Christmas Pie

Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1863

This is a version of the traditional raised pie that graced the sideboards of many a rich household going back centuries. With much time being devoted to celebrating the festive season, the amount of time spent waiting on the kitchen could be drastically reduced with a sideboard groaning under selection of cold cuts and pies to slice throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

The most famous Christmas pies were undoubtedly from Yorkshire, whose frequently gargantuan sizes inspired both awe and wonder, not to mention expense.

“The host of the Angel Hotel, at Whitby, last week, set before his friends a Yorkshire Christmas Pie, seven feet in circumference and containing four stones of flour, 12lbs butter and suet, a brace of pheasants, a brace of partridges, two geese, two rabbits, ten chickens, six ducks, two tongues, one turkey, and six pounds of ham.” ¹

The traditional format of these pies consisted of the birds being boned, seasoned, rolled and then stuffed one inside the other, in the manner of Russian babushka dolls, quite putting the modern ‘turducken’ to shame for its amateurishness. Hannah Glasse’s recipe of 1747 called for a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge and a pigeon. In addition, to fill up the gaps around the main bird, on one side was laid a jointed hare, on the other side woodcock, and “more Game, and what Sort of wild Fowl you can get.”

These large pies were frequently packaged up and sent to London as gifts, or merely as provisions for the festive season. Unfortunately, their size and sturdiness wasn’t always a guarantee of safe travel. In 1832, The Age newspaper carried the following morsel of information in it’s roundup of news snippets column, the Georgian newspaper equivalent of an “And finally…” news item:

“The Lord Chancellor’s Christmas Pie upset, broken and devoured by dogs.”

Adapted from his book The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, Francatelli’s recipe simplifies the difficulty of baking so many different types of game and poultry from raw, by pre-cooking the birds to medium rare, filling the pie with the meat, and then finishing the cooking when the pie is baked. The baking time is also considerably reduced.

Christmas Pie cut

This recipe has a lot of steps, none of which are particularly difficult, but you can spread them out over a couple of days rather than feel obliged to have one mammoth kitchen session.

Christmas Pie

Seasoning
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
2 crushed dried bay leaves
1.5tsp dried basil
1.5 tsp marjoram
1.5 tsp winter savoury
1.5 tsp thyme
0.25tsp chilli pepper
0.5tsp sumac dried mango powder
1tsp garlic powder

Forcemeat
150g butter
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
1tsp salt
500g rindless streaky bacon, chopped
500g chicken livers, rinsed

Filling
1 whole turkey leg, slow-cooked overnight on a raft of celery, carrot and onion
An assortment of game birds, preferably with carcass, such as:
1 duck crown
1 goose crown
1 pheasant
2 woodcock

Savoury jelly
1 litre of beef stock
turkey stock from cooking the turkey leg
Any trimmings/bones from cooking the game birds
1 onion
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
2 bay leaves
1tbs black peppercorns
3 sprigs thyme
1 blade mace
1 batch game pie pastry (see page xx)
1 large egg for glazing.

  • Preparing The Pie Components
  • Set aside 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mixture for use on the filling.
  • Melt the butter for the forcemeat in a large pan with the chopped garlic.
  • Add the chopped bacon and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add the chicken livers and sprinkle with the seasoning mixture.
  • Cook until just pink in the middle.
  • Remove from the heat and tip into a food processor fitting with a chopping blade.
  • Blitz until smooth, pour into a bowl, cover and set aside until required.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
  • Season the game birds with salt, pepper, and the tablespoon of the seasoning mix.
  • Spread with a thin layer of the forcemeat.
  • Arrange in a baking tray and brush over with melted clarified butter.
  • Bake until just cooked through (internal temperature of 74°C).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  • If using crowns or whole birds remove the breasts, as whole as possible, from the carcass and strip the rest of the meat from the bones. Allow to cool completely then cover and chill in the fridge until needed.
  • Put the remnants of the carcasses into a large pan, together with the stocks, seasonings and vegetables for the savoury jelly.
  • Bring to a boil, then cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 2-3
    hours to allow the flavours to develop.
  • Strain the stock twice: once through a fine sieve and then again through dampened muslin to remove all the unwanted solids.
  • Allow the stock to cool, then chill in the fridge. Remove the fat from the surface of the chilled stock and decant the stock into suitable containers.
  • Make a note of how solid, or not, the stock is when cold, and when the time comes to mix the gelatine, adjust accordingly: if the stock is fairly stiff,
    then little or no gelatine will be required, if it is a soft-set, then just half the regular quantity of gelatine may be all that is required.
  • Constructing The Pie
  • Cut off about 1/3 of the pastry and roll out for the lid of the pie. Cut it to size with 2cm extra all round. Cover with cling film and set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings together with the rest of the pastry and roll out for lining your greased pie tin. Be sure not to have your pastry too thin, as it will have
    to support a lot of filling – no less than 1cm on the sides and a little thicker over the bottom half of the pie. Let any excess pastry lie over the edges of the tin.
  • Spread a 1cm layer of forcemeat all over the inside of the pie. Arrange a layer of the meat and cover with a layer of forcemeat to fill in any gaps. Continue layering until all the filling and forcemeat has been used up.
  • Brush the top edges of the pastry with water. Lay the pie lid over the top of the pie. Press firmly around the edges to seal. Trim any excess pastry using the back of a knife, then crimp the edges of the pie to decorate. Use the trimmings to make decorations for the top of the pie.
  • Cut a 1-2cm steam vent in the top of the pie, large enough for the savoury jelly to be poured through once the pie is baked.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Brush the lid of the pie with beaten egg and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 70°C. If the top starts browning too much, cover loosely with a sheet of baking parchment or foil.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for several hours. When almost cold, measure out 600ml of the savoury jelly and warm in a pan. If using gelatine, soak as many leaves as required in cold water before draining and adding to the stock.
  • Stir until the gelatine has melted.
  • Before you start pouring the savoury jelly into the pie, you might want to check whether there are any holes in your pastry. Carefully remove the pie from the tin and inspect closely. You can either mix up a flower and water paste to fill any cracks, or wrap the sides and bottom of the pie tightly in cling film: this won’t stop the leaks, but it will keep everything contained until the jelly has set.
  • Return the wrapped pie to the tin before adding the jelly.
  • Pour the jelly a little at a time through the hole in the top of the pie. Use a jug and/or a fine funnel.
  • Allow time between pourings for the liquid to permeate the pie filling – it has to find and fill all the air pockets between the meat.
  • Leave to set in a cool place, or, if you have room, in the fridge overnight. The jelly will seal off any air pockets and thus prolong the shelf-life of the pie.
  • Properly stored, it can adorn a sideboard buffet all the way from Christmas almost to the New Year.

