Monday, May 07, 2007

Labor of Love

Although I have made quiches quite a few times now, I wouldn't call myself a pastry expert, because as opposed to other things, it still gives me the butterflies. I know that very little can go wrong as long as I go slowly and not let the nerves consume me.

Nigella's recipe for chicken pie has always intrigued me. I loved the idea of eating creamy chicken under a blanket of pastry. It was the kind of thing I wish I had grown up eating but never did. The closest was probably the fast food chicken potpies I may have had once or twice in my life.

Although the recipe looked good, the technique and process always struck me as finicky and I never really understood the math involved in making two disks when making four pies. I'm good at math, but this technique made my head hurt.

For the magazine cookalong, though, I wanted to make the potpies from At My Table because I figured enough's enough. If I wanted to make it, well then, I should!

I was making this for the two of us, so didn't see the need to make four little pies, plus even though I have about twenty different bowls, I don't have pie dishes of various shapes and sizes, so I had to work with what I did have, and those measurements were too big for the little pies Nigella mentions.

So, instead of making two bigger disks and two smaller disks, I made one big disk and one slightly smaller. The big disk was halved for the bases of the pies, and the little disk was halved for the lids for the pies. Still with me? Yeah, I almost got lost there too.

Luckily, actually making the pastry was a doddle. I made it in the morning so that I could take a walk and take care of lunch later. This was the first time making a pastry with the addition of an egg. I guess there is some term to differentiate these different types of pastries, but I am not really sure what those are.

Adding the egg wasn't really a problem at all. I did find I needed iced water to bring the pastry together, but that wasn't a big deal at all. I left the two disks in the fridge while I got on with the rest of my day...

When I got back, I made the filling, which was also extremely easy. It's a basic white sauce (roux with chicken stock granules, and then you add milk and whisk till nice and thick), to which you add chopped chicken, peas, and ham. I didn't want to put ham in there, so just upped the amount of peas. I also added some chopped sage to the white sauce.

Then, it is just a matter of rolling out the four disks, covering the bottoms, adding the filling, putting on the lids, sealing the sides, and decorating with leftover pastry. This part was not that easy, because I felt a bit rushed for time since Rafa had woken up for his night shift. Also, I am extremely lazy when it comes out to rolling. I was putting my full strength behind it, but I think the pastry was still a bit cold from the fridge. But it all worked out really well in the end, and what I got were two cute pies, and even a small one I managed to make in a ramekin.

And, of course, most importantly, these were delicious. The pastry was flaky and buttery and gorgeous. I loved dipping the pastry into the white sauce below, and the peas and chicken were just lovely and soft. I had used leftover chicken breast from a roasted chicken for these, and I wasn't sure how flavorful it would be, but it picked up the white sauce flavor beautifully.

After all that work, I only manged to finish about a third of the pie, but I know what delicious leftovers are waiting for me at home today. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Chicken, Ham and Pea Potpies


Time: 1 hour

For the dough:
3 cups Italian 00 flour (see note) or all-purpose flour
2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, chilled and diced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For filling and assembly:
4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons Italian 00 flour
1 teaspoon granulated chicken bouillon or crushed bouillon cubes
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup diced (1/4 inch) ham or 1 additional cup diced chicken
1 egg, beaten, for glazing pies.


1. Prepare dough: In a small bowl, combine 3 cups flour and diced butter. Put in freezer for 10 minutes. Using a food processor, pulse mixture until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. With processor running, gradually add 2 eggs until mixture forms a ball; if necessary, add a little iced water.

2. Transfer dough to a work surface and shape into four disks, making two slightly bigger than the others. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while making filling.

3. Prepare filling: Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat and melt butter. Whisk in 5 tablespoons flour and bouillon granules. Remove mixture from heat, and gradually whisk in milk to make smooth paste. Return pan to medium heat, and whisk constantly until simmering. Reduce heat to low; continue to whisk until sauce thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer mixture to large bowl, cover surface with dampened parchment paper; set aside to cool.

4. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Put peas in a sieve and pour boiling water over them, draining well. Mix peas, chicken and ham into cooled white sauce.

5. Assemble and bake pies: Place a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven. Set aside four 1 1/4-cup pie dishes about 1 1/2 inches deep. Halve each of the bigger disks of pastry. Roll each piece to a size big enough to line base and sides of a pie dish with a generous lip of pastry hanging over edge. Spoon equal portions of filling into each shell.

6. Halve remaining two pieces of dough, and roll out to make four pie lids. Dampen edges of pastry with water, and place a lid on each pie. Using a knife, trim excess pastry from around sides. Seal edges of pies with tines of a fork, and decorate as desired with leftover dough scraps. Using a pastry brush, paint pies with beaten egg. With point of a knife, cut a tiny cross in center of each pie or make small diagonal slashes.

7. Place pies on baking sheet and bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes. When pies are ready, use oven mitts to turn them upside down, remove them from their dishes and place on serving plates.

Yield: 4 servings


Shaun said...

Ilana - It is so great you tried your hand at comforting pot pies. Ina Garten also has a simple yet tasty recipe that works well. I made my first pie this year - including shortening pastry - and I am keen to make more. Now that I have moved to New Zealand and fall has descended upon my new home, I will have many opportunities to roll out pie pastries and discover lots of different fillings. This is an inspiring posts, and your pastry decoration, which I suck at, is very cute; you and Rafa must have been very happy with the results.

Sarah Nicole said...

That looks divine Ilana. Good for you! I love how the pies looked too.

PS I see you have no problem using the gas stove after all huh.

Lady M said...

Thanks, Shaun. That's very sweet of you to say. I hope you have fun making your pies. Fall is a great time for that.

Sarah, thank you too. The gas stove is what I had at the previous, so works great. It is huge too. So I'm quite spoiled in that respect. :))

Anna's kitchen table said...

Oh, Wow! I love chicken pies. And even better when there's a double layer of pastry!

Lady M said...

LOL, Anna, I so know what you mean!

I was eating leftovers last night and was thinking, 'how is this still so flaky and buttery, mmmmmm', and then I was thinking, 'oh but this is soo soo bad, but it tastes soo soo good'. I ended up finishing the pie right there watching King of Queens. Oink!