So if you’re a regular reader (or you’ve just stopped by in search of pie recipes – in which case, welcome!), you’ll know that I’ve already published a step by step ‘how to make a pie‘ recipe. Do have a look at that one as it will give you invaluable tips on how to make pastry. This recipe kind of skips the basics, just because I don’t want to blab on and on about pastry (hey, it’s just pastry) and also because we’re now moving on to bigger, better, MORE EXCITING PIES!
So walking the dog yesterday morning in blazing sunshine in shorts and t-shirts, we were surprised to see big, fat blackberries already on the brambles. I wonder if we’re just not normally very observant, or if they’ve come in very early this year? Anyway, we thought we’d get picking before the birds get all the best ones, and had a decent sized pot of them without even really trying (they’re stabby buggers – I’m nursing a few nasty scratches).
There’s nothing quite like that first mince pie of the season, is there? Yesterday I popped to TK Maxx and picked up a couple of bits including this AMAZING ceramic bun tin and a cute little freeform bowl. Time for some baking, then:
So Mr English is home and the Christmas preparations can begin in earnest. His favouritest thing in the whole world at Christmas time is a home made mince pie. If you’ve only ever bought them, you’re missing a trick – they’re very easy and they make the whole house smell divine. I love scenting the pastry with the zest and juice of a clementine, or you could try a teaspoon of cinnamon too, or just leave it plain – it’s your pie. Here’s what you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 clementine or tangerine, zest and juice (optional)
Cold water and a tablespoon (have them ready)
First, then, cut your butter into little cubes and pop it into the food processor with the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt:
Mix gently until it resembles breadcrumbs:
Now add the egg and the clementine juice and zest and let it continue stirring gently until the mixture just comes together. Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water as it’s coming together so you end up with a nice, soft dough. Obviously you can do this by hand if you don’t have a food processor.
Form the dough gently into two balls, clingfilm them and put them into the fridge for 20 mins. Don’t leave them too long – rock hard pastry is not the easiest thing to handle. One ball should make 12 pies.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas 5 and get ready to mess with your mincemeat. Now, don’t get me wrong – normal mincemeat in a jar is fine, but let’s face it, there’s not much in life that can’t be improved with a bit of alcohol (trust me, it’s not time that’s a great healer, it’s booze), so splosh some in: I’m loving Pedro Ximenez at the moment, but anything will do: port, cherry brandy, Cointreau – whatever you have to pep it up. I also add a handful of dried cranberries because I like the colour. I’m also partial to a glacé cherry or two. But don’t bother if you don’t want to.
So now, just roll the pastry out and use a cutter to make circles. Pop the circles gently into a muffin tin and put a scant teaspoon of your boozy mincemeat in each one. Don’t overfill or they’ll ooze everywhere and be very difficult to get out of the tin (sorry for the blurry picture – sticky hands) :
Now you can either cut out another slightly smaller circle to use as a lid, or just cut out something festive like a star or a tree, and pop on the top. Now, pass the whole kit and caboodle onto the Eggy Wash Department (you’ll need a small, willing child for this – just use a little lightly beaten egg to paint over the pies and add a sprinkle of sugar):
Bake for about 10 – 15 minutes and that’s it, you made pies! Give yourself a quick round of applause, then serve with more booze in the shape of some warm, mulled wine, or a lovely cup of tea. And now you’ve got into the swing of it, try mixing it up. The tree ones at the top were made in a deep-fill muffin pan with a plain cutter. Or try topping your pies with sponge mixture like my festive pastry cakey pies.
I do love a new cookbook. My family would say I already own far too many (if they could speak, my many groaning bookshelves would possibly attest to this), but there’s something lovely about ripping open the cardboard to find someone’s much-loved and oft-cooked recipes, delightfully photographed and neatly bound for posterity, ready for sharing.
