Saturday, 22 March 2014

Maple Pecan Pies

Before I made these, I really didn't think they'd be my kind of thing. I'm not a huge fan of nuts, or pastry desserts, but I was bowled over by just how nice these little pies were. They came about in a flash of inspiration when a block of shortcrust was leftover from the date and banana slices my mum and I made over the Christmas holidays. Naturally, I took to Pinterest for inspiration, and it wasn't long at all before I struck pastry gold.

These are a twist on the American Holiday classic. As I say, I'd never tried it before, mainly brushing it off as something I assumed I wouldn't like because of the main ingredient, but I gave them a go knowing the rest of my family would like them. I ended up loving them, so even if you don't like nuts I'd recommend giving these pies a go.

Using only a handful of ingredients, you'll most likely be able to make these little tarts with things that are already in your kitchen. They take next to no time to make and are super easy, great for family baking. Their perfectly portioned size means you're no overwhelmed with sweet sickliness, either. Of course, you could make a full sized pecan pie if you wanted, but it being Christmas I wanted something that wasn't going to take up a lot of space or was tricky to serve. Making a big bath of small pies also makes them ideal as presents or 'thank you' gifts.

Maple Pecan Pies

500g shortcrust pastry
110g brown sugar
110g maple syrup
2 tbsp butter
60ml milk
1 egg

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface until approximately 5mm thick. Cut pastry into circles with a large round biscuit cutter (you can also do one big pie by cutting the pastry to fit a large pie tin), and place into the holes of a muffin tin. Prick the pastry lightly with a fork, being careful not to go all the way through to the tin. Bake blind (the empty pastry shells) for 7-10 minutes to stop the pastry becoming soggy later.
2. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and milk in a saucepan over a low heat. Bring to the boil then remove and leave to cool slightly.
3. Gradually beat in the egg to the syrup mixture, whisking well. Stir in the chopped nuts.
4. Spoon 1-2tbsp of the mixture into each partly baked pastry shells. Return to the oven and bake until set, about 25-30 minutes.

Keep pies in an airtight container for freshness.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Mum's Date and Banana Slices

I thought the season of illnesses and ailments was over. Evidently I was wrong. I also thought that my immune system had taken all the battering it could from Freshers' flu, and had emerged tougher and stronger. Clearly I was wrong about that, too. A combination of many rainy and cold nights out, and the ever evolving melting pot of germs at Uni has meant I've had a cold almost constantly since coming back to Cornwall. And it's at times like these that you just want to be curled up by the fire and a plate of something comforting. These mincemeat squares are just that. Spicy and sweet, they bring back Christmas memories like nothing else.

I made,or rather, watched my Mum make, these just before Christmas. Mum's not much of a baker, so making cakes in the kitchen with her is something of a special occasion (I can't stand anyone else in the kitchen when I'M cooking normally, my family knows this), and I'm more than happy to sit, watch and take 'arty' (badly lit) photos.

Essentially, these squares are just two layers with shortcrust pastry sandwiched with mincemeat, orange, apple and some other goodies. They're really really good, and I don't even like mince pies normally. But I should stop comparing them to Christmas pies, they'll be amazing all year round! They don't even look particularly Christmassy.

Next time you're missing the winter season and it's snuggly goodness, try these heart warming mincemeat slices. They're easy (no risk of unrisen cake!) and delicious, and an opportunity to get everyone into the kitchen! If you use ready made pastry (a total cheat I know, but necessary sometimes!) they're an absolute breeze.

Date and Banana Mincemeat Squares

1 block ready made shortcrust (approx. 500g but there will be leftovers)
400g mincemeat
1 eating apple, grated
60g walnuts, broken into pieces
zest of one large orange
1 banana, mashed
8 dates, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1tbsp brandy (optional)
icing sugar to dust

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C, or gas mark 6. Grease a shallow baking tray.
2. Mix all filling ingredients together in a large bowl, reserving a tablespoon or two of the beaten egg for glazing the pastry.
3. Cut the block of pastry in half and roll both halves out so they're large enough to cover the baking tray with excess. Cover the tray with one of the halves, making sure it fits in the corners well, and leaving a lip around the edge to join the second piece to. Spread a little milk or water on the lip so the second layer will stick well.
4. Spread the filling on top and even out. Lay the second piece of pastry on top and press down the edges gently. Trim off excess.
5. Crimp the two pieces of pastry together with a fork or your thumb so they are sealed well. Prick the surface if the pastry with a fork a few times to stop steam build up, and brush the top with the remaining beaten egg.
6. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Cool in the tin and cut into squares, then dust with icing sugar.

Squares will keep in an airtight container for about a week.