Strawberry and Vanilla Custard Pie – Chef Scotty B

The finished pie, decorated with edible flowers
The finished pie, decorated with edible flowers

Having grown up in New Zealand where, under the tyranny of supreme overlord ‘Big Ben’, meat filled pies reign supreme. they are dolled out to the unsuspecting public at any point of convenience, prescribed as a common cure for hangovers, even infiltrating the hearts and minds of children through school canteens and tuck shops the country over. I ask you; who among us can truthfully say that they have never, not even once, awoken in a pool of dried vomit and self loathing, with only moments to spare before having to make an appearance at an event of varied social importance? Who did you turn to in your time of need? Who was always there for you, all toasty and golden-brown, laden with the promise of brief respite from the demons of Fridays past gnawing on the back of your eyeballs? Good old Big Ben steak and cheese, that’s who!

Needless to say, fruit pies and dessert pies have been largely over-looked and under appreciated in our fair country, and largely that’s the way we like it. Our preference in filled pastry pockets is largely emblematic of the hardy, rugby-loving, “she’ll be right”, real men don’t talk about their feelings, attitude that has been the backbone of our New Zealand society for over 100 years. Imagine my befuddled sense of horror upon learning that the very concept of a meat and cheese pie brings the average American to the borders of repulsion. Had they not sampled the wonders of our greatest national treasure, or were they simply wrong? I tended to move towards the latter theory, as nothing pleases a small country man such as myself (apart from a bloody good steak and cheese meat sack that is) than unceremoniously informing a native to a much larger, more powerful country, that they are simply wrong.

And so I thrived behind my carefully constructed wall of self imposed ignorance, satisfied in the knowledge that Meat pies are simply better and that was that. Oh I allowed my self the simple pleasures of the odd apple, or even apricot pastried confection lathered with whatever thick dairy condiment lay at hand, but I never held them in the same regard, or really acknowledged their status as what I considered to be a “PIE”. In fact it wasn’t until I recently hopped the ditch and took up residence in my current home of Australia, that I was somewhat forced to reconsider my stance on the subject of confectionary wrapped in puff pastry. Australia shares much the same affinity for the humble, yet ever so mighty meat pie, with one blaring difference. Now, the following statements are sure to upset a few of the already very few readers that take the time to digest the drivel that I vomit forth into the gaping void of cyber space, but the truth must endure, whatever the cost. That inescapable truth, the unreconcilable difference between the pies of my homeland, and those of our Anzac brethren is this; Australian pies are fucken shit!!!

Controversial, I know. Upsetting, most definitely! Imagine how upset I was at discovering this insidious horror. Here I am all set to start my new life, in a new country dripping with opportunities, and one of my dearest pleasures, my first ever favourite food, is found to be sub-par at best. I haven’t eaten my once favourite (unless I have made it myself) in well over 6 months now, due to the disappointment and utter despair I encountered at the hands of this great countries not-so-great attempts at the simple meat pie.

However from ruin comes unexpected opportunities. A chance to grow and explore in new directions, the direction of confection. One of my dear friends from the land of the long white cloud having recently spent time in the Americas, and having now found himself here in Melbourne, recently related his longing for the pastry clad wonders of this self proclaimed super power. Having noticed the growing trend towards Americana, and in particular diner culture here in Melbourne sited the lack of decent dessert pies. Could there potentially be a market for a superior product in this field? So after some soul searching, and contemplative isolation, and a beer or two, I came up with this wee beauty. Classic flavours re-imagined and packed into a superior crust. Enjoy.

Fresh strawberries arranged into the blind-baked case
Fresh strawberries arranged into the blind-baked case

Pie Crust

  • Servings: 200g
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • 160g flour
  • 2g salt
  • 70g unsalted butter
  • 40g water
Method

Preheat the oven to 190ºc. Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and using a pastry card (or your hands) work the butter into the flour until well combined. Add the water and knead into a dough. Don’t over-work the dough as you will make it tough, but it should be smooth. To prepare your pie dish either spray it with non-stick canola spray or rub butter evenly around the inside and then drop a tablespoon of flour into it and work it around by titling the dish until the inside of the dish an even coating of flour, tip off the excess flour and use for rolling your dough. Flatten your dough ball with the palm of your hand and then gently roll from the centre out ensuring that the dough remains round and uniformly thick all over. Put the dough into the pie dish and press it into the corners being careful not to puncture it. Trim the excess pastry overhanging the sides of the dish and reserve for another use by wrapping in plastic and refrigerating. Cook for 30 minutes and then whisk a whole egg and brush the inside of the pastry liberally with it. Cook for a further 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

Vanilla Custard

  • Servings: 400g
  • Difficulty: med-hard
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INGREDIENTS
  • 375ml of milk (1½  cups)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g sugar
  • 8g cornflour
  • a pinch of salt
  • ½ a vanilla pod (or half a teaspoon of vanilla essence)
  • 15g unsalted butter softened
Method

Cut the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds into the milk and add the emptied pod also (these things are fucken expensive so be sure to get all the flavour out of it that you can!). Gently heat the milk to allow the flavours to infuse. Combine the yolks, sugar, cornflour and salt in a bowl and whisk until well combined and slightly pale. Just before the milk reaches boiling point, pour the milk slowly into the egg mix while whisking vigorously. Return the mix to the pot and cook out until thick (about 5-7 minutes) continuously stirring. Pass through a fine sieve to remove any lumps and the vanilla pod. While still hot stir the butter into the custard a little at a time. Cover with baking paper and allow to cool in the fridge.

Put sugar and chopped strawberries in a pot
Put sugar and chopped strawberries in a pot
Mash up the strawberries and sugar in the pot
Mash up the strawberries and sugar in the pot

Strawberry Filling

  • Servings: 1/2 cup
  • Difficulty: easy
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INGREDIENTS
  • 500g strawberries
  • 100g sugar
  • ½ vanilla pod (or ½ a teaspoon of vanilla essence)
  • 35g water
  • 15g cornflour
Method

Remove the leafy tops of the strawberries. Separate them into two even piles. The first pile cut in half, and arrange on the bottom of your cooked pie crust. The other half is to be roughly chopped and then mashed up with the sugar in a pot. Scrape out the vanilla pod and add the vanilla beans, discarding the pod, and cook out on the stove over a medium heat until thick. Mix the water and cornflour together to form a slurry. Pour half the slurry into the strawberry syrup and cook out to thicken. Add the rest of the slurry if its not thick enough, it should be jammy, but not stiff. Pour the syrup over the strawberry halves in the pie casing and spread it evenly to fill all the gaps. Take 2 tablespoons of the vanilla custard and put it into a piping bag. Bury the tip of the piping bag into the syrup and squeeze out the custard while slowly lifting the bag away from the bottom of the pie to ensure an even distribution of custard through the pie. Repeat this process numerous times until you think you have enough custard (you can never have too much custard!). Leave in the fridge to set for at least an hour and then serve with the remaining custard and some whipped cream!

Cover the fresh berries in the case with the thick jam
Cover the fresh berries in the case with the thick jam
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