The Maurice Sendak book In the Night Kitchen was one of my favourites as a child, and I credit it with my love for baking at night. Sendak’s night bakers made cakes and breads (“Milk in the batter! Milk in the batter!”), but what I usually made in the wee hours were pies.
They were one of the first things I mastered. While living with roommates in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood, I’d mitigate my insomnia by running to the 24-hour corner store, buying flour, butter, sugar and tinned pie filling, and making two pies before dawn. Eventually, I advanced to making my own fillings—usually berry or pumpkin; once, ambitiously, a giant maple syrup butter tart. After finding a heart-shaped pie-tin, I made blueberry pies for boyfriends on Valentine’s Day (each year, same pie, different boy).
Recently I switched focus from sweet to savoury. The idea that I need only change the filling to go from dessert to main is appealing, like some kind of reversible sweater. When I’m in London, one of my favourite “cheat” meals is to find a rich prepared side dish at Harrods Food Halls (such as a gourmet terrine or a curried chicken), then make a roux and quick short crust and bake it into a pie when I get home. In New York, I make sure to stop in weekly at my local Greenwich Village British grocer, Myers of Keswick, for a small pork or steak-and-kidney pie. Lately, savoury pie-centric boîtes such as Bristol Yards in Toronto and Vancouver’s The British Butcher Shoppe, and Aussie pies, Cornish pastries and hearty Québécois tourtière, have gained chowhound status; rich rabbit pies topped with puff pastry are showing up on menus at upper crust restaurants.
A hot single-serving pie has more charm than a cold sandwich, and there is no denying the superior mouth-feel of good flaky pastry over sliced bread. Whether it’s a humble half moon (warming a Cornish coal-miner’s pocket) or elevated on a plate and stuffed with game, the savoury pie is an upgrade into adulthood.
How to Make a Steak & Guinness Pie
I’m a much better baker than cook, so I turned to my husband, a Brit and the chef of the family, for help getting the filling right. We experimented over two weekends: a steak-and-Guinness pie with a lighter, store-bought puff pastry crust was the standout. This recipe makes four individual pies or one larger pie.
- 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 lb stewing beef, cut in 1-inch cubes
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- Splash Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup Guinness or dark beer
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 pkg puff pastry (2 sheets)
- 1 egg, beaten
1. Preheat oven to 175 C.
2. Sauté onion in olive oil over medium heat in a large casserole or Dutch oven. After 5 minutes, add carrots and garlic; cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes more.
3. Add beef, flour, salt and pepper; cook for 5 minutes, until meat begins to brown.
4. Add tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Guinness and broth; bring to boiling, regularly scraping the bottom of the casserole with a spoon.
5. Cover casserole; transfer to preheated oven and cook until meat is tender, 90 minutes to 2 hours.
6. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Adjust seasoning to taste.
7. Turn oven up to 200 C. Meanwhile, roll puff pastry to about double its size. Fill either individual buttered pie dishes or large buttered pie dish with pastry, leaving enough pastry to cover.
8. Spoon cooled meat mixture into pie dish(es) to fill. Cover with pastry lids; crimp edges to seal.
9. Cut small cross in the centre of pie to allow steam to escape. Brush top of pie(s) with beaten egg.
10. Place pie(s) on baking sheet in bottom third of oven. Bake until pastry is browned, 20 to 30 minutes.