A great pie is the sum of two equally important parts: the filling and the pastry. There are many filling variations – leftover curry, such as chicken kapitan, works very well – but any braised dish with a good ratio of sauce to meat or vegetables will work. It's important that the sauce is slightly thick, but not gluggy. Be inventive with leftover roast chicken, roast vegetables and gravy.
Begin this recipe three days ahead, starting the pastry first. The puff pastry makes double what you need, but freeze half and keep it for a future pie.
This allows the filling to cool and thicken overnight.
Adding vinegar (or lemon juice) to the pastries helps stop the gluten developing, resulting in a shorter, more tender pastry.
Pastry should always be chilled before you work it; otherwise it will shrink, lose shape or melt if too warm.
Be sure to dust off any excess flour during the rolling and folding process, otherwise it toughens the pastry.
Don't cut the resting times short; the equal consistency of the base and the butter results in even layers and beautiful flaky pastry.
Using shortcrust pastry for the base makes it easier to handle, especially when eating individual pies. A base isn't necessary for a large pie, but will add a good ratio of pastry to filling.
The top, meanwhile, is made from buttery puff pastry, which is light and crisp, and will rise in the oven. Err on the side of too dark when baking; the pie will be all the better for it.
The best pie tins are made of metal – they produce a crisp base – but ceramic can also be used. If you're making individual pies, bear in mind the cooking time will vary.
This allows steam to escape during the baking process.
Beef cheek filling
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 135 gm minced beef
- 900 gm beef cheek, cut into 2.5cm pieces
- 180 ml red wine
- 1 onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2 rosemary sprigs, leaves picked and chopped
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 750 ml (3 cups) veal or chicken stock
- 50 ml malt vinegar
- 360 gm tomatoes, peeled (see note) and diced
- 360 gm button mushrooms
- 60 gm potato starch
- 635 gm chilled unsalted butter
- 675 gm (4½ cups) plain flour
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp white vinegar (see tip)
- 400 gm plain flour
- 200 gm chilled unsalted butter, diced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1½ tsp white vinegar
- 1 quantity pastry base dough
- ½ quantity puff pastry dough
- 1 quantity beef cheek filling
- 1 egg whisked with 1 yolk and 80ml (⅓ cup) milk, for eggwash
- 1Heat oil in a large casserole over medium heat. Add mince and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon to break up, until browned (6-8 minutes). Transfer mince to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving fat in pan.
- 2Add beef cheek, in batches, to casserole in a single layer and brown over medium-high heat (4-5 minutes). Drain fat into a bowl and reserve. Deglaze pan with half the wine, scraping base, then transfer beef-cheek mixture to a bowl
- 3Wipe casserole clean, then return fat to casserole with onion, garlic, thyme and rosemary, stirring over low heat until onion is tender (10 minutes). Add celery and stir until tender (10 minutes). Stir in vinegar, half the stock and remaining wine, and simmer until flavours combine (5 minutes). Add tomato, remaining stock, beef-cheek mixture and mince, and season to taste with 1 tsp salt and ¾ tsp freshly ground white pepper. Simmer, covered, over low heat until beef cheeks are almost tender (about 1½ hours). Stir through mushrooms and simmer until softened (10 minutes).
- 4Mix potato starch with 60ml (¼ cup) cold water in a bowl until smooth, then stir it through beef mixture to combine. Bring back to the boil, then remove from heat and transfer to a container to cool. Refrigerate overnight to chill and thicken. Meanwhile, prepare pastry.
- 5Dice 135gm butter (refrigerate remainder). Combine flour, salt and diced butter on low speed in a food processor until it resembles sand (about 1 minute). Add vinegar and 305ml water, and mix on low speed until just combined and smooth (about 2 minutes). Shape dough into a 2cm-thick rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- 6Roll out dough to a 20cm x 50cm rectangle. Cover and refrigerate. Place remaining chilled butter between two sheets of baking paper and beat with a rolling pin into a 20cm square. The butter should remain cold yet pliable. Place butter 10cm from one end of the pastry, fold bottom third of pastry over butter, then fold over remaining third of pastry to cover.
- 7Turn dough 90 degrees clockwise and roll pastry away from you to a 20cm x 50cm rectangle. Fold top third of dough down, then bottom third over again. Turn 90 degrees and repeat, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- 8Repeat folding and rolling twice more (4 folds in total), then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- 9Halve dough and roll one half to a 4mm-thick round, or cut individual 4mm-thick rounds (freeze remainder for another use for up to 2 months). Cover and refrigerate until required.
- 10Combine flour, butter and salt in a food processor and pulse until it resembles fine crumbs with no lumps left. Combine vinegar with 60ml water and add to flour mixture. Pulse a couple of times until a dough forms.
- 11Shape dough into a disc about 2cm thick, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- 12Bring dough to room temperature (20 minutes), then roll out to a 4mm-thick round. If making individual pies, cut rounds about 1cm larger than pie tins.
- 13Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a 25cm-28cm pie tin (see note) with pastry base dough, pressing well into the sides. Fill with chilled beef-cheek filling. Brush edge of pastry with eggwash and top with puff pastry lid. Pierce a hole in the centre to allow steam to escape. Trim edges, press all the way around to seal, and brush top with eggwash. Use trimmings to create decorations and brush with eggwash again. Bake until pie is deep golden, pastry is cooked through and filling is hot (40-45 minutes).
To peel tomatoes, score the bases with a cross and hold them over a flame until skin blisters and can be easily removed. Alternatively, score bases and blanch tomatoes in a saucepan of boiling water.