I don’t think there is anything more disappointing in life than eyeing a fabulous looking piece of pie, sweet or savoury it doesn’t matter, only for the taste to be less than exciting. Indeed many shop bought pies, particularly the meat variety, have a way of over delivering on the picture on the outside and being severely underwhelming once cooked. The only answer was to make my own and it all starts with the pastry.
Knowing both how to use and make pastry properly is an invaluable skill for any cook and it is relatively simple but, unlike full pies, the range of ready made pastry today is excellent. I think this is particularly true when it comes to filo or puff pastry, as while you could certainly master the process, it is time consuming and involved. My suggestion is to buy it. It’s not all about full coverage pies; pastry is also useful as an open casing for savoury tarts and quiches, both large and individual. If the pastry is good then it really can stretch the meat quite substantially. Pastry based dishes also have a good ‘make ahead’ value and are great freezer standbys. The two main types of pastry are shortcrust and puff, sometimes called flaky pastry. At James Whelan Butchers we would often use flaky for our individual meat parcels which are always popular, but stick with shortcrust for quiches and pies. I’m a little bit of a maverick in that I don’t believe in too many rules but definitely shortcrust works better as a base. Puff, as the name suggests, puffs up during baking becoming light and flaky.
Water isn’t the only liquid as some specialist dishes call for milk or even yoghurt but hone your skill with water first.If you see the words ‘double crust’ in a recipe this simply means pastry at the bottom as well as a pastry lid; encasing the whole dish.
If you do want to make your own short crust pastry from Delia to Darina, they will all tell you that one of the golden rules of pastry making is to keep everything cool. While it sounds like effort, always have a bowl of iced water nearby. I like to use plain white flour as shortcrust pastry tends to be quite crumbly when you’re making it. I have found that self raising flour makes it softer and more difficult to handle. The fat you use will determine much; the taste will be affected depending on the use of margarine, lard or butter but it also impacts on the texture. You can of course mix the fats also for different results; equal parts lard and butter is many chefs’ preference. The water used for combining everything together should be very cold and used sparingly.
Water isn’t the only liquid as some specialist dishes call for milk or even yoghurt but hone your skill with water first. If you see the words ‘double crust’ in a recipe this simply means pastry at the bottom as well as a pastry lid; encasing the whole dish. This is really good for stretching a batch of meat. The traditional apple tart would be considered a double crust. Usually if I am making a rich meat pie that only requires a pastry lid I am happy to use one of the many ceramic or Pyrex dishes that I have gathered in the kitchen over the years but a double crust really requires a metal dish. While enamel dishes are probably notconsidered as pretty as their ceramic cousins, metal is just a better conductor of heat and so will cook the pastry on the bottom so much better. Enamel dishes come in a range of sizes and while not necessarily all frilly, brightly coloured, chunky and sexy, they are relatively inexpensive. Many people stick fork holes in the top of the pastry before the oven. This is not purely for decoration but allows the steam to escape during cooking and prevents the pastry lid from getting soggy. If you are browsing a good cook shop some day try and find a pie funnel. This sits in the middle of the pie during cooking and lets the steam out very efficiently.
For basic shortcrust pastry, put the flour in a bowl and add the fat, which I like to cut into small cubes. Using your very cold fingertips rub the fat into the flour, working quickly, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water very gradually, mixing it in with another cold utensil. Once you have a dough-like substance in the bowl turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface, knead lightly into a ball, wrap in cling film and pop it into the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes. This resting period is very important. It will keep like this in the fridge for up to two days or you can freeze it. When rolling shortcrust it can fall apart a little but just patch up the gaps. However my final tip, particularly with quiches and open tarts is that shortcrust pastry tends to shrink during cooking. I always drape it over the pie dish and cut off the excess with a sharp knife after cooking rather than trimming it before it goes into the oven. When it comes to the filling the choices are endless. Steak pie is a great favourite as is chicken or for something rustic and eye catching a lamb shank pie with the bones sticking out the top of the pastry is quite the talking point. If I have whetted your appetite for a savoury pastry pie but you don’t have the time to make it yourself drop by James Whelan Butchers today for some great inspiration. We’d love to see you.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown, Rathcoole & Kilmacanogue. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers