As any fan of the Great British Bake Off will know hearing the judges mention the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ is not what you want to hear.
The feared soggy bottom usually occurs when the base of a tart or pie fails to cook properly which in turn results in a saturated or under cooked pasty.
Not only do amateur bakers but even experienced bakers will occasionally suffer from the soggy bottom affliction, but with a few simple tips and techniques you can eliminate the chances of getting a soggy bottom and achieve a crisp and even pastry base every time you’re baking.
The cause of a soggy bottom is when you are coking the pastry; the gluten and fat in pastry endure a mighty cooking battle. If the fat melts before the gluten network has formed the pastry will be soggy, this is why pastry is usually cooked at a high temperature and in tins that conduct heat well. Excess moisture, either in the filling or the pastry dough can also cause problems when the liquid sinks to the bottom and soaks the pastry.
One secret to achieving a crisp pie base is to ‘blind bake’ this is where the pastry is precooked before the filling is added. Blind baking sets the pastry before any filling is added and if you are using a particular filling or one which has lots of juices you should consider sealing the pastry base with a barrier after blind baking; egg whites, jam and melted chocolate work well.
A good baker will consider the tools they use when baking; black, heavy tins are much better for crisping pastry as they absorb more heat and get hotter than thinner tins. This is very useful when baking pastry as the quicker the pastry base cooks the less likely you are to suffer from a soggy bottom.
Hopefully this has given you a little insight into the soggy bottom concept and given you a few tips to test next time you’re baking with pastry. Lemon Meringue Pie can be a serial offender of the soggy bottom syndrome but here is Mary Berry’s recipe with no soggy bottoms in sight!
For the pastry
225g/8oz plain flour
45g/1¾oz icing sugar
1 large free-range egg, beaten
For the lemon filling
6 lemons, zest and juice
250g/9oz caster sugar
6 free-range egg yolks
For the meringue topping
4 free-range egg whites
225g/8oz caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour
-Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
-First make the pastry. Measure the flour and butter into a food processor and blend together until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the icing sugar, egg and one tablespoon of water and whizz again until combined to a ball.
-Tip the pastry onto a work surface and roll out to a 3mm thickness. Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry up and transfer it to line a 23cm/9in loose-bottomed flan tin. Be careful not to stretch the pastry as you tuck it into the corners. Cover in cling film and place in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
-Take the pastry-lined tin out of the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Press the top edge of the pastry so that it stands slightly higher than the top of the tin.
-Line the pastry case with parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake for about 15 minutes then remove the beans and parchment and return to the oven for a further five minutes.
-Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 170C/340F/Gas 3½.
-For the filling, mix the lemon zest and juice with the cornflour and stir to form a smooth paste. Measure 450ml/16fl oz of water into a pan and bring to the boil. Add the lemon cornflour mixture to the hot water and stir over the heat until the mixture has thickened, then remove from the heat.
-In a bowl mix together the sugar and egg yolks and carefully whisk into the lemon mixture in the pan. Stir over a medium heat until thickened. Set aside for a few minutes and then pour into the baked pastry case.
-For the meringue, whisk the egg whites in a free-standing mixer until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the caster sugar a little at a time, still whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add the cornflour and whisk again.
-Spoon on top of the filled pastry case and spread the meringue to completely cover the lemon filling. Then create a swirl on the top of the meringue.
-Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the filling is completely set and the meringue is lightly golden and crisp.
-Serve warm or cold.
Indulge and enjoy