Four different miniature pies

Following on from the four kinds of savoury tartlets that I made last time, I wanted to try to get more depth of flavour, and learn from some of the mistakes that I made last time. Here’s the result:

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Four miniature savoury pies. Back row, left to right: goat’s cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomato; stilton, walnut and prune. Front row, left to right: cream cheese, smoked salmon and basil; spinach, egg and parmesan cheese.

This time, I wanted to get more filling relative to the amount of pastry, so I did three things differently. First, I used a simple shortcrust rather than shop-bought puff pastry; second, I rolled it very thin; and third, I used ramekins rather than a tart tin.

I rolled the pastry out very thin — a bit too thin, as it turned out — cut it into circles, and formed it inside the ramekins:

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I didn’t make the initial circles quite big enough, so I didn’t get the pastry hanging over the edges as I’d hoped. Also, I found it hard to avoid getting folds in the sides, due to the ramekins really being too straight-up for this. Oh well.

I decided to try blind-baking in a way that would retain the shape. I lined the pastry with foil:

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And I added uncoked rice to weigh it down:

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This didn’t really work super-well. With such small pies, the foil didn’t go right into the corners, and I had to be very careful not to get raw rice mixed in with the pastry. I might try using clingfilm next time instead of foil; and perhaps invest in some baking beads.

Here’s how the pastry cases came out after eight minutes at 200 degrees C:

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Once I’d removed the rice and foil, I brushed the cases with beaten egg and baked them for another eight minutes:

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As you can see, there were a couple of bubbles, especially in the bottom left one, but they were easy to push down. Now we came to the fun part: the fillings! I’d assembled the ingredients for my four pies while the cases were cooking:

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Here are the pies with the ingredients layered in, before the lids went on. Top left: goat’s cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomato. Top right: stilton, walnut and prune. (Note that these two flavours are combinations of the ones I used in the savoury tartlets). Bottom left: cream cheese, smoked salmon and basil. Bottom right: spinach, egg and parmesan cheese.

IMG_20151228_182017(I used tinned spinach, and drained it by squeezing it against the side of a mug with a spoon. That worked out well enough, but if I were doing it all again, I’d also add a little salt and pepper, and maybe a bit of coriander, to the spinach.)

I rolled the remaining pastry thin, and cut it out using an old Lidl prawn tub to get circles of the right size:

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Here are the pies, with their tops on and an egg-wash, before they went back in the oven:

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And here they are after ten minutes’ baking:

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Proof that they’re my own work:

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(I believe this is my first ever selfie.)

I left them to cool for fifteen minutes before removing them from the ramekins:

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They came out reasonably easily: one or two them needed to have some cooked cheese cut away from the rim before they’d drop out, but I’d greased the ramekins with butter so they were easy enough to remove:

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Once they’d cooked, I cut them all in half, to see how the layers had come out. First, the cream cheese, salmon and basil pie (front) and the goat’s cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomato (back):

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As you can see, the goat’s cheese one is a bit of a mess cosmetically, but the salmon one has kept its internal structure quite nicely.

Now, the other two pies: stilton, walnut and prune (back) and spinach, egg and parmesan (front).

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The stilton pie has no recognisable layers at all, but the spinach one has come out with really nice, clear layers. I’m pleasantly surprised by that, as the egg went in liquid. (It’s about half of an egg: I used the rest for the egg-wash.) I poured it in over the first half of the spinach, then covered that with shavings of parmesan, which was evidently enough to stop the second spinach layer from bleeding through.

So how did they turn out?

Pretty awesome, to be honest. Each pie was delicious. Fiona and I agreed that the stilton, walnut and prune one was the best — a glorious combination that’s likely going to become a signature dish. You can’t go wrong with goat’s cheese, pesto and sun-dried tomato — it’s a delicious combination. But I’ll need to find a way to make the structure stronger. The spinach pie was good, but definitely needed more seasoning. And finally, I used too much smoked salmon, so that its saltiness was too strong. Another time, I’ll either just use less, or try using raw salmon fillet.

