Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The ‘Big Comeback’ Blog Post – Mulberry Pie and Making Pastry!

A lot of you may be wondering “what happened to Cake Mama?  Did she disappear off the face of the earth?  Was she plagued by some terrible disease?  Has she just STOPPED BAKING???”  The answer to all of these questions is simply, no. 

I jest…I’m sure that most of you couldn’t really care less!

But if you were wondering why I suddenly stopped blogging, I must confess that I suffer from a major affliction called procrastination.  It affects nearly everything I do, and I’m battling to fight it.  There was another perfectly simple explanation as to why I wasn’t overusing my oven as I usually do, but we’ll get to that another time, another blog post (if you care to guess why, you’re welcome to email me with your suspicions, I’ll be happy to tell you whether you’re hot or cold).

My daughter Zahra, excited about the season's pickings!
Anyway, I digress yet again.  It’s September already, can you believe it?  September is the beginning of spring here in the beautiful Cape, and for my household, it means that our mulberry tree hangs heavy with dark, sweet gems, waiting to be picked  before the birds get the lion’s share.   Last year, I was away in the UK and Amsterdam for 3 weeks, and I managed to miss the entire mulberry harvest (on my return, my husband boasted about eating them with ice cream), Miraculously, this year, the harvest has lasted waaaaaaay longer, and the fruit has been far more abundant – we’ve already picked well over 7kg so far, and there’s no sign that the season’s ending yet. 

Initially, we picked them and ate them with Greek yoghurt and honey, sprinkled with seeds (very yum).  Then we started picking for my mother-in-law, who wishes to make Mulberry jam.  But we still had so much…what to do with it all?  We could freeze them and use them for desserts and smoothies, which I’m sure I’ll end up doing, but I wanted to try something new.  I found a recipe for mulberry pie that looked simple enough, and decided to give it a go.

I made the pie according to the instructions given on  The filling was wonderfully easy and delicious to make.  The pastry was the bit that I was dreading.  You see, I love baking…I can virtually bake cakes, cupcakes and biscuits with my eyes closed.  But pastry???  That’s something for the professionals, I thought.  All those turns, and letting it rest in the fridge, then rolling out again…and keeping everything cold, not handling it too much.  Too many intricacies, not for me, so I always steered clear (ok, that’s not completely true.  I’ve made Danish pastries before with success, but it’s yeast-leavened so I had nothing to fear, it would rise!).  My mother in law makes wonderful pastry, and although I never tried it myself, I found myself subconsciously observing the technique over and over again, as they (mother and sister in law) make it quite often.

The pie crust recipe given on the website, however, was easy enough to make, and therefore very appealing to me (I like baking best when it’s done quickly)  and it left me with a sense of achievement.  I finally understood the old adage of a pie-crust promise (easily made, easily broken…watch Mary Poppins if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and I gleefully put my creation in a pre-heated oven of 220 degrees for 15 minutes, before reducing the heat to 180 and letting it bake for another 30 minutes.

But it wouldn’t rise, and it didn’t give me the flaky crust that it promised. 

This was the result. 
Tasted good, but it was as flat as a pancake

My brother in law, husband, and my husband’s eldest daughter assured me that it tasted delicious, but my dear oh-so-honest husband had to add that the pastry was all wrong.  Still, they gobbled it up without me getting so much as a sliver.

But I had to try again!! I’d started something now.  Those who had tried my first attempt went to go and tell the rest of the family about my mulberry pie, and I’d already promised to make it and take it down to my in-laws the following Sunday.  But I couldn’t use the same pastry recipe!  I had to use a tried and tested, never fail pastry.  I looked through my own battered, hand written recipe book, and saw that I had scribbled down my mother in law’s pie pastry recipe, copied from my sister in law’s recipe book.  I’d seen them do it a hundred times, and I had the formula in my hands…now I had to put in some effort.

Having started making the pastry the night before, and finishing it the following afternoon, I can gladly say that I’m no longer a ‘lazy baker’.   I even made a small sample pie for Fatima, my husband’s eldest daughter in order to just check that the pastry was all fine, before I moved onto the big guns.
That's more like it!  Puffed up with pride!

The results were as I’d hoped and the pie was a success!  

I’ll forgive you if you read the method for the pastry and think “no ways, I’ll just buy my own”.  I’ve done that myself in the past.  But if you’re feeling really adventurous, or if making pastry is like mother’s milk to you, try this out.  Once you see that pastry puff up in all its goldenness, it will leave you feeling warm and a little proud inside, that it was made with your own toil. 

Mulberry Pie (though I bet you could use raspberries too)



420g mulberries
200g sugar (you can even use less if you feel your berries are already very sweet)
30g flour
1 tbsp cornflour


Note:  This makes quite a lot, so use what you need for the pie, then cling wrap the rest and put it in the freezer to at a later date.  It freezes and keeps really well.

