Making Pies: a Noble Affair
When it comes to deciding what Britain’s national dish is there’s always a bit of a debate with some people saying that the national dish is no longer the traditional roast beef or fish and chips, but instead Chinese stir-fry or else tikka masala, but despite England’s increasing taste for cosmopolitan cuisine, in my view the raised pie should rank as a national dish. With its long history, dashing good looks and fabulous taste it is no wonder that the pie in its many guises is still as popular as ever.
There are many types of pie from the ones enjoyed at football matches to fruit pies and shepherds pies, but the grandest of all pies is the traditional raised pie. There are many reasons to make raised pies, not only is it an historical tradition that should be preserved, but it looks wonderfully homely and is great fun to make.
If you enjoy the delights of hands-on cooking then the process of hand raising a pie is definitely for you. The process of making hot crust pastry and raising a pie is reminiscent of pottery classes or childhood afternoons spent modelling with play dough. It is fair to say that there is great fun to be had when experimenting with making a raised pie and most importantly raised pies and especially pork pies, raised in the style of the famous Melton Mowbray pies are a gourmet delight.
Traditional Raised Pork Pie
There is nothing quite like an afternoon spent making traditional raised pork pies, from the bubbling jellied stock containing pork bones and pigs trotters; the chopping and bashing of the pork shoulder; the moulding of the warm dough and the proud moment of unveiling a home-made, heavy pork pie. A home-made pork pie is something to be savoured in both the making and the eating.
There are many recipes for pork pies around many which involve more spices and combinations of pork shoulder, belly and bacon, but the recipe below is a family recipe that yields a simple yet delicious pie that goes well with pickles and makes for a very good spot of supper.
For the Jellied stock:
Bones from the pork
2 pig’s trotters
1 large carrot
1 small bunch thyme
4 bay leaves
4 large stalks of celery
1 lemon halved
6 black peppercorns
Pinch of sea salt
Get your butcher to remove the bones from the pork shoulder and ask for a couple of pigs trotters to go with these bones, for together they will make a most excellent jellied stock. The jelly making takes a few hours to complete so it’s best to start this off first and it can be cooking in the background whilst you get on with making the pie.
In a large saucepan place the bones, trotters, vegetables and seasoning and cover with 2 ½ pints of water. Bring to the boil and the place on the lid and reduce to a gentle simmer for two hours. After two hours strain the stock through a sieve and return the resulting liquid into a clean pan and boil rapidly until the liquid has reduced to around a pint in volume. Season to taste and decant into a jug to cool. When it is cold it should be nice and thick, but if you should find it to be too runny then simply pop in back in a saucepan and boil rapidly again for another ten minutes.
Tip: This will keep in the fridge for four days, so it could be made well in advance.
Please Note: The quantities in this recipe will yield enough jelly and filling for two pies, but as the pastry needs to be worked whilst warm the pastry will only yield enough for one pie, giving you time to create one pie and then repeat the process with fresh, warm pastry for the second creation.
1 ½ lbs boned pork shoulder
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp mixed spiced
Making the filling is always an opportunity to vent your frustrations in life as it involves chopping and pounding. You can use a food processor or mincer but the texture will be much more interesting if you can manage to do it all by hand. Chop the pork into ½ inch cubes and then use either a meat tenderiser to bash the chopped meat with or do as I do and simply cover a heavy rolling pin with cling film and then reflect on the days irritations before letting loose on bashing the filling for a few minutes. We are looking for chopped filling not paste so don’t get too enthusiastic in your tenderising activities! Season the filling and then set aside, whilst you get on with the pastry.
For the hot-crust pastry:
Making hot-crust pastry is not like any other pastry making exercise; in fact to make hot crust pastry is to cast aside all the normal pastry making rules, it calls for boiling water and melted fat, prefers to be kept warm and appreciates being handled. The best tip I can give when working with hot crust pastry is to use the pastry when warm and pliable, but not too hot that it cannot hold its form.
Pinch of sea salt
Put the lard and water into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Sift the flour with a good pinch of salt into a large bowl. Pour the hot lard and water into the flour, mix with a wooden spoon, then leave until cool enough to handle.
Raise your hand for a Pie
I raise my pork pies by hand and because they’re unsupported when they bake, the sides drop slightly and expand outwards like a pot belly, giving them a plump and rather artisan look.
