Whenever I think about making pastry I never bother because most people say it’s not worth the effort. Even TV chefs commonly say on their programmes that there’s little point when the ready-made product is so good and easy to use. That might be the case for the fiddly stuff like filo or puff but I figured shortcrust pastry was worth a try. Plus, with game season in full swing a visit to the farmer’s market supplied me with some fantastic red deer venison. Shortcrust pastry and some excellent meat is a great excuse to make another pie.
I always thought any pastry was going to take a lot of effort but a look online had a few relatively simple recipes for shortcrust pastry. Plain flour, water, salt and butter is all the ingredients you need and the pastry itself only took a couple of minutes to make. In fact the biggest effort was making the filling and even that was pretty simple. Brown the venison and shallots then throw them in a casserole dish with some juniper berries and a pack of chestnuts.
Chestnuts are amazing and the pre-prepared ones in cans or vacuum packs are brilliant. I’m loving them just now and they go great with the venison. It’s just a case of open the pack and throw them in. Well most of them. A few had a detour into my mouth.
Once you have the filling ready make up the pastry. I was using a couple of recipes from BBC Good Food and Delia – taking tips from both. It seemed pretty foolproof with the key apparently in how much water you add. Too much and the pastry will be too sticky and might shrink as the water evaporates under heat. Too little and the pastry will be too hard to handle.
I thought I’d screwed up and added a drop too much water but once the pastry had rested in the fridge it was perfect. Easy to handle and roll out then once it was in the oven there was hardly any shrinking or cracking. I’d used some fresh butter I picked up from the farmer’s market and as the pies cooked the kitchen filled with a glorious buttery smell.
Once out of the oven the pies looked perfect. I don’t know if it was beginners luck but I don’t think I could have hoped for them to turn out any better. The tops were lovely and golden brown where I’d brushed them with beaten egg and when I cut open the crumbly pastry there was the most awesome smell from the venison and chestnut filling.
Not only was the homemade pastry much tastier than the ready-made stuff (thanks to the fresh butter) but the pie was miles ahead of the best you get in the supermarket. I think this is one I’ll be making again and again trying as many different fillings as I can think of.
Makes 2 pies
For the Filling:
Diced shoulder of venison
Ready cooked chestnuts
1 tsp juniper berries
500ml Beef Stock
2 large shallots, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
For the pastry:
125g plain flour
55g cold butter, cubed
50ml cold water
Pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten
Put the venison in a bowl and cover with some flour, a few teaspoons of paprika and some salt and pepper.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Heat some oil and a little butter in a frying pan and fry the shallots until soft then transfer them into a casserole dish.
Brown the floured venison pieces in batches and transfer them to the casserole dish.
Bash the juniper seeds in a pestle and mortar to release the flavour then add them along with the chestnuts.
Deglaze the frying pan with the stock and then pour it into the casserole dish as well.
Add a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and some salt and pepper then place the dish in the oven with the lid on for 2 hours.
To make the pastry sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl and add the butter.
Working quickly, rub the butter into the flour until it has a consistency like coarse breadcrumbs.
Use a knife to cut and stir the mix while very gently adding a little water at a time.
Once the mix starts to form a dough you can start to use you fingers to work it while adding the water.
Be careful not to add too much water. Just sprinkle over a spoonful at a time.
As soon as the dough is formed and you can take it out of the bowl clean (without leaving any flour in the bowl) then place it in some cling film or a food bag and leave it in the fridge for half an hour.
Once it’s rested in the fridge lightly flour a work surface and a rolling-pin then roll the flour out quite thin.
Use your pie tin as a template and lay it on the pastry.
Cut around it a couple of inches wider than the tin (or more if it’s a particularly deep tin). Don’t worry if it’s not neat, you can trim it later once it’s in the tin.
Gently pick up the pastry and lay it into the tin then press it down gently with your fingers so it moulds to the sides.
Trim the excess pastry hanging over the edge of the tin (remember to leave pastry on the lip of the tin to stick the lid onto).
Spoon the filling into the middle of the pastry.
Brush a little of the beaten egg round the lip of the pastry.
Roll out another bit of pastry and cut out enough for the lid.
Lay the lid on top of the tin and crimp down the edges with your fingers.
Brush the top of the lid with the egg and repeat the last few steps for the other pie.
If your filling is quite wet you might want to cut a small slit in the top of the pies before putting them in the oven to stop the steam expanding the lid too much.
Place the pies into the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.