Pumpkin Pie

For such a bland ingredient, I find it fascinating that pumpkin has a whole dessert dedicated to it. That being said, the predominant flavour of a pumpkin pie is a sweet, spiced custard. This is not a bad thing in my eyes. The pumpkin is mainly there as a medium to keep the sugar and flavours in one place after the pie is cut open – a job that it does magnificently.

A classic problem most people face with a pumpkin pie is the dreaded crack. This is no Madeira cake, where you want the filling to bubble up from within like lava leaking from a volcano, this is a beautiful glossy pie with a smooth flat top. The reason that pies crack is overcooking – specifically overcooked egg. This is, of course, a problem as the egg is what causes the filling to set and gives the melt in your mouth, custardy texture. As an egg cooks, the proteins inside it tighten and cause it to shrink. Anyone who has fried an egg will have seen how the edges pull in ever so slightly as they cook, giving a slightly smaller, thicker end result than one would otherwise get. This phenomenon, when spread over the entire width of a pie, can do irreparable damage which can be hidden by whipped cream but will always be there.

“So how”, I hear you shout, “can I stop my pie from cracking?” There are two easy solutions. One: do not overcook the pie, the eggs should be just set and the centre of the pie should be slightly wobbly when it is taken out of the oven. Two: replace some of the egg white with egg yolks. In the recipe below, you will see that there is only one egg white whilst there are four egg yolks. The yolk cooks at a slightly higher temperature than the white of the egg and also shrinks far less if overdone. That is not to say that this solution will ensure perfection every time – everyone messes stuff up occasionally. What this does do however is give you a larger margin of error on your pie. With such a high specific heat capacity due to the fat content, the pumpkin pie will take a good few hours to cool. Leave at least four if you are serving it that day. In this time, the latent heat inside the pie will finish cooking the centre. I should note that we aren’t talking about a small central area here, you should be envisioning a solid four-inch-wide circle in the middle of the pie which appears sunken when the pie comes out of the oven. The puffed-up edges will deflate as the pie cools and the centre will firm up. If your pie is fully cooked through when you remove it from the oven, it is almost guaranteed to crack as it cools if it has not done so already.

All that doom and gloom aside, these pies are celebratory. They are a celebration of the harvest and one of the foods which Americans can proudly call their own. The first recipes for sweet pumpkin pies appeared during the 1800s and their popularity has grown ever since. After the civil war, pumpkin pies were rejected by many southern areas as a way of renouncing what they saw as a Unionist tradition being forced upon them. In retaliation, many people ate sweet potato pies or included pecan nuts and bourbon in their pumpkin pie recipes to separate their pies from the classic “yankee” pie. Nowadays, it is traditional to serve a pumpkin pie as dessert after the Thanksgiving meal but they can, of course, be eaten at any time of the year.

I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as I did – I will certainly be making this again.

Pumpkin Pie

Pastry:

4oz cold butter

8oz flour

3 tbsp caster sugar

60ml cold water (ideally from the fridge)

Pinch of salt

Pumpkin Filling:

1 tin pumpkin puree (15oz/425g)

1 tin condensed milk (14oz/400g)

1 egg

3 egg yolks

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp Chinese five spice (or a pinch of ground cloves, ground star anise and ground pepper)

½ tsp salt

To make the pastry, cube the butter and rub it into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Stir through the salt and sugar.

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Add half of the water and stir with a knife until the mixture begins to come together. If it is still dry, add more of the water.

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Once the dough has started forming into pieces, tip it out onto a workbench and knead it together into one ball. Try to work the dough as little as possible.

Flatten the dough into a thick disk (about 2cm high) and wrap it in cling film before placing it in the fridge to chill.

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In a large bowl whisk the egg and extra yolks into the pumpkin puree.

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Whisk in the spices, salt and then the condensed milk.

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If you don’t have Chinese five spice, you can substitute it with cloves, star anise and ground pepper, I don’t have these in ground form at home so had to grind them by hand in a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t take that long but you have to remember that a pepper grinder like the ones you would use at dinner will not grind the pepper enough for this recipe. You do not want lumps of pepper in your pie!

