What is it?: A chicken pie made with porcini mushrooms and red wine, topped with a cream cheese pastry lid.
Occasion: A cold winter’s day.
There is definitely something about the British winter that starts the cravings in motion for comfort food. It’s like we forget that we have access to warm coats, hot drinks and central heating, and the basic instinct to eat for warmth kicks in. For me, this manifests itself in a craving for porridge with maple syrup, soda bread and, most of all, pies. It is claimed that the earliest pies first appeared in the Neolithic period and that pastry was perfected by the ancient Greeks, however they are most associated with London and some of the earliest examples of street food. During the industrial revolution, pies became really popular and pie shops spread, not only across the capital, but across other industrial cities. The pie’s popularity lay in the fact that it was pre-made, so required little effort, but could also be bought hot, convenient for those large numbers of people living in accommodation with no cooking facilities. Today pies are not solely the fast food of the industrial classes, and have had something of a revival. Gourmet pies can be bought in restaurants and food markets across London, and more and more people are perfecting the art of baking the perfect pie at home.
Short and Sweet contains such a large number of pies, it was difficult to choose the first one to bake. Comforted by the knowledge that, by baking every recipe of this book, I will have a number of excellent pies to keep me warm through winter, I opted for the chicken and mushroom pie with a cream-cheese pastry lid, mainly as I was intrigued by the addition of red wine. The chicken pies of my childhood were largely of the shortcrust pastry-leftover roast chicken-tin of cream of chicken soup variety, this is just a more luxurious, ‘souped-up’ version. The main feature of the pie is, of course, chicken, however the star of the show is the mushroom flavour, which comes from three separate ingredients – dried porcini mushrooms gently boiled into the mixture, a tin of cream of mushroom soup to make up the sauce, and some button mushrooms, lightly fried in butter before adding. Such a depth of flavour could never fail to excite a mushroom-o-holic like myself. A while ago, I vowed never to make a mushroom dish without porcini again, and this is why. The whole mix is topped with a lid of pastry, a shortcrust made with cream cheese – I was skeptical about this, but it really does make the most beautiful pastry. When rolled out, it is like a sheet of satin, and when cooked it has a luxuriousness that almost makes you feel quite naughty for eating it.
The recipe suggests making five or six small pies with this recipe, but I ended up making one enormous one to try out the new Le Cruset pie dish I received for my birthday. It was perfect. The pastry crisped up in the oven and the flat smelled of a kind of autumnal woodiniess. I confess that I had convinced myself that the savoury recipes from Short and Sweet could be nowhere near as good as the sweet ones but, if this pie is anything to go by, I am fully set to embrace the savoury baking with the same fervour as the cakes.
In other news:
After being so busy of late, I am attempting to have a quiet week. In fact, most of the week has been spent doing little more than sleeping, eating, baking and working.