Tag Archives: pastry

Mum goes in pursuit of the perfect pork pie

My mum is a wonderful pastry cook. Her work colleagues request tins of cheese straws for office birthdays. For five years, on and off, she’d bring me sausage rolls wrapped in foil when she came to visit me at uni, and I would seduce my friends with them. She has no need of Delia, or scales. It’s all by eye, and her light pastry fingers.

Mum's sausage rolls


My mum also has a penchant for pork pies.

Now. A whole menagerie of beasts go by the name of ‘pork pie’. And a whole menagerie of people are closet – or not so closet – lovers of this most British of fat-laden snacks. My friend Rosie has organic veg boxes delivered and tends to cook light Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern food, all vegetables and spices and cous cous. But she loves pork pies, especially M&S mini ones.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, is more from the drink-mopping school of pork pie connoisseurs. He marches into Lidl in a hungover blur and demolishes the luminous pink 39p ones in about two bites. I can’t help but be tempted by the new breed of posh ones with stilton or onion chutney added, usually sold for about five times more than they’re worth.

Pork pie a la maman #1


Naturally, my mum has a different approach. She’s dallied with Dickinson & Morris – third in yesterday’s FT taste test – and had a long-distance unrequited affair with mail order Brays Cottage (they send them to you frozen, and all you have to do is bake them and add jelly). Recently, she’s turned to the warm embrace of pies from The Woodbridge Fine Food Company. And they’re good – very good. But even these, made from uncured meat, warm with pepper and rich with jelly, are never quite good enough.

So making a pork pie – a proper pork pie, peppery and coarse, with homemade jelly – has been her holy grail for years.

Three weeks ago, she finally did it. And yesterday, she made another one, the recipe tweaked a little. Both times, it was marvellous (unlike my photography):

Mum's pork pie #2


She used this tin from Lakeland, and followed the recipe inside, ditching the pork belly and bacon as too fatty and sticking just to pork shoulder. It’s a serious commitment, the making of a pork pie. You have to fiddle with hot water pastry and make sure there are no leaks, then cook the pie on a low setting for two hours. Then there’s the anxious wait until it’s cool enough – but not too cool – to add the jelly.

None of that fazed mum. Bias aside, her pie really was seriously good. The pastry was perfect, naturally, with that strange alchemy of crunch and clag you need in a pork pie. The meat was coarse but tender, peppery and soft, and the jelly – oh, the jelly. It’s always been my favourite bit, and I think a pork pie which is tight on the jelly is a thing of misery. But there was plenty in this, tasty and wholesome from homemade stock.

Mum's pork pie, angle #3


And what do you know, a few month’s ago my mum’s hero, Nigel Slater, made this one. Spot the difference? I can’t.

Next time she’s going to try chicken and ham. Maybe with a bit of stuffing. I can’t wait until Christmas.

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Food more than fuel – In praise of cricket teas

The cricket season is nearly upon us, so especially for Cardiff School of Journalism’s cricket supplement (edited by the wonderful Will and Tom), here’s a tribute to one of Britain’s best inventions – the cricket tea.

For most sports, food means fuel. Whether it be protein shakes, dubious muscle-building powders or, for the Olympians, three fried-egg sandwiches and a five-egg omelette for breakfast, none of the scientifically-proven meals eaten by today’s athletes would find their way onto a Michelin-starred menu.

Nor, of course, onto a cricket tea table. With its day-long matches and meal breaks, cricket is the one exception to sport’s food is fuel rule. The cricket tea is a centuries-old institution, and without it club cricket – or its players at least – would crumble.

Although there’s no hard and fast rule for the perfect cricket tea, a lot rides on its quality. Your club will soon be blacklisted if away teams are greeted by nothing more than a curled-up marmite sandwich and some lukewarm squash.

Up until recently, most clubs either had an official tea lady or an unofficial squad of teamakers – the players’ wives, who get a starring role in a Yorkshire cricket heritage project. Although some still do – Lisvane Cricket Club are currently advertising for a cricket tea caterer, at £60 a time – more and more teams have had to enlist the players themselves as chefs-in-chief.

