A few months ago, we spent a weekend in Berlin, an edgy, intoxicating, graffiti-covered city tortured by its own past, the streets forming the canvas on which the horrors of the last century were played out.
It was cold.
Very cold. A type of unrelenting cold that attacked at the very core, damp, miserable, wretched, weather to match the Soviet-era concrete and gloom.
We’d tramped around Kreuzberg for a morning, and got to that point where we needed something to eat, pretty much immediately. I was at the ‘OK, I’m eating whatever the next place that sells food has, whatever it is’ stage, and that next place was a little café selling pies with either mashed potato or salad, but nobody was buying the salad, unsurprisingly. I skipped the vaguely jerk chicken option (10% off if you sung the chorus from No Woman, No Cry … I’d have happily paid double, triple even, not to have to do that) and we ate steak and Guinness pies that tasted like manna from Heaven … pure fuel, delicious beef encased in a pastry that was just soggy enough underneath, just crisp enough on top.
It was the best pie I’ve had for a long time, not least because of its magical abilities to restore some warmth to our frozen bones, but because it was simple and elegant, carefully flavoured, carefully made and unpretentious. It was a pie. A glorious pie.
As we ate, I noticed a familiar book on the shelf behind the counter – Dean Brettschneider’s Pie, of which I’ve sung the praises several times before.
Of course, on returning home, I dug that book out again straight away and set to work.
The basis of any pie – all pies – is good pastry. It’s what makes a pie a pie. Without pastry, a pie is a stew.
Good pastry need not be a problem. It’s very easy to make, and even easier to buy. There is no shame whatsoever in buying a block of commercial puff pastry. It’s generally an excellent product, and a very useful thing to have tucked away in a freezer in case of dire pie-related emergencies.
All that said, there’s something fulfilling and basic about making a decent pastry from scratch, and even a puff pastry of exceptional quality is well within the reach of most people.
So, here’s how to do it… More…