Sophie Hansen's cookbook A Basket by the Door is full of portable, homely dishes you can tote to a get-together, pack up for a picnic, or deliver to a friend or loved one in need.
The chicken and leek pie
I make this pretty much every time I go to cook for someone in need of cheering up. There's something about a golden chicken pie that makes everyone feel good – kids love it, adults do too and it's a whole meal in one.
Yes, this is a labour of love. Yes, you could buy a roast chook and frozen pastry and bung this together in less than half the time and nobody would care. But… there really is something deeply satisfying about making this chicken pie from scratch. And if you do, please take my advice and triple this recipe to make three at once – one to give away, one for your dinner and one for the freezer.
Poaching a whole chicken in aromatics means not only do you get lovely moist chicken and stock to use for the filling and sauce base, but you'll have some chicken and stock left over for sandwiches and soup. Have I convinced you yet?
Basically there are four parts to this pie:
1. Poach the chicken for chicken meat and stock – 15 minutes hands-on preparation, one hour hands-off cooking. (You could substitute a barbecued chicken.)
2. Make the rough puff pastry – 15 minutes hands-on preparation, 50 minutes chilling. (You could use frozen puff pastry instead.)
3. Make the filling – 20 minutes hands-on preparation, 15 minutes cooking.
4. Roll out the pastry, add the filling, assemble and bake – 20 minutes hands-on preparation, 40 minutes cooking.
You don't have to do all of this in one hit. I usually poach the chook and make the filling the day before so it's nice and cool when I put it all together. Then I make the pastry and bake the pie the day I want to deliver or eat it.
One last thing before you get started: I recommend baking this pie in a disposable aluminium pie tin. Not all that beautiful, I know, but they work a treat and mean that your recipient doesn't have to think about washing and returning a dish, which, when you are in need of cheering up, is a bit of a drag.
Part 1: The poached chicken
1.8 kg whole chicken
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp sea salt
1 handful parsley (stems and all)
4 thyme sprigs
1. Wash the chicken and pat dry, then place in a large stockpot, cover with cold water and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil over medium–high heat, watching out for and discarding any scum that comes to the surface (there's a life lesson hidden in a recipe). Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 45 minutes.
2. Transfer the cooked chicken to a board resting on a tea towel (this will stop any juices dripping onto the bench and the floor). Cover the chicken with a tent of foil and set aside until cool enough to handle.
3. Return the stockpot to the stovetop and boil until the mixture reduces by about a third – this will take 20 minutes or so and will intensify the flavour. Pour the mixture through a sieve, discarding the aromatics and reserving the stock.
4. Pull the chicken meat away from the bones and discard the carcass. Cover until needed for the filling or place in the fridge if you're not assembling and baking your pie right away.
Part 2: The rough puff pastry
250g chilled butter, cut into cubes
1⅔ cups (250g) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ cup (60ml) chilled water
1. Combine the butter and flour on the bench, using the heel of your hand to work them together. Add water as necessary to form a rough dough – it's okay to see some marbled streaks of butter. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry until you have a large rectangle. Dust off any loose flour. Fold the top half of the pastry down, then fold the bottom half up so you have a long slim rectangle. Now turn the pastry 90 degrees and roll into another large rectangle, trying to roll in only one direction if possible (this helps keep the butter's 'marbled' effect and ideally will keep your pastry nice and puffy and flaky). Fold and roll again, then cover with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes or until needed.
Note: If you're using store-bought pastry, I'd recommend shortcrust for the base and puff for the top.
Part 3: The filling
2 leeks, pale parts only, thinly sliced
2 tbsp plain flour
2 cups (500 ml) hot chicken stock
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp lemon thyme leaves
grated zest of 1 lemon
150ml pure cream
450g (3 cups) cooked, shredded chicken
1. Heat the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat until bubbling. Add the leek, season and cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
2. Add the hot stock and let it bubble for two minutes, stirring often, then stir in the mustard, lemon thyme, lemon zest and cream. Bring back to the boil and cook, stirring often, for a few minutes more, until the sauce thickens up. Taste and season again if needed.
