Roadtesting the homemade pie. Photo: Sarah McInerney
Freezing cold Saturdays at the local footy ground watching my little brother master the drop punt. Road trip stops at country bakeries. Hangovers.
They’re the kind of memories I associate with pies; with different types linked to different events.
The plain beef is all about the footy for me - the canteen pie warmer stacked full of Four‘n Twenty’s so hot they’d burn your mouth. We’d huddle in the car, tooting the horn whenever my brother’s team scored a goal, braving the cold in our black duffle coats to scoff down a sauce covered pie at half time.
Curry beef and steak and mushroom were my first steps into ‘gourmet pie’ territory, explored in country bakehouses as we headed interstate to visit my grandparents. For my brother it’s still the test of a town.
Then the breakfast pie – egg and mushroom being my favourite – entered my life as a hangover remedy when I first moved to Sydney, second only in effectiveness to vegemite on toast and perhaps a fried egg roll.
Yet I’ve never actually made one myself.
I’ve ventured into the general area with plenty of ‘cheat pies’ (my term for them) – a filling poured into a ramekin and topped with puff pastry before baking. Not only is this a lot quicker than making a traditional pie, but a lot lighter on the calories. But it’s not quite the real deal, is it?
Chef Dave Falson works at the Common Man restaurant in Melbourne, which has a range of pies on its menu, the lamb shank with preserved lemon and leek, and the wagyu beef being the most popular. He held two cooking classes this month as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and shared his pie making tips and a recipe with Tried & Tasted.
PIE MAKING TIPS
Falson recommends using two types of pastry – shortcrust on the bottom and puff pastry on top.
“You’ve got that nice flaky light texture on top and the heavier shortcrust on the side,” he says.
Puff pastry is an absolute delight to eat but the base will stay soggy and the sides will puff in if you use it all around, says Falson. So resist the temptation.
His recipe includes shortcrust pastry. Puff pastry is a bit more time consuming so he suggests using store bought.
- Bearing in mind the all important ratio of filling to pastry, the shortcrust should be rolled out to a thickness of 3-4mm.
- For small pies, he doesn’t blind bake the base. For a family sized pie, you’ll need to add this step, otherwise the pastry might not cook through.
- For a golden coloured top, brush the top with egg yolk before baking.
It is important the filling is cold when spooned into the case to avoid the pastry going soggy or oily.
Time permitting, make the meat filling the day before and let the flavours develop overnight in the fridge.
“Pie mixes should always be cooked slowly, it just intensifies the flavours,” he says.
Secondary cuts of meat are good for this as they can handle a long, slow cook.
The thickness of the filling is also important – you don’t want a whole load of gravy to spill onto the plate when the pie is cut. In Falson’s recipe the beef is coated in flour and browned. This helps to thicken it. At work he thickens pie fillings with a roux.
Falson doesn’t prick a hole in the top of his pie to let the steam escape, although this is a matter of personal preference. He likes the rustic look when some of the juices escape from the sides to run over the top of the pie. Although he would perforate the lid of a family sized pie.
How do you know when the pie cooked?
Pastry will stick to the pie tin if it is not cooked.
“When the top is golden brown and I can spin the pie in the mould, that’s when I know it’s ready,” he says.
Road testing the pie
Making your own pies is a time intensive process – a three day one in this case. I marinated the meat overnight on Friday, cooked the filling on Saturday so it could rest in the fridge (again, overnight), then made the pies on Sunday for lunch. I also made a vegetarian version of the filling, replacing the meat with mushrooms.
The pies came out of the oven golden brown and cooked through – although this took 35 minutes, more than double the amount of time specified in the recipe. Falson’s tip was excellent though – I took the pies out only once I could move them easily in the tin.
Testing his theory that you don't need to prick a hole in the top of smaller pies, I perforated one and didn’t notice any difference in how it cooked or looked compared to the others.
The beef pie was a particular hit with my eight-year-old nephew, who described it as “like a stew only smoother”. He gobbled up the filling but left a fair bit of the pastry, particularly the shortcrust. Falson’s pastry was quick to make and easy to handle but pretty rich, possibly because eggs were used to bind it, not water. It’s a recipe I’ll use again, but not for something with such a rich filling.
Given it took the better part of a weekend, was it worth it? Absolutely. I'm keen to try some different fillings next time - including some that aren't so time intensive - but I wouldn't cut corners with Falson's recipe. The filling was the component my lunch guests raved about the most.
What memories do you associate with meat pies? What's your favourite filling?
Full coverage: Melbourne Food and Wine Festival 2012