The best pies are the ones you can eat with your hands, which is where hot-water pastry comes in handyPastry’s good when it’s short, buttery and pressed neatly into the grooves of a fluted tin. I also like it well enough when it’s draped over a pot pie or moulded into elegant flan dishes or gently crimped, glazed and scored. When I really love pastry, though – and when it truly comes into its own – is when it toys with messiness; verges on greedy crumbliness rather than knife-and-fork order.
The best pies, for me, are the handheld sort: pasties filled with rich gravy and meat; pies that you can hold by a thick crust, eating as you walk; pastry slices that leave your fingers and lips greasy and your appetite calling for more.
Aubergine, mozzarella and thyme pasties
Sturdy hot-water pastry encases the aubergine filling in these pasties. The key to hot-water crusts is all in the name, but don’t panic if you’ve always worked to the mantra that cold hands, cold butter and cold water make better pastry. Though it’s an unusual method, adding boiling water to the butter and flour mixture yields a far more workable, robust pastry than the usual shortcrust. This durability may come at the expense of shortcrust’s crumbly bite, but it makes hot-water pastry perfect for handheld pies, where the pastry case needs to be strong and sturdy. Often, hot-water pastry uses lard but here I’ve swapped it for butter, to keep this recipe vegetarian.
For the filling
4 tbsp olive oil
2 medium aubergines, cut into 1cm cubes
2 small garlic cloves
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
50g pine kernels
225g mozzarella, torn into small chunks
For the pastry
250g plain flour
150g salted butter, cubed
3 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
50-60ml boiling water
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
1 Add the oil to a large pan and put it over a high heat. Once hot, add the diced aubergine and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. The heat ought to be fierce enough to brown the aubergine pieces as they sizzle. Reduce to a medium-low heat and add the garlic, thyme and pine kernels, cooking for a further minute or two. Leave to cool completely while preheating the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
2 In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips (you could also blitz in a food processor, if you have one). Once no visible chunks of butter remain and the mixture is sandy in texture, stir in the thyme. Add the boiling water and stir together to give a smooth, pliable dough. Knead lightly for a couple of minutes then leave to cool uncovered at room temperature, until slightly firmer but not too stiff to roll out.
3 Stir the mozzarella into the cooled filling mixture and season to taste. Roll the pastry out on a well-floured surface to roughly 25x50cm, and a thickness of no greater than 5mm. Cut out 8 large circles, each 13-14cm in diameter, gathering and rerolling any offcuts if necessary.
4 Put 2 tbsp of the filling mixture on one half of each pastry circle, leaving a border of 1cm or so around the edge. Fold the other half of the circle over, stretching lightly between your fingers if you need to, and press the edges together. Roll the edge over on itself, crimping as you go, to fully seal. You should be left with a small, half-moon pasty.
5 Repeat the filling, shaping and sealing with the remaining mixture. Move the pasties to a large, lightly greased baking tray and brush each with the beaten egg to glaze. Pierce a hole in the top of each one. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, and serve either hot or cold.
Raspberry lemon cheesecake slices
A dose of cornflour in the filling and a high-temperature oven help to keep these turnovers crisp and stop the cheesecake mixture leaking from the pastry. Though I’ve used raspberries, blackberries or blackcurrants would also work well here, and the lemon zest in the cream-cheese filling could easily be swapped for orange or lime.
375g cream cheese
175g caster sugar
4 tbsp cornflour
Zest 1 lemon
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g unsalted butter
6 large filo sheets, roughly 50x25cm each, 275g total
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Grease a large baking tray.
2 In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until it is smooth and creamy, then add the sugar, cornflour, lemon zest and vanilla extract and stir to combine.
3 Melt the butter over a low heat. If your filo sheets are smaller than the ones specified, just use more, overlapping them and sticking them together with a little of the melted butter. If yours are too big, just trim them to size.
4 Cut one filo sheet in half along its long axis to divide it into two 50x12cm rectangles, then brush all over the upper surface of one of the halves with melted butter. Cut the sheets as you need them, rather than all at once, so the filo doesn’t dry out while you shape the pastries. Place three raspberries near one end of the rectangle, then dollop a heaped tablespoon of the cheesecake mixture on top. You’re going to be folding one corner of the pastry diagonally across the filling to form a right-angled triangle, so try to add the cheesecake mixture with that in mind.
5 Fold the corner of filo diagonally over the filling, lining up the pastry edges to form a neat right-angled triangle. Carefully fold this filled triangle over, so it is parallel with the length of the filo sheet, and in so doing wrapping the filling in pastry as you go. Fold this parcel over again diagonally. Keep rolling the filling in pastry – repeatedly folding across and then diagonally – until you reach the edge of the filo sheet, and the parcel is several pastry-layers thick.
6 Repeat the folding process with the remaining filo, cheesecake and raspberries. Brush the pastries with a little more butter and arrange on the prepared baking tray. Pierce a small hole or slit in the top of each to allow steam to escape.
7 Bake for 25 minutes, until crisp and golden. Leave to cool completely before eating.Perfect for picnics or eating on the hoof: Ruby Tandoh’s aubergine pasties and cheesecake slices. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian