These pretty shortcrust pies are filled with a colourful, rich mixture of roasted butternut squash, fresh spinach and creamy blue cheese. The lattice tops represent the four seasons: with maple leaves, snowflakes, small spring blossoms and summer roses.
Makes: 4 individual pies
Hands-on time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Baking time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
Skill level: Needs a little skill
For the rich shortcrust pastry:
500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ teaspoon salt
250g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
3 medium egg yolks
About 120ml ice-cold water
1 medium egg, beaten, for glazing
For the filling:
1 medium butternut squash
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1½ tablespoons clear honey
10g salted butter
200g baby spinach leaves, well washed and drained
175g St Agur blue cheese
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon milk, for glaze
Pink and blue edible food colouring (optional)
You will also need:
4 individual round pie dishes (about 10cm x 3cm)
Baking beans (or dried beans)
Shaped cutters or silicone impression moulds of: maple leaf, snowflake, small blossom and rose petal
Cake decorating paintbrush (optional)
Step 1 – To make the pastry in a food processor: tip the flour and salt into the processor bowl, add the butter and blitz until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add the egg yolks and (through the feed tube, with the machine still running) enough water to make a soft but not sticky dough.
To make the pastry by hand: sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture looks like fine crumbs. Add the yolks to the bowl and stir in using a rounded-blade knife, trickling in enough of the water to make a soft but not sticky dough.
Step 2 – Shape the dough into a thick disc, then wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes or until firm.
Step 3 – Unwrap the dough and cut it in half. Re-wrap one portion and return it to the fridge. Roll out the rest of the dough on a lightly floured worktop to 4mm thick. Using a saucer or small plate as a guide, cut out four 17cm circles to form the base of the pies. Gently press one circle into each pie tin so it neatly covers the base and sides and hangs over the rim. Chill for 15 minutes while you heat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/Gas 7.
Step 4 – Cut four 17cm discs of greaseproof or baking paper, crumple them up (to soften) then flatten out and use to line the pastry cases. Fill with baking beans (or dried beans) and place the tins on a baking sheet. ‘Bake blind’ in the heated oven for 9-10 minutes until just set and the edges are beginning to colour, then carefully remove the paper and beans. Brush the base and sides lightly with beaten egg then return the pie dishes to the oven. Bake for another 5 minutes until the pastry is firm and golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Step 5 – Meanwhile, make the filling: peel the butternut squash and chop into 1cm cubes, discarding the seeds and fibres. Transfer 600g to a roasting tin (save the rest for making soup or stew another time), add the oil, cumin, rosemary and honey, and mix thoroughly. Roast in the oven, stirring occasionally, for about 20-25 minutes until golden and tender. Leave to cool then drain thoroughly.
Step 6 – Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Drain the spinach thoroughly (use a salad spinner if you have one), add to the hot butter and stir until the spinach has wilted. Tip the spinach into a colander placed in the sink. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water.
Step 7 – Crumble the blue cheese into a mixing bowl, stir in the crème fraiche, followed by the squash and the spinach. Mix thoroughly then taste and add plenty of black pepper – you may not need any salt. Turn down the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas 4.
Step 8 – Spoon the mixture into the pie dishes so they are well filled. Roll out the rest of the pastry to 3mm thick for the lattice topping (it should be thinner than the base). Cut 32 strips of 12cm x 0.5cm. Brush the pastry rims of each pie with beaten egg, arrange 4 strips vertically and 4 strips horizontally over the top of each pie, then neatly weave them together. Press the ends of the strips onto the pastry rim and trim any excess pastry. Brush the rims with beaten egg.
Step 9 – Now cut thinner strips of 3mm for the plaited rims. Plait 3 strips neatly, then place around the rim of each pie – joining where necessary. Brush the lattice and plaited rims with egg glaze. Gather up all the pastry trimmings and use for the individual decorations.
Step 10 – For pie one (autumn): roll out the pastry (4mm thick) and stamp out 2 or 3 maple leaves with a shaped cutter. Mark with veins and attach to the lattice with dabs of egg glaze.
Step 11 – For pie two (winter): roll out the pastry (4mm thick) and stamp out 2 or 3 snowflakes with a shaped cutter. Attach to the lattice with dabs of egg glaze.
Step 12 – For pie three (spring): roll out the pastry (3mm thick) and, using a small knife, cut out a tree shape with a couple of branches. Attach to the lattice with dabs of egg glaze. Stamp out small blossoms with a shaped cutter or by pressing small balls of dough into a silicone blossom mould. Attach to the branches with dabs of egg glaze.
Step 13 – For pie four (summer): roll out the pastry (3mm thick) and stamp out small rose petals with a shaped cutter. Wrap 4 petals around each other to make flowers. Alternatively, press marble-sized balls of dough into a silicone rose mould. Attach to the lattice with dabs of egg glaze.
Step 14 – Brush the maple leaves with egg glaze. Add the milk to the rest of the glaze and use to lightly brush the tree and branches, the blossoms and the roses (but not the snowflakes).
Step 15 – If you want to add colour, divide the remaining glaze into 2 bowls, add a drop of pink food colouring to one and brush over the blossoms with a fine cake-decorating paintbrush. Add another couple of drops to give a darker colour and brush over the rose petals. Colour the other bowl of glaze a very pale/ice blue and brush over the snowflakes.
Step 16 – Bake the pies for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Eat hot from the oven.