The great gluten-free pork pie experiment – part 2

Having thought I was ready to get on and start baking yesterday afternoon, it turned out I was wrong.  I’m not sure how I managed to mislay a packet of lard from the fridge.  After all, I don’t cook with it all that often.  But it wasn’t there and I wasn’t about to start playing with more variables than the flour on the first attempt.

So, after a fruitless walk to the little Tesco on Whitechapel and a rather more productive trip up to Sainsbury’s on Cambridge Heath Road – on the bus, much to Harvey’s delight – we were finally able to get on and start work on the pies.

In the end, I decided to combine elements of the recipe from Lorraine Pascale’s Baking Made Easy and the method from Merrilees Parker’s recipe.  The balance felt slightly better on the ingredients – not least Ms Pascale’s understanding that flour can be more or less thirsty, which is often a problem with gluten-free flours – but given the lack of gluten I was not convinced I wanted to let the pastry chill and then try to work it – it would be friable enough when warm or even room temperature, cold it would potentially be impossible to use.  So I stuck with the Parker recipe for the method, forming the pastry while still warm.  With the adjustments for using gluten-free flour (Dove’s Farm plain flour), this is the recipe I used:

430g plain gluten-free flour
1/2tsp salt
Black pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
80g butter
100g lard
230ml water

NB: If you have Lorraine Pascale’s book, you’ll know that her recipe (page 84) calls for 180ml water, and that you may not use all of it.  I upped that to 200ml from the start, then found myself adding extra as I worked the dough.  Gluten-free flour is seriously thirsty.

As instructed, I put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, added the egg yolk and then let Harvey stir them all together while I melted the lard and butter into the water and then brought that mix to a boil.

I then shooed him out the way and poured the molten fat and water mix into a well in the dry mix and stirred it quickly to form quite a firm dough.  Harvey helped, but found the dough too firm for him to stir, and then too hot for him to work with his hands.  Since I have asbestos hands, however, I was able to work the dough rather better and was therefore able to add the extra water it needed, which took it up to the total of 230ml.

I then separated it into two lumps – one third and two thirds – and then separated these into four balls each, since we were going to be making pies using some nice little foil dishes I’d picked up rather than the muffin tins Lorraine Pascale suggests.

The next bit was great fun as it involved squidging the pastry into place in the dishes and up the sides to create the body of the case.  This is a perfect job for a 4 year old.  We then popped in the filling – the one bit we had been able to make earlier! – which was coarsely minced pork loin steaks (480g pack) and pancetta (75g) with a little salt, pepper and nutmeg.  This, it turns out, is another job that mummies should leave to their children.  Finally, we used our last four balls of pastry to squash out lids to put on the pies, pinching them onto the cases where they met at the edges.  Harvey did admit this bit was a little more tricky, but he gave it a good go.

Gluten-free pork pies ready for the oven

H marks the spot - Harvey makes sure we know which pie is his

And so we had pies.  We slit the tops to let the steam out, and then popped them in the oven at 200C.  While the recipe says 30-35 minutes, our pies were going to be bigger, so we took them out after about 50 minutes.

The first thing I noticed was that the whole tray was swimming in fat.  The pastry had pulled in from the foil cases and you could see fat between the two.  Were it not for the crisp, golden pastry in front of me, the whole thing would have looked very unappealing.  On the other hand, I wasn’t too sorry to know we’d be losing some of the fat from the recipe before eating the finished product, so I mopped up the fat on the tray with kitchen towels (NEVER pour this down the sink, please!) and, when the pies were cool enough to handle, popped them out onto some more kitchen towels so they wouldn’t either reabsorb more fat as they cooled, or just end up coated in a layer of white fat: bleeeurgh.

Gluten-free pork pies

Gluten-free pork pies - looking good for a first effort

One thing you might notice on the photo above is how the neat slits have changed into rather rough holes.  That’s because the pastry resealed itself in the oven and I needed to knock holes in the crusts to pour the jelly in.  Ahem.  So, notwithstanding Harvey’s desire to put an initial on his pie, it will be less effort for future batches to simply make a proper hole in the lid before baking.

It has to be said that the crust, when the pies first cooled, was a nice shell on the outside, just as I had hoped it would be.  Since I seem to remember that pork pies were originally used to preserve the meat and that the pastry was used purely as a case to be discarded when it came to finally eating the thing, the only way that worked was if the case would withstand a certain amount of punishment.  So we at least have something authentic here.  Still, I wiggled in a small blade, hooked out a bit of lid, and poured in some jelly, which I’m sure will have softened the crust slightly by the time we come to eat the pies.

Now, I have to confess I cheated with the jelly.  After the length of time we spent just buying lard yesterday afternoon, I simply could not be bothered to make a proper vegetable stock, and didn’t have any left in the freezer.  I simply melted my gelatine, used half a Knorr vegetable stockpot, a couple of splashes of pinot grigio and enough water to top it up to half a pint.  Tasted OK on the spoon, and while it’s far from what I’d consider ideal, there was a fairly serious ‘life’s too short’ argument going on by that point.  I poured it in until it started seeping out of the join of the lid, popped the pies in the fridge, then topped them up a little later to the brim of the holes.

So, the photo above was taken this morning of my first ever gluten-free pork pies, complete with jelly – that’s what the shiny patch is on the lid of the bottom pie.  I will admit that the three of us ate one of the pies last night, purely to check the seasoning before I put the jelly together.  After all, you want to make sure the tastes complement each other.  Well, that was our excuse.  The pastry was – at that point – marvellously crunchy and lacking the bitter aftertaste my husband deplores in commercial pork pies.  The filling was delicious, although not perhaps so traditional, given the pancetta was smoked, and one would normally use green bacon.  All that was missing was the jelly.

And that, dear readers, is where I shall leave you, for it is time to put together a couple of salads and try the properly finished product.  Full verdict from all the family – and photos – later…

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