Now, there are people out there who call their pies “hand-raised” even though they are baked in a tin and although it does makes the process simpler, it’s not half as much fun. However if you don’t want to try raising the pie completely unaided you can employ the use of a wooden pie dolly or a jam jar.
Remember the pastry must be warm when you start to work it!
Knead the pastry into a ball and remove a quarter of the pastry for the lid. On a lightly floured surface, press out the remaining three-quarters of the pastry into a round.
Place a mound of filling in the centre of the pastry round and press together to keep it together as much as possible (a stickier, raw filling will be easier to mould).
Sculpt the pastry around the filling, trying as much as possible to make sure it is the same thickness all around and on the base. The first time you do this process it can be a bit fiddly, but with practice this becomes quite easy and it is rather enjoyable. Cup both hands under the edge of the pastry round and press it up tightly against the filling, building the sides straight up to the top of the filling. Work the pastry up the sides of the filling and rotate the pie on the floured surface with your palms to even out the sides and to make sure the filling is packed in, ensuring there are no holes in the pastry.
You need to work with the pastry whilst it is warm and malleable, once it cools it will become difficult to sculpt and will be prone to cracking and crumbling.
Brush a little water inside the rim of the pastry. Place the lid on top of the filling and press the edges of the pastry together to seal, with the rim
Moulding a pork pie with a Jam Jar
My trusty and somewhat battered copy of Mrs. Beetons ‘Cookery and Household Management’, gives excellent advice on the raising of pies by hand and by jam jar,
‘’TO RAISE A PIE”
The pastry must be raised or moulded whilst still warm. Reserve a ¼ for the lid and leave it in the bowl in a warm place, covered with a cloth. Roll out the remainder to about ¼ in. thickness in a round or oval shape as preferred. Gently mould the pie with the hands; if this proves too difficult mould it over a jam jar. ‘’
To use a jam jar as a pie former, choose a straight sided jar and cling film the outside of it. Knead your pastry until it is smooth and elastic then leave for a few minutes to cool. Save a third of the pastry for your lid and wrap in foil to keep it warm. Roll out the remaining pastry into a circle and shape the remaining amount around the jam jar, moulding it into shape with your fingers and palms. It is important to have a consistent thickness around the jar and at the base. Chill the pie case and jar for 30 minutes until set.
Top Tip You can release the pastry from round the jam jar by filling the jar with hot (not boiling water) Fill the pastry case, add the lid and bake as per your recipe.
slightly rising above the lid. Rotate the pie on the floured surface while pressing the sides gently
Place the pie on a lightly greased baking tray and refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
You will now need to make another batch of pastry and repeat the process with the remainder of your filling.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ gas mark 6
Brush the lids of the pies, but not the crimp with egg wash, create a hole in the centre of each pie. Cook for 25-30 minutes and then wrap a little baking parchment around each pie (to prevent the pastry over-browning), reduce the temperature of the oven 160°C, gas mark 6 and cook the pies for a further 50 minutes.
Allow the pies to cool slightly and then pour the jellied stock carefully through the hole in the top of the pastry. A funnel is invaluable in this process, but if you don’t have one a cone made from greaseproof paper works fine. Leave the pie to cool, then refrigerate overnight.
Creating a Noble Pie
A noble pie is generally a pie created for a special occasion. Steeped in history these pies hark back to the days when the pastry was a mere container, used as a vessel in which to contain and protect the delicious filling in side. Cooked in a traditional fluted tin, these pies look magnificent. These pies use a hot water pastry which is sturdy enough to absorb the meat juices and fat during cooking, but remain crisp on the exterior.
The recipe for hot crust pastry used for the pork pie in the previous recipe works fine for creating a noble pie, but if you fancy experimenting then recipe below creates a finer pastry that is rather delicious.
‘’Take one pound of fine flour and rub into it a quarter of a pound of butter, a pinch of salt, one whole egg, then mix it with cold water into a stiff paste and use.’’
From Agnes B. Marshall Cookery Book (London: 1880)
I really deliberated over the recipes to include for a noble pie, traditionally game or even fish are used in these magnificent looking pies, but when game is out of season this rich steak and kidney pie works really well in this
Noble Pie Tins
You can track down second hand raised pie tins on online auction sites and sometimes in vintage shops. They are expensive new and pricey second-hand, but they are only worth the investment if you are going to make them regularly or for a really special occasion. These pies can be made with wonderful results using a loose bottomed spring-form cake tin. I have made some truly wonderful pies over the years using this method.
style of pie.
