattering of ground almonds on the base helps to soak up some of the excess; and subjecting the base to a lot of bottom heat will also aid the whole process. The pie is unlikely to be perfect but it is as good a taste of an English summer’s day as you could hope for.
Small, sweet strawberries are best. Great care must be taken when handling the hot pie.
|100g||light brown caster sugar|
- Sieve the flour into a bowl and mix in the salt and half the sugar. Cut the butter into cubes, then add. Using either the paddle of an electric mixer, the pulse of a food processor or your fingers, rub the mixture together to achieve a sandy texture – don’t worry if there are a few tiny lumps of butter remaining. Add four tablespoons of very cold water and briefly knead the pastry into a dough, adding a tiny bit more water if necessary. Divide the dough into two unequal “halves”, shape into two balls and then flatten them into two thick discs between greaseproof paper. Refrigerate for an hour.
- Drop the strawberries into iced water, then remove the stalks. Cut the larger ones in half and dry well on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with the remaining sugar and the cornflour and toss well until coated. Preheat the oven to 190C.
- Roll the larger of the two discs of pastry in the greaseproof paper until it is just thicker than a £1 coin, then drop it into a 24cm tart or flan tin. Roll out the slightly smaller disc to an equal thickness. Sprinkle the base of the pie with the ground almonds and then fill with the strawberries, forming a mound on top.
- Make a wash with the beaten egg and a tablespoon of water and brush the edges of the pastry before placing the second disc on top. Press edges together, trim the excess and make a little crimped pattern around the perimeter. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with an extra tablespoon of sugar.
- Place the pie directly on the hot base of the oven. Cook until the pastry is crisp (35 minutes) and the juices start to bubble up on to the surface. Lift out the pie and leave to cool for at least 20 mins: handle with care as the juice will be hot. Eat warm or cold with the thickest possible slick of cream.
Rowley’s drinking choice
Strawberries with their residual acidity do not need an intensely sweet wine. A Monbazillac fits the bill – but so does a good Auslëse.
Rowley Leigh is the chef at Le Café Anglais