The ultimate winter warmer? It's as easy as pie

Forget the January health regime – when cold weather sets in, it's time to roll out the pastry, says Enjoli Liston

It has spent years out in the cold, but the warm, hearty pie is making a comeback. "Pies are trendy again," says Tristan Hogg, chef and co-founder of the Bristol-based pie company Pieminister. I am sitting in Tristan's cosy kitchen, where he and fellow founder Jon Simon are about to give me a masterclass in the art of pie making.

"There has been a massive resurgence of good British food tied to the renewed popularity of farmers' markets, local produce and artisan foods. Pies are part of that," Tristan says. "Five years ago, the pie market almost completely catered for the over-50s. Now, our customer base is mainly in the 25-40 age range."

Health-conscious eating habits and calorific pastry once combined to help to keep pies off the menu. But with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June and the Olympics kicking off in London in July, 2012 is the year to showcase the best of British cuisine – including its richest gems.

"Everyone needs hearty, indulgent food sometimes," Tristan says. "Just eat less of it."

Tristan may not realise it as he enthuses about the humble pie, but he is preaching to the converted. As a music festival-goer, pie is the tastiest, warmest, most filling, and best value-for-money meal you can get when standing in a field.

Buying pies is easy, but making them is a completely different matter. First there's the pastry, which seems complex enough without having to do the filling, too. Veteran pie-makers seem to swear by a multitude of tricks, but does making the perfect pie really have to be as complicated and time-consuming as it seems?

Before my master class, I ask pie aficionado Simon "Si" King – otherwise known as one half of cooking duo the Hairy Bikers – for advice. Like the Pieminister lads, who brought out A Pie for All Seasons last year, Si and co-chef Dave Myers have put their pie recipes into a new cookbook, The Hairy Bikers' Perfect Pies, which oozes with passion for pastry parcels.

"There's mystery in a pie," Si laughs. "I love that you don't know what the filling will be unless you've made it yourself. They look fantastic on the outside, but what lies within?"

Si acknowledges that he may not be the best advert for combining pies with a healthy diet ("A pie is not just for winter – I'm this rotund shape because I eat pies all year round") but his regular pie consumption does make him an expert. "Originally, the pastry was secondary to the filling," he says. "The pastry on Cornish pasties just protected the filling when workers took them down in the tin mines. Now, it's not just a vehicle for getting the filling into your gob – pastry is just as important."

Si insists there is no special trick to making exceptional pastry. He and Tristan agree that the secret to success is plenty of practice. "There are a lot of myths about pie making, but the real secret to making good pastry is just practice," Tristan says, emptying packets of pre-made, shop-bought pastry on to a floured surface. That looks a lot like cheating to me.

"I didn't have time to make it myself," Tristan explains. "Most people don't have time to practise, and for some, the worry of making the pastry puts them off making the whole pie. So why not just buy it? Shop-bought pastry is often so good that most people couldn't make it as well if they tried," he says. Perhaps that's the real secret to perfect pastry.

As he rolls out the pastry (to an even 3mm thickness), Tristan explains that we'll be making two kinds of "cannapie" – mini pies that make great lighter lunches or party food. He is using a smoked salmon, dill and crème fraîche mix for the first lot, and a "paddy's pie" (shortcrust pastry with a steak and Guinness filling) for the second.

Tristan and Jon advise me to make sure there's enough pastry left round the sides of the pie base to help to seal the pie properly and squeeze out all the air. That helps to prevent the filling spilling out, which is known as "cook out".

"'Cook out' and 'soggy bottom' are the pie maker's nightmare," Tristan says. He says a common mistake some people make is to try to cook pies with bottom-crusts in terracotta dishes, which "will never cook properly". Pieminister swears by old-fashioned metal and enamel pie dishes to ensure the bottom-crust doesn't go mushy (hence the term "soggy bottom").

So far, pie making hasn't been as complex as I expected. "Pies are much more forgiving than people think," says Tristan, who has just discovered that he has accidentally used puff pastry for the bottom-crust of the fish cannapies, instead of shortcrust. No matter. The "double-puff cannapie", as it is newly christened, emerges from the oven 20 minutes later looking, and tasting, fantastic.

Si stresses the importance of presentation: "A pie should call out to you and say, 'Eat me.'" Sitting on top of chive mashed potato, with a horseradish relish, and a little lemon garnish on top, my cannapie fits that bill.

I am impressed at how quick and simple Tristan makes the whole process look. "Good food just looks good," he shrugs. "Pies are the original ready-meal – they're a convenience food."

Si agrees: "Pies are so versatile. They're a world cuisine. Everybody has their own version of a pie."

Judging from the huge range of recipes in each pie book (Si's favourite pies range from sausage and rabbit slices to tandoori chicken samosas) it seems as though you can chuck anything in a pie and it'll taste good.

Well, almost anything. "When we were researching recipes for the book we went foraging. A lot of the food we found was great, such as alexanders, a kind of wild celery which we use in the recipe for fat hen's hare pie. But one thing we tried and failed with was badger," Tristan says. "It was roadkill," Jon says, with a slight shudder. "We cooked that thing for 10 hours and it still tasted bloody awful."

"We discovered there is a line that you shouldn't cross with foraged food and pie fillings, and badger is it," Tristan says.

Justine's chicken and tarragon pie By Si King and Dave Myers

Serves 5-6

Small knob of butter
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150ml white wine
1 chicken stock cube
1kg whole cooked chicken (you can buy a ready-roasted one from your butcher or use 550g cooked chicken meat instead)
400ml crème fraîche
2 tablespoon fresh tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
2 tablespoon plain flour
Flaked sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the filo topping:

40g butter, melted
4 filo pastry sheets (each about 32cm x 38cm), thawed if frozen

You'll need a 1.5-litre pie dish. Melt the butter with the oil in a large frying pan over a low heat, then add the onion and the crushed garlic. Fry gently for 5-6 minutes until the onion is softened, but not coloured, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the white wine, then crumble the stock cube into the pan and stir well until it dissolves. Simmer over a high heat, stirring constantly, until the liquid has reduced by half and thickened. Remove from the heat.

Take the skin off the chicken, then strip the meat from the bones and tear it into bite-sized pieces. Place these in a large bowl. Add the onion and garlic mixture and spoon the crème fraîche on top. Scatter over the tarragon, sprinkle the flour on top and season with a good pinch of sea salt and plenty of black pepper. Toss everything together until just combined, then spoon into your pie dish. Preheat the oven to 210C/Fan 190C/Gas Mark 6 .

Now for the topping. Brush a sheet of filo pastry with melted butter and cut it into 6. Scrunch up each portion with your hands and place it on top of the filling. Repeat with the remaining sheets of filo until the filling is completely covered.

Bake the pie in the centre of the oven for 30 minutes or until the filo pastry topping is crisp and golden brown and the filling is bubbling beautifully.

From The Hairy Bikers' Perfect Pies (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £20)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
News
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
science
Extras
indybest
News
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Extras
indybest
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

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home