Steak and Kidney Raised Pie
For the pastry
Hot crust pastry (as used for the pork pie)
Beaten egg to glaze
For the filling
25g plain flour
1 lb chuck steak (cut into 1 inch cubes)
6 beef kidneys cut into quarters
1 0z butter
3 tsp tomato puree
2 tsp sugar
Salt and ground pepper
Start with the pastry:
Prepare the pastry as in the pork pie recipe. Reserve one third of the pastry for the lid. Using the flats of your fingers to even it out, press the remaining dough into the tin, making sure you have at least ½ inch of overhang all around the top. Press your knuckle all around where the sides meet the base, so the pastry isn’t too thick there.
It takes a little time to work the pastry up the side of the tin and ensure that it is not too thick or uneven around the tin, but it is well worth the effort.
Prepare the Filling:
Place the flour in a bowl and season; add the steak and the kidneys. Toss the meat and ensure that it is fully coats in flour.
In a heavy based frying pan heat the butter until it is melted, but not browned. Add the meat in batches and brown quickly.
Set the browned meat aside.
Add the tomato puree, stout, sugar and any remaining flour to the pan and bring to the boil, combine with the meat. Using a slotted spoon add the meat mixture to pie case (trying not to add too much gravy).
Top up the pie with the meat, shaping it like a dome, then make a hole in the centre.
Retain the remaining gravy as this will be used to top up the pie when it is cooked.
Roll out the pastry lid to an oblong to fit snugly on top, and lay it on the meat. Brush with the egg wash, and then fold the overhanging lip of pastry up and over to cover the join, and press to make sure you have a good seal. If you still have the strength or indeed inclination then, make some pastry leaves, egg washing them too. Put the pie on a baking tray and bake for 1 hour in a preheated oven (oven 160°C, gas mark 6) turning it and reegg-washing halfway through.
Remove the pie from the tin carefully and egg-wash the sides and put it back in the oven for 15–20 minutes until the pastry is a dark golden all over (if the top had a good colour before this, then cover it with baking parchment or foil). Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Re-heat the reserved gravy and pour into the pie through the steam hole, using a funnel. At long last the pie is ready to make its way to the dining table!
Vegetarian Raised Butter Pie
Now vegetarians need not miss out on the raised pie activities. Indeed I gained a Bronze placement in the 2013 British Pie Awards with my vegetarian, Victorian Curry Pie. This twist on the Lancashire speciality of a Butter Pie works well hot or cold and is popular with vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
Traditionally Butter Pies are made with short-crust pastry, but using a hot crust pastry transforms this pie into a vegetarian alternative of a pork pie making it ideal for cold-cutting at buffets, picnics and at Sunday tea-time.
Veggie Hot water crust pastry:
115g vegetable suet
330g plain white flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp mustard powder
If spring a leak or manage to damage the pie when removing it from the tin, then don’t panic, simply egg wash the damaged area and then plug the leak or repair the damage with a bit of left over pastry.
Heat the water in a saucepan. When boiled add the vegetable suet and stir vigorously. Remove from the heat.
Now place the flour into a large bowl and stir in the salt and mustard powder. Add the water and suet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon, until combined.
Carefully gather the mixture into a ball and turn onto a floured work surface and knead the pastry for a few minutes.
Whilst warm reserve a third of the pastry for the lid of the pie and for the remaining pastry around a jam jar to make a pie case.
For the filling:
2 Large potatoes
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Large onion
50g/2oz Butter, plus 100g/4oz for softening the onions
Peel the potatoes and cut into thick slices. Peel and slice the onion in to half rings. Parboil the potatoes until they are just soft but still holding their shape, around 8-10 minutes. Sauté the onions, over a low heat, in the butter until soft, but not browned.
Drain the potatoes and allow the steam leave the pan, then, in the prepared pie case, layer the potatoes, onions, knobs of butter and thyme, season with salt and white pepper. Top with a pastry top and egg wash the pie.
Bake at (oven 160°C, gas mark 6) for forty minutes, until golden, and serve immediately, with pickled red cabbage or beetroot or allow to cool completely and serve with salads.
I hope you’ll enjoy your pie making and eating activities, for as the American playwright David Mamet, writes in ‘Boston Marriage’, ‘’we must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie’’