3. Pop the mixture into the fridge to cool while you roll out the pastry and line the pie tin. When you're ready to assemble the pie, stir in the shredded chicken.
Note: It's important that the chicken is only reheated once after it's cooked. If you're making this as a helpful present, assemble the pie but don't bake it – just include a note with the baking instructions.
Part 4: Bringing it all together
1 tbsp single (pure) cream
1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Make an egg wash by whisking the egg and cream together.
2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to a large round, about 3mm thick. Trim the excess pastry, leaving enough to hang over the side of the pie tin, then gently drape the pastry over your rolling pin and unroll it into a pie tin – mine is 22cm wide and 4cm deep. Press the pastry into the side of the tin, then run the rolling pin over the top to create a clean edge. Roll the excess pastry into a ball and roll it out to a round slightly larger than the top of your pie tin. Cut a small hole in the middle of the pastry (to let steam escape while cooking).
3. Spoon the chicken filling into the pie tin, brush the pastry edges with a little egg wash and gently press the pastry lid on top. Pop the pie in the fridge for five minutes while you do one last (optional) step. Roll out any pastry remains and use some little cutters or a small sharp knife to cut small triangles or whatever pastry shapes you like. Use these shapes to decorate the edge of your pie and cover up any rough bits.
4. Brush the pastry top with egg wash. Finally, place the pie in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Well done, you!
Ginger and pear pudding with salted caramel sauce. Photo: Sophie Hansen
Ginger and pear pudding
A classic and for good reason – this pudding can be made in advance, then warmed up when it's time for dessert. It's super delicious, comforting and easy to make. Serve it with salted caramel sauce (recipe below), gently warmed in a small saucepan over medium heat.
1 cup (160g) pitted dates
½ cup (110g) crystallised ginger
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½ cups (375ml) boiling water
80g butter, softened
3/4 cup (165g) firmly packed soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1½ cups (225g) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 pears, thinly sliced
salted caramel sauce (recipe below), to serve
vanilla ice-cream, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease and line a 25cm round cake tin with baking paper.
2. Combine the dates, crystallised ginger and bicarbonate of soda in the bowl of your food processor and pour in the boiling water. Set aside for a few minutes.
3. Add the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla to the food processor and whizz everything together for a few seconds. Now add the flour, baking powder and spices and whizz again so you have a smooth batter.
4. Pour the batter into the cake tin and top with the pear slices. Bake for 45 minutes or until the centre of the pudding feels springy and it is just starting to pull away from the side of the tin.
5. Serve the pudding warm, with the warm caramel sauce and a scoop or two of vanilla ice-cream.
Salted caramel sauce for everything
This is one for my dad, who is absolutely mad for a good caramel sauce. The last time we went camping I packed a jar of this and we had it on pancakes, shaken up in a jar full of ice and milk (plus a shot of cold-brewed coffee for Tim and me), and poured over ice-cream. It lasts for ages and makes a great gift. And it tastes amazing. . You'll find the sauce thickens up quite a lot in the fridge. To soften it, just place the jar in a bowl of hot water and give it a quick zap in the microwave or transfer it to a saucepan and gently warm the sauce until it loosens up.
13/4 cups (390g) castor sugar
170g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup (250ml) pure cream
seeds from 1 vanilla bean
1 tsp sea salt
1. Put the sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and cook, stirring often, until it melts into a smooth caramel (watch it carefully towards the end because it can go from perfectly golden to burnt in the blink of an eye). As soon as the sugar is completely melted and smooth, add the butter and whisk until it has melted into a smooth sauce.
2. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk in the cream, vanilla seeds and salt. Return to the heat and bring to the boil. Cook, stirring often, for five minutes, then remove from the heat and divide among jars. Store in the fridge for up to a month.
Makes about 2 cups
Images and recipes from A Basket by the Door by Sophie Hansen, Murdoch Books, RRP $39.99 Photography: Sophie Hansen.