Preheat your oven to gas mark 7 (210°C)

Butter a 10 inch pie dish.

Roll out the pastry and line the pie dish with it.

Trim the edges leaving a 2cm overhang.

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Fold this overhang back side the pie and press it into the top edge, this will give you a thick rim which you can crimp.

To crimp the rim of the pie dish, one finger of your left thumb and your right thumb and forefinger to press the edge of the pie into a little divot. Repeat this around the whole pie to get a beautiful edge.

OPTIONAL BUT RECOMMENDED: Using foil and baking beads, blind bake the case for around ten minutes. This will help avoid a soggy bottom late on, you don’t need to bake it for long as it will have another 45 minutes or so in the oven to crisp up but I have found that if you do not blind bake this, although fully cooked, the pastry can be a little bit soft.

Pour the filling into the pastry case and place back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Turn the oven down to gas mark 3 (170°C) and bake for another 30-40 minutes. When fully cooked, the pie should be just set in the middle and a skewer inserted an inch away from the pastry case should come out clean.

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Allow the pie to cool completely before serving.

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As usual, the first slice may be a little problematic to get out but after that, all slices of pie will come out beautifully and taste amazing – just remember to loosen them underneath with a knife or offset spatula before you try to lift them off the plate.

Serve with lightly whipped double cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. You do not need to add any sugar or flavouring to the cream as the pie is sweet enough already.

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The flavour of this pie is gorgeous and its custardy texture is ultra smooth and creamy. It is simply divine. Of course, not everyone likes pumpkin pie and if you are one of those people, why not try making my raspberry and white chocolate pie – or maybe ever a quadruple chocolate and salted caramel one? If, on the other hand, you are looking for something a little bit more savoury, why not try making a flavourful hot water crust chicken pie? It’s sturdy enough to survive in a lunchbox and just a good cold as it is hot.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with another meal idea.

H

Hot Water Crust Chicken Pie

Golden brown; solid; filled with a tasty meat interior; the hot water crust pie is a British classic. Traditionally stuffed with layers of minced meat surrounded by jelly, hot water crust pies are filling, delicious and, above all else, really simple to make.

Hot water crust is a fantastic gateway into baking pastry as you do not need to worry about overworking the dough. Unlike with shortcrust, where too much handling can lead to a rock-hard result, hot water crust pastry requires kneading to build up the gluten and strengthen the final pie. The hot water partially cooks the flour giving the dough a more rubbery and pliable texture.

The most well-known use for hot water crust pastry is the pork pie. These are normally hand raised – baked without a tin – and packed full of minced pork and seasonings. Hand raising the pies gives an irregular finish and the sides buckle during cooking. The resulting pie has bowed edges and a unique shape. The recipe I am using today is quite different. Whilst it also makes use of the hot water crust’s ability to hold heavy fillings, it is both baked in a tin and not primarily meat based. In fact, the filling is made up of lots of vegetables with a little chicken and instead of pouring gelatine enriched stock into the finished pie, the filling is bound together with a gravy thickened with cornflour.

I like to take slices of this pie for lunch as it is strong enough to not break whilst it is carried around and it also tastes great cold as well as hot. I hope you enjoy the pie and this introduction to hot water crust inspires you to try other meat pies.

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Hot Water Crust Chicken Pie

 

Cook time: 20 minutes for filling, 1 hour for baking

Prep time: 30 minutes

Serves 8

Cost per portion: around 90p (for the pure chicken pie)

 

For the pastry:

250g butter (or lard if you prefer)

275ml water

600g plain flour

120g strong white flour (bread flour)

1 tsp salt

Optional:

Black pepper

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ bunch parsley finely chopped

1 egg

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp onion powder

 

For the filling:

2 chicken breasts – thinly sliced

500g onion – finely diced

4 large cloves garlic – minced

2 large carrots – cut into ½ cm thick semicircles

300ml chicken stock

¼ cup cornflour mixed with ¼ cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp oil

Optional:

½ tsp smoked paprika

½ tsp cayenne pepper

¼ bunch of parsley finely chopped

125g choritzo/150g bacon

 

To make the filling, heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion.

