Friday, March 20, 2015

Scottish Border Tart, Take Two

On an early post, I tried the Scottish Border Tart but neglected to include the eggs in the filling.  They were listed in the ingredients but did not show up in the instructions.  So I tried the recipe again, this time adding the eggs at the bold text.
To make the filling beat the sugar and butter together until the mixture becomes creamy.  Beat in the eggs. Add the sifted flour and ground almonds. Spread a layer of jam over the bottom of the pastry and then add the filling.  Arrange a lattice design of pastry strips on top.  Cover with the flaked almonds.  Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 30 minutes.  15 minutes before the tart is cooked remove from oven and sprinkle over a layer of confectioner's sugar.  Return to oven. 
I used the same pan so everything was the same except for the eggs.

The first thing I noticed is that the filling spread like a batter instead of like a crumble.

Then the almonds on top sank into the filling more.

The finished tart looked softer and showed off the powdered (confectioner's) sugar better.

And the individual pieces looked and tasted fluffier than the first attempt.

Take Two:  Fluffy
Take One:  Crunchy
The Verdict

It tasted great!  The softer texture was nice and more like a coffee cake than a shortbread.

I liked it and so did my coworkers.  Success!

In comparison, they were both good.  However I and my guest taster enjoyed the first version the most because we liked the shortbread crunch along with the almonds.  My recommendation:  fix whichever one appeals to you the most.  Crunchy or soft -- your choice.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

An Elizabethan Meat Pie for Super Pi Day

March 14 is recognized as Pi Day in the United States -- mostly by schools who want their students to think about the irrational number π.   March 14 of this year was special, a Super Pi Day, because it is the only day in the century where you can write out the date and time to get π to nine decimal places:
3.141592653...  gets written as 3/14/15 9:26:53.  Super!

So in honor of Super Pi Day, I made a super pie:  an Elizabethan deep dish chicken pie.  Not only does the size make it super but the ingredients are not what we usually expect in a chicken pie.  You cannot find any onions, carrots, potatoes, peas, or even mushrooms in it.  Also the spices are different from the typical modern chicken pie.

My source was Gervase Markham's The English Housewife, originally published in 1596.  The author wrote it for his young wife to instruct her on "the inward and outward virtues which ought to be in a complete woman..."

ISBN 0-7735-1103-2
It is a fascinating look into the culture of an Elizabethan England household because the nine chapters cover a wide variety of topics:  physic (medicine) and surgery, cooking, distillation, wines, preparing fibers for dying and spinning, making cheese and butter, making malt, using oats, and brewing and baking.

On page 100, recipe #116 tells us how "To bake a chicken pie."
To bake a chicken pie; after you have trussed your chickens, broken their legs and breast bones, and raised your crust of the best paste, you shall lay them in the coffin close together with their bodies full of butter.  Then lay upon them, and underneath them, currants, great raisins, prunes, cinnamon, sugar, whole mace, and salt: then cover all with a great store of butter, and so bake it; after, pour into it the liquor you did in your marrow bone pie, with the yolks of two or three eggs beaten amongst it, and so serve it forth.
I needed to explore the details of this recipe a little.  What is the "crust of the best paste"?

On page 96, recipe #108, "Of the pastry and baked meats", he says,
...your chickens, calves' feet, olives, potatoes, quinces, fallow deer, and such like, which are most commonly eaten hot, would be in the finest, shortest and thinnest crust; therefore your fine wheat flour which is a little baked in the oven before it be kneaded is the best for that purpose.

