Week Sixteen: Stoner

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As books go, my choice for book 16 of the year couldn’t be more different to last week! Stoner is one of those books that will make you fall in love with reading all over again. It’s made me wish I could go back in time and study English Lit at uni – it is so well crafted and so well written. The story is very simple – William Stoner, farm boy, is giving the opportunity to attend university to study agriculture, but once he gets there, he becomes seduced by literature and never leaves, eventually becoming an assistant professor. Along the way he marries and has a daughter and Stoner is as much about his family life as his professional life.
 
The blurb on the back of the edition I read (Vintage Classics) sums the book up pretty neatly I think: ‘Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life’. It’s essentially a book about the small struggles we all go through daily, the minutiae of everyday life – those moments that aren’t really exceptional, but very real. I loved it, I was captured by the writing, prose so well constructed that the ordinary becomes extraordinary. If you were to describe the story, it would sound dull, but for me, the writing transformed it into a masterpiece. A well deserved classic and I am glad that it’s had a resurgence in popularity recently as otherwise, I probably never would have read it!
 
To accompany this American classic, I, on the request of my colleague Dave, cooked a classic American dish… 
PECAN PIE!
And I’m rather pleased with how it’s turned out.
 
For my recipe, I chose one from the Leon Baking book, which goes as follows:
For the pastry: 
  • 150g butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 free range egg plus 1 yolk
  • 270g gluten free plain flour (you can of course use regular but I had this flour already so figured I may as well use it up!)

For the filling:

  • 50g butter
  • 225g golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 200g pecan nut halves

Normally I cheat and don’t make my own pastry and buy the pre rolled stuff but decided I’d give the full recipe a go today. Firstly, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Then add the egg plus the extra yolk and mix. Add the flour and then quickly bring together in a ball. Wrap this in clingfilm and then refrigerate for at least 30mins. After it’s chilled, grease a flan tin and then roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. I struggled a bit here as the dough became quite sticky and I probably overworked it a bit but eventually I managed to get it in the flan dish! The best pastry makers have cold hands, sadly I think mine were a bit clammy from the stress of trying to keep the pastry in one piece! Once your pastry is rolled out and in the dish, trim the edges and then chill again for a further 30mins. Use this time to pre-heat the oven – 160C/gas mark 3. Once it’s chilled again, cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and top with baking beans so it doesn’t shrink then whack it in the oven for 20mins. After that 20mins is up remove the baking beans and the paper and bake for another 5mins until the pastry is  nice light blonde colour. Remove and leave to cool while you make the mixture.

For the mixture…

Put the butter and golden syrup in a saucepan and heat until melted and runny. Take off the heat and whisk in the sugar. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and mix in the cornflour until fully combined. Add this into the saucepan and mix. Place the pecan halves in the baked pastry case and then pour the golden syrup mixture over. Finally, bake in the oven for 40min, being careful not to spill any of the mixture out of the case. When it’s done, the mixture should have risen and it’ll look dark golden… just like this:

 

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