Calum franklin, the executive head chef oflondons holborn dining room, has turned british piemaking into an art form. hes created domed pies with spiral scoring. tiered pies with corinthian columns. rectangular pies with exquisite leaf-work. and myriad other designs that make pies and pts en crote (raised pies) look like escheresque optical illusions. his most gasp-inducing creations include a rabbit, bacon and pistachio voodoo skull pie shaped like amask with florid detailing that brings to mind something indiana jones might unearth in a mayan temple. and apt philippe en crote that he once made with a carefully constructed boudin (sausage) running down themiddle, so that when you cut into it, a clock face was revealed that showed the actual time. i enjoy that side ofthings, franklin tells me, having to work out the weird intricacies and engineering of a pie.
We are sitting in his professional man cave, the pie room, a victorian kitchen, that nestles like the smallest part at the heart of the russian doll, in holborn dining room, as franklins new cookbook describes it. franklin designed the room himself. it shimmers with the glow ofbrass and copper pie moulds. this is where franklin sketches his elaborate designs, many inspired by london buildings. i hear chefs talk about the terroir of the land, about growing up picking elderberries as children, says franklin. i grew up in central london. so how do i tie what i do to my background? how do we give a sense of place to our food? through architecture. the latticework on his first beef wellington was inspired by the atrium roofat the british museum. another pie gave a nod to theart-deco glass dome at the near-demolished whiteleys shopping centre in bayswater.
Of course, none of the surface decoration would meanmuch if the insides didnt live up to expectation. thatpleasure starts as soon as you cut into even the simplest of his pork pies and find the perfect mosaic of meat and other ingredients. the joy of pies, says franklin, is that you get magic moments, such as when you top anapple pie with vanilla ice cream and cold meets hot on just-melting crunchy pastry; or when you dig into a steak and onion pie (franklins favourite) and find the soft meatand caramelised onions and gravy sticking to the crust. this is comfort food at its finest.
Given the high bar set by his own pie making, franklins task in writing a cookbook has been to translate his recipes and techniques for the home cook. although he offers detailed instructions on how to make every kind of dough, he concedes that shop-bought pastry will do. there are also handy tips, such as stowing your chopping board in the freezer to help keep the dough firm while you roll. butalongside the more basic pies and pasties (including adelicious-looking keema-spiced cottage pie), there are a few weekend projects that require real stamina. the recipe for beef wellington spans two days. according to franklin, this is the best way to achieve thenecessary wow-factor (and why else make beef wellington?) without having ameltdown. if you cook it right, its something people will talk about for ages.
Time to make a pie myself. franklin hasvery kindly pre-rolled some shortcrust pastry and chilled the meat farce (pork shoulder and loin, chorizo, dried apricots, rosemary, thyme, ground black pepper andwhite mustard seeds) in a bowl-shapedmould. so all i have to do under hissupervision is cut out two circles of pastry, one larger than the other, tip the dome-shaped filling onto the smaller one, egg-washing around the circumference. then i lower the larger disc of pastry on top,smoothing out the creases and crimping the edges. using a nifty rolling device, i cut out a lattice from another slab of pastry, carefully stretch it over the dome, apply more egg-wash and make a hole in the top to release the steam. back at home, the pie goes into the oven, comes out an hour later and cools in the fridge overnight. the next day i pour warm roasted pork jelly into the hole, leaving the pie to cool (and the jelly to set) for another hour before its ready. the cut-through provides a suitably rewarding ta-da moment, exposing a semicircle of apricot-speckled meat and a gorgeous arc ofjelly between the filling and the crust. with a dollop of dijon grain mustard and asalad on the side, the pie tastes every bit asdelicious as it looks.
The pie room: 80 achievable and show-stopping pies and sides for pie lovers everywhere by calum franklin is publishedby bloomsbury at 26