How to bake the perfect pie this British Pie Week – according to the experts
From MasterChef contestants to bestselling authors, these pie perfectionists will make you a pastry queen in no time
By Becky Hardy
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU MAKE – IT HOW YOU MAKE IT
‘For making everyday pies, no special equipment is necessary except the basics,’ explains Maxine Clark, author of Pies Glorious Pies. ‘A cool work surface, kitchen scales and a bowl for making pastry, plus a pie plate, rolling pin, sharp knife, baking ‘beans’, clingfilm/plastic wrap and maybe a pastry brush.’
‘Fine and medium sieves/strainers are essential for sifting all flour to aerate it and remove any lumps, leading to a lighter pastry. And a food processor is a must if you have hot hands, or if you think you can’t make pastry! It removes the fear of butter melting into the flour, because it mixes fat and flour so quickly and evenly. Just remember to pulse the machine when adding liquids so that the dough will not be overworked and become tough.’
PREPARE TO THRILL
‘Make sure that the oven is pre-heated properly and that the pastry and filling is cold before you start,’ advises former Masterchef: The Professionals contestant Dave Coulson, of Jesmond’s Peace of Pie.
‘Other than that, it’s as easy as pie.’
‘When making pastry, water/liquid quantities are never exact as there are so many variables,’ Maxine explains. ‘A good rule of thumb is to add slightly less than stated, as you can always add more, but too much and the dough is lost!’
‘There is no need to grease a pan before lining. All pastry has fat in it and will, in effect, be non-stick. It is the filling leaking out over the edges or through holes that makes pastry stick, so make sure the pastry is completely sealed.
‘If in doubt, chill, chill, chill! Raw pastry will benefit from thorough chilling at every stage. I like to freeze pastry-lined pans before baking blind as this really sets the pastry, therefore holding its shape.’
HOW WE ROLL
‘When dusting your work surface, never use too much flour,’ advises Calum Franklin, Executive Head Chef at London’s The Pie Room, author of the book of the same name and a man Jamie Oliver has labelled ‘the Pie King’.
‘If the dough is rolled at the right temperature, you shouldn’t need much flour at all. The more flour you use, the more you will change the ratio of flour to fat in the dough, which can result in brittleness in the baked pastry.’
‘When rolling out dough, always work from the edge closest to you and only roll away from you. Each time you roll the pastry, turn it 90 degrees in the same direction. Don’t press downwards during the roll; instead allow the rolling pin to work in a forwards rolling motion.
‘Don’t roll all the way over the ends of the dough until you have achieved the shape and size required.’
‘By “baking blind”, you pre-cook the pie crust so that it cooks through before the filling goes in,’ explains Maxine. ‘It’s less likely to become soggy. It also stops the pastry edges from collapsing into the filling.
- ‘Prick the pie crust all over with a fork.
- ‘Line the pie crust with a piece of well-crumpled baking parchment or kitchen foil and fill with a layer of baking beans.
- ‘Bake the pastry at 200 degrees celsius (400 degrees Fahrenheit) or Gas 6 for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and lift out the baking parchment and baking beans.
- To avoid a soggy bottom pie, brush the base of the pie with beaten egg. This will create a waterproof base.
- ‘Then return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes or so until dried out, lightly golden and cooked through. Leave to cool.’
FILLING’S THE DETAILS
‘You can bake almost anything in a pie – from four and twenty blackbirds to unfortunate barber-shop customers. All will taste better for a pastry crust,’ Maxine says. ‘The secret with pies is not to make the filling too wet or it will ooze out of the pastry and make it go soggy before it has time to crisp up.’
‘If the filling is likely to collapse slightly as it cooks (this will happen if raw fruit or meat is put into the pie), insert a pie funnel before you add the pastry lid. This will help steam escape as well as holding the pastry up so it cooks evenly.’
DRESS TO IMPRESS
- ‘Once your ingredients are wrapped in pastry, you have a blank canvas,’ says Calum. ‘One of the simplest ways to make savoury pastry stand out is by crimping.
- ‘To crimp a single sheet of pastry, lightly brush 2.5cm of the inside edge of the overhanging pastry with egg wash.
- Starting at one point or corner, fold over the pastry at a slight angle onto the brushed surface.
- Now a little wave of pastry has been created, place the tip of your index finger on the outside of that wave and, using the thumb of your other hand, roll another wave onto the brushed pastry.
- Move your index finger along to the other side of that new wave and repeat the process all the way round. If you continue to turn the pastry in at a slight angle, it will take on that beautiful wavy shape.’
All that’s left to do is bake. Practically pie-fect.
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