Eric Akis: Classic French pie has rich pastry

Thicker-than-usual beef bourguignon makes it work, along with spreading preparation over a couple of days

Eric Akis

A reader recently asked me for a meat-pie recipe, and I decided to make one that saw a classic French dish baked inside rich pastry. It’s a splendid creation one might serve for a casual dinner for friends, if you want to make it a little extra special.

Making it special is the pie’s filling. The method is similar to the way I make beef bourguignon, in which seared cubes of beef are simmered with red wine, stock, bacon, mushrooms, garlic and other good things. The main difference is that I made it much thicker than I normally would and cut the beef into smaller pieces. Doing those things made the pie easy to cut and ensured the filling did not quickly run out of the pie when served.

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When making a meat pie, no matter what type, it’s important that the filling is cold before you seal it inside the pastry. If it’s hot or even just warm, the fat in the pastry could melt and no longer be streaked throughout the dough. Not a good thing, if you want tender, flaky pastry.

That’s why I like to spread the preparation of the pie over a couple of days. On the first day, you can make the filling, cool it and then refrigerate it until you are ready to fill and bake your pie. The next day, even in the morning if you wanted, you can make the pastry, chill it and let it rest a bit, and then roll it out, fill and seal the pie. Then keep the pie refrigerated until ready to bake and serve for dinner. This chilling time will firm up the fat in the dough and help the pastry hold its shape and not shrink too much when baked.

I’ve included my recipe for flaky pie dough. But if you have your own tried and true pie-dough recipe, you could certainly use it to make the beef bourguignon-style pie.

Because the pie is rich, to make a meal of it, I suggest serving it with green salad lightly dressed with vinaigrette.

Beef Bourguignon-style Pie

A thick and rich version of beef bourguignon is the filling for this splendid meat pie. I like to serve portions of it with a dollop of Dijon mustard.

Preparation time: One hour, plus chilling time

Cooking time: About two hours

Makes: eight servings

675 grams boneless blade steak, patted dry (see Eric’s options)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 thick slices bacon, cut, widthwise, into 1/4-inch strips

2 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

1/2 cup diced onion (see Note 1)

1/2 cup diced carrot

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp herbes de Provence (see Note 2)

1 cup red wine

2 cups beef stock (divided), plus more if needed

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch

1/3 lb small white mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/3 cup frozen peas

1 large egg, beaten

• dough for a double crust pie (see Flaky Pie Dough recipe)

Cut the beef into small, about 1/2-inch cubes, discarding any sinew or fat you come across. Set meat on a wide plate and toss and season with salt and pepper.

Set a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat (my pot was 10 inches wide). Add the bacon and cook until lightly browned and the fat is rendered out. Remove pot from the heat. Lift bacon out of the pot with a slotted spoon and set in a medium bowl.

Add 1 Tbsp of the oil to the bacon fat in the pot and set over medium-high heat. Sear the cubed beef, cooking it in three or four batches, until nicely browned. (Don’t crowd the beef when browning it, or it will steam, not sear.) Remove cooked beef from the pot and set on the bacon as you go along.

When beef is cooked, add the onion and carrot to the pot and cook until lightly browned, about two minutes. Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook one minute more. Return the beef and bacon to the pot, and then pour in the wine and 1 3/4 cups of the beef stock.

Bring liquids to a gentle simmer; small bubbles should just break on the surface. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Partially cover the pot (don’t completely cover, as steam needs to escape). Now simmer beef 40 to 45 minutes, until tender.

While the beef simmers, place the remaining 1 Tbsp oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender and the moisture has evaporated from them, about five to six minutes. Remove pan from the heat.

When beef is done simmering, stir in the mushrooms. In a bowl, mix the remaining 1/4 cup beef stock with the cornstarch until smooth. Stir this mixture into the pot, return to a simmer and when the beef mixture has thickened, remove pot from the heat. Now look at the beef mixture and if you think it needs to be a bit saucier, simply mix in a bit more beef stock.

Transfer beef mixture to a bowl, ensuring you get every bit of it. Now cool to room temperature. When there, mix in the peas, and then cover and refrigerate until this pie filling is very cold.

To make the pie, set out a 10-inch, 4-cup capacity pie plate. Set one of the discs of dough on a lightly floured surface. Dust the top of it and your rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough from the centre out until it’s about 2 inches wider than the top of your pie plate. To create a round shape, give the dough an eighth of a turn after each roll, dusting with more flour if needed.

To make the move to the pie plate, carefully roll the dough around the rolling pin. Place the dough just above the front of the pie plate, and then gently unroll into it. If dough breaks when doing this, simply press back together.

Evenly pack the beef filling into the pie crust. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out the second disc of dough as you did the first. Set this top crust on, crimping the edges to seal. Trim off excess pastry. Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg. Cut a small hole in the centre of the pie to allow steam to escape. Refrigerate pie 20 minutes or more to firm up the dough.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 425 F. Bake pie in the middle of the oven 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and cook 25 to 30 minutes more, or until pastry is cooked and nicely browned top and bottom. Allow pie to set 10 to 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Note 1: Diced in this recipe means to cut into small, 1/4-inch cubes.

Note 2: Herbes de Provence is a French-style blend of dried herbs sold in the bottled herb and spice aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: If desired, instead of blade steak, you could use cubed stewing beef, which is sold at most supermarkets. You will still have to cut it into smaller cubes, though. If you can’t have wine, although the taste won’t be as rich, you could simply replace it with more beef stock. You can fill and form the pie many hours before baking it. Keep refrigerated until ready to cook. Unbaked, this pie also freezes well. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before baking.

Flaky Pie Dough

This is my go-to recipe for rich pie dough. Chilling the dough before rolling it gives the gluten time to relax.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: enough dough for a double-crust pie

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for shaping

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cups cold vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (see Eric’s options)

1/4 cup cold butter, cut into tiny cubes

1 large egg, beaten with 1/3 cup ice-cold water

Combine the 3 cups flour and salt in a bowl. With a pastry cutter, two forks or with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, cut the shortening and butter into the flour until well blended.

Pour the egg/water mixture into the bowl; gently work it until it forms loose, moist dough that just holds together. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.

With lightly floured hands, shape the dough into a ball. Cut the ball in half. Press each half into a 1/2-inch-thick disc. Wrap and refrigerate the discs for at least 20 minutes, before rolling out and using as described in the Beef Bourguignon-style Pie recipe.

Eric’s options: Cold, pure lard, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, could replace the shortening in this recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.


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