From the Band of Bakers Archive: Pecan, Chocolate and Rum Pie

Chocolate, pecan and rum pie from the Band of Bakers 'Baking with Beverages' event, April 2013

Chocolate, pecan and rum pie from the Band of Bakers ‘Baking with Beverages’ event, April 2013

This week marks the second birthday of our little south east London baking club, Band of Bakers.  Our first event was held on 2nd May 2012 in the wonderful little Nunhead cafe and deli Bambuni.  About 25 or so bakers had pledged their interest, although despite this we were worried that nobody would show up.  We breathed a bit more easily as a steady stream of bakers walked in off the street with their cake boxes, got themselves a glass of wine and began chatting to each other.  Band of Bakers was born.  Two years on we have grown beyond anything we could have expected – we have an enormous waiting list, a number of popular and oversubscribed events and have had the opportunity to work with some great people including Dan Lepard, Paul Hollywood and the excellent team from delicious. Magazine.  Most importantly, we have created a community in our little corner of London that reached beyond baking and into people’s everyday lives, forming friendships and support networks, both online and in real life.

I talk about Band of Bakers an awful lot as I am so proud of what Naomi and I have achieved.  Nobody has told me to shut up about it yet, although I expect one day they will.

I started thinking back over our many events and the enormous number of bakes I have had the opportunity to try, and what I liked the most.  It is really difficult to narrow it down from the many, many that have graced the Band of Bakers tables, but here are a few I particularly loved:

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake from the Band of Bakers 'Your Favourite Bake' event, May 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake from the Band of Bakers ‘Your Favourite Bake’ event, May 2012

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake by Charlie.  This caused quite a stir at our first event, not least because it turned up warm from the oven.  It is, quite literally, the most perfect cake on earth.  A gingery cake with a slightly coarse texture due to the use of spelt flour, topped with stems of tart rhubarb.  I have made it at least 100 times, and based both my fig, ginger and spelt cake and my orange, stem ginger and spelt cake on it. SO good.

Little Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes by Chloe.  My reaction to the first bite was “what f***ing genius made these?!”  Chloe brought these along to our Winter Warmers event back in November 2012 and I immediately wanted to eat a hundred of them.  Beautifully sticky spiced caked with a decadent toffee frosting.  No recipe to share, sadly, as the baker herself says that “it will be a miracle the day I write a recipe down, let alone a blog!

Blueberry and Almond Tart from the Band of Bakers 'Inherited Bakes' event, January 2014. Photo by Naomi Knill

Blueberry and Almond Tart from the Band of Bakers ‘Inherited Bakes’ event, January 2014. Photo by Naomi Knill

Blueberry and Almond Tart by Naomi.  This is Naomi’s mum’s recipe and one of my favourite things that she has ever baked (and I can tell you that there is stiff competition!)  A gorgeous tart of pastry with a frangipane filling, dotted with little jammy blueberries.  I took a slice home for Ollie and he was enamoured.

Black Pudding Scotch Eggs by Jon.  Jon can always be relied upon to bring something utterly decadent to the table and, luckily for me and sadly for the vegetarians, it is often of the carnivorous variety.  These black pudding scotch eggs were among the best scotch eggs I had ever tried. I’m pretty sure Ollie even managed two. Extra kudos for the yolk being soft. Amazing.

Pumpkin and chipotle bread from the Band of Bakers 'Autumn Harvest' event, October 2013

Pumpkin and chipotle bread from the Band of Bakers ‘Autumn Harvest’ event, October 2013

Pumpkin and Chipotle Bread by Lauren.  There are few bakers that do bread better than Lauren, especially bread of the sourdough variety, which she writes about frequently on her blog.  She also has a fascination with chilli, and the combination of the two always produce something delicious.  This bread was made for our Autumn Harvest event back in October 2013 and didn’t last long on the table.

There are so many more, but I fear that I would write the longest blog post on earth if I listed them all.

Having attended every event, I have baked many things for the Band of Bakers table, with varying degrees of success.  One of my favourite creations was a chocolate, pecan and rum pie that I made for the Baking with Beverages event back in April 2013.  This event was originally supposed to be called ‘Baking with Booze’, but we decided to widen it to include other beverages as we were expecting around 35 bakers in attendance.

