In praise of pastry

Bart Beek | VOLUME 27, ISSUE 3

Golden, crisp and moreish – pastry is a scrumptious addition to almost any dish.

Tarts, pies and pastries form the base from which so many delightful savoury and sweet dishes are made. In winter the thought of consuming a delicious tart or pie is so warming and comforting. It’s such an easy way to feed the whole family and often it’s simply leftovers that form the base for next evening’s pie. The cooked meat and juices from left-over lamb shanks are just amazing under golden flaky pastry, but my favourite left-over choice would have to be slow-braised beef cheeks.

You can make a pie in a dish of almost any shape – round or square, in a coffee cup or cereal bowl, through to a large baking tray. If you’re cooking for the family, some may think it’s easier to just make one large pie and divide it up at the table, but it gets a bit messy and doesn’t present too well.

I prefer to serve up the delicious meat and its juices onto a flat plate and present it topped with a perfect square of the crispest glazed puff pastry. Less fuss, good portions, amazing visuals and the pastry comes out perfect.

The best cuts of meat for making a succulent and moist meat pie are from the shin and leg of a cow. These are inexpensive cuts that are quite tough, but amazingly delicious and tender when cooked long and slow.

In the slow-braised beef pie recipe, I combine quality bacon along with dried porcini mushrooms, and then add the usual carrots, onions and celery. What really lifts the flavours is the addition of the Spanish sherry vinegar, along with the red wine and veal stock. It produces great acidity and a depth of flavour that tickles the taste buds.

The secret to achieving a great patterned glaze on your pastry is to first brush it with a fresh free-range egg yolk, then scrape the surface with a pastry comb or a fork, creating a wave pattern. Cut into the desired shape and bake at 210°C until puffed up and golden.

One of my favourite savoury pastries that I often make is my porridge oat pastry, which is a Scottish recipe. This is a simple, fool-proof recipe which uses equal amounts of plain flour, plain oats and unsalted butter. It has such a beautiful ‘mouth feel’ when cooked and keeps crisp longer than most savoury pastries.

Making the tarte tatin is so much fun and all you need is a good small blini pan. Make the effort to slowly bake the onion slices with the vinegar and port and you’ll be rewarded with onions at their best. This entrée has it all: acidity, sweetness, bitterness, a hit of salt from the goats curd and crunchy golden flaky pastry.

Middle Eastern pastry kataifi is a form of filo pastry made into strands and here I carefully wrap chermoula-seasoned fresh snapper inside it. It’s crunchy, fragrant and delicious.

I finish with an amazing winter fruit dessert, glazed black plum and coconut tart. The secret lies in the pastry case, where you chill the dough once it’s made. Then roll out, line the tin and again chill before blind baking until crisp and lightly golden. Once filled and baked, it’s then given a final glaze and presented with orange cream. Simply slice, plate up and wait for the rewarding ooohs and aaahs from your guests!

Scottish cheddar tarts in porridge oat pastry

Beautifully crisp and light, these pastries will delight your family and friends. Cook the sliced leeks well but do not allow to brown.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves: 12 portions

For the pastry

120g plain flour

120g plain oats

Salt, to taste

120g unsalted butter

1 medium egg, beaten

Combine together the plain flour, oats and salt. Rub in the butter, and then combine in the beaten egg. Knead until combined and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Roll out to 2mm thickness, cut into 12 x 90mm circles and place into an oiled muffin tray. Bake at 160°C until just slightly golden on the bottoms. Remove and cool.

For the filling

2 medium leeks, trimmed, halved and washed

1 medium brown onion, diced

2 tblsps butter

Salt and pepper, to taste

250ml thickened cream

2 eggs

1 cup grated aged cheddar cheese

¼ cup chopped parsley

12 baby trussed tomatoes

Melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan, and then add the onions and leeks. Cook well until quite soft then place into a mixing bowl. Add the cream, eggs, cheddar and chopped parsley. Combine well and place into the pastry cases. Top each with a single tomato and bake at 175°C until set and slightly puffed up.

Slow braised beef pie

One of the best braising cuts of beef for pies would be the shin and leg. Initially they are quite tough cuts, as those muscles do a lot of work, but this slow-cooking method helps tenderise the connective tissue and results in moist, succulent and delicious beef.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 2 hours

Serves: 4

1kg beef shin or leg, cut into 2cm dice

2 tblsp plain flour

¼ tsp salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper

50ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

100g middle cut smoky bacon, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 medium brown onion, diced

1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced

1 stick celery, sliced

1 tblsp tomato paste

3 tblsps Spanish sherry vinegar

250ml red wine

1 cup veal stock

¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 1 cup of hot water for 2 minutes

1 bay leaf

2 sheets full butter puff pastry

1 egg, yolk only

Preheat the oven to 175°C. Heat a heavy fry pan and add half the olive oil. Combine together the plain flour and seasoning, and then lightly dust the diced beef. Remove excess flour and add beef to the hot pan. Brown well then remove and set aside.

Place the pan back onto the heat and add the remainder of the olive oil. Add in the bacon and sauté until almost crisp. Now add in the garlic and cook for 20 seconds until fragrant. Combine in the onions and brown slightly. Then add the carrots and celery and cook for two minutes until light brown.

