Simply food


Thomas Bread Spirit Tree (2)

Fresh from the wood fired oven

RECIPE: Pork, apple and cider pie by Paul Hollywood.

DIARY: On location with Escapes with Nigel at The Spirit Tree Estate Cidery.

You have to get up pretty early to best a baker. When I find Thomas Wilson at the hour the sun is just about to lift above the horizon, colouring the early morning sky with pink and gold, he has already been babying his wood-fired oven for hours. Once the correct temperature has been reached and the fire has died down, all the coals are raked out and the bricks hold the heat for the whole day, allowing bread to be baked for the first while, and then pies and finally pizzas. His Spirit Tree Estate Cidery in the beautiful rolling countryside near Caledon, Ontario, is where he bakes his bread and, of course, makes his cider.

The video team are here to shoot a segment for my new television show “Escapes with Nigel” and Thomas is going to show me how to make bread. I’ve taken a novice bread making course and understand the principles, but this will be the first time I’ve been able to work with an artisanal baker. I’ve visited Spirit Tree several times since they opened five years ago and enjoyed their ciders. But it was the amazing loaves of bread we took away to devour at home, that has brought us back today, and Thomas’s generous offer to allow me to get my hands in the dough.

Escapes 6 (2)

Baker Thomas shows me how

It’s about eight o’clock when I don my baker’s apron and get my hands floured up while weighed chunks of dough are lined up on the board before me. We start by rolling them into beignets, dozens of them, and they all have to be the same. We’ve started with these because Thomas says the dough is easier to handle. Still, it takes some practice and my beignets don’t look nearly as pretty as his. Don’t worry, he says kindly, they’ll all look the same after they bake and they’ll certainly taste good.

For a third-generation apple farmer, he sure knows how to bake fantastic bread, the result of intensive training at George Brown College and Cordon Bleu schools in Ottawa and Paris, and hands-on practical experience with his immense brick oven.

We move onto apple cider bread — something a bit more challenging. More challenging because the dough uses cider instead of water and is filled with chunks of fresh apple, making it really, really sticky. Thomas shows me the technique of rolling the dough into a ball, pulling it across the board  to make a smooth exterior skin. He’s probably made a couple of dozen loaves before I finish one that looks half good enough to bake. There’s an added trick to come: the loaves are plonked upside down into a basket and as the dough rises again the weave of the basket will be impressed into the surface of the loaves. Then when they are tipped out to bake in the wood-fired oven, they look like old fashioned straw beehives. Later, we can clearly identify my first lopsided loaf, and I’m allowed to share it with the crew for a snack. Hot out of the oven, with fresh farm butter, it’s delicious.

Escapes 10

Shooting my new TV series at Spirit Tree Estates Cidery

By now Thomas’ wife Nicole Judge has arrived from her other full time job as a vet and she shows us around the cidery. They started planting apples on the site almost a decade ago: 2,500 trees in 15 different varieties to start with and then another 2,500 trees over the next three years. They’ve just been renovating when we visit with the video crew, so there’s no cider making today. We quickly skip over the manufacturing process and get to the bar, where we sample a few of their ciders.

Thomas and Nicole are as diligent with cider making as they are with everything else they do. They learned the techniques with courses in Somerset, the home of good English cider. I like the Cider House rules at Spirit Tree. Among them: demand real apples; bring good friends; drink cider. After a splendid lunch for the whole crew in the Cider House Bistro, we leave laden with goods from the farm shop and, naturally, bottles of Spirit Tree Cider.

Pork and cider pie

Pork, apple and cider pie

Home again, it’s still not spring, and I’m looking for a comfort food recipe that uses cider, when I remember Paul Hollywood’s new book “Pies and Puds,” which I’ve received for Christmas. I’ve yet to try anything from this British baker turned chef’s repertoire, but he has an interesting sounding pie that uses cider in the pastry and in the filling. Sounds just right, so here it is!


  • Servings: 4
  • Print
Author: Paul Hollywood, Pies and Puds 2013
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 55 mins


  • 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4 celery sticks, chopped
  • 1 lb (500g) lean pork ham (or leg cut), cubed
  • 2 tbsp all purpose (or sauce and gravy) flour
  • ¾ cup (175ml) dry cider
  • ¾ cup (175ml) chicken stock
  • 1 large cooking apple, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 2 medium size eating apples, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 8 large sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper


  • 2 eggs, beaten (1 for pastry, 1 for glazing)
  • Just under ½ cup dry cider (100ml)
  • Just under ½ cup olive oil (100ml)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch fine salt
  • 1 ½ – 1 ¾ cups (350-400g) cake and pastry flour
  1. Cut the pork ham (fresh leg cut, not smoked or salted ham) into 1 in (3 -4cm) cubes. Heat a couple of tbsp vegetable oil in a big thick bottomed pot. Chop the celery and onions up fairly finely, and fry for 8 to 10 mins, until quite soft but not browned, scoop out and set aside, leaving the oil behind. Now turn the heat up and add half the remaining pork and fry until brown and cooked through. Scoop out, again leaving the fat behind and fry the balance of the pork. The object of doing this in stages is to brown the meat and not steam it.
  2. Turn the heat down to simmer and return all the reserved ingredients to the pot. Sprinkle on 2 tbsp flour and cook for a minute, stirring all the time. Now add the cider and chicken stock and stir in until it makes a thick sauce.
  3. Add the cored, peeled and chopped apples and finely chopped sage, bring to a boil briefly and then turn down to simmer, uncovered, for 45 mins. Taste and season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.
  4. Meanwhile, make the pastry. In a large bowl, beat 1 egg with the balance of the cider, olive oil, baking powder and salt. Slowly sift in the flour until it becomes a big ball of soft dough. Depending on the humidity and the flour you may need a little more or less. Wrap the dough in plastic film and set in the fridge to rest for 30 mins.
  5. Heat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
  6. In your pie dish (I use one 10 in round by 2 in deep) position your pie funnel in the middle and while holding it firmly, spoon in the cooled pork and apple mixture.
  7. Flour your rolling surface lightly, roll out the chilled pastry to about 1/8 in (3mm) thick, or at least until it will easily fit over the dish. Cut off a strip, wet it and press it around the edge of the dish, wetting the edge of the dish as well if necessary, until it sticks. Lift the rolled out pastry over the dish and carefully lower it over the top. Cut a hole where the funnel sticks out to release the steam. Press the edges of the pie down firmly all round, using more water to aid the stickiness. Trim all round with a sharp knife and then crimp the pastry down to make a pattern, either using the tines of a fork, or by pinching between thumb and forefingers. Set aside the excess pastry trimmings.
  8. Brush the pie with the other beaten egg. Then roll out the leftover pastry and make fanciful decorations, leaves, twigs, berries or whatever you like. Stick them on the pie and brush them with egg as well. Bake for 35 – 40 mins until the pastry is crisp and golden.
  9. Let stand for 10-15 mins before serving. Accompany with tiny boiled new potatoes, greens of your choice, and a fine glass of cider.
Notes: Paul Hollywood specifies “plain” flour, which in North America is usually called “all purpose” flour. However, Canadian all purpose flour contains lots of gluten, so “cake and pastry” flour works better for pie crusts or whenever you are NOT making pizza.
I have also chosen a less fatty cut of pork for my filling, using ham rather than shoulder.

This recipe was originally published on March 29, 2014.

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.