Grant Allen finds something comforting about food in pastry.
Pies have an ancient culinary history. Once man started using stone tools (for grinding), propagating plants (for growing grains), and settling into permanent villages, the use of "paste" to wrap and enclose foods started to develop.
Early Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks and the Romans all found pies a convenient way to present and transport food, especially when travelling long distances as traders or invaders.
As time went by "paste" became edible pastry.
The expansion of the Roman Empire spread pie-cooking throughout Europe, and pies became a core staple of travelling and working people.
Regional pies evolved, such as the Cornish pasty, based on local meats and cereals.
In the modern world, the takeaway market has made the most of this dish. In New Zealand, the mince pie is still top of the pops.
If you want to try making pies at home, remember that, as with all cooking, the quality of your ingredients indicates the quality of your result. This is particularly so with a mince pie.
Cream cheese pastry
Pastry-making is an art and to be successful you do need to practise. However, do give this simple recipe a go. It is a very workable dough and if you are gentle it will be forgiving. Don't panic if the rolled sheet breaks, you can press the edges together. You need to "rest" the dough between all moves by chilling in the fridge. When you come to rolling, cover the bench with baking paper, dust with flour and roll the pastry out on the paper rather than your bench top. It makes moving the pastry easier.
I used this pastry for the following two recipes. If you don't feel game, use a bought short crust.
120g cream cheese
1 cup of sifted flour
pinch of salt
1 Cut the butter and cream cheese into small cubes and bring to room temperature.
2 Work together in your blender with the flour and salt until it just forms a ball.
3 Remove and knead a little. The dough should feel like soft Plasticine and not be sticky.
4 Wrap and leave in the fridge for an hour.
5 Remove from the fridge, bring to room temperature and roll as above. Dust your rolling pin with flour as well as the surface you are rolling on.
6 When you have an even sheet, sit this on a tray and return to the fridge before using. Rest for at least 15 minutes.
Bacon and egg pies
There are numerous recipes for the "Best Bacon and Egg pie", but I don't think there is one ultimate version. This classic can be made in many shapes and sizes and be as simple or complicated as you want, depending on the ingredients you add to the basic bacon and eggs. This is a quick and easy one for inside or outside and there's no quibbling about who gets the biggest piece.
1 Cut a standard-size bought pastry sheet into 4 quarters. Sit each piece into a well greased muffin tin.
2 Put a dessert spoon of grated tasty cheese into the base and snip a rasher of bacon (I like streaky) into the pie.
3 Break one egg into this. Season well and stir the egg gently with a fork to mix up the ingredients. Don't try to blend it all, you want see the yolk and white.
4 Cook as above in a medium oven.
You could also add chopped spring onions, chopped chives or parsley, a few peas, small diced leftover cooked potato or a slice of tomato. Not all at once though, this is a small pie.
* Grant Allen, a former restaurateur, runs an Auckland bespoke catering service called COOK. Check out Grant's Facebook page here.
What's your favourite pie?