Friday, 22 May 2015

The mathematical value of Pieday

Ok, everyone knows how to do maths with pie.
Cut the value of Pi into the top before you bake it, make an open-topped pie chart with different fillings, measure the diameter, circumference, radius and depth: pie-based maths is fairly intuitive really.

Today, however is not about maths with pie pie, or even maths with Pi-pie.
In fact, it wasn't originally going to be about any kind of mathematical pie.
It was going to be about an ancient Roman cake-pie thing called placenta* which we were going to make for the Roman feast we had intended to make tonight, however a change of plans and an untimely stomach bug** later, here we are.

This isn't a recipe, I won't be listing ingredients or going into the method, or anything like that.
This is just a rough approximation of how, and why we make mathematical muffins***.

Start by convincing yourself that muffins count as pie****.
This may seem an unnecessary step but, just like salting and draining aubergines or adding that pinch of turmeric to a curry, it will have a huge, if unnoticed impact on the final result.
Remember that pie is a filling surrounded by some sort of crust.
Note that the glossy top of a muffin is somewhat crust-like and that, while a muffin may not be glossy and crusty all over it is still made from the same muffin mix and therefore, spiritually, all crust.
You have only to add a filling to achieve pie.

Concede that, while filled muffins are an oozy nuisance*****, if you want to call this Pieday then filled muffins you must make.

Get out the emergency box of muffin mix.
Assuming your mix is blueberry, go and get the jar of blueberry conserve from the cupboard.
Make up the muffin mix.
Add a little lemon zest****** because it's there, and because lemon and blueberry go so well together.
Consider swapping the blueberry conserve for lemon curd.
Determine that no, these are blueberry-pie muffins, so blueberry it must be.

Feel a moment's sympathy for the writers of those so-called recipes which list cake-mixture and packaged icing on their ingredients.
Quash this ruthlessly.

Note that at least the blueberries in the package are tinned and not dried because otherwise these would be dried-blueberry muffins not blueberry muffins: it's not as though you call scones******* with raisins in grape scones.
Not that that matters here.
Because these are pies.

Sort out the oven, muffin pie cases and so on.

Now spoon half the muffin mixture into the cases.
Add a teaspoon of the fancy jam in the middle of each splodge of mixture.
Top with the rest of the muffin mix.

Put the pies into the oven, set the timer and have a cup of tea.
Get distracted contemplating apple-pie muffins made with a really good plain muffin mixture with lots of melted butter, and a proper, non-gloopy, apple-pie filling with two kinds of apple, and a crumbly topping made of soft brown sugar and cinnamon*******.
Ok, so not all filled muffins are an abomination

Once the muffins are done take them out, let them cool a little and get on with the maths.

The thing about mathematical muffins is that it's not how they're made********* that makes them mathematical, it's what you do with them.
So count them.
Do addition and subtraction, cut them into halves, quarters and thirds, talk about the number of cuts needed for each and how many times you would need to cut them for each.
Talk about why that isn't the same.
Do most of the things you could do with a normal pie.
Measure them.
Figure out the height of an average muffin, then work out the height of six average muffins balanced on top of one another.
Balance them, giggling madly, and measure them to see if it's the same.
See how many times you can cut a muffin into equal-sized pieces before it crumbles.
Eat them.
Time yourselves cleaning up.

Make some more so you can check your results.

There, now that's out of the way we can get on with the blog.

**Apparently contracted by text.
I suppose it's a natural evolution of the computer virus.

***Which are still American Muffins, but also still get away with murder due to the awesome power of alliteration.

****Because this is Pieday.

*****And, frankly, just rather disappointing cupcakes.
Which are themselves just overblown fairy cakes.

******But not juice, as this would throw off the acidity of the mixture and mess with the raising agents.
Resolve to experiment with lemon muffins another day.

*******And I hope you mentally pronounced that correctly.

********Because cheese on a sweet muffin would be a thousand kinds of wrong.

*********Although obviously weights and measures are all sorts of fun.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Nutty Pieday

Baklava is clearly pie: delicious nutty filling encased in pastry and drenched in syrup, that's definitely some sort of wonderful diminutive pie.
 So, since I had a hafla* to go to and was looking for a different sort of pie to those that we've attempted lately, baklava it was**.
They are far easier than you might imagine, at least the way we made them as we don't make our own filo***, and well worth the frankly negligible effort.

So we made Baklava.


300ml of water
500g caster sugar (but adjust sweetness to taste)
Two packets of filo pastry
One lemon
Three small bags of pistachios (about 300-400g)
About half a block of butter.

First boil the kettle, half fill a bowl with boiling water, place the butter in a second, smaller bowl**** and gingerly place the one inside the other***** taking care not to get any water in with the butter.
Instruct Small and Smaller Chefs to be careful because that water is hot and could burn them.
Observe that both chefs now treat that whole countertop as though it were an unexploded bomb.
Decide this is better than the alternative and get on with things, occasionally pausing to refresh the boiling water in the bowl as it cools.
 The point of this, in case you hadn't realised, is to melt the butter.
You can do it a different way, if you have one that works.

Grate a little of the zest from the lemon and set it aside.
Do not allow Smaller Chef to eat some of the lemon zest.
Or do, if you want to see the face she makes.
Grate some more while Smaller Chef washes her mouth out.

Pour the water into a pan (not too small in case it boils over) stir in the sugar, then cut the lemo in half and squeeze the juice from one half into the pan.
Put the pan on the stove and bring to the boil.
Issue an appropriately awful warning about the dangers of boiling sugar then invite Chefs Small and Smaller to stir the pan.
Observe that they now cross the kitchen as though they were navigating a minefield.
Stir the darn syrup yourself.
Allow to boil for five minutes, the take it off the heat and pour in a couple of tablespoons of rosewater.
Decant the whole thing into a jug, leave it to cool, then stick it in the fridge till you need it.

