Life of pies: Lifting the lid on the perfect pie

We Brits are passionate about pies spending £1.2 billion a year on them. We even have a pie awards, So what’s the secret to baking the perfect pie? We share our top tips so you can personalize your pies and cook them to perfection.

How to make perfect pastry

The first rule of making great crisp and light pastry is to handle the dough as little as possible. Over working it when you rub and beat it together will make it dry and tough.

The second rule is to add just enough water to bind the ingredients together. Too much water will make your pastry chewy. Every batch of flour will absorb slightly different amounts of water so no recipe can tell you exactly how much to use – you have to trust yourself on this one.

Finally don’t let the dough get enough to the especially when making puff. This would make the pastry difficult to work with and spoil the bake. If your hands run them under the cold tap before handling the dough. If your kitchen intermittently cool the dough in the fridge.

Which is the best?

It delivers the majority of the flavour in pastry. Most are suitable but avoid spreads and margarines as they contain a high proportion of water. Recipes often use butter or lard which are easy to work with and add great texture and flavour (lard on its own can taste overpowering so it’s often combined with butter). Oils will not give the same in the mouth texture as hard and are unsuitable for puff.

Adding flavourings to dough

You can add extra flavour to the dough in the form of finely chopped rosemary sage or thyme or spices. You can also replace some of the flour with ground nuts or some of with grated cheese. Sweet pastry (also known as pate sucrée) containing sugar or icing sugar is made in a similar way to standard shortcrust pastry you can even swap a small amount of the flour for cocoa powder to make chocolate pastry.

Cooking perfect pastry

To achieve a crisp pie base rather than a soggy bottom you need to use a thick heavy pie tin or dish as this will absorb more heat and get hotter than a thinner one. Surprisingly the colour of your tin can make a big difference; black tins will absorb more heat than light-coloured shiny tins which reflect the heat. If you don’t have the best equipment place your pie dish on a preheated heavy baking tray or pizza stone or on the bottom of your oven. To help keep pastry crisp remember to a hole in your pastry lid to allow steam to escape.

How to make free-from pastry

Gluten is the texture of good pastry but you can of course make good gluten-free pastry. The challenges are both in terms of how easy the dough is to work with and the quality of the finished pastry. Gluten-free shortcrust pastry will always be ‘shorter’ (crisper and crumblier) than pastry containing gluten so it doesn’t hold together well once cooked. Gluten-free puff pastry is particularly difficult because the comparatively dry and crumbly dough makes it hard to form the required layers.

Dairy-free pastry is easy to make; just replace the butter with a mixture of hard vegetable and lard or use oils.

Make vegan pastry using plants oils and hard vegetable and glaze it with aquafaba (chickpea water) or plant-based milks.

The filling

The filling will make or break your pie. A rich full-flavoured gravy is a must but the best flavour is a matter of personal preference, for recipes that have stood the test of time and a few news ones.

Don’t overfill your pie; it should come up to a centimeter or so below the top or the filling is likely to leak as it bubbles up during cooking. Let any fillings cool completely before adding them to the pastry case. To prevent a wet filling from making the pastry base soggy preheat a baking tray and cook the pie on that – the extra heat will set the pastry faster.

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