Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Scientific Pieday

One of Eleanor's favourite treats is the Dora the Explorer: Little Cooks magazine.
 She loves reading and preparing the recipes, listening to the (intensely bland) stories, and getting new pieces of cookery loot to stuff into her now-bulging drawer.
 It's pretty handy too: the recipes encourage her to read as well as teaching her about measurements, general mathematics, and a little bit of science along the way.*
If we were teaching her Spanish then it would be handy for that as well, as it is I just find myself scrabbling for the right word in Italian instead.
 If there's one thing it is not useful for** however, it's cookery.
It's not that the recipes are bad exactly, it's just that, like the heroes of legend, each has a fatal flaw which, unless defeated, will doom it for all eternity.
So when we attempted today's recipe (for Terrific Tarts apparently) it was in a spirit of scientific enquiry.

Science Pies


150g self-raising flour
75g butter
Some cherry tomatoes
Feta cheese
A dash of milk
Two tablespoons of water
Some fresh basil

We followed the recipe carefully to begin with: cutting the butter into pieces then rubbing the pieces into the flour.
Eleanor clearly remembered previous forays into pastry-making, asking: "Is it going to be like breadcrumbs?" as she began to rub.
And breadcrumbs it was.

Next we were instructed to add the two tablespoons of water and mix it to produce a dough.
In practice we found that a little more water was needed, not a lot, just a dribble more.
Once this was mixed in we rolled the dough up into a ball.

Here we hit the first possible error: the recipe now moved straight on to the rolling-out stage but most pastry needs to rest somewhere cold for a while before this.
 So, being scientists, we experimented.
Half the dough went into the fridge in a bowl, the other half we rolled out and pressed into the (provided with the magazine) tart cases.

Then we immediately hit potential-error number two: the recipe instructed us to bake the tart shells "blind" which is to say without the filling, but did not mention any kind of baking-beans, just pricking them with a fork.
It also instructed us, later on, to put the filling, uncooked, into the shells to serve it, which also seemed a little odd.
 So, again, we experimented.
One tart was pressed into its case, pricked with the fork, and glazed with milk in accordance with the instructions, the other was filled with pieces of feta and topped with a slice of cherry tomato and a basil-leaf - a step which should have come at the end.

This done, into the oven they went for fifteen minutes at 180.

Once they were out we observed the results of Experiment One.
The blind-baked pie had puffed up till it was almost, but not quite, just a disc of pastry.
The filled pie had held its shape but the filling was a little singed: just a tiny bit brown on one edge.

We now began Experiment Two.
As before we rolled out the pastry, cut it into circles, and filled the tart cases.
One case we pricked, brushed with milk, and left empty, the other we filled before gluing with milk.
As we had pastry left over*** we also filled two more, slightly too big, cases and left one of these without the milk so that we could compare the effects of glazed and unglazed pastry

Then we put them into the oven again, for fifteen minutes as before.

Finally we filled the second blind case (which had puffed up just like the first) and Eleanor and Richard tested the results

The first result was a surprise: the pastry which hadn't been in the fridge was flakier and lighter than the pastry we allowed to rest and chill, at a guess I'd say that the chilled pastry had taken on more water in the fridge, but we'll have to investigate that further.

The second result was as expected: the cooked tarts were nicer than the uncooked ones.
Also the topping didn't fall off as easily, however it would probably have been a good idea to include something sticky underneath the cheese.

As for our extra experiment: it transpired that glazing with milk, at least on this scale, made no real difference to the tarts.

I cannot give my own interpretation of the data as, alas, there were insufficient specimens left for study.

So there you have it: Science Pies: For Science!

*Ok, I do the science stuff, but the recipes raise the questions.
** Apart from motorcycle maintenance, and learning to juggle and other things that it isn't useful too but which are less ironic, obviously.
*** Astute readers will notice that this didn't happen last time.
This is because the pastry fell out of the cases and onto the floor last time and I had to use the leftovers to refill them.

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