How do you cook a meal for 30p? For context, I’m a chef who runs community cafes and cooking classes.
With great difficulty, I’m sorry to say, if you add in the cost of fuel, the price of ingredients for those who can’t afford to shop in bulk, or batch cook and freeze. When I used to volunteer at a local community cooking project, the emphasis was on how to shop to get the best value – going to markets, rather than supermarkets, for example, or looking in the “world food” aisle for things such as rice and spices, but those just aren’t options for many, especially in rural areas. An easy answer is to make pricy ingredients such as meat the flavourings for cheaper fillers such as beans, carbs or vegetables, and not to forget about things like eggs and tinned fish as a protein source. To be honest, though, I think most people know all that already, and they’re still struggling.
How can I bake the best shortcrust tart or quiche cases? They need to hold their shape, be robust enough to get out of the tin intact, melt in the mouth … How long do I blind bake for? What is the best ratio of different fats? Should I brush with egg and bake again before adding the filling? Should I trim it warm or cold? What should I use to trim it? Should I leave it to cool completely before taking it out of the tin? There are so many pitfalls.
Rachel, Otley, West Yorkshire
Pastry is a tricky mistress, and even the most experienced cook can end up with a wonky side or cracked base. As someone who lacks the patience and delicacy of the true patissier, I have a few tips. Hard fats, such as vegetable shortening or lard, give a more delicate texture, but butter gives the best flavour, so that’s what I tend to use. The standard ratio is half as much fat to flour, but you can increase this for a richer, but slightly more temperamental result – however much you use, be careful not to overwork the dough as you rub it in, or the pastry will be tough. Most importantly, however, keep everything as cold as possible for as long as possible; many recipes not only recommend chilling the fat, but the flour, rolling pin and even the marble slab you’re working on, if you happen to be lucky enough to own such a thing. Get the dough out of the fridge five to 10 minutes before rolling it out thin – 5mm is safe, 3mm if you’re feeling professional. Make sure you get the sides of the pastry at a right angle with the sides of the tin when you line it, then chill again before baking. Trim the overhanging edges, line with baking paper and dry beans or rice, and bake until the top is golden. Remove the lining and beans, and return to the oven until the base is lightly golden. (If you’re using a really wet filling, or end up with cracks, brush the base with beaten egg at this stage, but it’s not generally necessary.) And, yes, leave it to cool before removing from the tin.