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The Pithivier Zeitgeist


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I've been spending far too much time, if that's possible, thinking about surrounding birds and foie gras with puff pastry. This started because of a dish I heard about in Paris by the chef Bernard Pacaud. I am obviously not the only one, however. This morning I read Jan Moir's review of Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle, where they do a partridge and foie pithivier. And, of course, the new Galvin place has brought out an Autumn pigeon and foie pithivier.

The funny thing is, although a tremendously classical dish, I hadn't heard of this sort of thing in the UK before this season (unless you go back to Roux brother days).

So, can anyone think of other recent examples? Have they always had a presence, or do they seem to be emerging? And I admit, two pithiviers does not a political party make, but still...

Edited by MobyP (log)

"Gimme a pig's foot, and a bottle of beer..." Bessie Smith

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Not new, but any campaign for the saving of the pithivier gets my limited support. My first 'posh' meal (at Quags) featured a vegetable pithivier that I remember with great affection. Course, that was in the days when England held the ashes, so quite a while ago.

Oh.

It no longer exists, but it was lovely.

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I've definitley seen a resurgence in pithiviers on menus, usually including game rather than the sweet version. I think it might have gone out of fashion a little after every vegetarian option included a pithvier of roasted veg or walnuts and blue cheese which could be of wildly varying quality. The realisation that filo could be used to surround whatever filling and was cheaper, quicker, more 'exotic' and less likely to fail probably also contributed to its dip in popularity.

Now you've mentioned it I might have to go and try to make one for dinner :smile:

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The website of the City of Pithiviers has a section on local gastronomic specialities which explains the origin of this dish and provides some recipes.

It refers to two varieties of the local pastry. "Pithiviers fondant" is made with ground almonds, sugar, butter, rum and eggs. This mixture is formed into a cake, baked in a slow oven, cooled and then covered with white fondant and decorated with glacéed cherries and angelica.

Pithiviers Feuilleté, on the other hand, is the pastry we know, with essentially the same almond cake covered in puff pastry. The site asserts that the fondant dish came first, since "puff paste was unknown until it was invented by M. Feuillet, the pastry chef of the prince of Condé in the 18th century." This sounds odd to me, because I thought that "feuilleté" meant "sheet pastry" (as in une feuille, a leaf or a sheet, referring to the structure of puff pastry). It's as if someone claimed that shortpaste had been invented by "Chef Flakey". On the other hand, Alain Chapel had a chef in his kitchen, who has posted on these boards, named Guy Gâteau, so I guess anything is possible.

In any case, if the site is to be believed, the almond mixture, not the pastry, is what defines a Pithiviers. Hence calling something a Pithiviers* where a round pastry is filled with game or other meat instead of almonds is a metonymic substitution of the container for the thing contained -- or perhaps it's the other way round.

=====

* And the singular of "Pithiviers" is, therefore, "Pithiviers". As in "Did you buy a Pithiviers in Pithiviers? No, we bought two Pithiviers in Pithiviers." Or is it "two Pithivierses"?

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Pithivier savoyard - potato gratin wrapped in parma ham and enclosed in pastry - is often on the menu at Chez Bruce. Chocolate pithivier is Simon Hopkinson's version of a Michel Guerard dessert and has, I believe, been on the Bibendum menu since day one (ie 1987).

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Back in 1997 Donovan Cooke et al. in Melbourne's Est Est Est were producing these on a regular basis, either as a light meal or (in a smaller form) as a contrast on a larger plate. For instance a civet of hare fillet would be accompanied by a small Pithivier of the leg meat.

Another excellent version they produced was of layered ceps, when the pithivier was cut open it showd a mosaic of alternating light and darker layers.

Basically is is a fancy pie and as such could be used to play about with the them some British classics. Also you can make the buggers well a head of time and pop them in the oven at the last moment. They look well cool for all this.

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Last time I ate at the Atrium in Edinburgh (which I have to admit was about two years ago), they managed to get a Pithivier in both the main course and the pud, which as they only do about six dishes for each course is an impressive ratio. So well done Atrium for being ahead of the Zeitgeist (hope it makes up a little for this years Hardens review).

