We went with a leek and cheese pie for our main for Christmas dinner, and, in many respects, we’re glad we did, because right during the middle of preparing dinner, our electricity went out. Having one of those all-electric houses, that could have spelled disaster. But, luckily for us, the pie had already been in the oven for about 30 minutes (of the 60 needed) and the residual heat baked it enough. Of course, our side dish was another story.
You didn’t think we’d leave you dangling, did you? For a side, we’d planned on sautéed mushrooms with chives and a bit of sage. We had everything chopped and ready to go when the power went out. Naturally, we ran around, found flashlights and candles, then headed out to the grill to start a fire (we just burn pieces of mesquite wood from our trees), and, when it was time, we placed the skillet on the grill and proceeded to sauté our mushrooms. A lack of electricity won’t get in the way of our Christmas dinner.
Well, back to the pie. We found this recipe in Real Irish Food, by David Bowers, and we’ll say that we didn’t change a thing (other than the shortened baking time). Since we had the power outage, you might find that the pictures don’t do this pie justice, but we did our best.
You’ll note that we didn’t use our go-to crust for this dish. Instead, we went with the recommended crust, as we thought that the Bouchon Bakery crust would be too tender, and would fall apart while we trying to eat. We think we made a wise choice in going with the originally-recommended crust. Of course, we used unsalted butter. No sense in having the dairy help in our baking, since the staff there won’t help do the dishes. Leeks are sometimes difficult to find in the store, but they’re worth seeking out. While they’re related to onions, they have a much, much milder flavor. You wouldn’t want an onion and cheese pie, but leek and cheese? Of course.
Procedure in detail:
For the crust.
Mix dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Wow! Easy step for making a crust, right?
Add butter. Chop the cold butter into 12 to 16 pieces. The exact number isn’t important, just so they’re roughly the same size. Scatter them over the flour, and, using your fingers, quickly rub them into the flour until you have something that resembles a coarse meal. You want to work quickly so the butter doesn’t melt into the flour.
Add egg yolk and water. Stir in the egg yolk and a tablespoon of cold water and see if that forms a dough. Still dry and crumbly? Add a bit more cold water until you get a dough. We needed about five tablespoons of water.
Shape and chill. Divide the dough into two roughly equal pieces and shape each into a disk about 4 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hour, but preferably overnight. There, that wasn’t so hard to make a crust, was it?
For the filling.
Boil potatoes. Cut the potatoes into cubes about 1/2 inch on a side. Place in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Add about a teaspoon of salt and place over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup liquid and set aside.
Cut and wash leeks. Leeks are notorious for having grit and sand packed between the layers, but we’ll tell you how to wash away that grit efficiently. First, slice the leeks into rounds about 1/8 inch thick. Put the rounds in a bowl filled with water and swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. Wait to let the grit settle. Scoop out the clean rounds into a colander and rinse and drain. All the grit should have settled to the bottom of the bowl. If need be, repeat the swishing and rinsing with clean water.
Fry leaks. Put the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When melted, add the leaks and cook until tender. There are a lot of leeks so this might take a while — ours took 30 to 40 minutes, with a good bit of stirring to get all the leeks nice and tender.
Add flour and milk. Sprinkle the flour over the leeks, stir it in well, and add the milk. Stir and bring to a low boil and cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.
Add cheese and season. Spread the grated Cheddar cheese on top and stir it in until melted. Remove from heat so the cheese doesn’t start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg, taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
Add potatoes. Stir in potatoes and a couple of tablespoons of cooking liquid, if needed to make a creamy sauce. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll dough. Remove a disk of dough from the refrigerator, place it on a lightly-floured work surface, and roll into a circle about 10 inches in diameter. Transfer to a deep-dish 8-inch pie pan and press in place, leaving the edges of the crust overhanging the rim.
Roll dough. Again. Remove the second disk of dough and roll into a 10-inch diameter circle. This will be the top crust, after we add the filling.
Fill and cover. Scoop the leek filling into the crust-lined pie plate. It’ll be a lot and will easily fill it. Center the second piece of crust on top, and carefully work around the edge, folding the top crust under the bottom crust. Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect; it can be tricky, especially if your crust is not perfectly round. Crimp the edge of the crust closed with a fork.
Slit and wash. Use a sharp knife to cut slits in the top crust. This will let steam escape, plus it’ll look nice as filling bubbles out. Finally, if you remember — we forgot — brush the entire crust with the reserved egg white.
Bake. Place on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any filling that flows out and bake for about 60 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Hope that the power doesn’t go out midway during baking.
Even though our pie wasn’t completely baked, it was wonderful and we would heartily make this again. The leeks are nice and mild and pair well with the cheese. It might not seem like a lot of potatoes in the pie, but they really add to the texture and taste, making this pie even better. We think that you could make this for a potluck and everyone would rave about it, so keep it in mind for, perhaps, a New Year’s get together. We didn’t eat all of it for dinner, but we found that it heated up nicely in a 350°F oven (we placed it in a piece of parchment for easy cleanup) and made for tasty leftovers at lunch, too. The crust matched the filling well, it’s less crumbly than our standard and holds up very well to the cheese sauce. It’s a five.