Passion of the crust: How to make the perfect pie

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Sales of pies are soaring, there are more varieties on offer than ever – and they even have their own awards ceremony.

Cottage pie, top-crust pie, shepherd's pie, fish pie, pie with mash, with chips, with gravy. Steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom. Pie, pie, pie. I love pie. But then who doesn't love that most comforting of winter dishes? The word alone is enough to warm the heart and conjure visions of knives piercing crusty lids, releasing clouds of stream from piping hot fillings of tender meat, soft vegetables and rich, creamy sauce.

Hungry yet? Apparently you are, because Britain is going pie-crazy. Sales of pastry and potato-topped dishes are higher than they have been since the Seventies, with supermarkets and smaller purveyors of pies reporting sales of an extra 17m pies over the past two years, according to Nielsen, a market research firm. The pie market is now worth £229m, up 16 per cent since 2008, as shoppers with shallow pockets stock up on deep fillings to consume at home.

But, despite a push in supermarkets towards the gourmet end of pie territory, for every "tender asparagus tips and Portobello mushrooms in a creamy mushroom and herb sauce pie," (Waitrose: £1.78) there's an anaemic football-ground pasty waiting to turn your stomach. The only way to guarantee a good pie? Make it yourself.

I've come to the Baker Street branch of Canteen, a group of four London restaurants that knock out some of the capital's finest affordable British fare – including, I'm hoping, some exceedingly good pies. Cass Titcombe is the man in charge in the vast kitchen, where stock simmers in giant pans and cooks do prep for the evening service.

In 2005, the softly-spoken chef with a passion for British cuisine spotted a gap in the market for quick, keenly priced traditional food served in a modern setting. Think a slightly more modern Pizza Express, but with devilled kidneys on toast, potted duck, and treacle tart.

The first branch of Canteen, in east London's trendy Spitalfields Market, was a hit with critics and locals, quickly spawning three more outlets in the capital. They come for the daily roast, the fish and chips, the sausage and mash – and the pies. Each day brings two specials – one meat, one vegetable – from a list of a dozen or so pastry-topped delicacies that Titcombe devises every 18 months. They include classics such as steak and kidney, alongside fillings like pork, cider and mustard.

"Pies are easy," Titcombe assures me. "People get put off by the pastry, but it's really not hard to make a shortcrust pastry." But first, the filling. We're going for a roast chicken and leek number, one of Canteen's most popular pies. Titcombe has already roasted a chicken, so all that's left to do is to fry up and combine the ingredients.

The pastry rolling is just as straightforward, although when I attempt to create the pie's lid it takes on a distinctly Australian shape compared to Titcombe's perfect oval. But it's good enough, and the pie – crimped, pierced and brushed with egg – is thrown into the oven.

So what is it about pies that gets us drooling? Sophie Conran ought to know. The daughter of restaurant emperor, Sir Terence Conran, she's the author of Sophie Conran's Pies, a book of recipes published in 2006. She used to run a small business supplying posh pies to food-halls in Harrods and Harvey Nichols. "To me, pies represent the warmth of a family get together," she says. "When you take a pie out of the oven it looks a bit like a present – the culinary equivalent of a hug. You can prepare them in advance, they're fun to make, inexpensive and, if you use the best ingredients you can find, completely delicious."

Every spring, Conran sits on the panel at the British Pie Awards, hosted in May at the home of the pork pie, Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire. Butchers and bakers large and small and from every corner of Britain descend on St Mary's Church there, to tempt judges with their steak and kidney pies, fish pies, apple pies, pasties and football-ground pies – to name just some of the categories in the world's tastiest pie-off. "Last year I had to taste 46 savoury pies," Conran says. "We look for pastry texture, sogginess, amount of fill and overall taste. The overall standard is very high." If only all pies were as good. "I remember having bad pies at school," recalls Titcombe, who's poised to crack open the oven door. "And you still see poor excuses filled with too much junk designed to bulk them out. Then you get restaurants – pubs, usually – where chefs cook a bit of pastry separately, slap it on a casserole and call it a pie. That's not a pie."

Titcombe also warns against a growing trend for over-adventurous fillings. "A few years ago, I did some consultancy work for a few different pie companies. Separately, two of them gave me the same brief – to create outlandish recipes. One company wanted a Thai chicken pie and a Moroccan lamb pie – like a tagine in pastry. I did it because it was work, but I did think it was going a bit far."

