Easy As Pie!
A beautiful chicken pie topped with crisp golden pastry is easy to make, yet many people are put off making pies at home because they don’t know how to work with pastry.
The good news is that you can use frozen, ready-rolled pastry for all the pies we feature at whatsfordinner! It’s very easy to work with, and produces great results every time. Here are our top 12 tips for using ready-made frozen pastry:
Ready-rolled pastry isn’t very expensive, but as a general rule, it’s wise to buy the best you can afford as this will produce first-rate results. You will find ready-made pastry in the freezer section at your supermarket.
If you want to use it to put on top of a pie, buy puff pastry. If you want to use it to line a pie or quiche dish, buy shortcrust pastry. (Here’s an example of a dish made with shortcrust pastry: Bobotie Quiche.)
Frozen pastry needs to be completely thawed before it is used, or it will crack when you roll it out. Defrost the pastry overnight in your fridge, or leave it on a kitchen counter, in a cool place and out of direct sunlight, for a few hours, or until completely thawed but still cool to the touch.
Use a dish that is roughly the same size as the sheet of puff pastry. If the pastry is a little too small for your dish (or if you are using a circular dish), you can very lightly roll it out (see below) to enlarge it by a few centimetres all the way round. But don’t roll it out too thinly, or it will not puff up well in the oven. You can also bake any pie in individual smaller dishes – try our delicious Steak and Kidney Pie!
When rolling out pastry, lightly dust your board and rolling pin with cake flour. This will prevent the pastry from sticking. Don’t apply too much pressure to the rolling pin – light, quick movements are best. If your pastry seems very sticky, try rolling it out between two large sheets of clingfilm.
Heat is the enemy of pastry, so keep everything chilled! On a hot day, dip your fingers in iced water, then quickly dry them. Roll the pastry out on a cold surface, such as a marble slab or a board that you’ve chilled in the fridge for an hour. If the pastry does warm up and become sticky, put it back in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill before you roll it out.
Pastry can sometimes tear, so ask someone to help you lift the sheet and place it in the pie dish. Alternatively, place the rolling pin at the end of the pastry closest to you and very gently roll the pastry up, so it wraps around the pin. Now place the pin on top of the pie and unroll the pastry so it covers the filling.
If you are using shortcrust pastry to line a quiche tin or tart dish, prick the base all over with a fork before you add the filling. For an extra-crisp base, try ‘blind-baking’ the pastry. Cover the pastry base with a sheet of baking paper, then weigh it down with a few cups of dried beans. Place in an oven preheated to 200 ºC and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the base is a light golden colour and dry to the touch. Now continue with the recipe. If the edges seem to be browning too quickly, cover them with strips of tin foil. Here’s an example of a pie crust that has been blind-baked: Bacon and Egg Pie.
To seal the edges of your puff pastry, press them firmly against the edge of the pie dish, all the way round. If you’d like a decorative edge, you can ‘flute’ the pastry by pressing your thumb down firmly all the way round the edges to create ‘ruffles’. Or you can use the prongs of a fork to mark the edges, as Chef Wendy has done in her recipe for Creamy Chicken, Leek and Bacon Pie.
A light ‘glaze’ of egg will produce a lovely golden colour and sheen on your pie. Lightly beat a whole egg until well combined (but not foamy), and use a pastry brush to paint it all over the top of the pie. Don’t allow the egg to cover the cut edges of the pastry, however, as this may prevent them from puffing up.
Use any bits and pieces of left-over pastry to create decorations. You can cut out leaf shapes, from example, or roll up long, narrow strips of pastry to make ‘roses’. Another way to decorate a pastry top is to score it lightly with a sharp knife (not cutting all the way through the pastry) to create a diamond pattern, as Chef Wendy has done in her recipe for Beef Wellington.
Before your pie goes into the oven, use a sharp knife to cut a 2-3 cm slit in the middle of the pastry. This will allow the steam to escape from the pie during baking.
Now that you’re confident working with ready-made pastry, why not try out some of our easy and delicious pies? You’ll find a collection of our favourite recipes on our ‘Easy as Pie’ board on Pinterest!