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So a Pithiviers is just a Frenchified term for "pie"...except that if you change "Meat pie" to "Pithiviers" on the menu, and scratch a few swirls in the pastry with the tip of a knife before popping it into the oven, you can charge a few extra ₤₤₤ for the same old product. Is that it?

Edited by Jonathan Day (log)

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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So a Pithiviers is just a Frenchified term for "pie"...except that  if you change "Meat pie" to "Pithiviers" on the menu, and scratch a few swirls in the pastry with the tip of a knife before popping it into the oven, you can charge a few extra ??? for the same old product.  Is that it?

Pâté en croûte de boeuf avec de la sauce "HP"?

Maybe. All the examples I have seen have been made out of puff pastry and demonstrated some visual resemblance to the French item.

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In any case, if the site is to be believed, the almond mixture, not the pastry, is what defines a Pithiviers. Hence calling something a Pithiviers* where a round pastry is filled with game or other meat instead of almonds is a metonymic substitution of the container for the thing contained -- or perhaps it's the other way round.

Synecdoche is the specific term for this sort of part-for-whole metonymy.

One of those words one has to use when the opportunity presents itself.

Sorry a bit OT.

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Pithiviers Feuilleté, on the other hand, is the pastry we know, with essentially the same almond cake covered in puff pastry.  The site asserts that the fondant dish came first, since "puff paste was unknown until it was invented by M. Feuillet, the pastry chef of the prince of Condé in the 18th century."  This sounds odd to me, because I thought that "feuilleté" meant "sheet pastry" (as in une feuille, a leaf or a sheet, referring to the structure of puff pastry).  It's as if someone claimed that shortpaste had been invented by "Chef Flakey".  On the other hand, Alain Chapel had a chef in his kitchen, who has posted on these boards, named Guy Gâteau, so I guess anything is possible.

Puff pastry existed well before the 18th century, even in England. It is really just a variation on shortpaste after all.

To make butter paste

Take flour and seven or eight eggs, and cold butter and fair water, or rose water, and spices (if you will) and make your paste. Beat it on a board, and when you have so done divide it into two or three parts and drive out the piece with a rolling pin. And do['t] with butter one piece by another, and fold up your paste upon the butter and drive it out again. And so do five or six times together, and some not cut for bearings. Put them into the over, and when they be baked scrape sugar on them and serve them.

The Good Housewife's Jewel, Thomas Dawson (1596)

In 18th century England it was used much like we use shortcrust now and in some cases to line pudings , like a suet crust.

Potentially, M. Feuillet developed a refined form of puff pastry, but it sounds a little to neat a story to me.

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Pithiviers came up (and I use the phrase advisedly) in this thread in which I search for the truth behind the Jane Grigson recipe for a sweet pithiviers which can be interestingly varied by the addition of a roasted, minced pig's kidney. Nice.

Fi Kirkpatrick

tofu fi fie pho fum

"Your avatar shoes look like Marge Simpson's hair." - therese

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In any case, if the site is to be believed, the almond mixture, not the pastry, is what defines a Pithiviers. Hence calling something a Pithiviers* where a round pastry is filled with game or other meat instead of almonds is a metonymic substitution of the container for the thing contained -- or perhaps it's the other way round.

Synecdoche is the specific term for this sort of part-for-whole metonymy.

One of those words one has to use when the opportunity presents itself.

Sorry a bit OT.

Thanks ... I thought there was a specific term, but couldn't remember it.

Do you recall James Thurber's attempt to find an example of the Thing Contained for the Container? His teacher, Miss Groby, wasn't amused. But he found two, both concerning food:

(1)

Angry wife, brandishing a bottle of milk at her drunken husband: "Get out of here or I'll hit you with the milk!"

(2)

An old vaudeville routine --

A: What's your head all bandaged up for?

B: I got hit with some tomatoes

A: How could that bruise you up so bad?

B: These tomatoes were in a can.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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