Strawberry, Chocolate and Marzipan Hand Pies

On the spur of the moment, I pie-d my way through yesterday. I have a knack for fishing out completely random things from the pantry and thrusting them all together in some wacky ingredient spin-off (or should I say dance-off in the oven), but this one isn’t all too unorthodox, and well heck it yielded something far more pleasurable than what I envisioned during the process.

So that was this morning’s breakfast.

An incredibly flaky pastry, my new favourite recipe after modifying a wonderful one I found on Saveur (details later), drizzled with chocolate and almond glaze and topped with fresh vanilla bean ice cream, encasing the baked and glorious juices of roasted strawberry, melting chocolate, and what turned out to be the highlight for me– marzipan.

I used to hate the stuff, believe it or not. Marzipan, I mean. When I was a kid and invited to a party with cakes neatly dressed in marzipan, I would feel all too inclined to turn away an otherwise perfect plate of cake. The smell of ground almonds pressed with sugar somehow made me feel sick to the stomach. Now, I can’t see how this could be half as special without the addition of sweet, fudgy marzipan. Coarse, yet chewy, the density upping the indulgence that much more.

Yes, this was all before a little bit of the filling overflowed. I liked that quite a lot, actually; picking all the crusty bits from the parchment paper, simultaneously enforcing neatness and deriving gross pleasure from picking up the dejected trails the oven always leaves in its wake. Other things I liked about making this beautiful delicious mess was rubbing lots of butter into flour and stirring the strawberries as they cooked and bubbled in the pan. Sauce thickened, excitement grew.

Cut into one, and you get a jammy, fudgy mess. The hot, crusty, flaky-as-ever pastry works too well with a nice scoop of cold vanilla bean ice cream or cold cream. The almond and chocolate glazes up the ante with their showgirl effect, reflecting the filling’s personality. The strong hint of almond essence in the former may be left out if one isn’t too keen on that flavour. I haven’t been this excited about a recipe in a long while. I’d say 11/10.

Strawberry, Chocolate and Marzipan Hand Pies with Almond and Chocolate Glaze (makes 6-7 3×4-inch hand pies)

Ingredients 

For the pastry dough, lightly adapted from here:

252g (around 2 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting your counter later on

1 tbsp white sugar

large pinch of salt

226g (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into cubes and chilled for 5 minutes in the freezer before using

1 egg, beaten in a bowl

1 egg for brushing the pastry edges later on

For the filling:

10g unsalted butter

400g strawberries, hulled and chopped into small pieces

1 tbsp white sugar

1 tbsp white vinegar (any white is good; I used a local brand of diluted cane vinegar)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

40g ready-roll marzipan (which can be easily broken up into pea-sized chunks with your fingers)

half cup chopped chocolate or chocolate chips

For the almond glaze:

100g icing sugar

1/2 tsp almond essence (very strong, so I shall leave this to your own discretion)

4-5 tsp whole milk

For the chocolate glaze:

40g baking coverture chocolate (or any regular brand of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips), melted in 30-second increments in the microwave

Directions:

Make the dough. Ready some cling film. You can put all the ingredients in a food processor but I personally think rubbing butter into flour is ludicrously therapeutic, so I do that instead. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Rub the butter into the flour until you get pea-size crumbles and maybe a few larger bits of butter. The dough will briefly hold together if you squeeze some of the mix together in your palm. At this point, mix in half the beaten egg. If the mix does not hold together well upon squeezing at this point, then add a little more egg, bit by bit. Flour your hands, flatten the dough into a shallow disc, wrap with cling film and let the dough chill in the fridge for at least 45 minutes (that’s how long I waited for mine, though the original recipe states at least an hour for good measure).

Make the filling. In a medium-sized saucepan and with a wooden spoon, mix together the strawberries, butter, sugar and vinegar. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until very soft, and the juices have leaked but thickened a little. Mix in the black pepper, then taste. If it’s not as tangy as you would like, add a splash more of vinegar. Using the edge of your wooden spoon, mash a few chunks of strawberry against the side of the bowl. This will help thicken the cooked mass of ingredients and yield a more jam-like texture at the end. Let the mix cool on the counter for half an hour before using.

After the pastry has chilled, it can be rolled out and then filled. Preheat your oven to 200C (400F). Lightly flour your counter and rolling pin, then roll out your dough till it’s approximately 1/3 of an inch thick. Cut the dough into 3×4-inch rectangles, then place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roll up the dough scraps, roll out again with the rolling pin, then do the same. On one rectangle, place a teaspoon of strawberry filling in the centre, then add a few chocolate chips and a few mini chunks of marzipan (you can break it up yourself). Use the other beaten egg to brush the edges of all the pastry rectangles, then fold one edge of dough onto the other half. Use a small fork to crimp the edges. Prick the tops using the same fork, then brush the tops with any remaining egg. bake for 20-22 minutes (mine took 20). Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the counter before drizzling with the glazes.

