For the first two and half months of this year, I was vegetarian. It was a conscious decision based around wanting to be healthier and in a small way, reducing the amount demand for of meat but I have since gone back to the dark side and am consuming meat again. This post isn’t intended to discuss vegetarianism in detail but I will say, I was shocked how much meat I had been eating morning, noon and night prior to making the decision to cut it out of my diet, even though I classed myself very much as a token meat eater beforehand. Food for thought indeed. Whilst the focus was on being healthier and Hungry Hubby joined in too, there were a couple of occasions when I just did not have the energy to prepare a mountain of veg and make us dinner. On one of those occasions, he toddled up to our local chippy and came home with a bag of chips and a cheese pie each. That naughty little pie filled with nothing healthy just delicious naughtiness changed my life a little bit and it became the focus of a new obsession.
Just as I don’t count myself as a raging carnivore, I also don’t seem to want to acknowledge how much I like cheese. Or chocolate. Or bread, for that matter. Funny isn’t it, how it’s not just onlookers who have perceptions and preconceptions about who we are, but we ourselves can have a skewed version of reality playing through our daily lives. They are worse things to admit to being than being a lover of ooey, gooey cheese pies but still, it’s a point with pausing to consider.
It wasn’t until Hungry Hubby brought me that pie in a foil container, piping hot with golden pastry and a full flavoured cheesy filling that oozed out of the pie that I had an epiphany and realised what I needed to do to make my perfect pie. I’ve been trying in vain for years to make the perfect cheese pasty (or pie) but no matter what recipe I tried, disappointment was the side dish to whatever sad, too solid, too mustardy, too potato laden, too bland excuse for a cheese pie I created. For all those years, I’d been trying to reproduce the ooze and goo of a hot cheese pie but more or less packing it with cheese and wondering why it didn’t leak a river of molten cheese lava as I poked it with my fork. Then it hit me – what I needed was a thick cheese sauce! Not one filled with horrid artificial ingredients that scare me a little (a lot) like cheese flavouring and various unpronounceable thickeners and preservatives. Just a simple white space or béchamel with plenty of strong, mature cheddar and just a hint of English mustard to bring out the flavour. Bingo.
Last week, I shared how to make your own puff pastry (have you tried it yet? I’d love to hear about it if you have) and once you have the pastry chilled in the fridge, or defrosting over night for that matter, you are a mere ten minutes of assembly and fifteen to twenty away from a hot cheese pie. Let me tell you, these are as naughty as you like but being completely homemade places you in the quality control driving seat so you can source the best possible ingredients, ration out the salt and then quite frankly forget the calories and dive in. Book a double spin class tomorrow and if you must, go the extra mile and serve the pies with a salad. My dirty little secret is that I love these cold the nest day with hot baked beans.
- 350g puff pastry
- 25g soft butter
- 4 tbsp plain flour
- Salt and pepper to season
- ¼-½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 40g parmesan, grated
- 115 g mature cheddar, grated
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 500ml milk (I use 1%)
- 1 large leek finely shredded and thoroughly washed
- Olive oil
- 1 small egg to wash with (the pies - not you!)
- Cook the sliced leek in a little olive oil until soft but not coloured. Set aside.
- In a medium sized sauce pan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour with the seasoning and nutmeg. Go easy on the salt but be liberal with the pepper.
- When the flour is cooked out (it will form a crumbly paste with the butter), start dribbling in the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly to prevent lumps forming. Add the dijon mustard when it starts to loosen a little so it doesn’t burn.
- Continue adding the milk until it is all combined and cook until the sauce thickens a little more. I find it takes about 5 minutes to get all the milk in and then another 5 minutes of cooking on a medium-high heat to evaporate off some of the liquid and the flour to thicken what is left.
- Take off the heat at this point and whisk in all the cheese. When it has melted, stir in the leeks then cover the surface of the cheese sauce with a layer of greaseproof paper to prevent a skin forming. You could pour it into a shallow cold bowl to speed up the cooling process if you wish. I prefer to dirty as few dishes as possible so wait the extra few minutes for it to cool in the pan!
- Once cooled to room temperature, roll out your puff pastry to 2mm thick. Trim the edges then slice into 8 rectangles – half large enough to line the bases of your pie dishes, half just big enough to form the lids.
- Line your pie tins with the larger rectangles of pastry then share out the pie filling evenly. If you work quickly, you don’t need to chill the dough before you fill but if it’s very hot in your kitchen or the pastry starts to become very soft, stick it in the fridge until firm before proceeding. I don’t trim the pastry as I like them nice and rustic plus I don’t like to waste the pastry (although you can re-roll trimmings to make decorations for the top, if you like that sort of thing).
- Brush the exposed edges with the egg wash then press the lids on top. Crimp the edges with a fork then brush with egg wash, sprinkle with a little more seasoning and cut 2 or 3 holes in each pie lid to let steam out.
- Bake in the centre of an oven preheated to 200°C until the pastry has risen, is very brown and crisp when tapped.
- Stand for a minute or two before you try and unmould them – there is enough butter in the pastry that pre-greasing the tins is unnecessary but if any egg wash has gotten underneath, the pies may need prising away before taking out of the tin. Serve hot or allow to cool and wrap for a jealousy invoking packed lunch!