Pleasing Pot Pies
- Pleasing pot pies
Pastry, filling take effort, but the taste is worth it
By SARAH FRITSCHNER, Louisville Courier-Journal Food Editor
Sept. 22, 1999
Browned beef and vegetables find a savory home in a cream-cheese
pastry. Photo by Pam Spaulding; styling by Alice Colombo
Only two things discourage us from making pot pies for dinner: crust
and filling. Unfortunately, those are the same two things that make
potpies so wonderful to eat.
For many of us, making crust seems like an engineering feat.
Cookbooks warn us to "handle the dough lightly," to "measure
carefully" because too much flour makes a tough dough and too much
liquid makes a soggy one. We also are told to "bake a crust blind" so
it doesn't come out sodden.
That's certainly no invitation to bake potpies for dinner.
The fillings, often variations on stews, are easy to make but can
take a long time to cook.
And that's too bad, because long-simmered fillings of toothsome
browned beef bolstered by vegetables and tucked inside a savory
cream-cheese pastry is some of the best eating you can imagine. Pies
reputed to serve eight often serve fewer than that as everyone takes
a second hit because it has been so long since they had the "real"
taste of homemade, slow-cooked food.
Pleasing your company isn't difficult if you take advantage of
pauses. Make pie pastry ahead -- it can be frozen for weeks and
refrigerated two days. Beef and chicken stews can be made ahead and
refrigerated. Or you can brown the meat one day, cook the vegetables
another day, simmer the stew a third.
Is pastry crust difficult?
Pie pastry gets easier with practice. All the admonitions given in
recipe directions translate to: "The more you do this, the less
intimidating it is."
Choose beef chuck or shank meat for beef potpies and stews. These
cuts have connective tissue that "melts" during slow, moist heating,
enriching the gravy and making the meat unbelievably tender. In the
same way, dark-meat chicken holds up best in these conditions.
Kathleen Castro's cream-cheese pastry
Kathleen Castro of Louisville is at home now with three children, but
she bakes often, recalling her pastry-chef days of yore. This is her
recipe for cream-cheese pastry, which is great with beef pot pie and
1 cup butter
6 ounces cream cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
Soften butter and cream cheese. Beat the butter, then add cream
cheese and beat until blended. Then on low speed add flour and salt
until evenly blended.
Press the dough into 2 balls and chill 30 minutes. On a lightly
floured countertop, roll 1 ball into a 12-inch circle, or to fit a
10-inch deep-dish pie pan. Roll the other circle for the top (it will
be a little thicker).
Makes pastry for 1 2-crust pie.
Beef pot pie
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon (freshly ground) black pepper
2 pounds (or so) pounds beef chuck, cut in 1-inch (or so) cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
1 large onion, diced
1 rib celery
1 1/2 to 2 cups beef broth
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
Pastry for 2-crust pie
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Combine flour, salt and pepper in a wide bowl. Dry the beef with
paper or cloth towels, and add the cubes to the flour mixture. Toss
the beef cubes to coat them.
Heat a Dutch oven or wide, deep pot over medium-high heat for about 1
minute. Add vegetable oil and about 1/2 of the beef cubes. Cook,
stirring occasionally, until they are well-browned on all sides, 5 to
7 minutes. Remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining beef. If
the bottom of the pan is somewhat dry, add a little bit more
vegetable oil. Turn the heat to medium so the solids sticking to the
bottom of the pan don't burn. They will flavor the sauce later.
Add sliced mushrooms and diced onion to the pan. Cook, stirring
occasionally, over medium heat for 5 minutes, until vegetables have
Meanwhile, peel and chop carrots small. Chop celery. Add to pot along
with beef, broth, thyme and bay leaf. Stir to loosen everything
sticking to the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce
heat to low. Simmer 1 hour. (Cool and chill overnight at this point,
if desired.) Remove bay leaf.
Heat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Put rack on the lowest shelf.
Roll half the pastry to fit the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch deep-dish
pie plate. (This is a generous amount of pastry, but somewhat
thicker-than-normal crust is OK.) Add beef mixture, sprinkle with
parsley, then quickly roll and apply top crust. Cut slits in the
crust to allow steam to escape. Put the pie on the bottom shelf of
the oven and bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 and cook 40 minutes
more, or until pastry has begun to brown and is cooked through.
Quick chicken pot pie
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled butter
3 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
4 to 5 tablespoons ice-cold water
1 14- to 16-ounce can chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken (thighs and/or breasts)
1 medium onion
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup green peas
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon thyme
For pastry, combine flour and salt in a medium bowl and stir to
combine. Add butter and vegetable shortening and use 2 knives or a
pastry blender to cut the fat into the flour until the mixture
resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of water. Stir the
mixture together with a fork until the mixture will hold together
when you press some in your hand. Shape the dough into a ball, and
then flatten into a disc about 1-inch thick. Wrap in plastic and
refrigerate 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring chicken broth to boil in a large pot. Add chicken,
reduce heat to simmer and cook chicken 10 minutes. Remove from heat
and set aside.
Peel and dice onion and carrots. Heat vegetable oil in a deep 10-inch
skillet set over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and cook,
stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the vegetables have
Chop chicken into small pieces and place in a bowl with the onion and
carrots. Melt butter in the skillet over low heat. Add flour and stir
to combine completely. Add chicken broth slowly, whisking or stirring
to prevent lumping.
Increase heat to medium and add chicken, cooked vegetables, peas,
salt, pepper and thyme and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Roll dough about 11 inches in diameter. Trim into a neat circle that
leaves about 1/2 inch of space between the edge of the crust and the
rim of the pan. Place the dough on top of chicken mixture and bake
for 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the filling is
Serves 6 to 8.