The Pie Room is the new hardback cookbook from Calum Franklin (Executive Chef of Holborn Dining Room). We dive into what Jamie Oliver celebrates as this “definitive pie bible from self-confessed pastry deviant, chef and London’s King of Pies” to see what delicious treats are in store for our readers.
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We first came across Chef Calum Franklin whilst idly scrolling down our Instagram feed at way too late an hour on a Sunday. Our bleary eyes were awakened to a vision of pastry lattice work, bejewelled with thyme leaves, and we quickly fell into a prolonged and frenzied episode of Instagram stalking. Calum’s Instagram is pure egg-washed gold, filled to the brim with impossibly beautiful pies of all shapes and denominations, alongside shots of his hard-working team and glimpses into The Pie Room itself (a special, separate kitchen within Holborn Dining Room).
Pies are not usually the subject of eulogies – often at best being a rustic and comforting home-cooked meal, and at worst a microwavable jobbie from a petrol station – however this is exactly what makes Calum’s The Pie Room Cookbook so exciting to us. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a quick trip back to 2014 to discover how this whole thing came about.
Calum stumbled across his passion and future career after taking a job as a dishwasher in a local kitchen in South East London. He soon found that the kitchen was the perfect environment for him to channel his “fidgety energy” and make something of himself. Over the years, he worked his way through kitchens, mostly focusing on modern European fine dining. As he got older, he felt himself drawn to more simple styles of cookery and, as indigenous ingredients improved in the UK and became more prevalent, he started wanting to work with them and embrace British cooking.
“Embracing your own food culture after years and years of cooking others’ is liberating, and knowing you can play a little part in improving its reputation is exciting.”
Holborn Dining Rooms allowed him to do just that. It opened in 2014 in a colossal building dating back to 1912, with a goal to serve the best British produce available, cooked simply in elegant surroundings with service to match. Whilst rummaging around in the deepest basement in the old building, Calum stumbled upon an antique tin. Not knowing what it was, he took it upstairs to show his team, who were equally as puzzled by the complex structure with its interlocking parts and keys, which they later found out was a pie tin. “I had identified a gap in our knowledge,” states Calum, going on to describe how it took nearly a year of methodical trialling to produce something high standard enough to be able to be featured on the menu.
“That first pie was the beginning of something here, a fascination with lost skills, a revival of handcraft and technique left behind.”
Savoury pastry dishes, beef wellingtons, pies and tarts began to make their way onto the menu and soon demanded a whole menu of their own. However, in order to do this, a specialised kitchen simply called The Pie Room had to be built, and the mix of styles of pastry work here, from the simple to the extravagant, led to The Pie Room Cookbook. Calum tells us,
“I had been approached by a couple of different publishers to do a book in 2018 but wanted to wait for when I felt The Pie Room was in its stride and we as a team were stable enough to really dedicate the right amount of time and work to create something special. When I first spoke with Bloomsbury I felt we were in that place and from our first meeting they understood that I wanted to take time with the project – I wasn’t prepared to knock a book out in six months, I wanted to be able to look at it on publication day and to feel completely satisfied that we had put our all in.”
The Pie Room Cookbook
Before we received our copy, we were a little worried that – as pastry newbies – the whole “how-to” of pie-making would whizz right over our heads and we’d be stuck staring longingly at John Carey’s glorious full-page photos, stroking them with floury hands whilst silently weeping into our mediocre range of cooking tins. Thankfully, a quick flick through reveals an unassuming introduction that puts us at ease, followed by a simply written and easy-to-follow ‘Tools & Techniques’ chapter that includes an ‘Essential Equipment’ section mainly made up of items most home kitchens will have. You do not need an industry kitchen and an array of intricate Victorian pie tins to use this cookbook. Thank f**k for that.
When asked what extra advice he’d give a newcomer to pastry, Calum says,
Always afford yourself time. Rushing pastry work is always the biggest downfall in starting out, as control of temperature of pastry is so crucial and for that you need to be able to take time to make sure it is properly chilled when you work. A bad first experience with pastry can often be enough to put people off working with it again in the future so take the time to read through all the tips and technique chapter in my book and actually you see that if you follow that advice, pastry isn’t intimidating at all. There are quite a few recipes in the book that are great to start off with, that build confidence and lead you onto the more technical recipes after. I would start with either the Sausage Roll; the Beef, Stilton & Onion Pie or the Hot Pork Pie.“
What makes a pie a pie?
