Upper crust: The pleasures of a homemade pie

There's no better way to keep warm this winter than with simple homemade pies, says Mark Hix. Photograph by Jason Lowe
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Pies are damn good winter fillers and there is no end of dishes both hot and cold that you can make at this time of year (or at any time of the year, for that matter). Some of you may think that life's too short to be making your own pastry – but it doesn't take much time at all. If you don't want to do it yourself, there are lots of good ready-made examples you can buy from the supermarkets and specialist shops. One of my favourites is the Jus-Rol all-butter puff pastry which has been out for about a year now; it's top-notch and far superior to those products made with manufactured fat.

My gran often used to make pastry with lard and margarine, the flaky texture of which I can still remember to this day. I've often tried to recreate the recipe for her pastry but it's still a bit trial and error, and anyway I'm not sure I'm quite ready to share my secrets with you yet.

Pies are great fun to make and the perfect party food – they stay hot and you can just let your guests help themselves. They can be as humble or sophisticated as you wish and there's plenty of fillings, both sweet and savoury, to play around with.



Beef flank, beer and kidney pie

Serves 4-6

800g beef flank, cut into rough 3cm cubes
250ml well-flavoured beer like Innis & Gunn or a stout
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 bay leaf
Vegetable oil, to fry
2tbsp plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
25g butter
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tsp tomato purée
1.5 litres beef stock (or a good-quality beef stock cube dissolved in that amount of hot water)
1 ox kidney, trimmed of fat and sinew and cut into rough 2-3cm pieces
About 1tsp cornflour (optional)
A piece of bone marrow long enough to fit the pie dish with the marrow scooped out and reserved



For the pastry

225g self-raising flour
1tsp salt
85g shredded beef suet
60g butter, chilled and coarsely grated
1 medium egg beaten to glaze

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly flour the beef flank with half a tablespoon of the flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and fry the meat in 2 or 3 batches over a high heat until nicely browned.

Heat the scooped out marrow and butter in a large heavy-based saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes until soft. Add the remaining flour and tomato purée and stir over a low heat for a minute. Slowly add the beer, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced by half.

Add the beef stock and the pieces of beef, bring back to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer gently with a lid on for about 2 hours until the meat is tender. Season the kidney, heat a little vegetable oil in a frying pan and cook the kidneys on a high heat for a few minutes, turning them until nicely coloured. Add to the meat and leave to cool. You could also cook it in a low oven at 160C/gas mark 3; it's difficult to put an exact time on braising or stewing meats, and sometimes an extra half an hour may be needed, depending on the cut. The best way to check is by simply tasting the meat. When the meat is cooked, the sauce should have thickened to a gravy-like consistency. If not, mix a little cornflour to a paste with some water, stir into the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Let the mixture cool down and use to fill a pie dish to about 1cm from the top. Place the piece of hollowed-out bone marrow in the centre.

To make the pastry, mix the flour and salt with the suet and grated butter. Mix in about 150-175ml water to form a smooth dough and knead it for a minute. Roll the pastry on a floured table to about ¾cm thick and cut out to about 2cm larger all the way round than the pie dish with a slit or hole in the middle for the bone marrow. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little of the beaten egg and lay the pastry on top, pressing the egg-washed sides against the rim of the dish and brush with beaten egg. You can put a trim around the edge of the dish with a strip of leftover pastry or decorate it how you wish. Leave to rest in a cool place for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C (fan oven 180C)/ gas mark 6 and cook the pie for 40-50 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.



Spiced apple and quince pie

Serves 4

Quinces are a bit of a rarity in greengrocers' shops; you might have better luck finding one in a Turkish or Middle Eastern supermarket.

3-4 quinces weighing 1.2-1.3kg, peeled, quartered and with the cores cut out
150g sugar
1 stick of cinnamon
6 cloves
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small egg, beaten
1tbsp demerara sugar
2 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
2-3tbsp caster sugar
1tsp mixed spice



For the pastry

120g plain flour
30g butter, cut into small pieces
30g lard, cut into small pieces
30g caster sugar
1 egg yolk
Water to mix



Put the quince in a saucepan with the sugar, cloves, cinnamon and lemon juice. Cover well with water, bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are soft and tender then leave to cool. You may need to top up the water during cooking. Meanwhile, put the Bramley apples in a heavy-based saucepan with the sugar and mixed spice and cook over a medium heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often, or until they begin to break up.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Drain the quince over a bowl into a colander (you can use the syrup for, say, a jelly or flavoured drink base). For the pastry, rub the butter and lard into the flour with your fingers to form a breadcrumb-like consistency. Add the sugar, egg yolk and a little water to make a moderately soft dough. Knead lightly for a minute then roll out on a floured table to about cm thick and slightly larger than the pie dish. Leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Divide the pastry in two and roll both into circles to about ¼cm thick and large enough to line and top the pie plate. Lightly grease a pie plate, then lay the pastry on the base, trimming the edges with a knife. Lay in the quince and spoon in the apple mixture. Brush the underside edges of the top with a little egg then lay on the top, trimming the excess with a small knife, and pinch the edges to seal the pie. Brush the top with beaten egg and scatter over with the brown sugar. Bake the pie or pies for 35-40 minutes or until golden. Serve with thick cream or custard.