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Fry until the onion turns translucent and then add both the garlic and the carrots.

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Continue to fry for another five minutes and then push the vegetables to the edge of the pan to create a well in the middle.

Add the chicken into the well and fry, stirring regularly until the outside is white and the chicken is sealed.

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Pour in the stock and stir it through.

Once the stock is boiling, cook for two minutes and then quickly stir through the cornflour mixture. This will immediately turn very viscous as the cornflour cook but the mix will slacken as you mix in the stock in the pan.

Stir in the parsley, remove from the heat and leave the filling to cool.

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Once the filling has mostly cooled (it can still be a little warm), it is time to start the pastry.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200°C). You can keep the pie uncooked for a few hours if you wish to make it ahead of time.

If you wish to add bacon or choritzo to the pie, chop the choritzo into half centimetre thick half moons or slice the bacon to the desired size.

Place one tablespoon of unflavoured oil into a heavy based saucepan and add the meat.

Fry the meat until most of the fat has rendered out and the choritzo/bacon is starting to go crispy.

Remove the meat from the pan (reserving the fat) and stir it into the filling.

Measure how much fat you have got left.

To make the pastry, place the butter and water into a heavy based pan and heat until the water is boiling. If you have used choritzo or bacon, take the volume of fat in ml away from the weight of the butter in grams and use the fat instead of some of the butter. This will help flavour the pastry.

Stir together the dry ingredients in a large bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the boiling water.

Using a spoon, mix the dough as much as you can and when it becomes too stiff to mix with a spoon, pour it out onto a surface and kneed the dough together. Don’t worry about overworking it, just be careful not to burn yourself if the pastry is still very hot. A good way to work the dough is to roll it out to about one centimetre thick, fold it into three and repeat this three or four times.

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It may look like there is not enough liquid for all of the flour but there will be!
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After a little kneading, the dough will all come together into one homogeneous ball.

Once the dough has come together, place it to one side and lightly grease a 10” springform tin.

Place a third of dough to one side and roll out the rest to about three quarters of a centimetre thickness. Use this to line the tin ensuring some of the dough is hanging over every edge. If you need to squish down some folds to get a flat outer edge, that is absolutely fine!

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No one is going to see the inside so it doesn’t have to be neat. Just make sure to leave enough pastry around the edges to seal the lid with.

Put the filling in the pie and spread it into all the corners. Be careful not to push it through the pastry walls.

Roll out the remaining dough and top the pie with it making sure to seal the edges to the pastry on the sides. Using fingers can give a lovely crimping effect.

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Beat the egg and brush a thin layer over the top of the pie. Use any off-cuts to decorate the top and egg wash those too before you bake the pie.

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Bake the pie for an hour or until the top is golden brown and the base is cooked through.

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Serve with fresh vegetables. You don’t really need potatoes as there should be a decent portion of pie crust in every slice.

 

This pie keeps really well and can be eaten both hot and cold. It also freezes very well which is perfect if you are cooking it for yourself as it makes a lot of portions.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy a slightly lighter dinner, try treating yourself to some smoked salmon risotto or if you are looking to try out a dessert instead, chequerboard biscuits are an impressive (but surprisingly easy) snack to try.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fruity dessert.

H

Chicken Pie

Hands up if you have ever made puff pastry. Now keep them up if you have made it more than once. Chances are, 90% of the people who own up to making puff pastry have only made it once because let’s be realistic, nobody has time to make puff pastry at home unless they are trying to show off. It’s one of those things (like croissants) that you do to be able to say you have done it and never again.

The difficulty with puff pastry is how easy it is to go wrong. Patience is the key but even that only goes so far. The pastry must be kept cool – but not to cold otherwise the butter will seize and crack – and you must let it rest between every single fold. It takes a whole day. Some people call it a labour of love. I call it proving a point so when that one difficult person at your dinner party asks if you made the pastry yourself, because they have been watching too much Come Dine With Me, you can say that you did with a clear conscience.