But whoever makes it, the teatime staples haven’t changed much over the years. For sandwiches, egg and cress, cheese and cucumber and tinned salmon are all favourites, usually accompanied by pork pies and sausage rolls. Some more adventurous clubs have even introduced young pretenders like cold pizza and samosas.

Tacky is usually the order of the day. Buy-one-get-one-free Mr Kipling cakes, doused with icing sugar and nestling on a doily, are a must, and a huge multipack of Walkers crisps (with the prawn cocktail left until last) is a given.

And of course an urn should sit steaming in a corner, ready to make umpteen cups of PG Tips. It’s all very 1950s, and no-one – least of all the old-timers who are more interested in the tea than the score – would want to change it.

But the best teas, the really memorable ones, the ones which will make away teams squabble over who gets picked to travel to your club, take the kitsch classics and transform them into a gourmet meal.

Sliced white bread will be replaced by fresh brown or granary straight from the baker’s. Fillings will be generous – creamy egg mayonnaise will ooze out of the sandwiches, plastic wafer thin “ham” will surrender to crumbly butcher’s ham smothered in English mustard and the sausage rolls will be warm, with flakey buttery pastry and peppery sausages.

But most of all, Mr Kipling will be abandoned in favour of homemade cakes. Light Victoria sponges, filled generously with buttercream and strawberry jam, will vie for space with rich chocolate cake and sticky brownies, and buttery scones will be served with clotted cream and tangy lemon curd.

At its best, a cricket tea encapsulates everything great about English cooking. At its worst, it will look like you’ve gone to Kerry Katona and asked her for her Iceland leftovers. Know which side your bread is buttered on, and make sure your team rises to the challenge this season.

Custard and Cupid

Custard, from Ambrosia or not, is truly the food of the gods.

Admittedly, given that this week I reached the dizzy heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint) of muesli with custard for breakfast on Sunday morning, apple crumble and custard for dessert in the evening, custard on Hob Nobs on Monday and thoroughly polishing off the tub tonight, I may be a little biassed.

But honestly – on a cold and dark December evening, nothing quite compares to the unctuous rib-sticking creaminess of custard, glowing yellow in the gloom. It takes you straight back to being about five, when all you had to worry about was sleeping, eating, sleeping, eating. It’s a mouthful of hug, appealing straight to the most basic desire for something sweet and soothing.

It’s gorgeous warm with crumble, slipping seductively over the oaty crunch of topping and the slight sourness of apples, but it’s just as good poured over bananas cold. And when it turns into creme anglaise and starts being put into pastry – try M&S choux buns , or James Martin’s caramelised orange recipe – then it metamorphoses into something utterly different but entirely glorious, with a wobble and sheen all of its own.

Although frankly, I’m quite happy stationing myself by the fridge with a spoon. The illicitness is half the joy.

So, amidst rain and deadlines and end of term malaise, here’s a simple recipe to cheer you up.

1.) Trek to nearest supermarket, any chain will do. Don’t forget your umbrella.*

2.) Locate baking aisle.

3.) Pick up tub of custard, ideally Ambrosia. More moneyed readers may like to head to M&S’s sunnier climes and buy a tub of their fresh luxury custard, dotted with statement vanilla. If you’re really dedicated, do a Delia and skip to 5.

4.) Race home in rain, bearing said custard (ideally pay for it first).

5.) Obtain spoon. Open tub. Take enormous spoonful of custard. Devour.

6.) Try not to eat entire tub in one go.

7.) If you manage to exercise that kind of self restraint, smother a spoonful over a Hob Nob. Beautiful.

All I have now in the fridge now is yoghurt. Honey it as I might, I feel bereft. Back to step one…

Try it, and tell me this chap and I are wrong.

*Umbrellas may not be needed outside Cardiff. But it’s been raining here for so long, we can’t quite be sure.