Picnic Pie


So here we are at last – Final Week on this year’s Great British Bake Off.

And the challenges this week are to be a Savoury Picnic Pie, Sweet Pretzels and a three-tier Wedding Cake.

All of which put me in a right quandary over what to bake for this week’s Bake Off themed post. My Filo Picnic Pie was already savoury, as are my Cheese and Potato Pies with the lovely cornflour crust, but to be honest, neither the pretzels nor the wedding cake were ever really in contention (mostly due to the lack of sweet-loving people in this house), so here we go with a third option for a savoury picnic pie.

Of course, I’m not going to let you off that easy, so I’m first going make you sit through my Anatomy Of A Picnic Pie (Hints and Tips) so that you can all spread your wings and have fun creating your own versions. Because, to be honest, after a busy weekend, I opened my fridge door and chose the ingredients from what was inside. I knew vaguely the sort of pie that was required, and with a bit of this and a bit of that, it all came together. So here are some things to think about when making up your own versions.

  • Pastry: A lot of recipes ‘out there’ *waves hand vaguely in the direction of the interwebs* call for puff pastry, and it certainly is very speedy to grab a couple of ready-rolled sheets from the supermarket chillers and be done with it, but there are a couple of things that need mentioning.
    • Whilst there’s not much that can beat a beautiful, puff pastry topped pie, straight from the oven, all golden and crispy flakiness,  a picnic pie is meant to be eaten cold, and cold puff pastry, due to the high fat content, is very ordinary when cold. It is also not very sturdy, so doesn’t fare well as a large pie, being lugged around the countryside in box or basket. And so you should turn aside from the tempting richness of puff – and for that matter flaky – pastry and go with shortcrust.
    • That being said, shortcrust doesn’t have to be the boring choice. My current favourite shortcrust recipe is the cornflour pastry I adapted from a Victorian bakers’ book for the Cheese and Potato Pies. An all-butter shortcrust lacks the sturdiness that 50% lard/50% butter can afford, however, the addition of some cornflour into the mix gives it a fantastic crispness and dryness as well as a beautifully silky-smooth feel when rolling out. It also makes it suitable for vegetarians, although, with this pie, a little bit of lard in the pastry would be the very least of a vegetarian’s worries, as will be made clear later.
    • Speaking of rolling out, you should roll out your pastry for the sides/base a little thicker than normal – 5-7mm – to make sure the pie holds its shape when baked. The lid, especially if you’re going for the ‘double design’ lid as shown in the top photo, can be a little thinner.
    • I also chose to keep the rosemary flavouring, although other herbs such as sage/marjoram/oregano/winter savory could work just as well – whatever your preference.

Picnic Pie Slice

  • Filling: A good picnic pie needs to hold its shape in the slice, and not fall apart once cut. The filling should be dense enough to hold its shape both during cooking and after the pie has cooled down.
    • Fresh, raw ingredients, whilst delicious, WILL lose bulk during baking, as the moisture in them is released. In addition, too much moisture in the pie can lead to the dreaded soggy bottom and ruin the structural integrity of the pie. Fresh vegetables need to be steamed or parboiled. Spring onions you can getaway with raw, but shallots, onions and red onions should be softened in a oil in a pan first. Tinned chopped tomatoes should be thoroughly drained.
    • Meat also needs pre-cooking. This recipe contains sausage-meat, which I removed from the casings and then cooked in a pan. The same would apply to bacon or gammon.
    • Fresh chopped parsley can do wonders to lift the taste of a pie filling.
    • Whatever you choose for your filling, make sure it is chopped small enough. It will help the pie hold its shape if the knife doesn’t have to negotiate large pieces of meat or vegetables when slicing. The exception to this is potatoes, which cut easily when cooked, and so don’t need to be cut quite as small.
  • Glue: Whatever filling you choose, to help keep it firm when cold, you need some kind of ‘glue’ to hold it together. The usual choice is either egg or cheese. A well-flavoured white béchamel sauce or velouté (like white sauce but made with half stock, half milk) can also work, although it’s tricky judging the correct consistency for when the pie cools.
  • Seasoning. VITAL. You (almost) cannot season too highly. A well-seasoned, hot pie filling tastes very different when cold. Be heavy-handed with the pepper and spices, a little less so with salt, especially if your pie includes bacon. Top Tip: If you’ve got some scraps of pastry left over from lining your tin, bake a quick turnover using some of the filling, just to check the seasoning. If you can wait until it cools, so much the better, but if you have to try it hot, make sure the seasoning is bold and a little ‘in your face’, because it will lose intensity when cold.

