This northern classic ticks all the boxes for outdoor dining this April, as far as I’m concerned – sturdy enough to take to the park, easy to share safely with friends and satisfyingly hearty, because this is spring in St Bees, not St Tropez. You can adapt it to make individual hand pies, if you prefer, but a slab pie is simpler and more traditional.
Cheese and onion pie
Prep 40 min
Cook 1 hr
For the filling
Salt and pepper
1 small bunch fresh chives
5 spring onions
500g lancashire cheese (see step 2)
For the pastry
400g plain flour
½ tsp salt
1½ tbsp mustard powder
Butter or oil, to grease
1 egg, to glaze
1 Gently fry the onions
Peel and slice the onions fairly thinly. Melt the butter for the filling in a large frying pan over a medium-low heat, then add the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring regularly to prevent browning, until they collapse into soft, golden ribbons. This will probably take about 15 minutes.
2 Mix the cheese, chives and spring onions
While the onions are cooking, finely chop the chives and roughly chop the spring onions. Put both in a bowl and crumble in the cheese. (I like the mildly lactic flavour of lancashire here, but cheshire, mild cheddar or any hard cheese will work; go easy on the seasoning if using a stronger variety, though.)
3 Finish off the onions
Pour 100ml water on top of the softened onions, bring to a simmer, then leave it to bubble away until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Season, tip out of the pan on to a plate or tray, and leave to cool while you make the pastry. (You could use bought shortcrust, but this hot-water crust is so easy, that would be a bit of a shame.)
4 Grease and line a pie dish
Lightly grease a medium pie dish (I used a rectangular 20cm x 26cm one) with butter or oil, and line it with a single sheet of greaseproof paper – this will help you lift out the cooked pie later (if you’re going to serve it straight from the dish, or are using a loose-bottomed pie tin, there’s no need for paper, so just grease the dish).
5 Start on the pastry
Put the butter for the pastry in a small pan with 110ml water and heat over a medium flame until it has melted and the mixture is simmering. Heat the oven to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Put the flour, salt and mustard powder in a large bowl and whisk well.
6 Finish the pastry, then roll out
Pour the boiling butter and water mixture into the flour bowl and stir in vigorously until the mix comes together into a smooth dough. Set aside about a third of it to make the lid. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining dough to about twice the size of the dish.
7 Line the pie dish, then fill
Carefully lift the pastry into the pie dish, pressing it into the sides. Don’t worry too much about any tears; it’s easy enough to patch these up simply by pressing the dough together. Spread about half the cooled onions across the pastry base, followed by half the cheese, spring onion and chive mixture, then repeat the layers to fill the dish.
8 Roll out the lid, and put in place
Roll out the remaining pastry so it’s just larger than the top of the dish. Moisten the exposed edges at the top of the pastry base to give the lid something to stick to, then lift the lid on top of the pie and gently press down around the edges with the back of a fork to seal (or crimp, if you’re feeling fancy).
9 Glaze and bake
Beat the egg with a little water (or milk) to loosen, then brush over the lid of the pie. Poke a hole in the centre so the steam can escape, then bake for about 45 minutes, until golden. Leave to cool a little, or completely, before serving. It’s delicious with salad and/or pickles on the side.