A rich and buttery homemade chicken pie that Ms Sarah Lee tried when she was 11 years old at a friend's birthday party got her hooked on baking pies.
Now 57, the full-time volunteer at a home for underprivileged children still has vivid memories of the pie.
She says: "The pastry was so fragrant and crisp and it simply melted in my mouth."
When she was in her late teens, she started making chicken pies, collecting recipes from newspapers and poring over recipe cards and cookbooks. It took "countless tries" over two years before she was satisfied with her pie.
The former piano teacher is also very particular about achieving the right texture and aroma of shortcrust pastry.
She says: "I didn't give up until I got the crucial balance of fat-to- flour ratio right, so the pastry crumbles easily when you bite into it. Even a simple ingredient, like salt, plays an important role in enhancing the flavours."
Over the years, Ms Lee, who is single, has also baked apple pie and her late mother's char siew (barbecued pork) pie.
She is a co-author, together with her primary schoolmate and public relations consultant Evonne Lyn Lee, 57, of Asian Pies, which swops out classic fillings for those with an Asian twist.
Published by Marshall Cavendish, the 144-page book contains 50 recipes for pies, puffs, tarts and galettes. Instead of the usual cream and potato-based fillings, the duo have transformed stews, curries, main dishes and desserts into pies.
One of Ms Sarah Lee's recipes is the pork and pineapple curry pot pie. She says she craves her mother's pork and pineapple curry as it has "a sweet and sour tang and a perfect melding of pork and sweetness from pineapples".
To transform the dish into a pie, she uses more rempah (spice paste) to amp up the flavour and to help the ingredients bind.
The filling is topped with golden-brown yogurt shortcrust pastry. She stirs yogurt into the dough and it makes the pastry softer and more tender.
The book also provides nifty tips on avoiding pitfalls such as soggy pie bottoms. It refers to the mushy pastry base of pies and tarts, which is a result of having an overly moist filling or uneven heating in the oven that causes some parts of the pastry to be undercooked.
Ms Lee recalls that a soggy pie bottom was one of her biggest stumbling blocks when she started baking chicken pies.
After eight to 10 tries, she fixed this baking problem with some techniques.
They include chilling the pie filling overnight to thicken the gravy, lining the chilled pastry base with slices of parboiled potatoes that can absorb liquid from the filling and baking the pies in paper cases punctured with holes at the bottom.
While working on the book, the duo sampled pies from about 40 shops here and in Malaysia and realised that most of them were stodgy and had uncooked bottoms. The fillings were also old school.
To spice things up, they turned to their late mothers' recipes for ideas, converting dishes such as chicken satay, steamed stuffed crabs, assam laksa and pulot hitam (black glutinous rice) into pies.
Ms Evonne Lyn Lee, who is single, hopes that injecting "cross-cultural fillings" into pies can shake off their boring image.
"Millennials are always looking for new taste experiences, and having familiar Asian dishes in westernised forms such as pies will get them interested to try making them," she says.
For the rempah:
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 10g ginger, peeled and chopped
- 10g galangal, peeled and chopped
- 6 dried chillies, soaked in hot water till soft, then seeded and chopped
- 4 fresh chillies, seeded and chopped
- 8g turmeric, peeled and chopped
For the filling:
- 100ml vegetable oil
- 2 stalks lemongrass (use the white- coloured part of the stalk, which is about 8 to 9cm long), flattened with a cleaver
- 10 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 750g pork belly, cut into 3cm-thick cubes
- 5 tsp meat curry powder
- 500 ml water
- Salt and sugar to taste
- 150g semi-ripe pineapple, cut into 2.5cm-by-1cm wedges
For the pastry:
- 170g plain flour
- 100g unsalted cold butter, cut into 1cm-thick cubes
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 50g plain yogurt
- A pinch of salt
- Cloves to garnish
- 1 egg, lightly beaten (for egg wash)
1. To prepare the rempah, place all the ingredients in a food processor and whizz until they form a paste.
2. To make the filling, pour the oil into a wok set over medium heat. Dip a pair of chopsticks into the oil. If it sizzles, add lemongrass, shallots and rempah and fry the mixture for one to two minutes until it becomes fragrant.
3. Add the pork belly and continue to cook for one minute. Add meat curry powder and fry the contents for one to two minutes until the meat turns opaque. Stir the ingredients constantly to prevent them from burning.
4. Switch to high heat, add water to the wok and bring it to a boil. Switch back to medium heat and let the contents simmer for 15 minutes until the meat is tender and the gravy thickens. Add salt and sugar to taste.
5. Add pineapple wedges and let the contents simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and scoop the contents into a bowl and let them rest in the refrigerator overnight.
6. To make the pastry, add flour, butter and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and pulse (turn the machine on and off rapidly) until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, yogurt and salt into the food processor and pulse until a dough-like mixture is formed. Remove the mixture from the food processor, shape it into a disc. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 180 deg C.
8. To assemble the pie, remove pastry from the fridge and leave it at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes to soften. Remove the filling from the refrigerator and leave at room temperature.
9. Cut the pastry into two equal portions. Place one piece in between two silicone baking sheets or onto a lightly floured surface and use a rolling pin to roll the dough until it is about 0.3cm thick and about 25cm in diameter. Repeat with the other piece of pastry.
10. Divide the filling between two 20cm pie pans. Top each pan with the pastry. Trim the excess dough with a knife and crimp the pastry edges with your fingers.
11. To decorate the top of the pie (above right), use a flower-shaped cookie cutter to cut out pieces from the excess dough and place a clove in the middle of each flower-shaped dough cut-out. Use the remaining dough trimmings to create stalks and leaves.
12. Brush the top of the pies with egg wash. Create steam holes by making small X marks on the pie surface with the tip of a knife. Bake the pies for 30 minutes or until they turn golden brown. Remove the pies from the oven and leave them to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.
Makes two 20cm pies and serves eight people
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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