These Spectacular Pies from Instagram Star Julie Jones Are Works of Art in Pastry
Marvel at the way this British baker transforms humble ingredients into creations that are almost too pretty to eat in her new book, The Pastry School.
For Julie Jones, a British mum of three who lives in Cumbria in northern England, baking with pastry is totally meditative. She discovered its powers when she realized it was a magical way to connect with her mother, who suffered from dementia. Jones began chronicling their collaborations on Instagram and then turned that into her first cookbook, The Soulful Baker.
Along this path, she also became an ace troubleshooter, and that hard-earned wisdom fills the pages of her brand new book, The Pastry School: Sweet and Savoury Pies, Tarts and Treats to Bake at Home. "I have willingly encountered every problem possible during testing, so you don't have to," she says. "I have seen puff pastry rupture and choux buns deflate, and I have had more tears in my sheet pastry than a colander has holes. But with contemplation and patience, I believe I have eliminated the cause of each one." With her easy instructions and helpful insights, exquisite results are well within reach for everyone.
"Decorating pie tops is a favorite pastime of mine," Jones writes. "I find that creative freedom gives way to an open and clear mind. For a fully covered pie that has intricate décor, I lay the flowers, tiles, spirals, or lattices on top of a thinly rolled piece of pastry, then transfer the finished design to the prefilled base afterward." Her trusty tools include egg wash to bind shapes and give every crust a warm glow; a specialty cutter for leaves; an inverted pastry tip to stamp out circles; a sharp knife); a pastry wheel; and a wooden ruler for measuring tiles and other repeating shapes.
For Jones, her mother's rendition of Lancashire hot pot is comfort in a deep dish: She grew up eating it whenever she felt under the weather. The lamb-based stew is traditionally made without a crust, but she loves how hot-water pastry, often used to encase cold meat pies, enriches it with warm, flaky bites. The top has a few layers of shingled potatoes (run against a mandoline to create flash-card-thin slices) and a braided pastry border and petals, fashioned from leftover crust dough.
Don't let the "latticework" on this shortbread crust intimidate you: The trick is you just measure and cut small rectangles from a single sheet, and piece them together in any pattern you like on a thin round pastry "lid." (Jones calls this a parquet effect.) Roasted chicken, smoky chorizo, and baby spinach mix with aromatics in the filling. Jones roasts a whole bird—for tastier, juicier meat—and stirs the pan drippings into the pie's mustardy serving sauce.
Creamy panna cotta is a dream canvas for a ring of delicate flourishes. Chamomile tea is steeped in the milk for a custard filling, setting the stage for toppings such as edible flowers, tender herbs like basil, fresh quartered cherries, and sliced grapes and berries. A final touch of TLC: Jones stamps out and bakes itty-bitty hearts from leftover pastry dough.
For this dazzling design, cut rhubarb stalks into tiny cross sections, and curl thin slices of poached apple into rosebuds. As you arrange the pieces over the nutty frangipane filling, work from the outer edges in, leaving a diagonal strip for the ravishing focal point. Tightly nestle in the apples, along with blackberries and pastry leaves, then brush on a gingery syrup before baking. Just add pistachio slivers to serve.
Correction: The portrait of Julie Jones that ran in the print version of this article was attributed to the wrong photographer; it should have been credited to Ella Miller/Jamie Oliver Ltd. The alternative portrait shown here is correctly attributed to Peter Cassidy.
Martha Stewart Living, April 2020