When you say the word “pie” to me, I instantly think of plate pies. Old fashioned, understated, plain even but oh so homely. In the kitchen of my childhood, these were the only sort of fruit pies we would ever have – deep dish, American style pies with inches of filling looming over the rim of the pie dish, under a blanket of decorated pastry were far too extravagant and I’m not sure little fuss pot JoJo would have approved of such an obviously skewed fruit to pastry ratio. This girl was all about the sweet crust.
And what a crust it was. Flaky and tender, short and sweet this simple pastry was taught to me by my nan when I was a little tot from our much trusted and beloved Bero baking book. Back then, we would have used half lard, half solid block baking margarine as was the housewife vogue back in the 80s and despite the lack of buttery flavour, it was delicious and the texture was superb. Of course, we now know that margarine is the spawn of Satan in health stakes and lard is not something I tend to have in any more, I substitute the whole amount with butter. Traditional short crust pastry would be made with plain flour but we made our with self-raising when we made the sweet version and it does give a little oopmh and adds to the lightness of the finished pie.
As Bramley apples have been available year round for a long time now, we would most often have apple pie, made with stewed Bramleys cooked until completely soft as the filling but when blackcurrant pick-your-own season came around, we would make this blackcurrant pie. These glossy jet black native British berries have a tiny season and if you haven’t yet tried Blackcurrant Plate Pie and been enraptured by it, therefore meaning you are impatient for it’s return each year, you may miss the season altogether. What tragedy. They may look all sweet and innocent like cousins, the blueberries but blackcurrants are tart, tart, tart. You need the sweet pastry and to sweeten the filling. I love that we would simply wash and destalk the berries and then pile them onto one of our 1960s and 70s vintage plates lined with pastry then simply spoon over what appeared to be enough sugar before topping with the pastry lid. I’ve measured it for you though so you don’t end up wincing as you eat!
Once my motor skills had developed enough to wield a blunt butter knife (the very one from my childhood pictured above), I was taught to hold the plate in one hand like a waiter may hold a serving tray from underneath, and then skim that little blade around the edges to trim off the excess pastry. Oh how I love the feel and sound of that little knife swooshing along the rim of my pie plate. Poor old Daddums would often be presented with those offcuts of pastry fashioned into shapes and brushed with jam before baking as if I’d created some sort of fine patisserie when he’d return home from work!
On baking, this simple pie doesn’t brown as the pastry is only brushed with egg white and doesn’t have any egg in the dough. It’s pale golden finish with a scattering of caster sugar is exactly what you’re going for – modest, frugal, unassuming. Only once you’ve taken your first bite, you will be smitten. We would serve ours with a spoonful of softly whipped cream that, if memory serves me correctly, was bought frozen in the shape of a sausage in a bag from Iceland! Do you remember such a thing? I certainly haven’t seen them in the last 20 years in the shops. One of my culinary crimes is over whipping cream as you can see but I don’t mind it that way, as it so reminds me of my first forays into baking. Some how, whenever I take my first forkful of this sweet and tart fruit pie (and I always start at the crimped end and work my way inwards towards the fruity filling), I am always surprised by how the pastry somehow smells creamy by itself. I do not know how but it does. Take a second to appreciate the aroma as you enjoy your first bite. It takes me back to summertime Sunday teas eaten in the kitchen of my childhood, eyeing up the cooling pies along the windowsill, impatiently eating my meal as fast as I could, waiting for one to be sliced, served and devoured.
- 225g self raising flour
- 100g butter, cool
- 2 tbsp caster sugar
- 2-3 tbsp ice cold water
- 300g blackcurrants, washed and destalked
- 125-150g caster sugar
- An egg white, lightly whisked
- 1-2 tbsp extra caster sugar to sprinkle
- Make the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour using your hands in a light, fluttery motion.
- Stir in the sugar using a flat bladed knife (a dinner knife or butter knife would do) then dribble in barely enough water to bring it together into large clumps, mixing with your knife still.
- Briefly knead and then wrap in clingfilm, pat out to a thin disc and chill for an hour.
- Preheat oven to 180˚C.
- Divide into two pieces and form into a disc again before rolling out wide enough to line a 9 inch enamelware plate or other ovenproof plate. There is no need to grease it first.
- Transfer the dough to the pie plate, pile up the berries in the centre then sprinkle on the sugar (it depends how tart your berries are and how sweet you like your pie).
- Roll out the second piece of dough but before transferring it to the waiting pie, brush the edges with your egg white. Place the dough on top and press to seal the edges. If you have a little overhang, pick the dish up in one hand and cut off the excess with your flat bladed knife in swishing motions around the edge. Oh how I love that action and sound!
- Crimp the edges or press the tines of a fork in to provide a decorative seal, brush with the remaining egg white then sprinkle with the reserved sugar. Use the point of a sharp knife to cut three small slits to allow the steam out.
- Bake for 25-30 mins until the pastry is dry to the touch - it will be very lightly golden as the only egg is in the wash, rather than the dough.
- Cool for 5-10 minutes then slice and serve. It will be delicate so use a wide cake server to help manoeuvre it to your dish.
- Serve with softly whipped double cream or custard, if you prefer.
- Freezes beautifully whole or cut into slices. Will keep at room temp for about 3 days, covered in clingfilm.