These were all good, though. I’d definitely do it again (hopefully better!)

Lessons learned

  1. Don’t roll the pastry too thin, as I did this time. The pies lacked structural integrity.
  2. Use a shallower mould to avoid folds in the pastry case.
  3. Use larger circles, to ensure that they fully overlap the edges of the mould. Then it will be possible to properly seal the pies.
  4. Don’t use too much smoked salmon: it easily overwhelms other ingredients.
  5. Spinach needs seasoning. (Some other ingredients don’t.)

9 responses to “Four different miniature pies

  1. Looks like a very tasty attempt. To stop the pastry cases “blistering” prick the bases before cooking. I think you can now outcook your old mother.

  2. They look very good. I enjoy doing some tinkering in the kitchen myself; might need to give something like this a whirl. I have been thinking of trying my hand at a baked stuffed brie dish.

  3. I love this post. It’s useful new interesting subject matter for this blog and it is making me hungry.

  4. Thank you! Hopefully it will give you some ideas for your own baking, too.

  5. Those look delicious.

    Tangentially: Your comment about using raw salmon reminded me of this New Yorker article from 2013 which includes a long and fascinating description of the challenges involved in trying to make a dish involving salmon baked in pastry.

    I found, in all this, a resoundingly obvious lesson: if cooking knowledge is not carefully passed from one generation to the next, it doesn’t last. For instance, if you look up coulibiac in the 1938 edition of Larousse Gastronomique, you will find plenty, including an initial account of the dish’s origins, a warm pastry with fish inside, an acknowledgment of its Russianness, and a grainy photograph of a loaf-like entity, twelve steam slits on top, sitting bluntly on a platter, emanating rustic veracity. From the entry, you may not be able to replicate the dish, but you’ll understand what it is. In the recent Larousse Gastronomique, published sixty-nine years later, and edited by Joël Robuchon, a high prince of nouvelle cuisine, the passage has been rewritten. It has no picture, makes no mention of vésiga, doesn’t specify the pastry, and describes the dish in terms that suggest a sack that can be filled with meat, vegetables, fish, yesterday’s newspapers, whatever. I read the entry and thought, No idea what is being described. … I felt like a witness to a disappearing food history. When a dish falls out of the repertoire, the know-how goes with it. In less than seventy years, it was going, it was almost gone: pfiff.

  6. Interesting, NickS — but surely we are now (Internet era) past the point where knowledge can be lost? My problem is often the opposite: when I search the net for a given dish, I tend to find numerous mutually contradictory recipes.

  7. . . . surely we are now (Internet era) past the point where knowledge can be lost?

    That is an interesting question. Surely an absolute form of that statement is false — knowledge is lost all the time (in small specialized ways) that is not preserved on the internet. On the other hand, I believe that the internet has gotten much better at preserving experiential knowledge than it was even 10-15 years ago (the explosion of video is important). So it’s worth asking what the internet does a good job of preserving.

    I don’t have a complete answer, but I do recommend reading the article — it’s fascinating — and in this case the dish in question, coulibiac, is both tricky to make for interesting reasons (in the article’s description the first several attempts, by an expert chef, are essentially inedible) and not a part of a major culinary tradition (the article describes it as originally a Russian dish which was adopted by French chefs at some point, largely abandoned, and then retained as a relevant dish in the 80s by the more or less single handed advocacy of Craig Clairborne).

    At the point at which the chef in the article is trying to re-create it he has dim memories of what it’s supposed to be. It makes me think that preserving certain aspects of cooking knowledge is like preserving a dying language — once there are no longer living people who either have tasted the dish in question or spoken the language it’s not possible to replicate it precisely, even if the basic instructions/grammar have been written down.

    Interesting question.

  8. Pingback: Two savoury pies, done right | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  9. Pingback: Today’s savoury pies | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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