Butter-less pastry – can such a thing exist?

Last week was British Pie Week (no, really), so what better time to post about my recent attempts at pastry. It never figured that highly on my baking priorities, what with not being cake, and having been put off in childhood by my mum’s claims that it was my brother, not me, who was the natural pastry chef. However, after a particularly pathetic-looking bunch of mince pies this Christmas (delicious, with homemade mincemeat made following this recipe, but very unattractive), I set it as a 2012 challenge to myself to get good at pastry. I knew I would be ok, for I would have Dan Lepard as my guide.

Dan's fantastic baking book, which I got for a Xmas present

As I live with (and often cook for) my lactose-intolerant friend, pastry is one of those things that is safer homemade. I’ve noted, though, that many commercial pastries, particularly the cheaper ones, are dairy free and vegan – thanks to cheap industrial palm oil, I guess. It’s still nowhere near as cheap as flour and fat, though, and a lot less fun. One of my first attempts was to make a hearty winter dinner pie, and for the filling I followed Delia’s ‘Not Pork’ Pie recipe – green lentils, vegetables, herbs and spices – with some variations – I swapped the tomatoes for mushrooms to get something a bit heartier and I’m glad, as any more sweetness would have been too much – and used Dan’s hot mustard shortcrust (halved). Apparently the key to short shortcrust is using crisp, hard (ie animal) fats and keeping them cool. My new approach, then, is freezing, freezing and more freezing.

  

 

 

 

It seems to work. I improvised them into a loaf tin with a foil divider to make simple, square pies, though I did also have a go with recycled foil pie containers (from Linda McCartney pies. Which are actually pretty good. Don’t judge). The squares were simpler (and bigger, which made for a more satisfying, if  sometimes somewhat immobilising meal). It does look nicer with an eggwash (sorry vegans)…

  

 

I followed this success with Dan’s Coley, caper and olive pie, with pollack instead of coley (it’s cheap, white, not near-extinct fish, does it matter?) and, of course, soya instead of milk & cream. This was ace, a clever flavour combination (don’t use red onions though, as they turn an alarming shade of blue in cooking).

 

 

 

In addition to tackling the classic dinner pie, I’ve been delighted with ‘spelt rough puff’ success and have also revisited Dan’s Sweet Potato Crescents (these sunflower oil-shortened samosa/pasties were one of the first things I taught myself to cook when Dr E had to go dairy-free and remembered them fondly as a success). I went for baked rather than fried, and they were good, though much better warm. They are tasty little snacks (although I could have been a bit more generous with the spice this time) and went down well in the Threshold office in the busy run-up to the festival.

I haven’t finished experimenting yet; I still need to take Dan’s advice and try this fiddlier, layered olive oil pastry a go, and have a go at some sweet pastries too. I’d also be interested in playing around with coconut oil, one of the few vegetable fats to be hard at room temperature. Has this been done before?

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