I always think this is especially true with a first time author like Sarah Mayor. I like to imagine that she, like me, has a huge file on a kitchen shelf, jammed with hand-written, sometimes sticky recipes (especially given her immaculately foodie heritage, being the daughter of the founders of Yeo Valley farming family; the Meads). I imagine what a thrill it must be to see that scrappy file transformed into a brand new, glossy cookery book.
The book is a wonderful testament to everything that Yeo Valley holds dear: local, organic, fresh and seasonal. As I flicked through, marking pages of recipes I’d like to try (I know, a terrible habit, but I’ve always done it): marmalade glazed gammon (poached in West Country cider), deep trout fish cake with lemon butter and chive sauce (you guessed it, there’s trout in Blagdon Lake, running alongside the farm), it became clear that this is not only a rather wonderful country cookbook, but an absolute celebration of how we should be living right now. Modern food at its best.
And right there, as the postie walked away from the house, I decided I had to have a go at one of the recipes: a puffy, golden souffléd egg and bacon tart: a proper British picnic staple.
And, oh, the tart: light as air, cheesy, dotted generously with bacon and with pastry crisp and snappy. We devoured it. Never mind that it was about three o’clock in the afternoon and I was idly wondering about saving it for tea, maybe serving with some little rosemary potatoes and a nice salad. No, we descended upon that poor tart and devoured it. I’m not proud, but there was actually some arguing over the last slice.
I’m thinking that this one might not make it far away from the kitchen. My groaning shelves will heave a sigh of relief.
The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook (Yeo Valley) by Sarah Mayor is out now, priced £20.00 RRP
Pastry always seems a bit terrifying. But honestly, have a think about it: it’s really just a vessel to hold delicious contents, all of which will spill out over your pastry making it all taste yummy anyway. And if it’s a little thick or a bit uneven, who cares? That’s what home made food is all about. If you know how to make a chicken pie (or any pie!) it’s such a versatile skill. So come on, let’s dive in: practice makes perfect!
A quick word about pie dishes. By all means use a classic ceramic pie dish but you’ll get a much better result by using a metal tin. I swear by Mermaid, who do proper hard anodised aluminium tins that you can use on the hob and in the oven (this one’s actually a tarte tatin dish) – they conduct the heat really well, resulting in nice, crisp pastry and an even bake.
How to make pastry
The best tip I can give you about making pastry is to keep everything as cool as possible. Sweaty hands make for a big gluey mess, so try and keep to just using the tips of your fingers, and use a light touch.
For standard, shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
You can make pastry in the food processor, or by hand. Here are both versions:
Making pastry by hand:
Cut the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour:
… add in the salt, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs:
Now add the egg. It’s less messy initially so use a knife to just stir it around until it starts to come together. Then, with your hands, bring it together into a dough. Don’t knead it, remember, just treat it very gently.
Making pastry in the food processor
Chop the cold butter into cubes and add it to the flour and salt. Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly until it comes together.
Every time you make pastry it will be different: flours can have different moisture levels and eggs can be different sizes, but you should find it comes together into a ball quite well. If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon or two of cold water, but you don’t want a wet mess, be very sparing.
At this stage, with either processor-made or hand-made pastry, you’ll have a rough ball of dough. Now just wrap it in clingfilm and chill for about 2o minutes.
This is the stage where you can get on with making your filling. I’ve made a creamy chicken filling, but you can use your imagination and fill it with whatever you like: beef and mushrooms in gravy… fish in a creamy sauce… (or veggies) or, if you fancy a sweet pie (add a tablespoon of caster sugar to your pastry), apple, cherry… the list is endless. Leftovers make fab pies. We always make turkey and ham on Boxing Day, and leftover curry makes a lovely pie too.
Filling for a creamy chicken pie
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, finely sliced
2 large free-range chicken breasts (or leftover chicken or turkey)
Couple of slices of nice ham (or leftover gammon, cut into chunks)
Dash of double cream
About 200-300ml chicken stock (cube is fine)
So gently fry the shallot in the oil until translucent and add in your cubes of chicken breast. Fry until just coloured (remember it’ll cook properly in the oven), then add the ham (snipped into little pieces, or chopped), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then the splosh of cream. Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce a little (you don’t want too much ‘juice’ in the pie as it will make the pastry soggy). Add in some fresh herbs if you like, too. Thyme is delicious with chicken, and so is tarragon.
