17th December 2012 - Gayle Lazda
Macaroni pie is one of the truly great dishes of Scottish cuisine, but it's rarely to be found elsewhere, even in the gastronomic playground that is the capital. Confirmed Scotophile Gayle Lazda, from our Westfield Stratford City branch, puts Mark Hix's recipe to the test.
I love Mark Hix on Baking for a number of sensible reasons that you will most likely understand and agree with, which I will briefly outline in this paragraph, and one absurdly peripheral and personal reason, which I will expand on at length in the rest of this post, and you will probably wonder why I'm doing so, but just go with it. So, reasons why this book is great: when Hix says "baking" he means it in its most general sense - "anything cooked in the dry heat of an oven". And so this book covers an awful lot of ground: there are cakes, breads and biscuits, but also baked eggs, biryanis, ribs, bone marrow. Calling such a wide-ranging collection of recipes a baking book may seem like a cynical attempt to cash in on the bunting-and-scones, Great British Bake Off-inspired craze currently sweeping the nation, but if it is, I can only say, thank God. There's only so much twee, icing-and-sprinkles-based sweetness I can take. With its darkly delicious photography, this is proper grown-up baking, for proper grown-ups.
But to more important things - the main reason I love this book. I love Scotland. (Bear with me, this is going somewhere.) I love its mountains and islands. I love Alasdair Gray's drawings. I love jangly indie music. I love smoked fish. I love the almost universal availability of black pudding with breakfast. I love Limmy. I love a ceilidh. I love oatcakes and porridge and Irn Bru and Tunnock's Caramel Wafers. But far and away above all these things, I love Scottish bakeries. If I could eat a fudge doughnut and a macaroni pie for lunch everyday, I would. I'd have died several years ago, but whatevs. Unfortunately, I live in London, which, while providing access to most of the world's cuisines, suffers from a depressing lack of macaroni pies.
A couple of years ago, in the interests of feeding my macaroni pie habit without having to resort to expensive and time consuming train travel, I searched high and low for a recipe so I could make them myself, but there wasn't one. On the whole massive entirety of the internet, there was no macaroni pie recipes. I even tried to make one up. I have photographic evidence of just how much of a disaster that was, but my pride prevents me from displaying my failure in such a public arena, so you'll just have to take my word for it. So, the real reason I love Mark Hix on Baking: it contains a recipe for macaroni pie.
However. This isn't actually a Scottish macaroni pie. Bizarrely, macaroni pies are also big in the Caribbean (I don't know whether there's any connection between the Scottish and Caribbean varieties - if there are any food historians out there who can shed any light on the matter, I'm all ears) and Hix describes his as a Bajan/American recipe. I'm telling you all this unnecessary information in order to build up some tension here - Is this pie going to work out ok? Can it possibly live up to my dream-like Scottish memories? How is this tale going to end? If it's worked, you should be experiencing something akin to how you feel when the outro music begins over the montage bit at the end of an episode of The Killing, and you know you have a whole week to wait to find out what happens. Are you feeling that? Excellent.
(Just so as not to cause too much distress - this recipe involves pastry, pasta, cheese, mascarpone and cream. Everything's going to be ok.)
First, line the flan tin with pastry. Hix has chosen to use ready-made short-crust, and since I'm feeling lazy, I'm not going to object. It goes into the oven to blind-bake for 15 minutes.
Now the exciting bit - the macaroni cheese. Whenever I make macaroni cheese, I do it the British way, making a cheese sauce with a roux and milk. The result is a delicious but austere dish, the kind of macaroni cheese that the heroines of Barbara Pym novels serve for dinner on a dreary Sunday evening. This is not a one of those. Hix does things the American way, melting mascarpone, Cheddar and double cream to make the sauce. The result is silky and luxurious, and anything but austere. If I hadn't already baked the pastry, I would happily sit here with a spoon and eat it like soup, but since I have, I mix in the cooked macaroni, fill the pie case, cover with extra cheese, just for good measure, and put it back in the oven.
It comes out golden and bubbling and smelling unbelievable. I cut myself a large slice, shove a few token salad leaves on the side - to make it a healthy, balanced meal, right? - and tuck in. Who needs Scotland when you've got Mark Hix?
Read Gayle's previous blogs on making Oliver Peyton's teacakes, The H ummingbird Bakery's Guinness cake, Dan Lepard's apple, walnut and custard cake, Marcus Wareing's egg custard tart and Marianne Magnier Moreno's chocolate éclair.
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