The pie is based on a recipe by the excellent David Lebovitz and went down really well at the event.  It is basically your average pecan pie, perked up a little with some dark chocolate chips and a few shots of spiced dark rum, which turn it from a standard American dessert to a very grown-up treat indeed.  Of course, the rum is interchangeable with other alcohol, David Lebovitz’s version used bourbon, and I always thought Amaretto would work well – or you could leave it out altogether.  The most interesting thing about this recipe is that the pastry is not blind baked prior to the addition of the filling.  When I first read this, I was like Say Whaaaaa, but then I realised that the idea was to for the pastry and the filling to merge a little, rather than have separate textures as in the case with most other tarts.  I did try it with a blind baked case once, and it was nowhere near as good.

Sweet, nutty and boozy – what more could you want? Much better too if you make your own pastry, obvs.

Chocolate, Pecan and Rum Pie

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tsp icing sugar
  • 115g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
  • 1 egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 150g dark soft brown sugar
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 30g melted butter
  • 2 shots (50ml) dark spiced rum
  • 200g pecans, roughly chopped
  • 150g dark chocolate chips

Start by making the pastry.  Combine the dry ingredients in a food processor, add the butter and pulse until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  With the motor running, add the egg and blitz until the mixture comes together in a smooth dough.  If the mixture is too dry, carefully add some cold water, a couple of drops at a time, until it comes together.  Press the dough into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes, or until needed.

Once the pastry has chilled, remove it from the fridge, roll it out and use it to lie the inside of a pie dish or tart tin.  Crimp the edges if necessary and return to the fridge until ready to fill.

Preheat the oven to 190°c / 375°f / gas 5.

To make the filling, place the eggs, brown sugar, golden syrup, vanilla, salt, melted butter and rum in a large bowl and whisk by hand until smooth.  Stir in the pecans and chocolate chips and scrape the filling into the pie dish.

Bake in the centre of the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the tart has risen and has a slight wobble in the centre.  Let the pie cool completely before slicing.

Adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz.

Pitt Cue Co, Soho

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Without trying to solicit any sympathy for my current situation, I’m finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things following my recent trip to San Sebastian.  Despite returning home two days ago, I seem to be unable to shake off that holiday laziness; the kind that is in no rush to get up in the morning and gives you decisions no more complicated than what to eat for dinner.  A distinct lack of pintxos bars and ice-cold txakoli in the Fitzrovia/Marylebone area has sent me on an internet-searching quest of where to buy Basque wines in the UK instead of getting on to more pressing matters like unpacking my suitcase and updating my blog.

On my last day in the office before going on annual leave, I met Claire for lunch.  I have a terrible, and much-documented, track record of trying and failing to get a lunchtime table at Pitt Cue Co., so was pleased when I turned up early one Thursday lunchtime to find that I was first in the queue.  Pitt Cue Co. is notorious for its queues and long waiting times – partly because the food is excellent, its reputation first built upon a successful food truck based on the South Bank (among other places) and partly because their dining room has a mere 30 covers, mainly in tables of two.

Having strategically skipped breakfast and ordering a Soho Sour whilst waiting for Claire, I was ready for as much BBQ as I could eat.  The cocktail was a tastebud-stinging blend of bourbon, amaretto and lemon juice with ice and a fresh cherry.  Perhaps not the best option for lunchtime, but good to waken up the senses after a morning of terrible office coffee. 

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

The focus at Pitt Cue Co., understandably, is on the meat.  On arrival, the waiter and I gave each other a little smirk when one diner asked if there were vegetarian options.  The meat is served, largely, in two ways:  in a meal or in a bun, both with a side dish.  The former has the meat placed on one of their trademark vintage white tin bowls with the side dish and a few pickles, the latter serves the meat in a shiny brioche bun.  Claire and I both opted for the pulled pork, mine in a meal, hers in a bun.  Pulled pork is one of those food trends of the past few years that seems to have sprung up on menus all over town, although few manage to do it well.  I am lucky enough to live with a man who takes his pulled pork-making very seriously (although it is perhaps a little spicy for my taste – he is the Chilli Fiend after all).  Far from the dried out offerings of many a BBQ restaurant across the city, it is clear that the pulled pork at Pitt Cue Co has been seasoned and slow cooked with a great deal of care – it is moist, flavoursome, well-spiced and has that soft, almost gelatinous quantity that allows you to devour a great deal without even noticing.

Of the sides, the green chilli slaw was tasty enough, but the name led me to expect a lot more heat than was actually delivered.  The star of the show, however, the ultimate dish of the day was the bone marrow mashed potato.  I had heard from many others just how good this mashed potato was, but had never tried it for myself.  A swirl of perfectly smooth and buttery mashed potato arrives in a small tin dish with topped with a ladle of incredibly rich bone marrow gravy and a slab of garlic butter.  Not one for somebody who is watching their weight, but for the rest of us, sheer heaven.  It’s like the mash and gravy you wish came with every meal.  Be prepared to share though, as your dining companion will not be able to resist dipping their bread in, not matter how much you try to edge the dish to your side of the table.

