My family have never been one for tradition, so I’ve always been interested in how super-traditional families celebrate this yearly eating-and-present-exchanging marathon. Butttt… It’s convenient that my clan don’t know the do’s and don’ts of conventional Christmas-ing because this year is the first year in a long while that I will be spending it with them. It’s also nice to not be bound by tradition so instead of the classic Christmas menu this year, I’m cooking things that represent ‘sharing’ to me. Pies look like presents in food form. They’re really just delicious surprises concealed inside crispy and slightly chewy puff pastry. No these aren’t spiced, but for me they conjure up more memories than a mincemeat pie ever could: they are my version of your everyday suburban bakery kind.
Pies of Stewed Beef and Vegetable Sorts (makes 6 of each)
You will need:
4cups all-purpose flour
280g unsalted butter (I always use grass fed butter)
8-12 tbsp chilled water
4 yolks or 2 eggs
2 small leeks, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
2 large stalks of celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 cobs of corn, washed and kernels cut off the cobs
2 handfuls of green beans, washed, heads and tails removed, cut into 1″ pieces
3 zucchini, grated and left to drain in a colander
a handful mushrooms of your choice
2 cups of chicken stock
butter for frying
salt and pepper
3tsp corn or potato starch
800g beef skirt, cut into 1.5″ cubes
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped
4 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
a bunch of baby carrots, peeled, stalks trimmed down to 2cm
1kg button onions or shallots, peeled
4 rashers fatty bacon, rind removed, cut into small pieces
3 cups beef stock
salt and pepper
butter for frying
handful of rosemary, leaves picked
1 bag frozen peas
a sprig of fresh mint
salt and pepper
Start by making the beef stew. Melt a generous knob of butter in a casserole pan (I use my Le Creuset one). Fry off your bacon until it starts to get crispy, then remove from the pot. Sweat the carrots, onion, and celery in the fat until transcluscent, then remove and leave in a separate bowl. Dust the beef cubes in a large tray full of plain flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Add more butter to the pot, then cook the beef on high heat to seal each side of the meat. Do this in batches so that the pan is never overcrowded, and leave the cooked beef on a plate to rest. Deglaze by pouring a dash of sock to loosen the stuck bits on the bottom. Return your meat and vegetables to the pot, then add the whole onions, rosemary, garlic, whole carrots, and finally the stock. The liquid should come to just cover the solids. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat down to low.
Cut a piece of baking paper to the size of the pot lid, then place it on top of the stew so that moisture doesn’t escape while cooking. Put the lid on and let the beef cook for about 3hrs – the longer the better. After the cooking time, taste, season with salt and pepper, then let it cool to room temperature.
For the vegetable stew, melt some butter in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Sweat the garlic, carrots, celery, and leeks until soft. Next add the corn and sweat for a little, then the zucchini. Fill the pan with chicken stock until it reaches 1/2cm below the vegetables, then scatter the mushrooms around the pan and bring to a simmer. In a small separate bowl, mix the starch with enough cold water to make a thin paste, then pour all around the pan and stir into the mixture. The zucchini should thicken the stew, but the starch will ensure you don’t have soggy pies! Scatter over the beans, then stir everything to combine before turning off the heat. I don’t like mushy, grey beans, so adding the beans at the last minute keeps their colour bright and forms in tact. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then leave to cool.
For the pastry. Mix the flour with chilled water and a pinch of salt to make a soft, smooth dough. The best way to do this is by tipping the flour onto a large workbench and making a big well in the centre of the mound. Pour the water into the centre of the well and using a fork, gradually combine the water with the flour on the edges of the well until all of it has been used up. You will need to use your hands when the mixture gets doughy. Weigh the dough. Roll with short firm strokes on a floured board into rectangles 1cm thick. Tap a block of cold butter (half the weight of the dough) with a floured rolling pin to flatten it. Place the butter in the centre of the dough rectangle. Fold the bottom third up and top third down over the butter. Press to seal the sides and give the parcel a quarter turn. Roll out again into a long rectangle. Fold in three and chill in the fridge for 15mins. Roll, fold, wrap, and chill again. Repeat six times. At this point you can keep each sheet between paper and freeze in a freezer bag so that you have your own puff pastry at the ready.
Roll out your pastry to the thickness of a coin, then cut out 24 rounds the size of your individual pie tins. You will then need to grease your tins with butter and press the 12 of the rounds into the tins. Prick the edges and bottoms with a fork and arrange onto 2 trays (6 tins per tray). Now spoon your stews into each pie tin, making sure you don’t fill them all the way to the top. Next, put the pie lids on and seal by pressing a fork all the way around the edges and cut two steam holes in the top. Beat an egg with about 1/4cup milk to brush on top of the pies. Bake in a preheated oven at 220C for about 25mins until the tops are puffy and golden.
For the mushy peas, boil a bag of peas in water with a sprig of fresh mint until tender. Drain, remove the mint, and mash in the same pot with a generous knob of butter. Season to taste and serve with the pies straight out of the oven.