TRISH DESEINE recommends a luxuriously golden crusty pie as an alternative Christmas menu. A joy to make as well as eat …
A pie is an occasion unto itself. The promise beneath its golden crust is one of warmth, richness and heartiness. It elevates even the most humble of ingredients, making itself truly greater than the sum of its parts. A pie’s construction can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. After all, properly handled, pastry is such a giving medium when it comes to playing and designing with your food. From a simple swirl or plait, to all sorts of cut-out patterns and decorations, this is cooking where you can let your inner sculptor (or perhaps just ‘inner child with new play doh’?) loose on your tart, tarte, tourte or galette.
It’s hardly surprising that much of today’s pie-speak should be in French, given that deli’s and charcuteries and all the crossover iterations of lunch-providing boulangeries, “snacks” and épiceries fines all seem to contain some sort of pâté en crôute or quiche. But for me a pie’s DNA remains firmly English. In my mind it is filled with pork when it’s cold – wrapped in a checked napkin and served with “pop” at a summer picnic – or game when it’s warm, the centrepiece of a long mahogany dining table, heavy with silver, china and bottles of ‘claret’ and circled by round, waistcoated bellies and rosy noses.
As a child, in contrast, our pies were quite flat, and usually full of steak and kidney in gravy. Sometimes, they didn’t quite make it into pie form, and my mother would simply serve her (excellent) pastry alongside a beef stew, which we loved. Tarts were apple or rhubarb, often made with Stork, not butter, for a lighter crust. The exciting discovery of creamy chicken filling in pies came with Marks & Spencer along with duck liver pâté, quiche lorraine and blue cheese dip. Heady gastronomic times indeed.
As the main event at a festive dinner, a home-made pie can be a practical yet spectacular option when you are feeding a crowd. One dish, served up at the table, with a few fresh, crunchy, well-chosen veggie sides, dispenses with the need for starters, and with the pastry surround and filling, cuts down on the amount of meat or fish you use. The side dishes can all be cold, though you might want to add steamed vegetables to boost the green element of quite a carb-heavy creation. As always, extra sauce or gravy is extremely welcome, don’t hold back.
At Christmas time, you can up the luxury quotient by adding lobster to your pastry-less fish pie, or ceps or truffles to game or beef. I’ll wait until I’m back in France to include foie gras again, but if you do get your hands on some (especially if it’s merely “pâté” and not a full lobe or of tip-top quality) I think the foie gras-laced pheasant tourte I once enjoyed in a little Basque bistro in Paris is probably my most moving pastry-based experience ever. Use Irish-reared guinea fowl, quail or duck for a similar effect. Happy pastry-playtime, and a very Merry Christmas!
Open Galette with Leeks, Apples, Potatoes, Cheese and Truffle
The pastry here is a classic buttery shortcrust, but you can always buy good quality ready-made if your prefer.
20 minutes preparation
40 minutes cooking
For the pastry
• 250g plain flour
• 160g very cold salted butter
• 1 egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water
For the filling
1 large leek, washed and chopped
• 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
• 1 large cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped into chunks
• 2 medium potatoes (about 250g), peeled, sliced very thinly with a mandoline
• 30g butter or so 125g ripe Brie, Durrus Óg or Gubbeen, cut into small chunks (remove the rind if you like)
• 5 tbsps crème fraiche
• 1 egg, beaten
• Salt and pepper
• 2 tbsps toasted hazelnuts, crushed
• A few gratings of a small black truffle
1. To make the pastry, put the flour into a large baking bowl and rub through the butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and pour in most of the egg and water mixture. Mix it through with a knife, adding the rest of the egg if it’s too dry, then bring the pastry together into a ball with your hands. Turn out and knead on a cool surface for a minute or so, before wrapping in film and leaving in the freezer for 30 minutes.
2. Pre heat the oven to 180ºC.
3. Heat some butter in a large pan and soften the leeks with the garlic without colouring them. Add the apple and cook gently until they are both soft but still holding their shape. Leave to cool slightly.