And in recipe #109, "Of the mixture of pastes",
...your fine wheat crust must be kneaded with as much butter as water, and the paste made reasonable lithe and gentle, into which you must put three or four eggs or more according to the quantity you blend together, for they will give it a sufficient stiffening.
My next quest was to note the "the liquor you did in your marrow bone pie," which is in recipe #115:
... and after it is baked pour into it as long as it will receive it white wine, rose-water, sugar, cinnamon, and vinegar, mixed together, ...
My Redaction

From all of this I decided a regular pie crust would do.  I decided not to use eggs in it because I was baking it in a deep dish ceramic pie pan instead of having the pie stand up on its own.  It did not need "sufficient stiffening."  I used a recipe from The Great Food Processor Cookbook, by Yvonne Young Tarr  (ISBN 394-73284-7).

Pie Pastry (page 357)

(Yield:  Enough pastry for 1 double-crust pie)

11 to 12 Tablespoons cold butter (1 1/2 sticks) and 2 tablespoons cold shortening (or, for a tart pastry that is less rich, 7 tablespoons each cold shortening and butter)
2 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons salt
8 Tablespoons ice water

Arrange cold butter and/or shortening by tablespoons around bottom of container.  Combine flour and salt and sift together over shortening.

Turn machine quickly on and off 3 or 4 times or until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add as much ice water as necessary, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough forms a ball.  Chill for at least 15 minutes before rolling out.

I didn't take any pictures of the pastry being made since my focus was on the filling.  I used 8 tablespoons of butter (one stick) and 6 tablespoons shortening.  Both had been in the freezer.

Filling (before baking)

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup raisins
16 ounces prunes
<currants are unavailable in the stores at this time>
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces (1 stick) butter, cold

Mix the sugar, spices, and salt together in a small bowl.  Sprinkle a generous amount on the pie crust and then put about 1/3 of the raisins and prunes on top of that.

First layer of fruits and spices is complete
Put in a layer of thighs, setting them close together.  Sprinkle more of the sugar/spice mixture on top.  Put in another layer of raisins and prunes, more of the spice mixture, another layer of the thighs.  I tried to use all the thighs but they didn't all fit despite me squishing them into place.

Sprinkle on the spice mixture, add the rest of the raisins and prunes, and then add on the rest of the spice mixture.

The pie pan is stuffed full.
Cut the butter up into thin slices and scatter them all over the top of the filling.

Mmmmm.  Butter!
Roll out the top crust, cut some holes or slits to let out the steam, and fit it to the top.

There was enough dough left over to make decorations.
I baked the pie at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until the crust was browned and the kitchen smelled lovely.

Oh. My.
In the last few minutes of the pie baking, I made the liquor to pour into the pie.

Liquor (after baking)

1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon rose water
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 egg yolks, beaten

I mixed everything but the yolks and tasted it.  It had a slightly rosy scent, with the vinegar and sugar balanced well to shift the white wine flavor to a bit more piquant.  Satisfied with the flavor, I mixed in the two egg yolks.

Once the pie was out of the oven, I carefully poured the liquor into the slits in the top crust.  I made sure to pour some in each slit.  I knew the pie had received as much as it could take when some of the liquor came out of the crust on the sides.  The hot temperature of the filling appeared to cook the egg yolk.

Some of the liquid missed the holes.
I let the pie cool for awhile before tasting it.

The Verdict

I am pretty new to redacting recipes myself.  So when I was preparing everything, I worried:  I worried that it would be too sweet.  And that the spices would be too strong.  And that the liquor would taste weak or strong.  That I added too much rose water (yes, I love the stuff but not everyone is accustomed to its floral taste).  That the chicken wouldn't be cooked all the way through.  That it would be too greasy from all the butter.

I should not have worried!

The pie was excellent.  Fruity and spicy without being sweet or dessert-like.  The chicken was cooked beautifully.  The filling was not dry and not greasy.  The rose water added a very subtle scent to the meat and fruit without being overwhelming.

The crust was one of the best I have ever made.  Not as rich as a dessert pie but still flavorful and flaky.

I had several guest tasters.  Some had it hot and some ate it cold.  The general consensus was that it was very good; several wanted the recipe and all found it intriguingly different from what we usually think of when we consider chicken pie.

