Difficulty rating: Anna Karenina
Deliciousness rating: NEWT
I began to unwrap the waxed paper from around the doctor’s present, and when I had finished, I saw before me the most enormous and beautiful pie in the world. It was covered all over, top, sides, and bottom, with rich golden pastry. I took a knife from beside the sink and cut out a wedge. I started to eat it in my fingers, standing up. It was a cold meat pie. The meat was pink and tender with no fat or gristle in it, and there were hard-boiled eggs buried like treasures in several different places. The taste was absolutely fabulous. When I had finished the first slice I cut another and ate that, too. God bless Doctor Spencer, I thought. (Dahl 82)Did it measure up?
Oh my God it was so delicious. And incredibly filling. Most amazingly, it tasted exactly like we imagined it would.
Miko and I have a book club where we reread books that we loved but haven’t read in a while. And for one of the meetings, we both listened to the audiobook of Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. There is a scene in this book that we both remembered, where Danny eats a glorious meat pie. It was just one paragraph, but we wanted that pie. We had wanted it for years.
Around the same time, I finally convinced Miko to watch the best reality TV show ever produced, The Great British Bake Off. This is a show where charming British people bake delicious-looking cakes and pies and breads, and it just makes you want to bake things all the time. And so, when for her birthday I offered to make her any dish she wanted, what she wanted was to bake that meat pie. Together. (I’m a fairly experienced baker, and Miko isn’t so much.)
Since we are both librarians, we of course started with research. We found a few other people who had attempted The Pie, and we also rewatched an episode of GBBO (series 2, episode 5, if you want to watch it too) where they had to make something called a Melton Mowbray pie, which is like a tiny version of the one we were planning.
We also found a recipe from Paul Hollywood himself, for a pork pie with eggs inside!
We decided on a mash-up of all these methods, went shopping, and cleared an entire day for baking.
We mostly used the recipe from the “Married…With Dinner” blog, with some changes in bold:
DOCTOR SPENCER’S MEAT PIE
Adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book
- 2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 8 oz fatty sausage meat (or ground pork belly). We used breakfast sausage here.
- 8 oz salt pork, pancetta, or bacon, finely chopped. We used ham instead, because it’s supposed to be pink inside, and also because we thought the bacon might be too greasy.
- 5 to 6 hard-boiled eggs. We used six, OBVIOUSLY.
- 12 sage leaves, finely chopped
- Leaves from 2 good sprigs of thyme, chopped
- 2 shallots. We added this from the Paul Hollywood recipe.
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 t ground white pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground mace. Yes, this is a thing; it’s related to nutmeg, I think?
- A good pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup good pork stock that will set to jelly. We used canned chicken stock and about 1/2 envelope of gelatin, because we were NOT about to make pork stock on top of everything else.
- 7 tbs lard, diced
- 7 tbs butter, diced
- Scant 1 cup water
- 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (approximately 630 g)
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 2 medium eggs, beaten, plus 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
1. Make the hot water crust pastry first. Put the lard, butter, and water in a saucepan and heat gently until melted; do not let it boil.
2. Put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Make a hollow in the center and add the beaten eggs, stirring them gently around with a knife so they are half mixed with the flour.
3. Pour in the melted fat and water and mix together to form a soft dough; add up to 3 1/2 tbs extra warm water if it is too dry. Knead gently, adding more flour if it is too sticky to handle.
4. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly (at least 1 hour).
5. Make the filling. Mix all the meats with the herbs, salt, and seasonings (except the bay leaf), so they are thoroughly combined.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
7. Assemble the pie. Cut off a generous quarter of the pastry and keep in the fridge, for the lid.
8. On a floured surface, roll out the rest of the pastry into a 12 inch circle around 1/3 inch thick.
9. Use this to line an 8 inch springform (or removable bottom) cake pan, pressing the pastry into the sides and flattening any overlap with your fingers. It should come 2-1/2 to 3 inches up the sides of the pan.
10. Fill with the seasoned pork mixture and push the bay leaf into the middle of it. Lay down a thin layer of filling, place the eggs in a ring halfway between the center and the pie edge, and then add the rest of the filling around and covering the eggs.
11. Roll out the reserved piece of pastry into a circle about the size of the pan. Brush the edges of the lining pastry with a little beaten egg, and lay the pastry lid on top of the pie. Crimp the edges together so they are sealed. Cut a 1/3-inch diameter hole in the center of the pastry lid.
12. Place the pie in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. reduce the temperature to 325 degrees and bake for a further 1-1/4 hours. If your top crust is concave instead of convex, a pool of juice and fat may form around the center hole during baking that you’ll want to remove with a turkey baster, or the crust may become soggy. (Baking time may vary a LOT depending on your oven, and this thing of removing the juice? we had to do that like A MILLION times. So plan ahead. We’re not sure but we think it took close to three hours to bake, and the crust was still a bit underdone in places. Should have made it thinner.)
13. Remove the pie from the oven and carefully release the side of the pan.
14. Brush the top and sides of the pie with beaten egg and cook for another 15 minutes to set the glaze.
15. Take the pie out of the oven and allow to cool.
16. Pour in the jellied stock. The filling will have shrunk slightly, creating a cavity that is traditionally filled with jellied stock. When the pie is still a little warm, heat the jellied stock just until it’s pourable — not too hot!
17. Carefully lift the edges of the center hold of the pastry with the tip of a knife, making sure you have good access to the cavity. Use a small funnel or, better still, a turkey baster to gently introduce the stock through the center hole. Tilt the pie from time to time to distribute the stock, then try and get a little more in. Stop when the stock begins to overflow from the hole.
18. Leave the pie to cool, then put it in the fridge. (We weren’t able to get very much stock in there, and it was a GIANT PAIN, but it definitely made the pie extra delicious. Don’t give up! It would have been a lot easier with a turkey baster, I think.)
Dahl, Roald. Danny the Champion of the World. Illus. Jill Bennet. New York: Puffin Books, 1975.