It was with some trepidation that I set out to make Katy's Paradise Picnic Pie.
I had, until the previous weekend, never made pastry. Mostly, due to lack of time, and also a bit of laziness. Even professional cooks are happy to buy ready-made pastry so I haven't felt too bad about it but the other day I wanted to use up some stewed apples and blackberriess to make my favourite little "Brambly Hedge Pies", individual lidded shortcrust pies, like mince pies, but filled with stewed fruit. Mum used to make them and I've always loved them so they've become a part of our household too. Anyway, I realised I didn't have any pastry in the freezer and no opportunity to pop to the shops so I thought, hold on, this is silly. I want pastry. I can have pastry. I found a baking book on our shelf and found a likely looking recipe and set to making it. I then decided it would be fun to do one big pie, as my parents were coming for dinner that night and we have a lovely enamelled pie dish that we've become rather keen on. It was surprisingly simple and quick and the resulting pie was a real success. The pastry was so tasty and nicely thin and crisp. The bottom wasn't soggy either, although I think people are far too fussy about that anyway. So, I am a new convert to the make-your-own-pastry brigade.
Days later I finished reading What Katy Did and got ready to make the pie that makes all the Carr children's fingers sticky on one of their many picnics to their "Paradise", a patch of land a little way from home, where they find a cosy little clearing between some bushes, to form a precious bower. Cramped but secret and exciting, and visited regularly by the tribe of little Carrs, lead by Katy, the eldest. Here the children while away many a Saturday or holiday, with readings of poems and stories, sometimes written themselves, and enhanced by a generous hoard of provisions, kindly prepared by Debby, one of their cooks.
The pastry for this Paradise Pie was a much shorter pastry, and more like a Rich Shortcrust pastry, with lemon juice instead of water, and an egg yoke.
While the pasty chilled and firmed up, I got on with the filling, which was an intriguing combination of two parts.
The first was a sort of sandy mixture, made up of a lot of dark soft brown sugar, a little flour and lots of lemon zest.
The second part was double cream, warmed
I'd never blind-baked a pastry tart before, but it worked out nicely.
Then the sugar mixture is added and smoothed over before pouring the cream over to fill to the top edge.
Now, here is where I hit a dilemma and realised the tart tin was not suitable. I had the right width but clearly not the right depth. There was far too much mixture, so even just the sugar mix completely filled the pastry case. I was rather disappointed as I'd been so pleased with the pastry case but I had to go with it and make the best of it so I removed some of the sugar mix to leave some depth free for the cream. I poured over as much cream as I could, but it really wasn't enough. You could see the dark brown sugar through it.
Anyway, that was the best I could do this time around so I got on with baking it and kept careful watch. The timings were completely wrecked by being too shallow a tart so I just waited til the custard-ish filling was set, and golden brown. The recipe said brown, but I think it really meant golden, so it was a bit of a judgement call.
Apart from the weird mottling from the sugar underneath it looked fairly nice. I wanted to taste it straight away but had to wait til the evening as we were heading out to some friends to dinner. Our usual contribution is to make the bread to go with the soup but we took along this oddity for pudding too.
When it was finally time to slice it up, it was pleasing that the pastry was well cooked and tasty, and a nice consistency, and cut well. Everyone liked the pie except for me. It was just so sugary and not a lot else going on. It had a very sticky-toffee-pudding type of flavour and it just wasn't wonderful to eat. Perhaps if I'd been advised to use a deeper dish and I had been able to pour in a nice load of the cream, there would have been much more of the custard to counteract the brown sugar, but hey ho. I've learned a bit more about pastry and recipes and since then I've baked two rather nice Tarte au Citron, and had more practice at the timings for blind baking and what to look for. I've also learned from several books that recipes books are often vague or actually just wrong. But I have to say, that the me before this challenge would never have thought of making a pastry tart, let alone bothering to actually do it.
I love the idea of a celebratory pie, but this is not really the pie for me and although some part of me would like to bake it again to prove that I can make a better job of it I'm not sure it's worth it.
I'm glad to have done it. I'm glad to be a pastry-maker. I went and bought a book about pastry and have since made pastry several times and will not be afraid of it again.
Maybe I should decide on my own filling and start a new tradition of picnic pies. I loved reading What Katy Did, and I love picnics.