There are few comfort foods which are as British or as diverse as pies. We love them hot or cold, sweet or savoury, at half-time or at Xmas and occasionally served with champagne or liquor. When we heard that Marika Gauci had started the capital’s first pie-making classes, we popped over to check one out.
Marika, a trained chef who has struck out on her own, welcomes us into the back of the Muswell Hill bakery where the classes are held. Together with her assistant Susanne, she makes sure we are each kitted out with a chef’s hat, name tag and apron before telling us all about the steak and Guinness pies and fruit pies we are going to make. There’s some house rules, some helpful advice on finding the best meat and we’re off: in pairs, we split the meat and vegetable dicing duties and get stuck in. Once that’s done, the meat is browned off, the veg is added and we go back to peel and chop the fruit. There are no food processors here and, as far as possible, everything is done by hand - knives are for pros, after all.
With the fillings out of the way, we change tack as we learn how to make the pastry needed for the cases. Lots of useful tips are handed out by Marika as flour is measured, eye-watering amounts of butter are cut (yes, folks, there's a reason pies are not on many diet plans) and, with some water, we carefully bind the ingredients. Marika keeps a close eye without getting in anyone’s way - the class has a wide variety of experience and this Londonista hadn’t made pastry since he failed his GCSE in home economics.
Once the pastry is properly chilled, the cooled filling is brought out and the class gets to work making the final product. We love it when a pie comes together. The pies are finished off in the bakery’s own ovens whilst we have a chat with the bakery owner, an Iranian émigré who was a postgraduate biochemistry researcher but is happier making bread. He tells us how every night the bakers come in at 10pm, the pastry chefs start their shift at 3am and he himself rolls in at a relatively sane 6am. Before long, our pies are cooked, cooled and then packed ready to either be carried home or eaten on the way (sorry, we couldn’t resist).
We’re not telling any porkies when we say that we had a very enjoyable time during this class. Marika is a very hands-on chef who provides many nuggets of useful information. Her choice of location is a great feature - rather than the standard mega-kitchen preferred by some cookery classes, there’s an insight here into the reality behind an independent bakery. More than anything, Marika is great fun and makes sure everyone leaves not just with their own handcrafted pies but with happy memories, big smiles, new skills and maybe a few new friends.
There is more information on Marika's classes (including how to book a place on her pie-making classes) through her website.
Photograph (c) Adam Holt