Recipes: Pastries, pies, perfect

Wooden board and blue long dish from Shop At Charles. Linen cloth from Martha's Furnishing Fabrics. Photo / Babiche Martens.

There is nothing quite as tempting as a good French pastry shop; with its creme patisseries, eclairs, beautiful tarts and endless delicacies to tempt the most hardened of resolves.

At home in the kitchen, pastry must be one of the easiest things to whip up. It's quick and simple to make using just a few basic pantry ingredients. Sweet or savoury, it is a versatile way to create impressive dishes.

I love to make pastry. When I lived in London, I worked with a fabulous pastry chef who insisted we cooled our hands before working with delicate pastry. The key was to plunge our hands into the chilled water, which was kept in the fridge, and then to work quickly.

However, there are two types of pastry you shouldn't feel guilty buying - the traditional paper-thin filo pastry from the Mediterranean used for layering baklava and other pies and tarts, and puff pastry. This can be time-consuming to make.

When it comes to pies, I just can't go past a traditional steak filling. Comforting, hot puff pastry filled with succulent tender beef and mushrooms in a tasty sauce - what's not to like? I prefer to use short pastry on the base and bake it blind. This gives your pie a crisper bottom and stops it getting soggy. If using bought pastry, buy sheets, so you can remove what you need and freeze the rest for another occasion.

This variation on the traditional beef wellington is a little bit fancy, using salmon. It's great for a dinner party, because you can have it all ready to hit the oven while your guests are enjoying a glass of wine. Remember, if the fish pieces are all the same size, the cooking will be even.

If you are using thinner fillets, try making this dish with filo. Simply butter in between two or three layers of filo and roll into a parcel. All you need is a crunchy green salad and you're in action.

Sweet and surprisingly simple to make, palmiers cookies are French favourites (also known as elephant ears, palm trees or butterflies). They are light and sweet, ideal to have on hand to serve with a strong coffee. Drizzling a little honey on while they are hot is a divine touch also.

You could also make a savoury palmier, filled with pesto, ham and cheese or olive tapenade and parmesan. These are good as a pre-dinner drink or lunchtime snack.

• Steak and mushroom pie

• Fish wellington

• Palmiers

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