Author: Austen, Jane
Difficulty rating: Pride and Prejudice
Deliciousness rating: Exceeds Expectations
On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others (Austen 470).
It was our last meeting of the Jane Austen Book Club at Alpine Library, and we had saved everyone’s favorite for last: Persuasion. I think many a culinary historian and fan bemoan the fact that there are really very few specific foods that are mentioned in Jane Austen novels, thereby making meals difficult to theme. In the whole of Persuasion, brawn and cold pies were the only food reference that I could find. I Googled “brawn” and immediately decided I was never going to make that shit ever (since the recipes involved boiling a pig’s whole head). And that left pie! Mincemeat pies would have made sense, but I wasn’t really feeling them in September. I also looked at Yorkshire Christmas pie but had to give that up as beyond our interest, skill, and time allowance — you basically have to make your own turducken, but with wild game that’s harder to come by, and cover it in super-fancy crust. Yeah, no. So what did I do but e-mail my favorite culinary historian, Dr. Annie Gray, who responded with her usual delightfulness to my plea for advice, despite being on a vacation filled with cheese and poutine:
Pies — the world is your oyster! I’d use a rich shortcrust pastry and a pie mould (or springform cake tin), but you can use a hot water crust. There are fiddly techniques for properly lining the mould, but basically you need to squish the pastry outward and not roll it — it needs overworking. For the inside, I tend to line it with good sausage meat, then layer in meat (chicken is good), and ham and mushroom until it’s full, then lid on, make a good airhole and put a crown of pastry round it to stop it bubbling, and decorate the hell out of it. Bake 1.5-2hrs and use a digital probe to check the temperature … Keep the seasoning levels up and if you want to serve cold, you can add some strong meat stock with a hefty lot of gelatine in (pour down air hole when cold) just to solidify matters. Good luck!
Did it measure up?
Who doesn’t love a good cold meat pie? Okay, lots of people, but I personally can see why meat pies were often a centerpiece at a holiday supper. Sure, our pie’s jellied stock didn’t set; I wish we’d put even more hard-boiled eggs as a center layer; and the crust was accidentally crimped onto the pan instead of tucking it in, so Jenne had to slice around the edges to get the pie out of the pan, thereby destroying its perfectly scalloped circumference. But all these little details didn’t matter because the meat pie certainly tasted nice and looked MAJESTIC on our tea table.
Ingredients & Supplies Needed:
- 9″ x 3″ round pan with a removable bottom
- 90g lard, diced
- 90g salted butter, diced
- Scant 1 cup water
- 630g flour
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 2 medium eggs
- 1 egg, beaten, to glaze
- 3 large boneless chicken breasts, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 lb sausage meat (American breakfast sausage meat works well)
- 1 lb of diced ham
- 1 lb white mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme + extra sprigs to cook with mushrooms
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground mace
- 1⁄4 teaspoon allspice
- 1 lemon’s worth of zest
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 5 small eggs, boiled
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
Make the hot water crust.
- Put the lard, butter, and water in a saucepan and heat gently until melted; do not let it boil.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and chill thoroughly (at least 1 hour).
Prepare the filling.
- Heat butter over medium-high.
- Sauté mushrooms and shallots with some sprigs of thyme, a bit of salt, and lots of pepper.
- Place the filling ingredients (diced chicken, sausage meat, diced ham, sautéd mushrooms and shallots, 2 tbs parsley, 1 tsp fresh sage, 1 tsp fresh thyme, 1⁄2 teaspoon ground mace, 1⁄4 teaspoon allspice, 1 lemon’s worth of zest, 3/4 tbs of kosher salt, and tons of black pepper) into a large bowl and mix it all together with your hands. (There’s no better way to do it!)
Assemble & bake the pie.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Grease the pan with butter. Not sure if this step is necessary, but we thought we might as well.
- Cut off a generous quarter of the pastry and keep in the fridge, for the lid.
- On a floured surface, roll out the rest of the pastry into a 13-14 inch circle around 1/3-inch thick.
- Use this to line the 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.
- Fill the pie, adding the hard-boiled eggs halfway. It’s better if the top of the pie is convex rather than concave.
- 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 2-inch diameter hole in the center of the pastry lid. Make a coil rim with extra pastry around the edge of the air-hole and squish into a wall.
- Decorate the shit out of the pie, as Dr. Annie Gray decreed.
- 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.
- Remove the pie from the oven and carefully release it from the pan.
- Brush the top and sides of the pie with beaten egg and cook for another 15 minutes to set the glaze.
Pour in jellied stock & serve.
- Take the pie out of the oven and allow to cool completely. Meanwhile, put the powdered gelatin in a ¼ cup water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Whisk into the chicken stock.
- In a small saucepan, heat the stock until it’s just pourable — not too hot.
- Pour the jellied stock in the center hole of the pie slowly. The filling will have shrunk, creating a space around the edge that is traditionally filled with jellied stock. Heat the jellied stock just until it’s pourable — not too hot!
- Refrigerate to let the gelatin set.
- Serve with mustard.
Austen, Jane. Persuasion. 1818. Public Domain eBook Edition.