1 “Local and General Intelligence”, The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser (Leeds, England), Saturday, January 7, 1843; Issue 269. p3.

Batalia Fish Pie

Battalia Pie is a classic, double-crust pie from times past, the filling for which filling could be made from any of a number of ingredients. It’s origins are thought to come from the French béatilles, meaning titbits, and originally comprised of all the little odds and ends that are too small to use by themselves: cockscombs, lamb stones, sweetbreads, ox palates, etc.

By the 18th century, the spelling had settled onto Battalia, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a much more ad hoc affair (beatille, beatilla, beatilia), although the French origin can still be seen. To the ear, however, it sounded closer to ‘battle’ and William Rabisha embraced this interpretation with gusto, styling his fish pie in a pastry castle, complete with crenellated battlements, which I think is a fabulous concept as well as being visually stunning for a special occasion or centrepiece.

This design works especially well with the mixture of ingredients called
for in his filling, as he suggests that each tower hold a different kind of fish and sauce. Then again, he also suggests that the decapitated heads of the various fish and seafood creatures be stuffed and propped on the battlements like some macabre seafood re-enactment of the siege in Beau Geste, thus illustrating the importance of being selective when choosing which aspects of historical recipes to revive.

bataliafishpie
From The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661) William Rabisha

Another presentation idea is to utilize the castle and battlement elements for a cold, seafood buffet, as in the picture above. Each tower is filled with a different seafood, and the main body of the ‘castle’ can incorporate garnishes, salads and seafood items better suited to being laid out, such as smoked salmon and/or trout and oysters on the half shell.

Instructions are given below for how to construct and bake your crenellated pastry castle. Do not be constrained by the picture – only by the dimensions of the tin that will fit inside your oven: a large roasting tin will give you ample space in which to lay out your centrpiece.

Neither should you think only in terms of rectangular shapes for your ‘castle’. Use whatever baking tins you have to hand and create your own fortified masterpiece. A variety of heights will add interest as well as flexibility to your display.

Happy castling!

Batalia Fish Pie

William Rabisha, 1661

Game Pie Pastry made with wholemeal flour instead of white
2 large eggs for glazing.

To make the castle pie shell

  • Select a pie tin suitable for serving; round of rectangular, either is fine. It should be at least 10cm deep in order to form the walls and crenellations.
  • Select tins to shape your towers. These can be ordinary tins from soup or vegetables; remove the labels by soaking, and cut off both ends, leaving a tube. Cover all of the tins with foil or baking parchment, leaving one end open on each of the smaller ‘tower’ tins. The pastry will be baked on the outsides of the tins, to ensure a neat appearance.
  • Turn all of your tins upside down. Grease well.
  • Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Roll out the pastry to about 1cm and use to cover all of the tins with a smooth layer. Trim any excess pastry.
  • Re-roll the scraps of pastry and cut into 3cm strips. Brush the top edges – which are currently the bases of the tins – with beaten egg and attach the strips of pastry. Press firmly.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut out the crenellations on the towers and the castle. Make them 1.5cm deep and 1.5cm wide.
  • Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  • Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry into a brickwork pattern.
  • Set your tins, still upside-down, onto a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and firm.
  • Remove from the oven and CAREFULLY turn the tins the right way up.
  • Ease the foil/parchment away from the tins and lift out. Remove the foil/parchment, leaving the pastry shell. Brush the insides of the pastry with beaten egg and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until fully cooked.
  • Cool on a wire rack.