Many noticed the layers and were interested at the effect they had.

I was very pleased I used boneless, skinless thighs.  I was able to press them down into the pan and fit nearly the entire three pounds.  The half cup plus a little of the liquor was just right, too.  The filling soaked up most of it right away.  The rest was absorbed after some time in the refrigerator.

I would call this a resounding success!  I would make it again, too, just as it is described here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Scottish Border Tart

A number of years ago I visited the quaint town of Solvang, California and, in the shop "Tartan-n-Things", I purchased a book titled Scottish Fare.  It is charming because it is filled with recipes with their Scottish names (like "Roastit Bubbly-Jock" and "Cullen Skink") along with some history, culture, and interesting facts about Scotland.

Published in 1983 by Norma and Gordon Latimer
I was in a dessert mood and the description of the Border Tart looked very appealing.

Border Tart  (page 62)

For the pastry:
1 cup plain flour
2 1/2 ounces butter
1 ounce sugar
1 egg yolk

For the filling:
2 ounces butter
2 ounces sugar
2 ounces self-rising flour
2 eggs
2 tablespoons raspberry jam
1/2 ounce flaked almonds
1 ounce ground almonds

(Note that the measurements are mostly by weight so get out your kitchen scale!)

I love my ceramic salt cellar!
Make up the pastry and roll out on floured board to line an 8 inch flan ring.  Keep the scraps and roll out to make strips for the lattice design on top of the tart.

To make the filling beat the sugar and butter together until the mixture becomes creamy.  Add the sifted flour and ground almonds. ** (See notes below.)  Spread a layer of jam over the bottom of the pastry and then add the filling.  Arrange a lattice design of pastry strips on top.  Cover with the flaked almonds.  Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees F) for 30 minutes.  15 minutes before the tart is cooked remove from oven and sprinkle over a layer of confectioner's sugar.  Return to oven.  Serve with fresh cream.

My Notes

**The recipe does not specify when to add the eggs to the filling.  I didn't notice this until after the tart was in the oven!  I would add them with the flour and almonds.

For the pastry, I mixed the flour and sugar, cut in the cold butter until the mixture looked crumbly, then added in the egg yolk.  Then I let the dough sit covered in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to give the flour a chance to absorb the moisture.  It rolled out well.

It took three heaping tablespoons of raspberry jam to make an acceptable layer on the pastry.

Instead of self-rising flour, I mixed 3/4 teaspoon baking powder with 1/4 teaspoon salt then added enough all-purpose flour to make the mix weigh 2 ounces.   Then I blended it all together well.

Does this filling look dry to you?
My pan was a 7 inches by 10 inches rectangle and so it took the entire batch of pastry to cover it. That meant no lattice design on it, so I added extra flaked (actually toasted and slivered) almonds and it looked great.

I wasn't sure how thick a layer of confectioner's sugar to make so I kept it thin.

I took the pan out of the oven after 25 minutes of cooking as the crust was getting very brown.  I think I should have reduced the temperature to 325 degrees F since my pan was dark.

Still looks pretty.
The Verdict

I let the tart cool completely before tasting it.  I was concerned that the filling would be awful since it didn't have the eggs and it did look pretty dry when I spread it on top of the jam.  However I held out hope it would still taste good because the filling without eggs is very similar to a shortbread.

And yes, it did taste good!  It was a bit dry so I should have pulled it out of the oven sooner or baked it at a lower temperature.  But the flavor was lovely -- crunchy and nutty and not too sweet.  The raspberry jam was an excellent tart counterpoint to the more subtle crust and filling.

A very closeup cut-away view
Overall it was thin and that was just right.  My guest taster thought it especially tasty with a cup of coffee and I liked it with cold milk.  We did not put any cream on it.

So despite the lack of eggs in the filling, it was a success!

I would like to try it again with the eggs in the filling, just to see how much more they contribute to it.  I'll save that for the next post.