My only real complaint with Pitt Cue is that a lunch of this size will generally render you immobile for the rest of the afternoon.  You will also smell like a BBQ as no amount of washing your hands will really get rid of that smoky meat smell.  Best to save it for a day when you can head home for an old movie and a snooze on the couch.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – it is dark in there!

Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Pumpkin, Part 1

Pumpkin Pie

In these dark few weeks of mid-October, when the transition from Indian summer to winter chill leaves us contemplating the bleak winter months ahead, we can at least be thankful for the abundance of autumnal food sent to keep us warm and well fed. Pumpkins, at the moment, are everywhere and, whilst the supermarkets are selling the great big orange globes best suited to carving, the markets and farm shops are selling an array of squashes and pumpkins from the lovely little cricket ball varieties to the ubiquitous butternuts.  The approach of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving sends us all a bit pumpkin crazy – I even bought a Jack’o’Lantern-shaped cookie cutter last week – but it is a great time to make use of this vegetable in both sweet and savoury autumnal recipes.

Although pumpkin pie was eaten in England prior to the exploration of the Americas, it features in several cookbooks dating as far back as the 17th century, it is with American celebrations that we have come to associate it with.  It is eaten traditionally at Thanksgiving and Christmas and is now such an integral part of those celebrations that a number of different recipes exist for the traditional pie, regional variations and other ‘pumpkin spice’ items such as cookies and cakes, that replicate the flavour of the pie.  Pre-baked pie shells and canned pumpkin pie fillings are even available for the non-cook or time poor.

Most traditional pies follow the basic formula of a sweet Shortcrust case and a filling of puréed pumpkin and spices thickened with eggs and cream, all baked in the oven. The main variations come from the type of pumpkin used and the combination of spices. I first made pumpkin pie for some ex-pat Canadians a couple of years ago and have been working on the recipe ever since. Recently I have discovered that I prefer the flavour and texture of butternut squash in a pumpkin pie – it is less stringy in texture, so requires less preparation. Getting your pumpkin spice mix right takes a little bit of practice and trial-and-error until you find a combination that you like. The most common spices used are ginger, all spice, mixed spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mace, ginger and cardamom, and the best way to start is to make combinations of three or four spices in equal measures and adjust the ratios accordingly once you find a combination you like.  If you plan to make a number of pumpkin spiced items throughout the winter, make your spice mix in a large quantity  and store in an airtight jar – it should retain it’s potency for a good few months.

My own personal spice mix is: two parts cinnamon, one part mace, one part ginger, one part allspice, one part ground cloves.

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin Pie

For the pastry:

  • 220g plain flour
  • 125g unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
  • 30g icing sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp cold water (more if needed)

For the filling:

  • 565g pumkpin or squash (prepared weight)
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
  • 90g dark brown sugar
  • 3½ tsp pumpkin spice mix (see above)
  • 330ml double cream

To make the pastry, put the flour, butter and icing sugar in a food processor and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.  If you do not have a food processor, rub the butter into the flour and sugar by hand until it reaches the same consistency.  Add the egg yolk and water and pulse or mix until the dough starts to come together.  Turn out on to a floured surface and work with your hands until it forms a smooth ball.  Flatten into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc / 400ºf / gas 6.  Flour the inside of a loose-bottomed tart tin.

Once chilled, roll out the pastry and line the inside of the tart tin, gently pushing the pastry into the grooves.  Do not, at this point, trim the edges, instead allow them to hang over the edge of the tin – this will help to prevent the pastry from shrinking during cooking.  Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the paper and beans and carefully trim the edges of the pastry case with a sharp knife.  Return the pastry to the oven for another 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and completely dry.

In the meantime, make the filling.  Cut the pumpkin into 1in pieces and cook in a steamer over boiling water until tender.  Puree the pumpkin in a blender or in a large bowl with a hand-blender.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and set these aside also.  In a large saucepan, heat the cream, sugar and spice mix in a pan, whisking occasionally, until it reaches simmering point.  Pour this mixture over the eggs, add the pumpkin puree and whisk together until smooth.  Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and cook for around 40-45 minutes until risen with a slight wobble in the centre.  Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then remove and serve on a plate.