Let’s not get philosophical now. Whilst most of the 80 recipes in The Pie Room Cookbook are in some manner of fashion, a pie, there are some pie-adjacent snacks, variations, sides and accompaniments, including savoury gems such as ‘Nduja Stuffed Brioche, Haggis Scotch Egg, Leek & White Pudding Croquettes, Rarebit Baked Potato, and Chipshop Curry Sauce, as well as a decadent pudding section. The rest of the book, put simply, is pie heaven, with takes on traditional British classics rubbing shoulders with contemporary hotchpotch dishes like Coronation Chicken Pie, Curried Cauliflower & Potato Pasties and Mac n’ Cheese Pie.
Divided into ‘Vegetable’, ‘Fish & Shellfish’, ‘Meat & Poultry’, and ‘Grand Party Pieces’, there is something for all levels of experience/daring and all appetites (unless you’re gluten-free or vegan, but come on, this is a book on pastry, and if you really wanted to, substitutes could be found). The early chapter on ‘Pastry Doughs’ is clearly laid out and well-measured in tone and expectation for the home user. Whilst it offers a number of dough variations from Shortcrust Pastry and Classic Puff Pastry through to Suet Pastry and Brioche Dough, Calum sensibly draws the line at Filo Pastry, stating:
“Filo pastry can be made by hand at home, but should it be? […] This book is all about making pastry accessible to the home cook, so I want common sense to prevail. For goodness sake, unless you have all the time in the world, buy pre-made filo pastry from a supermarket.”
Throughout the book, almost every recipe page features an intro to the dish, an ingredients list and portion size, and a detailed list of instructions, alongside an image of the finished product for ease of reference. Recipes like The Ultimate Sausage Roll; Chicken, Mushroom & Tarragon Pie; Lamb Hot Pot; and Orange & Golden Syrup Steamed Pudding are supremely accessible and a great starting point for those wishing to up their game on some delicious classics. For those looking to push the boat out a bit, the six-page long recipe for The Ultimate Beef Wellington (that takes two days to make) is a guaranteed show-stopper, as is the monstrous Venison & Bone Marrow Suet Pie, oozing Cheesy Dauphinoise & Caramelised Onion Pie and the intricately decorated Stuffed Sea Bass en Croute.
“My absolute favourite is the Cheesy Dauphinoise & Caramelised Onion Pie,” Calum tells us.
“It was a dish that we worked so hard on at the restaurant and was the first vegetarian pie we ever served. I felt from the first day it was on the menu that it stood toe to toe with the meat pies in terms of flavour and wholesomeness and is now my favourite pie that we serve. The recipe in the book is for a larger version of that same pie, enough to feed a family and one thing that I love about that is that the style of the pie leaves you at one point with almost a large blank canvas for decoration, where you can then apply the techniques we describe in the book to make it your own. I’ve been sent hundreds of pictures of people’s versions of it since we released the book and they are all unique and all beautiful. That makes me very happy.”
The dessert section is mainly populated by tarts and puddings, with occasional relations popping up in the form of a Fig, Honey & Pistachio Clafoutis or Apricot & Lemon thyme Cobblers. This section is quite small, with no sweet double-crust pies on offer, but is still filled with enough new treats to keep a baker happy.
The Pie Room Cookbook is a surprisingly down-to-earth and easy-to-follow guide into the sometimes intimidating world of pastry, from a man who really knows what’s what. There’s something for everyone, whether keen chefs looking to challenge themselves with a festive centrepiece or a timid newbie wanting a step-by-step guide to a stonking good chicken pie. The ‘Puddings’ section is a tad disappointing but perhaps that’s fodder for the follow-up cookbook. When questioned about this, Calum explains:
“I would love to write a sweet pastry book; desserts are a passion of mine and at the restaurant I think we always have a strong menu. It’s definitely something that has been on my mind recently. With this book we really wanted to focus on the savoury side of things though, I felt it was kind of expected from our audience.“
It’s also great to see a ‘The Team’ chapter that gives rightful props to the senior members of the kitchen team. Calum gives each a little paragraph, explaining how they came to work together and what they bring to the kitchen in terms of skill and personality. In an industry once famous for its adulation of a single chef and the (at best) disregard for, or (at worst) mistreatment of the rest of the kitchen, this is encouraging and entirely pleasant to read.
As a whole, The Pie Room Cookbook is a beautifully put together recipe book that would make a fantastic gift for anyone with a love of pastry and/or British food. As humble as the humble pie, as methodical as the art of pastry and as warming to read as the dishes described within, The Pie Room is definitely a cookbook that any foodie worth their salt should have at home.