Pastry always seems a bit terrifying. But honestly, have a think about it: it’s really just a vessel to hold delicious contents, all of which will spill out over your pastry making it all taste yummy anyway. And if it’s a little thick or a bit uneven, who cares? That’s what home made food is all about. If you know how to make a chicken pie (or any pie!) it’s such a versatile skill. So come on, let’s dive in: practice makes perfect!
A quick word about pie dishes. By all means use a classic ceramic pie dish but you’ll get a much better result by using a metal tin. I swear by Mermaid, who do proper hard anodised aluminium tins that you can use on the hob and in the oven (this one’s actually a tarte tatin dish) – they conduct the heat really well, resulting in nice, crisp pastry and an even bake.
How to make pastry
The best tip I can give you about making pastry is to keep everything as cool as possible. Sweaty hands make for a big gluey mess, so try and keep to just using the tips of your fingers, and use a light touch.
For standard, shortcrust pastry, you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
You can make pastry in the food processor, or by hand. Here are both versions:
Making pastry by hand:
Cut the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour:
… add in the salt, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs:
Now add the egg. It’s less messy initially so use a knife to just stir it around until it starts to come together. Then, with your hands, bring it together into a dough. Don’t knead it, remember, just treat it very gently.
Making pastry in the food processor
Chop the cold butter into cubes and add it to the flour and salt. Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs.
Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly until it comes together.
Every time you make pastry it will be different: flours can have different moisture levels and eggs can be different sizes, but you should find it comes together into a ball quite well. If it’s really dry, add a tablespoon or two of cold water, but you don’t want a wet mess, be very sparing.
At this stage, with either processor-made or hand-made pastry, you’ll have a rough ball of dough. Now just wrap it in clingfilm and chill for about 2o minutes.
This is the stage where you can get on with making your filling. I’ve made a creamy chicken filling, but you can use your imagination and fill it with whatever you like: beef and mushrooms in gravy… fish in a creamy sauce… (or veggies) or, if you fancy a sweet pie (add a tablespoon of caster sugar to your pastry), apple, cherry… the list is endless. Leftovers make fab pies. We always make turkey and ham on Boxing Day, and leftover curry makes a lovely pie too.
Filling for a creamy chicken pie
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 shallot, finely sliced
2 large free-range chicken breasts (or leftover chicken or turkey)
Couple of slices of nice ham (or leftover gammon, cut into chunks)
Dash of double cream
About 200-300ml chicken stock (cube is fine)
So gently fry the shallot in the oil until translucent and add in your cubes of chicken breast. Fry until just coloured (remember it’ll cook properly in the oven), then add the ham (snipped into little pieces, or chopped), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then the splosh of cream. Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce a little (you don’t want too much ‘juice’ in the pie as it will make the pastry soggy). Add in some fresh herbs if you like, too. Thyme is delicious with chicken, and so is tarragon.
Once your filling is done, leave it to one side to cool while you roll out the pastry. Oh, and this is a good time to preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
Rolling out the pastry
Retrieve it from the fridge, flour your work surface AND your rolling pin really well. Divide your pastry into two pieces: one about 2/3 for the base and the other 1/3 for the top.
Roll the larger piece out to about 5-6mm thick, moving the pastry around in 1/4 turns as you roll until you’ve got a rough circle. This will prevent the pastry from sticking to the work surface. Remember: it doesn’t have to be perfect!
Roll the pastry up around the rolling pin, then unroll it over your pie dish. Push it down gently, and use little extra bits to fill any holes or cracks. Don’t worry too much – it’s home made!
Now spoon in your cooled filling. Don’t put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’!
Now do the same thing with the final third of pastry. Unroll it over your filling and crimp the edges with your fingers, or a fork so that they’re sealed together.
If you’re feeling arty, make some letters (I’m desperate to do a pie that says ‘bum’) or cut out leaves or whatever. Pass swiftly on to the eggy wash department for a brush with beaten egg or milk (grab a passing child if you can) and pop in the oven for about half an hour at 180/gas 4.
And yes, sometimes it all goes wrong (this one needed that extra bit of cold water – the patry was far too crumbly) just laugh at yourself and serve it up anyway – it will still taste lovely! (oh, and writing BUM on it is excellent therapy too, trust me).
And that’s it. YOU MADE A PIE! You’re a genius.