Puff pastry is comprised of many incredibly thin layers of dough sandwiched with layers of butter or shortening. The fat stops the layers from adhering to each other so that when it goes into the oven, the steam created in the pastry can push the layers apart creating the flaky texture we all know and love. Of course, if your heart is set on making the pastry yourself, there are plenty of recipes out there but for most of us mere mortals, buying premade pastry is just fine.

The same process of lamination – creating the alternating layers of butter and dough – is performed when making croissants however unlike puff pastry, Danish pastry dough and croissant dough contain an extra leavening agent: yeast. This gives the dough a larger rise in the oven and results in a far softer finish. Puff pastry is hard and flaky but Danish pastries are soft and flaky. To be fair to the puff pastry, it’s still less time consuming than making croissants which, if you follow some recipes, will take days to prepare.

The recipe for my chicken pie is a relatively universal filling. For this one, I have given a basic pastry topped pie however the same filling can be used with a fully lined pie dish and I also use it for filling hot water crust pastry when I make giant chicken pies. It takes a little time to make but it keeps in the fridge so you can make it the day before and just pop on the pastry before it goes into the oven. The filling is delicious and is a good way to make a little chicken go a long way. When using hot water crust pastry, I can stretch the two chicken breasts to eight big portions

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Hot water crust pastry chicken pie

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Chicken Pie

Serves: 4

Prep time: 45 minutes (must be done in advance as the filling has to cool)

Cook time: 20 minutes

Price per portion: around £1.50

 

2 large onions (around 400g) – finely diced

2 large carrots (around 400g) – chopped into 1cm cubes

4 cloves garlic – minced or finely diced

2 chicken breasts – chopped into 2cm cubes

200ml strong chicken stock

200ml milk (can be replaced by water or 100ml milk and 100ml cream for an extra creamy filling)

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup cornflour mixed with ¼ cup of water

Salt and Pepper

Puff Pastry

 

Optional:

Egg wash

200g chorizo

 

 

For the filling:

If using chorizo, finely chop it and add to a pan with a teaspoon of oil (just enough to stop it sticking and burning).

Fry the chorizo for a few minutes to allow the fat to render out of it.

Remove the chorizo from the pan and set to one side. Keep the oil for frying the onions in.

If you are not using chorizo, add 2 tbsp oil to a large pan and add the onions. Fry until translucent.

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Add the carrot and the garlic and fry for another 5 minutes.

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Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and add the chicken into the well in the centre.

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Stir the chicken until it’s all sealed (white on the outside).

Add the stock and the milk and stir everything together.

Simmer for 10 minutes to soften the carrots.

Add the parsley and half the cornflour slurry stirring it through to thicken the sauce.

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If it is still very runny, add more slurry a tablespoon at a time until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. It should flow slowly as you want a gravy but you don’t want it to go everywhere when you cut into the pie!

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer for another five minutes and then pour the filling into a pie dish and leave it to cool.

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Once the filling is cold, preheat the oven to gas mark 7 (2100C).

Roll out your puff pastry. Half a block/half a sheet should be enough to cover the entire pie if rolled out enough. (The rest of the puff pastry can be frozen or made into another pie or little snacks like cheese straws or palmier.)

Place the pie crust over the filling and tuck it down the sides so the pie bulges in the middle.

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If you want to do an egg wash, beat an egg with a tablespoon of water and then lightly brush the top of the pie. You can also use the egg wash to bind any off-cuts of pastry on as decorations.

Bake for 25 minutes turning about halfway through.

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Serve hot with potatoes and probably something green.

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Sometimes the green doesn’t make it but Hasselback potatoes always will!

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you fancy a beef pie instead, my recipe for a saucy cottage pie is divine and you can easily replace the mash with puff pastry as above or if you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, then check out how to make a delicious batch of scones!

Have a good one and I’ll see you next week with a recipe for a tangy lemon drizzle cake.

H