Rustic Grape Tart

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It feels as if I’m caught in a storm right now, papers flying everywhere, head quite the mess. I told myself I’d buckle down 110% (those same words!) today, and yet, I feel a strong sense of guilt as I look over all my past recipe posts, the embodiment of one of my main passions in life. It’s funny because I actually read an excellent article on procrastination in the papers today; and yet, I don’t see this as a form of such a term, but more so a physical and mental extension of what I love wholeheartedly. It’s small things like the juxtaposition of fruit and custard cream which to be are akin to that of life and love, or books and work, or friends and family.

This grape tart, as you can see above, is not perfect. The shell has shrunk, the grapes aren’t all luscious and plump, but it is through these imperfections that I am willing to share what I’ve learnt to bolster your own attempt in the kitchen. The shrunken shell is my fault really, because I failed to spread the baking beans evenly during the blind baking process. That, together with the fact that I sort of wanted the whole rustic appeal of pseudo-slipshod work. Hey, it’s a tart!

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The pastry is abominably crisp, the sort which shatters and melts in your mouth real quick. And I have only recently discovered just how darn easy pastry cream is to make, and I used a simple recipe which yields a smooth and decadent texture and flavour. I attempted to keep cooking the cream until it was thick, and thus hold itself better in the fridge, or when cut through with a knife during serving. If possible, use fresh, thick grapes, which I unfortunately didn’t have on hand at that point in time (hence the tiny little blobs you see pictured!) Since I was trying out my new fluted rectangular tart tin, I was forced to leave out a significant amount of crust, but it would also be perfect in a round 9-inch pie tin.

Rustic Grape Tart

Ingredients

For shortcrust pastry:

157g all-purpose flour

125g cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2-3 tablespoons water

For pastry cream:

355ml whole milk (around 1.5 U.S. cups)

2 egg yolks

68g white castor sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

optional: zest of half a lemon and a splash or brandy/cognac

For the topping:

around 100g of grapes, cut in half (or you can cut as you fill the top, after pouring in the pastry cream)

2-3 tablespoons grape/apricot jam, warmed in the microwave for a minute or so

Make the pastry. It’s extremely versatile and can be used for things like quiches and other sweet or savoury tarts as well. My mum uses it all the time for her savoury wild mushroom and blue cheese quiche. Anyways. Freeze the cubed butter for at least a half hour. If you’re using a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar, and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse around 6-8 times until the mixture resembles a course meal with pea-sized pieces of butter. Add the iced water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the mixture just begins to clump together. The dough should hold together when pinched lightly. If you’re just using your good old hands and a bowl, rub the cold butter into the flour mix, rubbing across the knuckles, and quickly, so the heat doesn’t melt the butter at a faster rate. Continue until you get the aforementioned result. Remove dough from machine/bowl and place on a clean work surface. Shape into a disk and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to 2 days (so you can make this way ahead of time, hoorah).

When ready to use, remove the disc and leave on the counter for around 10 minutes, just to soften a little. Roll out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin, according to the size of the tart tin you are using. For my own rectangular one, I rolled it out to around 9×11 inches, around 1/8-inches thick, so there could be sufficient dough hanging over the edges. Press the dough into your tin (no need to grease) and press down so it reaches all the corners and sides. Trim the edge, leaving about 1/2 an inch excess from the edges. Put the crust in the fridge for around 10 minutes and preheat the oven to 177C (350F). Line the chilled crust with parchment/wax paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes in the oven. Remove to cool for a few minutes. Remove the weights, poke the bottom with little holes and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Cool completely before adding any filling.

During the baking time, make the custard. In other words, the most fun part! In a saucepan, medium or large, over medium heat, warm the whole milk until it comes to a simmer. Whilst waiting for that, whisk the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, optional alcohol and lemon zest, flour and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture, and then slowly, very slowly, whisk the slightly tempered egg mixture into the rest of the milk, constantly stirring. Continue to stir for around 3-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and you have what rightly resembled a luscious, thick custard. It will be a fine, pale yellow, which leaves a slightly slimy trace when you sneak a lick off the back of your wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and let it cool for around half an hour.

Once cool, spread the custard onto the pie shell. Cut up your grapes and assemble them, cut-side down, onto the cream. It will take a while, yes, but it’s absolutely worth it in the end. Place your gorgeous little tart in the fridge, and cover with plastic wrap. Just before serving, warm some jam in a saucepan over light heat or in the microwave for a few minutes. Brush over little butts of grapes, remove from the tin and prepare yourself for a light and slightly unorthodox dessert.

Who doesn’t love grapes.