And there you have it. As I said before, the contents of this pie came from what I had available in the fridge, and I’m going to be honest with you, some of it was Déjà Food. Most of the cheese was because it needed using up, as did the parsley and the spring onions. The cauliflower was from Saturday’s supper and still al-dente. Broccoli would have been my first choice, for the colour, but the cauliflower disappeared amongst the other ingredients really well and also lightened the texture of the, otherwise almost solid, slab of proteins. Pie was delicious!

Picnic Pie

225g plain flour
60g cornflour or rice flour
140g butter
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
ice cold water

  • Put the flours, rosemary and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off two thirds. Put the remaining third back into the fridge.
  • Roll this piece out to a thickness of 5-7mm and use it to line a greased 20cm pie tin, loose-bottomed for preference, making sure there is enough pastry overlapping the sides of the tin to allow for joining the lid.
  • Chill while you mix the filling.

400g sausage-meat [1]
15 slices chorizo – cut into small pieces
180g grated mozzarella
100g grated vintage cheddar
50g grated Grana Padano cheese
250g cottage cheese – drained well
250g cooked cauliflower
1 x 400g carton chopped tomatoes – drained well [2]
5 spring onions – chopped fine
large handful of parsley – chopped fine
1-2tsp smoked sweet paprika [3]
1 rounded tsp coarse ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 large eggs
1 cold, cooked potato – peeled (optional)

Beaten egg for glazing.

  • Remove the sausage meat from the skins and cook in a pan over medium heat, using a spatula to break up the meat.
  • Set aside on paper towels to allow the excess fat to drain off.
  • When cool, add to a mixing bowl.
  • Cut the chorizo into small pieces and add to the bowl.
  • Add the cheeses.
  • Cut the cauliflower into small florets and add to the bowl, together with the spring onions, tomatoes, parsley and seasoning.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, to moisten the mixture. You want it moist enough to hold together, but not so much as to make it sloppy.
  • Remove the chilled pastry-lined tin from the fridge.
  • Grate the cold potato into the bottom of the pie in an even layer. This will help absorb any excess moisture and help prevent your pastry becoming soggy. A cold, baked potato is ideal (discard the skin).
  • Add the filling. I decided to really mound it up in the middle, for a domed effect, but you could also just had a firmly-packed, flat pie.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid. You can make this pastry a little thinner than the sides if you’re going to make the lattice design shown above.
  • Moisten the pastry overlapping the sides of the tin with a little water.
  • Lay the pastry lid on top and press the two together to make a firm seal. Try not to trap any air under the pastry, as it will make a gap between the filling and the lid.
  • Trim the excess pastry from the edge of the tin using the back of a knife – using the cutting edge might damage the lining of your tin.
  • Using fingers and thumb, crimp the edges upwards.
  • Brush the top with beaten egg.
  • Optional fancy lattice finish.
    • Roll out the excess pastry and wash with beaten egg. It makes it a little trickier to cut the lattice, but so much easier than trying to paint the lattice when its on the pie and not get the sides of the pastry covered in glaze.
    • Cut a lattice using a lattice roller if you have it, or by hand if you don’t.
    • Lift and separate the pastry and drape it over the top of the pie.
    • Cut off the excess lattice at the edge with scissors. Make sure to press the ends firmly onto the lid.
    • Re-roll the remaining pastry and cut a strip to go around the edge of the pie, covering the ends of the lattice.
    • Brush this strip with beaten egg.
  • Cut a vent hole in the top to allow any steam to escape.
  • Return the  pie to the fridge to chill while the oven heats up. This will allow the pastry to firm up and hold its shape better in the oven.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Put the pie on a baking sheet (in case of oozing) and bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pie around 180° after 25 minutes, to even the colour.
  • Remove and let stand in the tin for 15 minutes, then remove from the tin if possible and cool fully on a wire rack. If, at this stage, the base of your pie is not cooked enough (lift the wire rack up and take a peek) for your liking, return the wire rack to the oven and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, or until suitably crisp. If you can direct the heat of your oven to come from the bottom, so much the better.
  • When cold, wrap in foil and chill thoroughly in the fridge.

[1] I use Sainsbury’s ultimate 97% pork sausages. Fantastic flavour and precious little worryingly-anonymous filler.
[2] If you’re concerned about adding too much moisture, use a couple of spoons of sundried tomato paste, or even pesto,  instead.
[3] This was to boost the flavour of the chorizo, but it would also work if you were using smoked bacon. Feel free to add more heat if you like things spicy.

One Comment on “Picnic Pie”

  1. Pieoneer says:

    Thanks for this mouthwatering recipe! I’ll try it out this weekend with my girlfriend, it’s perfect for a rainy winter day and an indoors picnic.

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