Ask Peter: Pies
I have your Everyday book and it is fantastic! One question about pies. The traditional Kiwi meat pie from the bakery, does it use puff pastry on the bottom as well as the top, or is it shortcrust on the bottom and puff on top? Yusuf
I do love a good pie. Many years ago in London, a friend and I attempted to set up a pie business as we were both craving the sort of pies all New Zealanders will be familiar with back home, but that weren’t readily available in the UK at the time. To be honest, there are some around but a pie from home always tastes so much more familiar. We worked with a professional baker, based in New Zealand, who came over to London and cooked at my home and in the “factory” in Oxfordshire several times to master the pastry. It may be surprising to know that the pH of the water you use, the flour quality and even the humidity of the air can affect baking. We’re discovering that with our doughnut business, Crosstown, as well.
The pastry we settled on, after many trials and errors, was a sort of short-crust/flaky/puff hybrid.
The key with our pies was to have a nice puffy and flaky top. However, as you can imagine, when you’re cutting out oval lids, you have all the “filler” pastry left over — those star-shaped pieces that fill in the gaps. And as everything comes at a huge cost, one needs to make sure that there is minimal wastage — both from a financial point of view as well as a “waste of resources” one. Once you re-roll these pieces, their ability to puff up is lessened considerably and they toughen slightly. A light touch is what’s needed, nothing overworked. As with all pastry, the more you work it, re-roll and play with it, the tougher it becomes and the less light the final product.
So, we had to find a pastry that when re-rolled would still remain good and light, and that process was fascinating. The tops were more or less virgin pastry, the bases a mixture of seconds and virgin. So, what we ended up with, and what I think most New Zealand pies are, is a flaky top and a nice firm, but not tough, bottom. The bottoms need to be firm enough to hold the filling, which is usually moist and juicy, full of gravy, but they must never be tough. I feel we achieved what we were trying to do, but unfortunately the business never quite survived our enthusiasm.
Since then, several brands have arrived on the UK scene and some are pretty good, I must say.
However, one of my favourite “pies” has no pastry at all. I used to eat “spaghetti and cheese toast” pies as a child and I put the recipe into The Great NZ Cookbook. In this recipe, you simply butter sliced bread on both sides and then press it into a muffin tin to form a lining. This is then filled and baked — at which point the bread crisps up like a crouton and you have the most delicious snack!
Filo is another easy pastry solution as you can freeze it very successfully — so long as you defrost it completely before trying to use or else it’ll flake apart and be completely useless. If I were being completely fussy, I’d have to say I do prefer the thicker, handmade Turkish filo, which you see being made from scratch in small shops around the country.
My favourite snack at lunchtime (or even late at night, with some pickled tongue and beetroot juice) is a variation of borek —which is mostly seen as squares of filo layered with various fillings before being cut into triangles. My favourite version is a pastry that’s been rolled around wilted wild greens and wild herbs (spinach works well too) and several types of grated cheese (not always feta). It’s then rolled up like a skinny sponge roll, coiled into a large spiral, placed in a round metal dish, drowned in butter, coated with sesame seeds and baked until golden. Honestly, it may not be a meat pie but it is well worth trying.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.