Cold game pie

Serves 8-10

Traditional pies make the perfect party food, or food when you're on the move. If you're not a confident cook, the thought can be a little daunting, but believe me, they're no harder to make than most desserts. Once you've made a pie like this a couple of times, you can adapt the filling according to your preference and what you have to hand, using ingredients such as veal and ham, layers of mushrooms, or at Christmas time, turkey, ham and cranberry.

I've suggested using minced, fatty wild boar here; if you can't find it, minced pork will do.



1tsp crushed juniper berries
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
450g minced wild boar or minced pork
1 pheasant, breasts and legs removed
250g lean, tender venison, such as the inner leg muscle or under-fillet or loin
1 rabbit, boned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50ml port
3-4tbsp redcurrant jelly



For the hot-water crust

150ml water
130g lard
375g plain flour
1/2tsp salt
1 small egg, beaten to glaze



Gently cook the onion and juniper in the butter with a lid on for 2-3 minutes until soft. Finely chop or mince the rabbit legs and shoulder meat and mix with the minced boar.

Dice the pheasant breasts and thighs (the rest can be used for a soup) into rough 1cm pieces and do the same with the remaining rabbit meat and venison; save the drumsticks and bones along with the rabbit bones for a soup or gravy. Mix the diced meat with the wild boar, onions and juniper, season to taste and mix in the port.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Bring the water and lard to the boil in a saucepan, then stir it into the flour with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Leave the dough covered for about 15 minutes until it is cooler, less sticky and easier to handle.

You will need a deep, removable-bottomed flan ring measuring 18-20cm by about 5cm deep or a similar sized removable-bottomed cake tin. You can also use a traditional rectangular pie mould. Lightly grease the flan ring and line the bottom with a disc of lightly greased silicone or greaseproof paper, then place it on a baking tray.

Take two-thirds of the dough and on a lightly floured table roll it into a circle about 1/3cm thick and about 25-26cm across, so it is large enough to line the flan ring and overlap the edge by a centimetre or so. Making sure there are no holes in the pastry, place the dough into the flan ring, carefully press into the corners and allow it to just hang over the edge. Roll the remaining dough into a circle just large enough for the top and cut a 2cm hole in the centre.

Pack the filling into the pastry and fold over the overlapping edges. Brush the edges with egg, then trim the edges with a knife and pinch the base and top pastry edges together with your forefinger and thumb to make a good join. Brush the top of the pie all over with the beaten egg and cook for 45 minutes. If it is colouring too much, cover with foil and turn the oven down. Remove the ring and brush the sides and top again with egg before baking for a further 15 minutes until nicely coloured. Remove from the oven and cool; then refrigerate for a couple of hours. Melt the redcurrant jelly in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, then leave to cool a little. Pour into the pie through the hole and melt more jelly if necessary; then leave to set again in the fridge. The pie will keep for about a week in the fridge.



Monkfish cheek and parsley pie

Serves 4

Ask your fishmonger to order monkfish cheeks. By using cuts like skate knobs (cheeks), cod's tongues and collars you can help to promote sustainability in the ocean. If we carry on using prime cuts, all we'll be left with is crab sticks.



500g monkfish cheeks, cut into rough 2cm pieces
4tbsp chopped parsley (keep the stalks for sauce)
5kg potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed
60g butter
Milk
20g fresh white breadcrumbs
20g grated cheddar



For the sauce

1/2 litre fish stock
100ml white wine
50g butter
50g flour
180ml double cream
2tsp English mustard
Salt and freshly ground white pepper



Bring the fish stock and white wine to the boil together in a large saucepan and poach the monkfish cheeks gently in it for 2 minutes. Drain in a colander over a bowl and leave to cool.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan over a low heat, then stir in the flour. Gradually add the stock and wine that the fish was poached in, stirring well until it has all been added. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the double cream and continue to simmer for 10 minutes or so until the sauce has a thick consistency. Stir in the mustard, then season with salt and freshly ground white pepper if necessary, and leave to cool for about 15 minutes or so.

Gently fold in the cooked monkfish cheeks and parsley, and spoon into individual (or one large) pie dishes, filling them to 3cm from the top of the dish. Leave to set for about 30 minutes, so that the potato will sit on the sauce.

Mix the butter into the mashed potato, season with salt and ground white pepper and add a little milk so that it is soft enough to pipe (with a piping bag), or just spread with a spatula on to the pies. Pre-heat the oven to 175C/gas mark 5. Bake the pie for 30 minutes. Scatter on the breadcrumbs and cheese, and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden.

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