Next chop or crush the nuts.
You can do this by hand or in a Mechanical Whirry Blendy Device of Doom.
Should you choose the MWBDD, do not attempt to chop all the nuts at once.
Instead do a packet at a time, taking turns to push the button or whatever it is your particular contraption requires.
Note that while the Chefs Diminutive each quail away from the noise of the MWBDD when someone else is operating it, neither has any problem with the volume when the power is in their hands.
Muse on the implications of this while reducing the pistachios to a pleasing gravel.
Stir the nuts and lemon zest together.

Now turn on the oven to a medium sort of heat (we went with 200c).

Take a roasting tin or foil tin and brush the sides and base with the melted butter.
If you have a small tin****** brush that with the butter as well.

Now lay one of the packets of filo in the tin, a sheet at a time, brushing each sheet thoroughly with butter after you tuck it neatly in.
The filo should come up the sides of the tin a little.
Assuming you have an overhanging end of filo each time, which you probably will, cut it off and put it in the smaller tin.

Once the whole packet of pastry has been used pour in the pistachio and lemon mixture and smooth it off to cover the whole bottom of the pastry lined tin.
If you have a smaller lined tin too, share the nuts between the two.
Then repeat the filo-and-butter routine with the second packet, to cover the nuts.
Make sure you butter the top layer too.
Use a sharp knife to cut the baklava into neat squares or diamonds.
Make sure you cut down through every layer*******.
Note that the minor chefs, while treating a bowl of boiling water like weapons-grade plutonium, have absolutely no problem wielding blades.
Bask in the warm glow of pride.

Put the tin in the oven for half an hour and have a cup of mint tea or something.

When the baklava are puffy and golden and lovely, take them out and pour half of the jug of syrup over the top.
Once this has soaked in add the second half.

Allow the baklava to cool, then wrap carefully to take to a party the next day.
Or not if you have nowhere to be.
Save the smaller tray, should there be one, for when you get back.

Take baklava to party.
Observe the speed at which they vanish.
Do not get any baklava yourself.

On returning home observe that the contents of the reserve tin have been mysteriously reduced to a single square.

*A sort of bellydance party, with performances and generally a table of nibbles to which attendees can add things.

**I cheated: we made these on Wednesday, today was instead dedicated to maths with muffins.
I should probably call them American muffins, as I loathe the recent tendency to call plain, teatime muffins English muffins, at least in England, but I'm a fool for alliteration so I didn't.

***I'm cooking with kids here: time and fiddliness aside, home-made filo is a bridge too far.

****We used one of the little plastic bowls we got for the kids when they were tiny, these are generally pretty handy when cooking for weighing ingredients, separating eggs and so forth.

***** Or rather, the other inside the one.

******Or if you though ahead and bought some of those little tinfoil things curry sometimes comes in.

*******If using one of those flimsy foil things, take care not to cut through that as well as it will leak syrup all over the place later on.
I know this because reasons.

Friday, 8 May 2015


We made a pie.
But it was not a pie.
It was a scone.

There will be a slight piatus while I debate the ethics of posting about savoury scones on pieday.

Fear not*.
I will return.

*Unless you live in fear of my blog posts, which is honestly the more sensible attitude, but in that case just don't read them.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Immeasurable Pieday

Well, unmeasurable, anyway: our scales are still broken.

Unable to make anything involving weights and measures, and desperate for success following the coconut-pie debacles*, we decided to go with something simple this week.

We made Blueberry Tarts


One sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry**
Two punnets of blueberries
One small, or half a large tub of mascarpone
One lemon
Icing sugar to taste
A little milk or beaten egg

First turn on the oven to a medium heat (200 in our case), get out baking sheets and line with baking parchment.

Next cut the pastry into eight equal squares.
Use a sharp knife to draw a wide border around the outside of each square, then prick the middle of each square with a fork.
Brush the border with milk or beaten egg to make it nice and glossy when it bakes.

If you want to leave the filling uncooked, for fresh, light tarts, pile baking beans into the middle of each tart case and pop them into the oven for fifteen minutes.
 When you realise you have no baking beans in the house, scrabble wildly in cupboards until you come up with an acceptable substitute.
Make sure whatever you use is non-toxic and won't get stuck in the pastry***.
You probably ought to buy baking beans at some point, really.

Take them out when they're done and allow them to cool before continuing.

When they have cooled, or immediately if you want to bake the filling, for a more cohesive and somehow richer-seeming tart**** move on to the mascarpone.

Squeeze the juice of the lemon into the mascarpone and beat with a fork.
Add a few tablespoons of icing sugar and beat vigorously.
Taste a little and add more icing sugar if necessary.
If it tastes too sweet, you needed to add less.

Dollop the mascarpone into the cases, or spoon onto the uncooked pastry bases taking care not to over-fill as it will flow out when baked.
Stud all over with blueberries.

If you pre-baked the pastry cases your work here is done.

If you plan to bake the filling, then stick the whole lot into the oven for twenty minutes.
When done replace any blueberries that have been washed overboard and allow to cool before eating.

Serve after something Small and Smaller Cooks don't much like and see how fast they eat it with the promise of tart for dessert.

*I bought a bottle of Malibu for those things.

**The pastry is pre-made as we had no way of weighing ingredients, but obviously this recipe would be even better made with fresh, home-made puff pastry.

***We settled for making little parcels of tin foil wrapped around rice.

****Somewhat galette like, in fact.