Once your filling is done, leave it to one side to cool while you roll out the pastry. Oh, and this is a good time to preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
Rolling out the pastry
Retrieve it from the fridge, flour your work surface AND your rolling pin really well. Divide your pastry into two pieces: one about 2/3 for the base and the other 1/3 for the top.
Roll the larger piece out to about 5-6mm thick, moving the pastry around in 1/4 turns as you roll until you’ve got a rough circle. This will prevent the pastry from sticking to the work surface. Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect!
Roll the pastry up around the rolling pin, then unroll it over your pie dish. Push it down gently, and use little extra bits to fill any holes or cracks. Don’t worry too much – it’s home made!
Now spoon in your cooled filling. Don’t put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’!
Now do the same thing with the final third of pastry. Unroll it over your filling and crimp the edges with your fingers, or a fork so that they’re sealed together.
If you’re feeling arty, make some letters (I’m desperate to do a pie that says ‘bum’) or cut out leaves or whatever. Pass swiftly on to the eggy wash department for a brush with beaten egg or milk (grab a passing child if you can) and pop in the oven for about half an hour at 180/gas 4.
And yes, sometimes it all goes wrong (this one needed that extra bit of cold water – the patry was far too crumbly) just laugh at yourself and serve it up anyway – it will still taste lovely! (oh, and writing BUM on it is excellent therapy too, trust me).
And that’s it. YOU MADE A PIE! You’re a genius.
I’m not completely sure where I first saw this recipe. Rest assured it wasn’t my idea – I’m thinking maybe Martha Stewart or somewhere like that?
Anyhoo, if you’re entertaining on bonfire night, these little beauties are a great talking point. If you don’t fancy chicken, just fill them with your usual minced beef recipe, or even just squeeze sausagemeat out of the casing to fill them.
The teenagers, you’ll be delighted to know, took me to task over my original ‘scary’ description in the title, and said that it should be ‘grumpy’ or maybe ‘ugly’, so ugly it is, but if you want to make smiley ones go for it – they’re your pies, after all.
You will need:
3 chicken breasts, cut into small chunks
1 onion, finely chopped
Ham, cut into small chunks
1 tbsp flour
Chicken stock (about 200ml)
Making the filling:
So sauté the onions in a couple of tablespoons of rapeseed oil. Add in the chicken and fry until it’s lightly browned. Bung in the ham, then add in a tablespoon of flour, salt and pepper, and about 200ml chicken stock. Stir well and cook gently for a while, just until the ‘rawness’ of the flour disappears and the sauce looks creamy. Add in some thyme here if you like. It’s my favourite flavour with chicken.
If you want to make your own pastry, rub 200g of cold butter into 400g of plain flour, then add in 3 or 4 tablespoons of cold water until it just comes together. If you’d rather buy it, that’s fine too.
Preheat your oven to gas 4/180 degrees. Roll out your pastry and line a 6 hole yorkshire pudding tin (or individual little pie dishes) with pastry.
You don’t have to blind bake these, but the bottoms will be crisper and they’ll hold together better. Up to you. Scrunch up some squares of greaseproof paper, then smooth out and pop on top of each pastry base – pour in baking beans (I use some old dried haricot beans that I keep especially for blind baking) and bake for about ten minutes. Then remove the beans and give them another 5 minutes.
Making the pies:
Now roll out the rest of the pastry and cut out your scary faces (I cut round a saucer, then used a piping nozzle for the holes). Fill generously with the chicken mixture then top with the pies. A quick pass through the eggy wash department and your ugly faces are ready for the oven.
Bake for about 15/20 minutes until golden. Pair with mini baked potatoes and maybe some roasted butternut squash soup and you’re good to go. Have a great bonfire night. Oh and be careful out there!
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