So far in my experiments with pies, I have encased smoked haddock with watercress to great success, made a Grasshopper Pie with disastrous results, baked the dreamiest Coconut Cream Pie and had mixed feelings about a Butternut Squash and Crottin Tart. I have also made what my work colleague refers to as a cheat’s apple pie but in fact it was made in the American tradition, that is to say, without a bottom crust.
I find pies to be the perfect thing to take to friends for lunch, or to pack up for a picnic or a long car journey. The pastry also doubles up as a napkin of sorts, not letting the filling spill all over you or your car during consumption/transportation.
I am particularly fond of dessert pies. There is nothing prettier or more satisfying than a slice of fruit pie, the pastry crisp, flaky and buttery with a sugary crust and then the biting through to the succulent tart fruit, spilling juices down your chin. The Americans have a wonderfully large range of pie cases filled with sweet creams and spiced pumpkin or sweet potatoes. I could eat them all.
Pies are so substantial, even if your filling is as light as air, the crust will ensure that you feel completely satisfied after the main course, particularly if you blanket your pie in custard, cream or a la mode (with vanilla ice cream). And if you partake in the Apple Pie with the Cheddar Cheese crust, you have the dessert and cheese board in one.
My major pie disaster, the Grasshopper Pie was down to my own lack of pre-baking store cupboard checking. A Grasshopper Pie is a deliciously refreshing pie, that tastes as retro as it looks. It is set into a dense mousse-like texture using gelatine, but, after blending fresh mint with sugar syrup, I discovered that the packet that I thought was gelatine was in fact a turkey-roasting bag. Sadly, you can’t thicken pie filling with roasting bags, so I tried to improvise by using Cornflour mixed with water (as it had worked to well the Coconut Cream Pie). I dubiously poured the mint scented, pistachio coloured filling into the crust and quickly put it into the fridge, then crossed my fingers. The next morning, I cautiously peered into the fridge, and gently jiggled the pie. It had a slight wobble but seemed quite sturdy. I was jubilant that my quick thinking had saved the day. However, my joy was short lived when, as I went to cut the pie, it seemed the filling had formed a sort of skin, which concealed another layer of runny filling. We gamely tried the pie though and the flavour was delicious: cool and palate cleansing, sort of like melted mint choc-chip ice cream. Unfortunately, it was hard to get past that melted ice cream texture (not to mention cutting slices was a virtual impossibility) and it was declared a partial success.
And with that cautionary tale, here then, are several of my favourite pie recipes, savoury and sweet, none of which are complex to make but taste sensational and are good enough to serve as either a quick supper or for a dinner party.
Coconut Cream Pie
Make an 8” Pie Crust, with an all butter crust or a combination of butter/lard. Bake blind for about 15 minutes at 200c. Remove the beans and press down the crust to stop it bubbling up. Return to the over for 5-10 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Leave to cool.
¾ Cup Caster Sugar
¼ Cup Cornflour
¼ Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Milk
3 Organic Egg Yolks
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Flaked Coconut (not dessicated)
Combine ¾ Cup Sugar, Cornstarch, salt and milk in heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until thick and bubbly. Continue to boil for one minute. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks. Gradually stir in ¼ of the hot mixture into the yolks. Pour yolks back into the remaining hot mixture, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Remove from heat; add butter, vanilla and coconut. Pour into cooked the piecrust. Leave to cool, then cool further in the fridge.
Now, there are two ways of serving the pie. One way is my favourite way, to thickly whip some double cream, slightly sweetened with icing sugar (which also stabilises the cream) and slather over the cold coconut pie. Sprinkle with toasted coconut if you feel artistic. The second way is to make a Meringue topping: Beat 3 egg whites (reserved from the yolks) until frothy. Slowly add 6 tablespoons of caster sugar while continuing to beat until the meringue forms stiff white, shiny, snowy peaks. Spread over the coconut pie, sprinkle with coconut (optional) and brown in the oven or under a hot grill.
Mashed Potato, Stilton and Golden Onion Pie (Nigel Slater)
Even more tenuously a pie than our beloved Shepherds Pie, this is comfort food at it’s most appealing: mashed potato, meltingly strong cheese and sweet, sticky onions, all in one dish. No plate required.
Ingredients (serves 2)
800g Potatoes, peeled, quartered and cooked in boiling water ‘til tender
150g (depending on your love of the cheese) Blue Cheese: Gorgonzola, Danish Blue, Stilton, whatever you have
4 Large Onions, peeled, halved and sliced into thin crescents.
40g Butter plus extra for mashing the spuds and some for greasing the baking dish
40g Parmesan, grated
Some milk (preferably full fat, even cream if you’re feeling decadent and/or depressed)
Preheat Oven to 200c
Melt the 40g butter plus a slosh of olive oil (to stop the butter burning) in a large frying pan; add the onions and season with black pepper. Cover and cook over a low heat for at least half an hour or until golden brown and unctuous.
Drain the cooked potatoes and mash with some butter, milk/cream and seasoning until it tastes exactly as you like it. Try not to make it to creamy though as it won’t hold up brilliantly in the oven.
Layer a lightly greased baking dish with half the mash, sprinkle over the bronzed onions and crumbled blue cheese. Cover with the rest of the mashed potato; throw over the Parmesan and dot with a little butter to encourage the top to brown deliciously. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown. Serve with nothing else but preferably someone you love.
Haddock and Watercress Tart (from the Art of the Tart by Tamasin Day-Lewis)
A lovely summery tasting dish that is just as good with a salad as it is with a baked potato. Leftovers taste great too.
8inch Shortcrust Pastry Case
325g (preferably) undyed Haddock
1 Small Onion, finely chopped
1 Stick Celery, finely chopped
30g Plain Flour
Bunch Watercress (preferably freshly picked but, like me, probably gotten from the supermarket), finely chopped
2 Eggs, beaten
2tbsp Grated Parmesan
Preheat Oven to 190c
Simmer the haddock in the milk, with the bay leaf, for about 10-15 minutes or until the flesh starts to flake away from the skin. Drain, reserving the milk. Flake the fish into a bowl and put to one side.
Heat the butter in a saucepan, add the onion and celery, cook slowly until the softened and translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for a couple minutes more. Add the reserved milk and stir until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt, pepper and a add grating of fresh nutmeg, if you have some. Remove from heat and stir in the fish, watercress and beaten eggs. Pour into the pastry case, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until puffy and golden.
As with all tarts and pies, leave to cool for about 5 minutes to allow the pastry to relax and to ensure the filling doesn’t burn any greedy eater’s mouths!