Plunge a fork through the mashed-potato topping of a shepherd's pie or the flaky crust of a steak and kidney pie, then inhale the steamy burst of flavor before digging in. Sheer delight.
Bite into a Scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg wrapped in spicy sausage and baked. Handy to fold in a napkin and carry along for a snack.
Or savor a slab of ham-and-chicken pie baked in a thick crust for a cold supper.
These dishes, typical of the British Isles, are among the latest entries in the array of ethnic foods in the Baltimore area. Shepherd's Pies of Scotland recently opened in a spacious, bright store in Padonia Village Shopping Center, York and Padonia roads, in Cockeysville.
"You can't buy steak and kidney pie anywhere else around here," says Alex Shepherd, 52, the Edinburgh-born master baker and namesake of the store.
Don't bother trying to count calories here. Just enjoy.
"We're a full-fat bakery," confirms Jane Giffen, 42, Shepherd's protege and partner.
The store also offers ideal companions for a cup of hot tea -- a big raisin-studded scone, a fruit slice (raisins, currants and crushed almonds between two layers of sugar-sprinkled pastry) known as a "fly cemetery," and a wedge of buttery Scottish shortbread, made from an old recipe that is held as closely as a state secret.
"Reveal it? To a news- paper? No way," says Giffen, guardian of the shortbread recipe.
The move to the Padonia Road location -- which was celebrated with the Towson-based John F. Nicoll Pipe Band's playing at the grand opening last month -- came after three years of working from an out-of-the-way cubbyhole in Jarrettsville in Harford County.
But even from there, Giffen and Shepherd enjoyed word-of-mouth success in the metropolitan area, which enabled them to expand to the more commodious and accessible location. The move already has been a success, they say.
Shepherd and Giffen have added a delivery driver and a full-time baker, Kevin Schewing, a 1994 graduate of the Baltimore International College whom they "lured" from the Harbor Court Hotel. His fiancee, Maggie Dannenmann, a Towson University student, also helps out, as do various family members.
Baking starts between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. and goes on all day.
The business began in 1996 as a wholesale bakery of cakes and pies for Baltimore-area restaurants, some of which order 20 or more cakes every day. Once the cake-and-pie business was established, Shepherd began adding the Scottish specialties, including much-maligned haggis -- made with various sheep organs -- which he prepares on special order.
Although traditional dishes such as steak and mushroom pie, bridies (seasoned sausage and onion in puffed pastry), shepherd's pie, Scotch eggs, sausage rolls and ham-and-chicken pie are not well-known in the United States, they're gaining in popularity here, Giffen says. It's not just because they taste good, either, she says.
"There's no cooking," explains Giffen, who is married to a Scottish computer programmer. "It's very convenient, and Americans have caught on to it very quickly."
Shepherd and Giffen have added their own innovations to the traditional pies, including quiche, curried lamb and curried chicken, and spinach and feta pies. The pies are available in individual sizes -- with the cuplike crusts shaped on a specially made machine from Britain -- and in larger sizes.
With the small pies, customers can mix and match, Giffen says. "If they buy a mixed dozen, everybody gets what they want, and if everybody likes the same thing, there's the family size."
Shepherd says he plans to add another British staple, pork pies, and to expand the line of imported prepared foods, such as British sauces like HP Steak Sauce; condiments like Branston Pickle; Irish bacon; English cheese; and, of course, various brands of tea.
Along with Scottish dishes, the shop has a full-service bakery of pies, cakes, cookies and pastries, which were Shepherd's specialty as a student at the School of Culinary Arts of the Baltimore International College.
After graduation in 1989, Shepherd worked for the Tres Bon restaurants as a pastry cook until the chain closed and then briefly at a Glen Burnie market that had its own bakery department. When that folded, he set up a one-man company, cleaning apartments for incoming tenants until he scraped together enough capital to launch his own bakery.
"I always wanted to have a bakery," says Shepherd, whose brother operates one in Manchester, England. He borrowed his brother's recipes for the meat pies and the thick, heavy pie crust that holds in the juices and flavor.
Shepherd and his wife, Bridget, an assistant public defender and member of East Baltimore's politically prominent Duffy family, were friends with Jane and Gordon Giffen through the Nicoll band, in which both men were drummers. When Jane Giffen left her job with a travel agency, it seemed a natural step for her to become a partner and apprentice in the new venture.
"We couldn't be happier. We love what we do," Giffen says.
The partners already are thinking about their next project.
"We want to open a tearoom," Shepherd says, "not here, somewhere else, and supply it from here."
Shepherd's Pies of Scotland, Padonia Village Shopping Center, York and Padonia roads, Cockeysville, 410-628-4045. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
3/4 pound sausage meat (very lean to reduce fat)
6 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup bread crumbs
Divide the sausage into six portions and flatten into patties. Roll the shelled eggs in the flour, coating lightly.
Place each egg on a sausage patty and form the sausage around the egg. Roll in the bread crumbs.
Place the eggs on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes at 325 degrees.
Scotch eggs may be served hot or cold. They also may be frozen and reheated in a conventional oven or microwave oven, if desired.
-- From Alex Shepherd