5 ½  cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cream of tartar
670g butter (divide in half)

1 egg yolk
1 tbsp vinegar
1 ¾ cups iced water

¾ cup cornflour
1tsp cream of tartar


First, the pastry, as this needs to be made in advance.  Prepare as follows:

-          All of your ingredients should be cold, and ideally should be refrigerated before using, even the flour. 
-          Your ice water should be iced, as in slushy (for best results, put your water in the freezer until it starts to form a layer of ice.  Break it through, then leave it in again until it starts to re-form another layer, then break it again so you have some good ‘slush’.) 
-          Your butter should be divided equally in two, grated, and also left in the freezer until needed.
-          If you know your hands are usually warm, get a bowl of ice ready to dip your hands into when working with the pastry.  Coldness is key.

You will have noticed that the ingredients for the pastry have been divided into 3 sections. 
-          The first set of ingredients (flour, baking powder, cream of tartar and half of the butter – 335g) needs to be mixed together, by hand (try not to use a machine as it can easily overwork the pastry.
-          Next, combine the egg yolk, vinegar, and iced water together, and slowly add to the flour/butter mixture until you have a ball of dough.  DO NOT be tempted to knead – it needs to be lightly combined.  This is pastry, not bread dough!
-          Put in a bowl, cover securely with cling film (the plastic should be tight over the pastry, and tucked in at the sides, rather than wrapped over the top of the bowl.  Leave it to rest overnight.
-          Prepare your work surface by sprinkling it with a little flour.  Before taking out your cold and rested dough, put your rolling pin in the freezer for 5 minutes (put on your express freeze button now if you have one.  If not, don’t worry).
-          In a bowl, or in a shaker if you have one, combine the cornflour and cream of tartar, as you will be sprinkling this onto the pastry between folds. 
-          You should have 335g of butter left.  Divide this into 3 but keep it in the freezer until you need to use it, it should be frozen cold until the very moment it gets rolled in.
-          Take out your dough, and roll out a rectangle, as evenly as you can, to about 7mm thickness (I’m never completely sure, but so long as it’s less than 1cm but not very thin, you’ll be fine.  It should be sturdy enough to lift up and fold over without breaking or over-stretching).
-          Mentally, or by making slight indentations in the pastry, divide your rolled out rectangle into 3.  Distribute a third of your remaining butter onto the top 2 thirds of the pastry evenly, leaving the last third, the third nearest to you, empty.  Sprinkle with a bit of the cornflour/cream of tartar, then proceed to fold:
-          Start with the third closest to you, with no butter on. Fold it up over the 2nd third, leaving the top third open with the butter on top. 
-          Now fold the top third down, over the other 2.  You should have a thick rectangle now, like a double-decker sandwich, made up of (from the bottom) pastry/butter/pastry/butter/pastry.  I’ll have to include some diagrams as this is pretty difficult to explain.  I hope you’re getting it so far.
-          Press down the pastry with your fingertips to hold it all together, then wrap it tightly in cling film, and leave it to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
-          After resting, roll out the dough to a rectangle again, and repeat the process of adding the butter, sprinkling the cornflour and cream of tartar on top, folding and resting.
-          Repeat the rolling and folding process again.  You should have finished all the butter.  Leave it to rest, then roll it out again, adding no more butter, but just giving it a final roll to incorporate the butter nicely.  Now cover and leave it to rest for an hour.
-          Take out your pastry, and get ready to line your pie dish, which should be about 9 inches in diameter.
-          You’ll be able to tell that this is way too much dough for just one pie, so to avoid rolling the entire thing out again, cut off a portion of the dough, about a quarter, put the rest of the pastry back in the fridge or freezer (if you’re not going to be using it for a while).  Roll the pastry out to about 6mm thickness again and place it in your pie dish, pressing down lightly along the bottom and sides, and trimming away any excess, making sure you have enough around the edge for a crust.
-          Put in your prepared pie filling (see below)
-          Top the pie as you please – either just cover with another layer of pastry, securing the sides with some brushed egg to help it stick and pressing down with a fork, or arranging strips of pastry into a lattice design, as I did in the picture.
-          Brush with beaten egg, and let your unbaked pie rest again in the fridge for 30 mins before baking it off.
-          While your pie is refrigerating, preheat your oven to 220 degrees C.
-          Put your pie in the oven on a lower tray, baking it at 220 for 15 mins.
-          Reduce the heat to 180, place the pie higher up in the oven, and bake for 30 mins until the pastry is golden brown, puffed up wonderfully and smelling delicious.

Method for the pie filling:

-          Make sure your berries are washed and drained in a colander.  You can even leave the stalks on as they just go soft in the oven, although I prefer to snip them off with some scissors. 
-          Making the filling is as easy as mixing the berries with the sugar and flour.  That’s it.
-          Once you’ve put your filling in the prepared pie shell, you can dot it with 30g butter if you wish.  I didn’t, and I didn’t miss it, either.