The humble pork pie is a long-standing British tradition and an ultimate performer when it comes to portable meaty snacks. Traditionally eaten cold they have a distinctive bowing shape, which results from the use of a special, hand-shaped crust. Pacdon Park, a British smallgoods producer operating out of northern Victoria, make some of the finest pork pies going, and when you've got the likes of these close at hand it's pretty easy to pass up on making your own.
Pacdon Park's flagship pork pie
But I was keen to learn about the pastry they use and so the pork pie was penned in as this week's technical challenge, albeit one with a very high benchmark...
The pastry of choice when it comes to making hand-raised pies is a hot water crust, which relies on the combination of lard and boiling water to form a sticky dough that slowly stiffens with time. While perfect for creating something stand-alone and holding those all important porky juices in, there is an art to this this particular pastry, which all comes down to a matter of timing. Start shaping too early while the pastry is still warm, and you have yourself a greasy mess incapable of supporting itself. But start too late and it will be stiff and retractile, refusing to be shaped and tearing at the nearest suggestion.
As it happened, when it's pushing forty degrees celsius outside stiffening isn't really an issue, and working with this recipe from Dan Lepard I found the handling to be far easier than I'd expected.
Shaped and then filled it was off to the oven with fingers crossed, and I have to admit I was pretty pleased with what came back.
Despite starting off reasonably squat most managed the characteristic bow, and while some of the tasty juices easily escaped through the oversized vent, the caramelised leak added a nice "homemade" effect.
On the all-important taste test I was again suitably impressed. By using a small amount of butter along with the lard the pastry was not only structurally sound, but had an added and delicate flake. Although the outer layers fell apart somewhat on cutting it had a really lovely texture and was, of course, delicious. The filling was also great, as the apple-brined gammon added both a beautiful pink hue and was wonderfully bright in flavour. As a worker's lunch or handy addition to the charcuterie board the pork pie is a fabulous number to have in one's baking repertoire, and the feeling achieved from making your own hand-shaped pies is immensely satisfying. While they're certainly no match for those Pacdon Park beauties they were a truly delicious start to my journey toward pork pie perfection. Next time I'd add a lot more white pepper and roll sans vent, as I think it would be nice to keep in those juices and forego the addition of jelly, but as a first attempt I'd say that's a winner for technical challenge: round one.