When you’re planning to spend the entire weekend at home, it’s good to have a project. Put that sourdough recipe aside and pick up some savoury baking skills of another variety – mastering a hearty, umami-packed pie with seasonal veggies and a dollop of Vegemite.
Pastry chef Michael James says comforting family feasts are baked into his DNA. “Being from Cornwall, savoury baking is ingrained in my history and culture. Every Friday, my Gran would make a pastry tart for the family to share, creating not only strong family connections as we sat around the table together but treasured childhood memories.”
In new cookbook All Day Baking: Savoury, Not Sweet, Michael and his partner Pippa James share recipes for cheddar and spring onion scones, sweetcorn and sourcream loaves, and fish pies – dishes they grew up with either in Cornwall or Canberra (where Pippa is from). “I have always loved a simpler style of cooking – starting with great ingredients and not playing around with them too much highlights produce at its peak and lets the food do the talking,” he says.
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“Choose the pastry you like for your pie top or base. Pies can be made in small dishes for individual meals or one large pan for a family pie. The only thing I wouldn’t compromise on is the quality or provenance of the ingredients.”
Top tip: Take your time to read the recipe and prepare ingredients in their quantities in advance, like a TV chef. “You will make mistakes along the way, but that’s okay, we all do,” says James. Take note of what worked and what didn’t, then refine the recipes to your tastes and locally available produce.
“Vegemite is a great addition to stocks and braises,” says James. “I have even used it in desperation to make a stock cube more flavoursome. But remember, a little goes a long way.”
Michael James’s steak and Vegemite pie
Preparation time: 1 hour, plus resting overnight
Cooking time: 2.5 hours
100g olive oil
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
3 medium celery stalks, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp thyme
800g chuck or skirt steak, cut into cubes
400g tin whole peeled tomatoes
60g malt vinegar
1.5 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Vegemite or equivalent yeast extract spread
5g potato starch
Pastry of your choosing, savoury short crust for bottom and flaky or puff pastry for the pie tops
Heat half of the olive oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and thyme and cook with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for 8–10 minutes until softened.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan over a medium-to-high heat. Brown the steak in batches and set aside.
Add the tomatoes, vinegar, salt and pepper, and Vegemite to the veggies, then add the browned steak. Use water (or beef stock or red wine, optional) to rinse out the tomato tin and to deglaze the frying pan, then pour the water into the pan with the vegetables and steak until the meat is just covered – roughly three tins’ worth. Stir to combine. Bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer for roughly 2 hours, or until the beef is tender. Check the pan frequently and skim any oil off the top.
Strain the cooked mixture into a colander over a bowl, reserving the liquid. Return the liquid to the pan and reduce it over a high heat.
Combine the potato starch, water and liquid into the pan. Whisk together. Add the steak and vegetables, stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat. Once cooled, season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the pie, roll the pastry 3 millimetres thick and to your desired shape based on the dimensions of your pie dish. Avoid rolling the pastry too thin – you want the crust to have some body and plenty of flaky layers.
Place your cooled braise into the pie dish, then grease the rim with butter or oil. Lay the pastry over the top, then use your fingers to pinch or crimp around the edge, or use a fork to press it down.
Brush the entire surface with egg wash and poke a hole in the middle to allow steam to release during baking.
Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
To bake, preheat the oven to 190°C. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven to 180°C. Bake for a further 35–40 minutes, turning halfway through. The pie is ready when the pastry is flaky and golden. Rest pie for 10 minutes before eating. Garnish with poppy seeds (optional).
This recipe is from All Day Baking: Savoury, Not Sweet by Michael James and Pippa James, published by Hardie Grant Books, ($45). It’s available to purchase online.
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