Perfecting your pastry takes practice and persistence. These top 10 tips from the masters at pieminister should help you on your way...
People talk about everything needing to be very cold for pastry-making, including your hands, and it does help, as it means the fat is less likely to become greasy. So do what you can to keep the temperature down - if you have warm hands, a good tip is to hold them under cold running water for a few seconds, then pat dry. Don't get too hung up on this, however, as there are more important quality-defining factors than the temperature of your hands. Some recipes recommend using chilled butter but, given the choice, we would work with slightly softer butter over freezing butter any day. You can start the shortcrust and soured cream pastries off in a food processor, which helps prevent them getting too warm: just whiz the flour and fat together, then tip into a bowl and stir in the liquid.
2: Egg wash
We always use free-range eggs for glazing a pie, as it gives a great sheen. Some people even double-glaze a pie for a super-glossy top - once before cooking and again just as it comes out of the oven piping hot. Cream also works well as a glaze.
Give your pastry a break. If you'd been manhandled and kneaded for 15 minutes or so, you would require a break and so does pastry. Leave it to rest, wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge, for at least 30 minutes before using. We always pat our pastry into the shape we want to roll it out in before chilling it, so that it rolls neatly when taken out of the fridge. If it's too firm to roll, leave it at room temperature for about 30 minutes first.
4: Lining a pie dish
Lift up the rolled-out pastry on the rolling pin, wrapping it round loosely if necessary, then hold it over the centre of the pie dish and unroll it into the dish. Lightly press it into the corners with your fingertips, making sure you don't stretch the pastry. Trim off the excess with a sharp knife or, if you are using a dish without a rim, such as a flan tin, just run the rolling pin lightly over the top to cut off the excess. Chill briefly before filling or baking blind; this helps prevent shrinkage in the oven.
If you are lining a deep pie tin or a pudding basin, cut a small triangle out of one side of the pastry after rolling, so you don't get lots of folds when you put it in the dish.
5: Making a pastry lid
Press the trimmings together if necessary and roll them out again as above. Lightly brush the edges of the pastry lining the dish with beaten egg (or brush the rim of the dish with egg if you are making a single-crust pie), then pick up the sheet of pastry on the rolling pin and unroll it over the pie. Trim off the excess with a knife and press the pastry edges together to seal - or just press the pastry on to the egg-washed rim of the dish for a single-crust pie. You need to make a hole in the centre of the pie to let the steam out, but a ripped hole is better than a neatly cut hole, which tends to close up in the oven.
This ensures the pastry edges stay firmly sealed during baking. Crimping is also your trademark finish. Some people like to be neat, others take a messier, more rustic approach, so have a play around and see what works for you. It can be as simple as pinching the pastry with your thumb and forefinger all around the edge of the pie, or you can do a more involved design. Be firm but fair when crimping - for a crimp to hold throughout baking, it needs to be shown who's boss beforehand. Make your crimps deeper than you think they need to be without squeezing the filling out. When using two different pastries for the base and lid, leave the pie to stand for about 10 minutes after crimping to allow the pastry top to make friends and bind with the base.
Watch our video to see different ways to crimp your pie.
This is a fun way of using up little scraps of leftover pastry and giving your pie personality. But don't go overboard: too much and you will end up with an uncooked lid due to the double thickness of the pastry. Glaze the pastry lid all over with beaten egg before applying the decorations, then glaze the decorations. We use sprinkles a lot at pieminister, too. Black pepper, herbs, nuts, or whatever you like all look great sprinkled over a pie crust before baking.
8: 'Bake off'
If the pie starts to colour too much on top before the filling is thoroughly heated through, then just cover it with foil and move it to the bottom of the oven. The same goes for baking blind if the pastry sides are cooking much faster than the base.
The right dish is mighty important when making pies. For bottom-crust pies, always go for something metal, to make sure the base cooks properly. You can buy round or rectangular metal pie plates and dishes in various sizes, or you could use a greased deep baking tray or enamel dish. Enamel is a pieminister favourite: it's cheap, comes in lots of different sizes and looks good as well. You can also use a metal-handled frying pan (i.e. one that can safely go in the oven) or a Le Creuset casserole dish. Earthenware dishes are fine for pies that only have a top crust. Sometimes we don't use a dish at all: we make a pie that just sits on a baking tray. For tarts, a loose-bottomed tin is the one to go for. If you're making a steamed pud, then a good old-fashioned pudding basin is best. Then you have the filling to think about. In general, it's best not to spread it too thin. Don't overfill your pies either - leave about a centimetre of headspace, so you can seal the pastry lid to the edges.
If you want to know how much filling your dish holds, you can measure its volume by pouring water into it from a measuring jug. Here are the approximate volumes for standard dishes:
- Individual pie dish = approximately 350ml
- 4-person dish = approximately 1.5 litres
- 6-person dish = approximately 2 litres
- 8-person dish = approximately 2.8 litres
10: Storage and shelf life
Pies keep in the fridge for a good few days and most of them freeze very well too; just defrost thoroughly before reheating.
The tips are taken from Pieminister - a pie for all seasons by Tristan Hogg and Jon Simon
Perfect your pastry techniques with these pie recipes.