Sunday, 19 October 2014

Plum Pie and a heated discussion...

Pies are a perfect way of using seasonal fruits to create delicious satisfying puddings.

I recently had quite a heated discussion with someone about what the difference between a pie and tart was. As I have always understood it, a tart has pastry on the bottom and the filling is exposed, whereas a pie has a top which encloses the filling. This top is most often made of pastry but can also be made of potato (in the case of savoury pies) or other things such as meringue… or whatever takes your fancy. Pies can also have a double crust – in other words, they can have a pastry top and bottom which contains the chosen filling completely. Both pies and tarts can be sweet or savoury.
For me, there is something so comforting about eating a pie, whereas tarts have pretensions to sophistication and elegance, which depending on how well they are made may not be realised!
Whilst apple pie in all its variations seems to reign supreme, you can pretty much use any fruit to make a pie. Although I love a tasty apple pie, I think that so many of them disappoint as they are made with flavourless apples. When making my apple pie, I use cooking apples (Bramley) AND a crisp eating apple (Granny Smith) to create a pie that still retains a little texture but where the fruit is all completely cooked through. I also favour adding a pinch of ground cloves as opposed to the ubiquitous cinnamon to add little spicy warmth. I find that the cloves really enhance the flavour of the apples whereas cinnamon can take over.

In any event, apple pie was not on the agenda here. Plums are plentiful and cheap at the moment and I had a hankering for something to eat that included them; so I plumped for plum pie!
A good friend recently sourced a large supply of wonderful plump vanilla pods for me so I decided that I would flavour my pie with vanilla. This is an incredibly easy pie to make, using a simple shortcrust pastry and although you could par-cook the fruit before baking it in the pie, I think the fruit tends to turn into a purée; far better to tumble the uncooked fruit into the pie and let it soften in the heat of the oven as the pie bakes.  A tablespoon of arrowroot thickens the fruit juices that are released to create a beautiful fruity, plum-flavoured sauce.
This is a really flavourful pie and lovely served with some custard or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.


250g plain flour
20g caster sugar
125g butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg yolk
1-2 tblsp cold water
To finish:
12-14 plums, stoned and thickly sliced
Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla pod
25g caster sugar plus a little extra for sprinkling on the finished pie
1tblsp arrowroot
A little beaten egg


1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips, rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
2. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the egg yolk and water. Using a fork, mix everything until it comes together in a dough. Turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
To make the pie:
3. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Lightly grease a 20-23cm round pie dish with some butter and place on a baking tray. Set aside.
4. Mix the sliced plums, sugar, arrowroot and vanilla seeds in a bowl and set aside. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out 2/3 of it into a circle large enough to line the bottom and sides of the pie dish. Tumble the fruit into the lined pie dish and roll out the remaining pastry into a circle large enough to cover the pie.
5. Using a pastry brush, brush a little egg around the edge of the pie and place the other circle on top to cover the fruit filling. Press the edge to seal , trim off any excess pastry and crimp the edges if desired. If you like you can use some of the pastry trimming to cut out shapes to decorate the top of the pie. Brush the top of the pie with a little more of the beaten egg and cut a slit in the pastry to allow steam to escape.
6. Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 4 and cook for a further 20 minutes until the pie is golden brown and the fruit has softened and started to release its juices. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a little caster sugar. Allow to cool for 10 minutes and serve.
Serves 6-8.