Add in the tomato paste and cook in for 30 seconds. Add in the sherry vinegar and scrape loose the sediments. Combine in the red wine, stock, mushrooms and the water they were soaked in.

Bring to a boil, and then add in the browned beef and the bay leaf. Cover and place into the oven, cooking until very tender.

Cut the puff pastry into rectangles, brush with the beaten egg yolk and make score marks with a fork. Bake in a hot oven (200°C) on baking-paper-lined oven trays until puffed up and golden. Present on top of the braised beef.

Caramelized red onion tarte tatin with thyme, pine nuts and fresh goat’s curd

A delicious sweet and tangy first course that is sure to please all. The fragrance from cooking the herbs and red onions will really tease the taste buds. And the contrast between the crisp pastry and the smooth goat’s curd is wonderful.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves: 4

8 x 1cm slices of red onion

40g unsalted butter, melted

50g caster sugar

4 sprigs thyme

100ml red wine vinegar

30ml port

Salt flakes, to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

30ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

30g unsalted butter

3 tsps caster sugar

8 sprigs thyme

4 puff pastry disks

4 tblsps toasted pine nuts

8 tsps fresh goat’s curd

2 cups baby rocket

20ml extra virgin olive oil

Place the 40g of unsalted melted butter and the 50g of caster sugar onto a sheet of baking paper. Top with the leaves from four thyme sprigs and place the thick onion rings onto the paper. Splash on the red wine vinegar, port and the seasoning. Brush the tops with the olive oil and cook at 160°C until tender (at least 45 minutes) then remove from the oven.

Butter a small individual-serve frying pan and sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Sprinkle on the thyme leaves and place a portion of the red onion slices onto the top.

Top with a puff pastry disc and bake at 210ºC until golden. Turn the tarts upside down onto serving plates, top with the pine nuts, goat’s curd and a little olive oil-dressed seasoned rocket.

Snapper with chermoula and a kataifi pastry case

Chermoula (t’chermila) is a favourite flavouring used mostly with fish. Morocco has a long coastline with the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Mediterranean to the north, so fish recipes are dominant on the coastal areas and often feature saffron, lemon and fennel. Chermoula is a Moroccan chilli paste that partners well with seafoods. Kataifi pastry is a Middle Eastern dough made from a form of phyllo pastry.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 8 minutes

Serves: 4


3 heaped tblsps cumin seeds

2 heaped tblsps coriander seeds

2 small bird’s eye chillies, seeds and membrane removed

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tblsps ground ginger

1 tblsp smoked sweet paprika

60ml lemon juice

120ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dry-pan roast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds until fragrant, then crush in a mortar and pestle. Place all the ingredients into a food processor and turn into a smooth mixture. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate.

4 x 180g snapper portions, each cut in to two longish portions

½ packet kataifi pastry

100g butter, melted

½ cup radishes, sliced thin

¼ cup basil leaves

2 cups baby spinach leaves

1 cup fennel, shaved thin

½ red onion, sliced thin

15ml white wine vinegar

45ml Jingilli extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Fold open the kataifi pastry and remove one layer or ‘skin’. Replace the remainder back into its packet, so it does not dry out. Cut the layer into a length of 20cm, and then divide into eight sections.

Lay the pastry strands onto a board and brush with the melted butter. Brush a little of the chermoula onto the fish, then place onto the kataifi pastry and gently roll up. Place the fish parcels onto an oven tray and bake until golden brown and the fish is just cooked.

Combine the vinegar and olive oil, and then fold through the radish slices, basil leaves, baby spinach, fennel and red onion, season well and present with the snapper parcels.

Glazed black plum and coconut tart

This sweet pastry is absolutely delicious and is a dream to roll out. I call it the 3-2-1: three parts flour, two parts butter and one part sugar. Allow the tart to cool to room temperature before glazing with the apricot conserve.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves: 8 large portions

For the pastry

160g unsalted butter

80g caster sugar

1 small egg

250g plain flour

For the filling

2 eggs

½ cup caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ cup self-raising flour

80g desiccated coconut

8 whole ripe black plums

½ cup apricot conserve

Orange Cream

250ml thickened cream

1 orange, zest only

¼ cup caster sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

To make the pastry, combine together the butter and sugar. Then add in the egg and slowly incorporate the flour. Kneed, then chill for one hour.

Preheat an oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 3mm and line a loose bottom flan tin, then chill for 30 minutes. Line with baking paper and cover with raw hard rice or coins. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, remove the rice and paper and place back into the oven for a further 15 minutes. When lightly golden, remove and cool.

Using a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Combine together the self-raising flour and coconut, and then fold into the egg mixture. Place the mixture into the cooked pastry shell and spread evenly.

Cut the black plums into halves, removing the stones and press into the filling then bake for 30 minutes until golden and puffed up.

Boil (while stirring) the apricot conserve, strain and brush over the entire cooked and cooled tart. Present with orange cream. To make, whisk together the cream, sugar, vanilla and orange zest.