I’ve always enjoyed playing with pastry dough. But, crimping the edges of a pie crust, cutting and weaving lattice pieces, or making leaf shapes of pastry for the top of a pumpkin pie is about as far as I’ve taken it. When I received a review copy of The Pastry School: Sweet and Savoury Pies, Tarts and Treats to Bake at Home, I soon realized how much more could be done. These pies and tarts are works of art. For Julie Jones, pastry is her medium of choice, and she’s practiced the skills to produce masterpieces. There are recipes for different types of pastry including shortcrust, puff pastry, choux pastry, gluten-free, and vegan followed by tips for rolling, baking, blind-baking, and decorating. I appreciated the tip for blind-baking a tart shell with overhanging pastry beyond the edge of the tart pan. I’ve seen many pastry shells shrink down below the top edge of tart pans over the years. By leaving extra in place, you’ll have a full height of pastry in the tart pan when you trim the baked excess. And, the suggestion for trimming the edge is to slide a vegetable peeler along it until it’s level with the edge of the tart pan. Such a great idea. Another great tip is to use a pasta rolling machine to get extra smooth, thin pastry. A lot of the decorations are achieved by using very thin sheets of pastry cut and shaped into designs that are then adhered with egg wash to a very thin pastry lid cut to the size of the top needed. So smart. In some cases, the filling becomes part of the design as well. The Apple Rose Tart is made with curled apple slice roses and pretty flower- and leaf-shaped pastry pieces. For the little Mango and Coconut Cream Tartlets, the decorations are very thinly sliced grapes and tiny coriander flowers. The Pistachio Tart with Rhurbarb Tiles, shown on the book cover, is particularly stunning with perfectly lined-up rectangular pieces of rhubarb topped with a pretty profusion of swirling apple slices, blackberries, and pastry pieces. There are also savory pastries, and the Griddled Greens, Cauliflower, and Lemon Triangles made with sheet pastry and baked until shatteringly crisp look delicious. It was the parquet look of the Chicken, Chorizo, and Spinach Pie that I had to try. I decided to limit my first attempt at this type of decorative pastry to smaller tartlets, and I filled mine with a vegetarian mixture.
I made the shortcrust pastry and let it chill while working on the filling. I sauteed a mix of mushrooms and set it aside. Next, spinach was sauteed with garlic and allowed to cool. I mixed the spinach with ricotta. Next, I rolled out half of the pastry and cut and filled tartlet pans with overhanging pastry. I cut parchment paper to fit into each pan, and filled them pie weights for blind-baking. After 20 minutes, the pie weights and parchment were removed, and the tartlet shells baked for another 15 minutes. Once cool, the overhanging edges of pastry were trimmed with a vegetable peeler, and the pastry shells were cleaned of crumbs with a pastry brush. For the decorative tartlet tops, I rolled the other half of the pastry through my pasta machine. I cut thin sheets of pastry into circles to fit the tops of the tartlets. Those base tops were chilled to firm them up. Next, I used more of the thin, pasta machine rolled pastry to make tile shapes. I measured and cut the rectangles and then placed them in the parquet design on the chilled thin pastry lids. I worked on top of parchment paper, and flipped the whole assembly over onto another piece of parchment paper so I could trim the tiles to the edge of the bottom layer of pastry. I flipped the whole assembly back to parquet-side-up and chilled the finished tops. While the tops were chilling, I filled the tartlet shells with the ricotta and spinach mixture and topped that with mushrooms. I ended feeling like the day had gotten away from me, and I only topped two tartlets with the parquet effect. The other two received plain pastry lids. The chilled pastry tops were set in place and brushed with egg wash and the tartlets went back into the oven until golden and crisp.
Let me tell you what I’ll do differently next time: I won’t attempt to do all of these steps on the same day. The pastry can be made in advance and refrigerated. The tartlet shells can be blind-baked and trimmed in advance. The thin pastry lids on which the decorative layer is placed can be cut and chilled in advance. And, of course, the filling can be made in advance. With everything prepped and ready, more time and attention can be focused on the fun, decorative layer. I loved learning these tips for working with pastry; I especially loved all the inspiration for amazing pastry art; and I look forward to getting more practice.
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