4. Take the chilled pastry out of the fridge and roll out thinly into a 30cm diameter circle. Set it onto a greased and floured baking sheet.
5. Mix the cheese with the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Spread it in the centre of the galette, leaving a couple of centimetres around the edge. Lay the potato slices evenly on top.
6. Remove the garlic from the leek and apple, scatter it over the potatoes, dot with a little butter or drizzle with olive oil, and fold the galette up around the edges. Brush the pastry with the egg using a pastry brush.
7. Bake for around 30/35 minutes until the pastry is golden and the creamy cheese is bubbling. Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly before grating the truffle on top and serving with a crisp salad and a light vinaigrette.
Apples, Coffee, Cream and Chestnut Fridge Cake
The tang of apple and bitterness of the coffee offset the sweet chestnut, and the cream smoothes the whole thing from top down. Easy to make in advance and decorate at the last minute.
20 minutes preparation
40 minutes chilling
• 3 large cooking apples, peeled, cored
• 2 packets (about 500/600g Bourbon creams, or other dark chocolate cookies) crushed into crumbs
• 100g salted butter, melted
• 300ml double cream
• 2 tbsps strong instant coffee, cooled
• 5 or 6 tbsps sweetened chestnut purée
1. Poach the apples until soft, mash them to make a purée and leave to cool.
2. Mix the melted butter into the biscuit crumbs and press them into a springform cake tin of 22cm or so.
3. Put the tin into the fridge to harden the biscuit base. Whisk the cream until firm and add the coffee.
4. Spread the chestnut purée over the biscuit base, then the apples and top the cake with the coffee cream. Decorate with grated chocolate if you like.
Double Salmon Pie with Cream, Dill and Pickled Ginger
Alongside, make up an extra jug of bechamel sauce laced with dill and serve with a red cabbage slaw with beetroot. You can quite happily leave out the potatoes and add broccoli and/or asparagus instead.
Cooking 1 hour 30
Preparation 40 minutes
• 2 packets of good bought puff pastry
• 400g of waxy potatoes, sliced very thinly (in a mandoline if you can)
• 150g Irish shitake mushrooms, washed, sliced thinly
• 150g smoked salmon
• 450g fresh salmon filets, skinless
For the bechamel
• 50g butter
• 3 tbsps plain flour
• 500ml full fat milk
• 1 egg and one yolk
• 3 tbsps fresh dill
• Salt and pepper
• Pickled ginger as condiment
1. Butter a deep pie mould (22/24 cm diameter) and dust it with flour. Roll out one of the puff pastry packets, set it into the dish and let it flow over the sides. (You might have left over pastry, keep it to make spice or cheese straws). Prick the base of the pastry and let it
sit in the fridge while you make the filling.
2. Pre heat the oven to 180ºC.
3. Heat the butter and the flour in a non stick saucepan on a medium heat. Cook while stirring with a wooden spoon for a few minutes, until the mixture becomes a little golden, but without letting it stick or brown.
4. Add a dash of milk and whisk until the roux has dissolved into the liquid. Keep heating, whisking and adding the milk. Then bring the bechamel to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes or so. Finally, remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, leave to cool slightly and whisk in the whole egg.
5. Fill the bottom of the pie with a layer of potato, topped with mushrooms. Season lightly, sprinkle some dill, then spread with bechamel. Add half the fresh salmon cut in slices, and half the smoked salmon.
6. Start the process again, finishing with a last layer of bechamel and dill.
Roll out the second piece of pastry and close the pie, pressing down on the edges with your fingers to make sure they are sealed.
7. Make a little hole in the centre and insert a small funnel made of baking parchment to allow even cooking, a crackless top and steam to escape.
8. Beat the egg yolk with a tablespoon of warm water and paint the mixture over the top of your pie with a pastry brush.
9. Bake in the centre of the oven for 60 minutes (always check on it while baking as oven temperatures vary so much), until the top is golden and crisp. Protect the top of the pie for the last 10 minutes or so if it is browning too much.
10. Leave to rest and cool for 10 minutes before serving with the pickle alongside.
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