The Hairy Bikers’ Perfect Pies, by Si King and Dave Myers (published 2011)

I love the Hairy Bikers. They’re my favourite TV foodies, with their cheerful, friendly manner, their wonderful and very real friendship, their skills and knowledge in the kitchen, and their great and genuine passion for their subject. These qualities come through in their Perfect Pies recipe book, which (as the post title indicates) is the subject of my rambling today.

I don’t need to say what this book is about, do I? Heh heh heh… Ok, I’ll say this much: it is a heartfelt love letter to the many faces of pie, from sweet to savoury, from meaty to veggie, from single crust to double crust, shortcrust to suet to puff pastry to raised hot-water crusts. It is beautiful!

There’s so much stuff in there that a comprehensive description would involve reproducing most of the book (which would annoy the copyright holders) and, as tends to happen if I don’t restrain myself when talking about something I like a lot, be semi-coherent at best (which would annoy blog readers). I’ll just say that if you can think of it, it’s probably in here. Classic steak and kidney pie? Check. Chicken and mushroom? Check. Apple pie? Yup. Summer fruit tart? Ooooh yes. Suet-crust steak and kidney pudding? I’m running out of affirmatives 😀 I was a little surprised to find recipes for pasties, calzone, baklava, and canapés, as I hadn’t thought that any of these counted as pies, but they are there and they look delicious.

I haven’t had much of a chance to try out any of the recipes yet (that will have to wait until I have my own place). However, I would very much like to have a bash at calzones, which look like they might be a good ‘make multiple meals’ worth and put them in the fridge or freezer’ dish, and one of the recipes that uses a raised hot-water crust. This looks like it would be rather fiddly, but the effort will undoubtedly be worth it.

Apart from the delicious variety of pies described, there are also sections on such tasty topics as side dishes, salads, condiments, and stuff to make with leftover bits of pastry. There’s also a fairly comprehensive section at the end of the book, which talks about kitchen tools for pie-making, the basics of pastry-wrangling, and some more advanced ideas for putting a bit of variety into one’s pastry.

The book is liberally illustrated with photographs of every dish described within its pages. These serve a dual purpose: displaying what each finished dish should look like, and making the viewer hungry enough to rush to the kitchen and start cooking. I’m not sure how far that second effect was actually intended, but it happens nonetheless. Even without the ingredients for any of the recipes, I could look at the pictures for hours.

I do have a few minor criticisms:

  1. Many of the recipes contain added salt; flaked sea salt (or some other variant) is listed in the ingredients list, and the recipe itself instructs something along the lines of ‘add salt to taste’ at some point, even when the dish is already quite salty due to the other ingredients. This seems a bit excessive, and is not good for the heart. The extra salt can easily be omitted altogether in the vast majority of cases, especially when it comes to the pastry, without having any adverse effect on the final dish.
  2. The method given for making vol-au-vent cases seems prima facie to be a bit wasteful. It involves cooking squares of puff pastry and then removing a smaller square from the centre of each of them. No further instruction is given regarding the removed pastry, so the assumption seems to be that it is discarded. This seems absurdly wasteful. I can think of two ways to use up this removed pastry: mix it in with excess filling as a sustaining nibble for the chef, or cut it into small pieces and stir it into the filling to make it stretch further. Delicious!
  3. This is more of a personal thing, but one or two of the recipes for side dishes involve deep-frying. For health reasons, I prefer to shallow fry or, ideally, grill/oven-bake instead.
  4. Another personal thing: most of the recipes, when it comes to pastry, instruct the cook to mix the pastry in a blender or food processor. I prefer to mix pastry by hand where possible. This is partly for the sheer tactile pleasure of it, and partly because the pastry always seems to come out better if made using this method. It also makes the washing-up considerably less complicated. Thankfully, the section on pastry-wrangling (though the book doesn’t call it that!) has some good tips on hand-making pastry.

Apart from these points, I have no complaints about the book at all. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wanted to know more about the noble art of pies!

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