I have a confession to make. I have been petrified of baking in general most of my life. The only kind of baking that took place at home when I was growing up was a birthday or Christmas cake in an old fashioned UFO-lookalike massive oven with Nichrome wiring.
Now that I bake a bit, I can tell you that baking is certainly a kind of practical science. You learn through touching, feeling and then, you learn from your mistakes. You have to have patience and love for the craft and start a relationship with the ingredients, the vessels you use, your oven.
I took atleast half a dozen tries to get a decent pound cake and a shortcrust pastry (used for baking a pie) to get it right. You can read books and watch Youtube videos all you want but unless you feel it, hold it, experience it, you will never succeed.
Above: An easy potato-crusted savory pie is a wonderful way to start baking
Before I started on shortcrust pastry I baked savory pies with gratinated potato crusts on top. So this post is about that kind of pie. Here are some pointers in that direction:
- Try cooking the filling of your pie in a thick gravy or sauce. This can be a white cheesy sauce or a brown meaty one. Consider using leftover stews or casseroles (reduce the curry if too thin or thicken with cornflour).
- Have enough sauce to cover the solid bits of the filling. You certainly want the sauce to ooze out when you break the crust. Do not overcook your vegetables. Rather leave some with a bit of bite.
- Flavour the filling with any alcohol of choice. This suggestion is optional. But red wine, white wine, vodka, even whiskey work fine when used in conservative quantities. My favorite is Pernod, the sweet anise liqueur that imparts a herby, homey goodness to the filling. The other failsafe flavoring ingredient is fatty bacon.
Above: Meaty pies are a great way to trick non vegetarians into eating their veggies!
- Keep the crust simple. Use boiled potatoes (best run through a potato ricer and not mashed). Make sure you drain the potatoes well and they are not watery. Fluff the mashed potatoes up with some warm milk and butter with a fork. Season with salt and pepper. Some people add cheese.
- Cool the filling after layering it out on your baking dish. Place it inside a fridge without a cover for a few minutes. This will solidify the top a wee bit. This will help in spooning the potatoes on the top later preventing any mess.
- You can either spoon the potatoes on top and run a fork to make striations or you can pipe the potatoes to make fancy patterns. Some people sprinkle bread crumbs on top of this, some prefer brushing it with egg yolks or butter. After this optional stage put the pie under a hot grill for a few minutes at a high temperature till the top starts to brown. Keep an eye on your pie and stop the grilling when it is the right shade of brown.