There are a set of rules I abide myself to when someone invites me over to their house. There are particular gifts I take with me which change according to the nature of the invite.
These are my set of rules.
I never take flowers, for the simple fact that the host has to have a vase to put them in as soon as you arrive. It would embarrass anyone who does not own a vase to leave a gift to wilt away. Not everyone owns a vase; be kind and accept that this is a fact of life.
I take a potted plant if I know the person is into plants and has a place to put it, cacti are a good solution as they are usually small, fairly cute and do not require maintenance.
Now, for food.
For someone inviting me over for a coffee or breakfast I take with me a pot of honey and a loaf of bread, they symbolize good intentions, are not imposing and do not make the host feel like he has to share them there and then. Usually people prepare food when they invite someone over, let them feel pride in what they took time to bake, eat it and be a good guest. However, bread and honey are an easy way for the host to recur to in case they did not bake anything.
For a lunch or a dinner invitation I like to buy a good piece of cheese, a bottle of wine and something homemade like a jam or a bottled syrup, also nothing that needs to be eaten on the night.
But, when I get an invite to stay over for the whole day at someone’s house I always bake a pie. It’s only polite to take some food with you if you are staying over for more than a couple of hours. The host would have prepared food, but something extra is welcome for those hours that are neither lunch nor dinner. Most probably the person would have forgotten, or else did not have time to cater for the hours in between meals, and here is where the pie comes in. If it is someone I like and am happy to be staying over for the whole day at the house I usually bake them a blueberry and blackberry pie. Throughout the years I’ve been making this pie I have never come across someone who did not like it, or did not appreciate the care that goes into baking one. The fruits cook into a fresh roasted jam whilst the pie crust bakes. It smells of a cold early spring day with hints of vanilla and cream from the copious amounts of butter the pie crust has.
Here is how to make it.
For the crust.
10g baking powder and 5g salt.
300g castor sugar
400g salted butter
2 egg yolks
Around 150ml of chilled whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Juice of one lemon (acid makes the dough crispy)
For the Pie Filling.
500g Fresh Blueberries
500g Fresh Blackberries
Zest of one clementine
300g golden castor sugar.
(You can add dried fruit, nuts or else around 300g of sweet mince pie filling but these are optional.)
For the crust.
The crust needs to be brought together by hand, it’s a very delicate dough that does not fare well in a robot. Take the time to make a proper dough, the filling for this pie is quite expensive, it’s no use buying a kilo of blueberries and blackberries to then enclose them in a shitty crust. Whatever you do , do not buy a readymade one; it’s just a waste of time and money. Use that money to buy really good butter instead.
Cut the chilled butter into largish cubes and rub with a mixture of flour, sugar and baking powder with salt. The mixture has to remain coarse, with specks of butter showing, if you were to do this dough with a machine you would not know when to stop and the dough would result in a normal sweet short crust, this one is much lighter and crispier then you average short crust.
Make a well in the centre and open the egg yolks, vanilla and milk, do not add the milk all at once, start by half, bring some of the dough together and if you notice the mixture to be still dry add the liquid gradually.
Place on a work surface, bring together, knead lightly for about 3 minutes, not more, and having cold hands at this stage helps.
Let the dough rest.
How to prepare the filling.
Wash the berries and place them on a clean tea towel to dry, handle with care so as not to bruise the fruit. Never ever use frozen berries for this recipe, the crust cannot take the water that comes out of frozen fruit, you will just end up with a mess.
After the berries have dried out, place in a bowl, mix in with the sugar and zest and if adding a mince pie filling to it or some other form of jam, add it at this stage, fold in the ingredients slowly.
Split the dough in half and open into a rough circle of about 3 cm in thickness, this piecrust is quite light in texture so it affords to be opened a bit thick.
Line an oiled pie dish with the bottom portion of the dough, egg wash the edges, fill with fruit and cover.
Remove any air pockets from the surface by slowly touching with bare hands the areas that look uneven.
Cut the excess dough, and pinch the edges, pinching does not necessarily mean that the dough will have the pinched edges at the end of baking, but more importantly the edges will remain closed and bake evenly. Basically by pinching the dough you are just making sure to end up with a good looking pie at the end of the game.
Egg wash the surface and scatter with vanilla sugar on the top of the pie.
Place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Bake in a preheated oven at 190 degrees Celsius. For about 1 hour and a half.