How to cook a perfect pie

Date:28-12-2013 08:58:49 read:3

How to cook a perfect pie

Camilla Stephens, the founder of Higgidy, reveals the secret of high-end pie-making

Upper crust: Xanthe prepares to sample Camilla’s wares  Photo: Christopher Pledger

A pie is comfort and joy in a neat pastry package, the culinary equivalent of a long snooze in front of a fire. From the moment the knife plunges in and fragrant steam erupts from the soft-but-crisp crust, you know that there is pleasure in store.

Camilla Stephens of Higgidy, the high-end pie makers, understands this well. Her company, run with husband James, has grown from a few test pies baked in Stephens’s home oven to being stocked in leading supermarkets in just 10 years – an anniversary that she has marked by publishing The Higgidy Cookbook.

The pies may be available to the mass market, but they have a select band of fans, including MasterChef judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode – and even Miranda Hart. Stephens told me when I visited her in her Sussex kitchen, “Miranda even tweeted about the book, which was fantastic.”

Stephens left school without taking her A-levels – “My father would have liked me to go to Oxford. He said, ‘You’re going to close so many doors by this decision’.”

Undeterred, the 17-year-old enrolled at Leith’s School of Food and Wine before moving to spend a year in Seattle in her early twenties. On her return she joined the British-based Seattle Coffee Company; then she worked as a consultant for their food suppliers, one of whom, Kate’s Cakes, asked her to develop a pie for them.

Who ate all the pies? Higgidy products (CHRISTOPHER PLEDGER)

Stephens saw the potential for pies made with good quality ingredients. The idea caught on. In 2006, she and her husband moved to Sussex and adopted the name “Higgidy”, invented by a child visiting their home. “The pies on offer are pretty ‘higgedy piggedy’,” she admits.

Make the perfect pie

The secret, says Stephens is good filling and good pastry. “For the pastry, start with a really hot oven to give lift to the pastry, then turn it down to cook it through.” To avoid a soggy bottom use a metal pie dish, and bake on a hot tray to help cook the base. If your pie dish is china or glass, then don’t attempt a pie with a pastry bottom – pile the filling straight in the dish, and top it with pastry to make a crisp lid. The filling is effectively a casserole, cooked gently – for red meat at least. “It should barely judder for two or three hours,” said Stephens. Sticking to one slow-cook cut is important too. “You can’t expect topside, chuck and brisket to be tender and melting all at the same time. Best to buy the meat as a whole piece at the butcher and cut it up yourself at home, so you know what you’re getting.”

Chicken and poultry is another matter. Avoiding dry, stringy meat is as simple as not overcooking it – “and it cooks much more quickly than you think”, she says.

Xanthe's spiced turkey pie recipe

Buy The Higgidy Cookbook by Camilla Stephens (Quercus, £16.99) from Telegraph Bookshop for £14.99 + £1.35 p&p.: 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books

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