Ping! Pie's ready. Titcombe retrieves it from the oven and brings it out to the dining room, where it's joined by two he made earlier – a celeriac, bacon and cheddar, and a chard, broccoli and roast onion (see recipes below). He cuts first into our chicken pie, slicing through the beautifully browned pastry crust, and scooping out its juicy filling. The smell, which carries a hint of the mustard's sharpness, is amazing. And, needless to say, it is delicious.

After the feast, before I waddle towards the door, I ask Titcombe if he knows anyone who doesn't love pie. "Yeah, my son, Oscar," he replies. "He's 10 and won't eat pastry. Give him a sausage roll and he'll eat the sausage and throw away the rest..." Oscar, you don't know what you're missing.

To top it all: Pie recipes

Shortcrust pastry

This recipe is enough to top- and bottom-line a pie for six people. If you prefer to have pastry just on the top, halve the quantity or, alternatively, buy a good quality, ready-made, all-butter puff pastry.

Ingredients

500g plain white flour
250g butter
teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
80-100ml cold water

1) Place flour in a mixing bowl. Add butter, cut into cubes, and salt, and rub gently with your fingertips until it is like fine breadcrumbs.

2) Beat the egg with a little cold water. Mix into the butter and flour mix, until it forms a dough. You may need a little more water at this stage.

3) Wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour.

Roast chicken and leek pie

For the chicken:

A two-kilo organic chicken (or the best you can afford)
A bulb of garlic
Small bunch of tarragon (pick off the leaves and keep for later)
Half a lemon
Salt and pepper

1) Stuff the chicken with salt and pepper, the tarragon stalks, half the garlic bulb, and the half lemon.

2) Place in a deep casserole dish with a lid.

3) Roast at 200C for 30 minutes without the lid. Then cover and cook for a further 30 minutes at 160 degrees.

4) Remove from oven and allow to cool down until you can handle the meat. Strain, reserve the cooking juices, skimming off any fat

5) Pick all the meat from the chicken.

For the pie mix:

500g leeks
1 medium onion
2 sticks of celery
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
40g butter
30g flour
250ml double cream
200ml milk
Cooking juices from the chicken
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Chopped tarragon leaves
1 beaten egg
Salt and pepper

1) Dice and wash the leeks, celery and onions.

2) Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan.

3) Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pan and sweat the onions and celery for five minutes. Add the leeks for a further 10 minutes, until soft and translucent but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

4) Sprinkle the flour over this and cook for a few minutes, stirring. Ladle in the hot milk and cream, stirring continually.

Remove from the heat when it begins to simmer.

5) Add the chicken and all other ingredients. Mix well, taste for seasoning and leave to cool.

6) Remove pastry from fridge half-an-hour before you need to roll it.

7) Sprinkle flour on work surface and roll out pastry to a thickness of 3-4mm.

8) Butter your pie dish with another 20g of softened butter and line with pastry, ensuring that a little spills over the dish.

9) Fill with pie mix and then brush around top edge with some of the beaten egg. Lay the top over the dish, crimping the edges together with your fingers or a fork dipped in flour.

10) Use a sharp knife to trim the edges from the top of the dish. Brush the whole pie with the remaining beaten egg, prick the centre of the pie a few times with a knife point in the centre.

11) Bake at 170C for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Chard, broccoli and roast onion pie

Ingredients

450g Swiss chard
30g butter
350g sprouting broccoli
500g onions
30ml olive oil
5 sprigs of thyme
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper

1) Remove stalks from chard and dice. Separate the leaves and shred coarsely.

2) Peel the onions and cut into thick slices.

Toss with half the olive oil, salt and the picked thyme leaves.

3) Roast at 160C for 30 minutes, turning a few times during cooking.

4) Heat up the remaining olive oil in a pan, add the butter and then the chard stalks.

5) Cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat until just tender. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute.

6) Add the chard leaves and cook, stirring for one more minute, until they start to look slightly wilted. Remove from heat and add the broccoli and the roasted onions. Season.

7) Follow steps 6-11, above.

Celeriac, bacon and cheddar pie

Ingredients

300g streaky bacon
600g celeriac
220g diced mature cheddar
220g crème fraiche
Handful of parsley
Worcester sauce to taste

1) Peel and dice the celeriac, place in a saucepan covered with cold water and a few pinches of salt, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 mins or until the clereriac is just tender. Drain and put to one side.

2) Grill bacon until crispy and chop into strips.

3) Mix everything together and place into your pie dish.

4) Follow steps 6-11, above.

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there