drawing on resources…the circumference of pie…


Cooking has an architecture of its own. There is the extravagant rococo of chocolate confections, the classical pillars supporting towering wedding cakes, the painstaking science of molecular cuisine, the soft curving shells of magically set egg white and, in my case, the crude shack construction that concerns itself with being waterproof and not falling down. There is a roughness to my efforts at carpentry and construction that is clearly, but safely, reflected in my kitchen craft. Text books on both disciplines are unequivocal in the need for accuracy in measurement and quantity. Such accuracy is not in my remit, as the uneven paving stones and serpentine walls in the garden together with the ragged edge of pastry around the lip of the pie below will confirm. However, my kitchen disasters are, for the most part, a matter of profanity and dish hurling whereas falling walls may have a more terminal outcome. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but curds will never hurt me.


Today’s enquiry into the properties of pie were concerned with circumference and volume. Having successfully made a set of six of Ottolenghi’s individual warm vegetable pies in a muffin tin, I yearned for a simpler way without losing the unforgettable flavour of his choice of spices and seasoning. One of the reasons that I eschew spending time watching television cooking programs, apart my parsimony with time as opposed to money, is the unbearable monotony of seeing the host’s flawless proficiency in each and every cooking skill. I yearn for burns, curses and even a few drops of chef’s blood due to a slip of the Sabatier….for fuck ups and collapsed whatevers…for a bit of that which happens to me. So, even though the solution of making a couple of larger pies rather than the six small ones may not seem ground breaking to you, dear reader, to me it was. Would there be enough pastry to line and put hats on the two oval dishes that I had chosen? Where should I start cutting to ensure I made the most of the rolled out paste? It should be simple but in the end I turned to profanity as my saviour, gave up and made one pie and one Palestinian Pasty.


One of the joys of cooking is that it needn’t be fatal unless you’re very careless or unless you intend it to be so, in which case it is called “poisoning” and always ends badly for all concerned.  The same can be said of poorly proportioned concrete: a failed recipe that didn’t set resulting in the dam collapsing and lots of drowned people. The same cannot be said of pastry tailoring which is a relief to me and an object lesson to all of you who may be considering cyaniding Auntie Beryl or buying a dam from an innumerate.



About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
This entry was posted in 2014, Art photography, Baking, Cooking, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Herbs and Spices, Humour, pastry, Photography, photography course, Pie, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to drawing on resources…the circumference of pie…

  1. Amanda says:

    Lovely post. I love these pies too. I like the way you bring imperfect science to the craft.

  2. Really? You draw it out first? No wonder my pies are always a mess……I just guess.

  3. Angeline M says:

    Wabi sabi is where it’s at.

  4. Mad Dog says:

    I originally had a fear of pastry, but when I eventually took the plunge (armed with Hume and Downes) it was much easier than I thought and I’ve never looked back. I definitely wouldn’t buy the stuff theses days. I don’t normally draw it out, but I do cut out pieces of baking paper for baking blind.
    I was just looking at the blog winners of a prestigious food magazine and though that all of them (even the winner of the best photography) need to book a class with you 😉

  5. Misky says:

    Excellent. Giggled joyfully throughout. On the subject of TV chefs, I sicken of them gasping raptures over their cooking. Don’t these guys (and I include Nigella, Delia, etc in that mix) ever cook up rubbish tasting gurge?? Are they just brilliant actors able to keep a straight face? My husband is waiting for one of them to choke on their cooking but I suspect it will never happen in our lifetime.

  6. Roger, the circumference of the pie is 2 ∏ r, if you’ll pardon the pun.

  7. suej says:

    My kind of pie….

  8. I can’t believe how supple, thin a perfectly rolled you pate is. now that is handy in my book. I always feel I am fighting my dough when I roll it out and I often don’t win.

  9. Plese read: how supple, thin and perfectly rolled out your pate is! sorry finger trouble.

  10. Beautiful, a savory pie or as we call them pot pies here is wonderful, love the look of your pie dough. That is a gorgeous pie.

  11. Conor Bofin says:

    Like yourself, it’s a good thing I did not follow an engineering career. Lovely looking pie.

  12. Ha ha! I can’t do a round crust, let alone an oval one. They never look good, but they are tasty and that’s all I care about.

  13. Francesca says:

    The pie in question looks perfectly rustic and homely. I want some now. Did I miss a recipe?

  14. being the world’s biggest failure when it comes to pie crust of any kind, I am in absolute awe, cruse words and all!

  15. EllaDee says:

    Wherever cooking maths is required I will have settle for imperfection because akin to your pies, the unofficial but recognised term for the maths class I took at school was “Vege Maths”… 🙂

  16. Sally says:

    Love your take on things Roger…”One of the joys of cooking is that it needn’t be fatal..”

  17. “The crude shack construction that concerns itself with being waterproof and not falling down”. I fucking love it!
    Good looking pie, too 🙂

  18. margaret21 says:

    Great pie. Thanks to you, and to Yotam Ottolenghi too no doubt

  19. Hahaha.. very well written! I have a devil of a time with pastry crusts.. never could get them to look gorgeous as some do. Yours turned out beautifully!

  20. Gorgeous pie! Although this is not a democracy, I vote you include a photography tip on some of your posts! I laughed all through this and it reminded me of a tart I made once. I just had an off day in the kitchen and issued many expletives as I messed it up, saved it and messed it up again then burnt myself and one edge. It was delicious, but earned the name of F**ktart ever after, a word that was heard coming from the kitchen several times that day. I try to keep it clean but some days it’s hard.

    I think if shows actually ran footage of cooking mishaps, they would give the most valuable cooking lessons ever. The art of the save!

    As an aside, my Mom taught me to never apologize for food – while we may realize a mistake was made, most people would never notice. Sadly, it’s true. An apology, though is not to be confused with the little humble grumblings we in the Midwest put out as we present a masterpiece. It’s customary here to temper a dish with a few denigrating comments.

  21. platedujour says:

    I was wondering what my kitchen disasters were, and I can think of one. It’s my spinach tart- the recipe on my blog- which once ready is an absolute perfection of taste and proportions, but the dough…awwwwww I’ve been making this thing for the last 12 years and I’m always in panic, because I never know if there’s enough of the dough to cover the baking form 🙂 Terrible! I deal with that however, it’s too good to give up on it. Beautiful pictures as always, and interesting theory about the cooking architecture thing 🙂

  22. A Perfect Palestinian Pastry in my eyes 🙂

  23. Bella Supiana says:

    I love your complete honesty! I can totally relate to the tedious task of pastry making, If only there could be an invention to aid one in the kitchen with exact measurements and centimeters of crumbling pastry, thus preventing ones madness during the pie making process! Thank you, Mr Stowell! 🙂

  24. The preciseness of baking sometimes does me in… I prefer imperfect, off-the-cuff cooking most of the time, with the science happening somewhere there on the stove/oven without my understanding it all…:)

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