Yesterday was MENTAL. The mentalness started early when we woke up to find that our poor Mad Professor, Sam had had an allergic reaction overnight to the plaster on his face and now had a chin full of blisters. This caused so much hilarity ‘stop making me laugh, you bastards… OMG my chin looks like lasagne‘ that we were all late for school.
The madness continued into the evening when we realised that we’d better tidy up in readiness for our celebration for English Grandma’s birthday. Stinky socks were thrown into bedrooms, balloons were hastily inflated (‘not two pink ones, they look like… erm… well, y’know…‘) and bags containing humming sports kits were hurled into the garage. We spritzed a bit of air freshener around. It was fine, honest.
My brother, IJ, is my wine guru (he is generally cursed for our regular and massive Majestic Wine bills) and brought along a delectable bottle of Aussie Shiraz: Jim Barry The Lodge Hill 2010 (highly recommended). We then ordered the biggest Chinese takeaway known to man (the woman at the takeaway nearly passed out as she took the order). My nephew and niece, the gorgeous Jackson (who was a bit late after taking part in a Queen tribute band at his school music evening) and impossibly glamorous Turtle joined the hilarity and soon we were wrestling (well, THEY were wrestling), laughing, cracking backs (the Death Wish Dude is good at this, but it made me feel a bit faint) and generally jabbering away.
Turtle and the DWD did an impressive job of lighting about a thousand candles (luckily, Grandma wasn’t offended) and in the process managed to burn a bit of meringue and quite a lot of each other, but no matter, soon we were gathered round the table, squeezed in on random garden chairs, Sam with his lasagne chin and Freddie Mercury with his sharpie moustache, singing happy birthday.
It took a while to blow all those candles out, mind you..
For the sweet shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
1tbsp caster sugar
2 or 3 tbsp cold water
Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4. It’s easiest to do this in the food processor but you can do it by hand if you’re not as lazy as me.
Chop your cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar. Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly, adding a tablespoonful or two of water until it just comes together.
Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball. Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for about 20 mins.
When it’s rested, flour the work surface, and your rolling pin, and roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then roll it onto your rolling pin and unroll over your flan dish or baking tin (about 24cm should do it). When it all breaks apart, swear a bit and kind of patch it together. Nobody will notice. Push it in to the edges and trim the top.
Now to bake it blind: scrunch up a bit of greaseproof paper, then smooth it over the pastry and pour in some baking beans – you can use ceramic or whatever. I’ve got some old dried beans – for about 15 minutes.
Then, take the baking beans out and pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes, just to crisp up the base.
For the berry curd:
Couple of handfuls of berries (fresh or frozen)
150g caster sugar
2 eggs, plus 1 yolk (save for the meringue)
For this curd recipe, you need roughly 6 tablespoons of concentrated, sharp juice. I had a small bag of mixed berries left over from fruit picking during the summer, but you can use lemon juice, lime juice, whatever… For the pie to work well, the juice needs to be acidic, so if you’re using fresh, sweet fruit, add a little lemon juice. Just keep the quantities the same.
It’s easiest to extract the juice by heating the berries up in a pan. Once they’re going squishy, let them sit in a sieve over a bowl so you can catch the juice.
Take a saucepan and bung in the butter, juice, zest (if using citrus fruits) and caster sugar. Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined. Now, take your warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs. Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens. As usual, make sure there’s someone behind you at this point shouting ‘WHISK! WHISK FASTER!’ – I’m SO going to record myself doing this so you can play it as you whisk.
Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on. When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.
For the meringue:
4 egg whites
225g caster sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar if you have it
Whisk the eggs in a very clean bowl until they form firm peaks, then keep whisking while you add the sugar, spoon by spoon, until it’s all incorporated and the meringue is thick and glossy. Give it a pinch between your fingers – it shouldn’t feel gritty. Now pipe (or just spoon) it all on top of the pie.
Bake in the very low oven (gas 2/150 degrees) for about 40 to 50 minutes, depending on how squelchy you like your meringue. If it’s a Special Birthday Meringue Pie, you can decorate it (we frosted some berries in granulated sugar) and add candles.