May 14, 2015

The Raw and the Cooked, a recipe series by Linda Walker

BASIC PIE PASTRY by Linda Walker.

With the arrival of chilly, wintry weather this week my kitchen has been exuding smells of slow-cooked dishes. As snow settles on the nearby hilltops, an oxtail stew bubbles away quietly. Most of us crave hearty, satisfying meals in this season, and the slow-cooker is a boon to the time- constrained. However, with the weekend drawing near, it’s lovely to put a little more thought and love into our food and make pastry.

Whilst one can purchase pastry ranging from good (Pampas all-butter), to great (Careme), making it yourself is deeply satisfying and not terribly difficult.

Just about every culture in the world has at least one pastry dish, ranging from the Chinese wonton to the Russian piroshki. The first pies were made by the Egyptians who encased honey and nuts in bread, but it is thought that the Ancient Greeks invented pastry. With Roman conquest the recipe was taken back to the city from where it spread rapidly via those Roman roads. In the olden days Cornish miners were sent to work clutching their “pasty”. The pastry case was merely a flour-and-water container, which was largely inedible, to hold the filling, which was sweet at one end but savoury on the other. Of course, anyone who has been to Tasmania would be familiar with the Scallop Pie and the Crow-eaters love their pie-floaters. You can fill your pie with anything that takes your fancy, any ingredient that works well in a casserole will work as a pie filling so long as it is thickened sufficiently.

Whilst traditional tastes are eternally popular, it is only limited by your imagination and secondary cuts of meats and root vegetables really come into their own. People who would otherwise blanch at the thought of eating offal will happily tuck into Steak and Kidney Pie. Chicken and Leek is always a big hit. Remember to use thighs and legs as they can take longer cooking times than the breast, which dries out and becomes stringy and tasteless. If you caramelise your leeks before starting the dish you will have a lovely unctuous sweetness pervading. If you’re adding wine to your casserole, intensify the flavour, lower the alcohol and stop the dish from being too sour or “winey”, by first reducing by half in a small saucepan.


Basic pie pastry

Pastry is of supreme importance to the success of your pie. I prefer to use a simple recipe that is a cinch to remember: 3/2/1.

  • Three parts of flour,
  • two parts of butter and
  • one part of water.

You need good-quality ingredients and be aware that flours vary greatly, from protein to water content. Keep your special Italian 00 for pizza and bread, you need soft cake flour. Butter should be unsalted, you can add your own sea salt. A food processor makes this a very simple exercise, but in the years before I owned one I would do it all by hand. There is something therapeutic about rubbing your fat into the flour.

Weigh your ingredients before you start: to make a 23cm pie place 240g (3 parts) plain flour, a couple of pinches of salt and 160g (2 parts) chilled, cubed butter in the bowl of the food processor. If you’re really pedantic, you can place the blade in the freezer for a few minutes. Blitz to combine the fat and the flour, don’t take it too far, you want it to resemble very coarse breadcrumbs, think Panko and you’re on the right track.

Then add about 80g (1 part) icy water. I say “about” as your butter may be a little watery and you won’t need to use it all. Process until it just comes together in a ball.

Take it out and wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge – if I want to hurry the process, sometimes I’ll put it into the freezer. I can’t emphasise enough: PASTRY NEEDS TO BE KEPT COLD. Leave it to rest awhile, shh! Then roll it out between two sheets of grease-proof paper, line your dish with half the pastry and put both back in the fridge. The prepared base just then needs to be pricked with a fork, lined with paper, filled with pie weights, or beans or rice, then blind-baked in a hot oven.

Allow to cool, then spoon in your cold, pre-cooked filling. Cover with a pastry lid, crimp the edges together, brush with eggwash (whisked egg and milk mix) and cut some vents in the top to allow the steam to escape. Into a hot oven (200C) until the top is golden brown. A pot pie offers a great shortcut and is an efficient way of using up left-overs, just put your filling in a single-serve dish and top with pastry, or mashed potato. It’s an easy way to feed a vegan, or use up the remnants of an Indian take-away.

What’s your favourite pie?

White: Bird on a Wire Marsanne. A rich, full-bodied white with power and balance.
Red: Henschke Henry’s Seven. A silky-smooth blend with dark berry fruit.
Beer: Seville Ridge Pale Ale. Fine biscuity malt and gentle hop bitterness.

Linda Walker lives in a house in the trees in the bountiful Yarra Valley and is a passionate cook, feeder of parrots and drinker of fine wines. See Linda’s other posts here.


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