Almost six years ago to the day, I completed my graduate diploma in law. A month later, I secured pupillage at a fantastic set of chambers, and prepared myself for a lifetime of criminal law. I was absolutely certain that I wanted to be a criminal barrister for the rest of my working life. But, four months ago, I handed in my notice. And yesterday, I left the bar.
If you read this blog, it will probably come as little to no surprise that a new love has crept into my life over the last three years. As I battled with grief and anxiety, as I found being a barrister more and more like wading through treacle, struggling to find the joy or satisfaction in the job that I could clearly see those around me embracing, I discovered happiness and hope in the kitchen. I never imagined that I would ever want to leave a career I’d spent so long working for, had dreamt of for so long, and I certainly didn’t think I’d do so for cake. But in the midst of a misery I couldn’t shake, as I slowly recognised that I was wholly unsuited to the bar, I found serenity in bread dough, and joy in pastry. So from a single pot of lemon curd, via shakshuka, dipping my toe into brioche, here I am. I’m just a girl, standing in front of the internet, asking it to love her food.
I’m hanging up my wig and gown, and exchanging it, at least for a short time, for chef’s whites. I will be studying patisserie full time at the London Cordon Bleu for the next year, and then trying to forge some kind of career in food.
Suddenly, there are so many things I don’t know about the future. I don’t know what I’ll do in nine months time. I don’t know if I’ll find work. I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t. I don’t even know that I’ll be good at this. And I certainly never thought that I would make myself unemployed and unskilled in my chosen field in such catastrophic political times. As someone who becomes more risk-averse and anxious as each month passes, I’ve spent most of my notice period doing double-takes at this cavalier approach to my own life. I am, in short, completely, mind-numbingly, standing stock-still gazing into space, terrified.
Tonight, I will drink with my gorgeous colleagues, who have nurtured me over the last five years, who have shown me more kindness and patience than I could have imagined, and certainly more than I deserved. And then tomorrow, I’m going to be brave. I’m going to write, I’m going to cook, and I’m going to do my level best to be happy.
One thing I do know is that this is a truly excellent recipe for pork pie, and I am very proud of it. It’s a bastardisation of recipes from Dan Lepard, Nigel Slater, and my father-not-in-law who is the resident food expert to whom I turn.
I didn’t believe, really, that I could successfully make a pork pie. But, I gave it a go anyway, and I hope you will too. Because it turned out that, despite its lengthy method, and the need to wrangle with trotters, it’s actually very easy, and amongst the most satisfying things I’ve ever baked. So now, it is my ‘pork pie for courage’, because if you bake this pork pie, you will be filled with just a little more self-belief, with a little more courage than before. And I think I’m going to need a measure or two of that over the next few months.
Here are the key points:
– Leave the pastry to cool. It is infinitely more workable, and will not slump like some sad thing inside your tin. Be patient when dealing with it: it really is important that there are no holes, and that the pastry is uniformly thick.
– Malt extract: because the main body of the pie doesn’t see the oven directly, there is the risk of only the top browning and the rest of the pastry looking at best, wan or, at worst, a pallid grey. The malt extract helps with this, and also gives the pastry a crispness it might otherwise lack; I get mine from Holland and Barrett. Bonus, of course, if you invest in the malt extract, is that you are duty bound to make this malt loaf.
– Meat ratios: Don’t mess with the meat ratios: if you don’t have a decent mix of fat and lean, your pie won’t be right, and it may be dry and mealy. The one bit of faff is the chopping of the three different cuts. Bacon’s easy, because you can snip it with scissors, but it’s a bit of a pain cutting the others by hand. Although you can ask your butcher to mince this for you, or pop it into a food processor, I’m afraid it’s significantly better to cut it by hand. Put the radio on and embrace the repetition.
– Jelly: I got the best results from doing a two-stage fill. The meat will suck up a lot of the initial jelly, which is no bad thing, but it means that a pie which seemed replete with jelly, is suddenly lacking after fifteen minutes. You can solve this with a refill when the first jelly-pour has cooled. You, of course, don’t have to make your own stock with trotters if you don’t want to, but it is surprisingly easy, and doesn’t require any messing about with gelatine. You can ape the trotter stock by making pork or ham stock from a cube and adding powdered or leaf gelatine.
It goes like this:
Pork Pie for Courage
Makes: 1 medium-sized pork pie
Takes: 3 hours, plus refrigeration
Bakes: 1 hour 30 minutes
For the pastry
160g strong white flour
160g plain flour
85 ml water
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of malt extract
1 egg yolk
For the jelly
1 pig’s trotter
1 small carrot
1 small bunch of parsley stalks
1 rib of celery
6 black peppercorns
For the meat
250g boned pork shoulder
65g pork belly
65g streaky bacon
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground white pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1. First, make the jelly. Peel the onion and carrot, and place in a stock pot along with the trotter, parsley, celery and peppercorns, and a pinch of salt. Cover with water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and leave for an hour. Strain the liquid into a bowl: it should be golden brown, but not a deep brown, and should be silken and noticeably reduced. Refrigerate overnight.
2. The following day, have a look at the stock; it should have jellified and slightly set. If not, return to the heat and reduce it down a little further; if it’s more set than you would like, you can thin it out with water.
3. Now, prepare your meat. Cut all the meat cuts into 5mm squares. For the bacon, this is easiest to do with sharp scissors. Add the mace, white pepper and nutmeg, and a pinch of salt, and mix through the meat.
4. Make your pastry. Rub the butter into the flour in a large bowl, until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Place the lard and water in a small saucepan and heat until the lard has melted, but don’t allow it to boil. Add the salt and the malt extract, give the mixture a gentle, but firm stir, and add to the flour mix.
5. Mix first with a knife and, when it cools enough, with your hands, bringing it into a ball of smooth, even dough. Press the dough out onto a plate and cover with clingfilm, and leave it to cool to room temperature.
6. When cool (but not cold), lightly flour a work surface, and roll the dough out into a rough rectangle, until it is about 3/4cm thick. Fold the top third onto the middle third, and the bottom third on top of that. Roll out and repeat the folds again.
7. Roll 2/3 of the pastry to 1cm thickness, and cut into a circle (I use a dinner plate for this). Place inside the pie mould, and using your fingers, press the dough into the edges of the mould, and smooth any pleats, to ensure an even dough all the way round. The dough should reach the top of the mould but no further. Ensure there are no gaps or holes, or terribly thin areas, or the jelly will leak later on.
8. Roll the remaining dough to the same thickness, and cut into a circle (I use a side plate or saucer for this). Tip the meat into the mould, and press down: it should be tightly packed, as it will lose volume when cooked. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg yolk, and place the remaining dough circle on top, as a lid. Crimp the edges evenly, pressing gently to ensure they stick, and brush the lid with the rest of the egg yolk. Create a hole in the lid about the size of a biro. Chill for an hour.
9. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C. Remove the pie from the fridge and place on a baking tray in the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes.
10. Leave to cool for 30 minutes. Towards the end of the 30 minutes, warm the trotter jelly until it is pourable. Place a funnel into the hole made in the pastry, and slowly pour the jelly into the hole until the pie is full and won’t take any more. Place in the fridge to completely cool, and then rewarm the jelly and add in the same way as before, as some of the jelly will sink into the meat as it cools. When completely cool, ease from the mould.
11. Ta Dah!
Icing on the Cake
We ate this for weeks, because once I’d discovered how easy these were to make, I made them repeatedly, unable to stop. We had it with pear and shallot piccalilli and basked in new found courage.