This is one of those gimmicky bakes that the Great British Bake Off judges seem to make up for the bakers in the Great White Tent just to make the challenges harder. Whoever heard of a three-tiered pie tower before? (Unless you are Erin Jeanne McDowell from Food52.com, who created her own version of Thanksgiving dinner in a three-tiered pie, but her blog post was written in 2017, three years after this GBBO episode.)
The challenge was to create three pies that could be stacked on top of each other, so they had to be made with strong pastry, which is why most of the contestants chose to use hot water crust pastry. Although the judges gave them the option of sweet or savory fillings, most chose savory, at least for the bottom two pies. A couple of them had a dessert pie on top, and Nancy Birtwhistle had one savory and two sweet pies, each with a different type of crust.
Hot water crust dates back to the 14th century and is indigenous to Britain, according to this blog post on the history of pastry. It is used pretty exclusively for meat and other savory pies and is often hand-raised. The use of hot water softens the gluten, and the addition of melted fat (usually lard or a combination of lard and butter) distributes the fat evenly throughout the dough, making the pastry less prone to breakage so it holds its shape better during baking. That means hot water crust can hold heavier and wetter fillings than other pastries and can be unmolded from the pan it is baked in and still maintain its structure.
The inspiration for my three-tiered pie tower comes from that elusive creature known as the turducken (sometimes called a tur-duc-hen), which is a chicken stuffed inside a duck, which is stuffed inside a turkey. This gastronomic anomaly traces its origins to chef Paul Prudhomme in the 1960s, when he was working in a buffet carving line in Sheridan, Wyoming. After moving back to New Orleans in 1986, he copyrighted the name and began serving them in his restaurants around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even before the invention of the turducken, though, there was a long history of birds (and other animals) being stuffed inside each other and served as novelties at feasts.
Rather than go to all the trouble of deboning and stuffing three kinds of poultry inside each other, I decided to make a separate pie for each bird, dubbing my creation “a poultry excuse for a pie tower,” otherwise known as a “Fowlty Tower.”
My turkey pie is an homage to a traditional American Thanksgiving. In fact, this is a great way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers. Using this recipe as the basis, I layered mashed potatoes (I add cream cheese to mine to make them creamier.), sage dressing (my mom’s recipe!), and turkey and gravy inside a hot water crust pastry–lined springform ring-cake pan. I figured the additional circle of crust in the middle would make the pie more structurally sound, able to support two pies on top of it. Lining a pan that has a hole in the middle with pastry proved difficult and in the end may not have been worth it. If you plan to make this pie, feel free to use a regular deep-dish springform pan if you like.
The duck pie recipe I borrowed from Sainsbury’s Magazine. It calls for braising duck legs in a red wine sauce with bacon, shallots and carrots, then removing the meat from the bones and stirring in peas and a few fresh mint leaves before covering it with shortcrust pastry and baking it. I subbed in hot water crust for this pie, too, knowing I would have to turn it out of the tin after baking it.
I couldn’t find duck legs in my local grocery store, so I purchased a whole processed duck from a local farm. Having never worked with a whole duck before, I followed this video to cut it up and found that the legs, thighs and wings provided enough meat for my pie. I saved the breast for another meal, and roasted the carcass to make a rich duck stock, which I froze for later use.
I used this hot water crust pastry recipe from Food52.com for both my duck and turkey pies. For additional tips and tricks on working with hot water crust pastry, check out Erin Jeanne McDowell’s blog post here.
For the chicken pie, I recreated my Savory Picnic Pie with a few modifications. I used the same shortcrust pastry but added turmeric for color. I simplified it by eliminating the hard-boiled egg and peas, and I switched out the butternut squash for a layer of sweet potatoes. This was a much smaller pie — I used a 7-inch tart pan — so I only needed half the amount of pastry dough, but the amount of curried chicken, without the other fillers, was just right.
After the pies had baked, getting them out of the pans was a cause for some trepidation. The best way, if you’re not on a deadline like the Bake-Off contestants, is to let them cool in the fridge overnight. Though two of the pans I used had loose bottoms, the other was a traditional pie pan, and the only way I was able to get the pie out was to flip it upside down. You wouldn’t want to do that with a warm pie!
As for stacking them, I reinforced the bottom one by putting a small dish in the center hole that was the same height as the pie. I used plastic cake dowels cut to the depth of the middle pie to reinforce that one. But stacking them at all is optional and was only done here for the purpose of photographing my pie tower.
As with many showstoppers, these pies can all be made individually, so pick your favorite! While the turkey pie is the epitome of comfort-food-in-a-crust, the duck pie is a gourmet feast of flavors. The chicken curry pie offers a nice contrast to the other two — the warmth of the curry offset by the slightly sweet mango chutney. Altogether, this turducken pie tower offers a banquet fit for a king, and I’d much rather have pie made with turkey, duck and chicken than four-and-twenty blackbirds!
Turducken Three-Tiered Pie Tower
(aka “a poultry excuse for a pie tower” or A Fowlty Tower)
Note: If you’re making both the turkey and duck pies, make sure you have all the fillings prepared before making the hot water crust pastry. You need to work with the pastry dough while it’s still warm.
Pie No. 1—Thanksgiving Dinner-in-a-Pie
- 2 c. prepared mashed potatoes
- 2 c. cooked dressing, preferably homemade
- 2 ½ c. cooked turkey, cubed or shredded
- Pan drippings from roasting the turkey, if available
- 3 c. chicken broth (plus more if you don’t have any turkey drippings)
- 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
- 2 T. butter (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ recipe hot water crust pastry (see below)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
2. Combine 2 cups of gravy with cubed turkey. Reserve the rest of the gravy to serve with the pie.
3. When all fillings are prepared, have a 9-inch springform pan ready to fill. (I used a springform tube pan, but it was much more difficult to line with pastry dough. Unless you really want to challenge yourself, I recommend using a plain springform pan.) Preheat the oven to 375°F. Then prepare the hot water crust pastry. If making a full recipe (for 2 pies), cut dough in half and set half aside for the other pie. Then divide the dough in thirds and use 2/3 for the bottom crust. Roll the bottom portion out between two sheets of parchment, peeling away the paper occasionally to allow the dough to relax so it can be rolled out further. Flip the dough and parchment upside down and do the same thing with the bottom piece of parchment. It should be rolled to about ¼-inch thick.
4. Hot water crust is easy to patch, so if holes or tears appear, simply patch them with a little piece of dough and continue rolling. When you’ve reached the desired thickness, peel off the top parchment layer and use the bottom piece of parchment to transport the pastry to the pan. Then flip the pastry into the pan. Don’t worry if it tears; you can still patch it together. (I actually rerolled mine a couple times before I got it to work. Hot water crust is very forgiving!) Carefully push the pastry into the corners of the pan, sealing any tears and holes with extra dough. Trim evenly around the edge of the pan, leaving an inch or so to crimp with the top crust.
5. After patching any tears and making sure the patches are sealed, add your fillings. Start with a layer of mashed potatoes, filling about a third of the pastry shell. Smooth it out with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Then add a layer of dressing, filling another third of the shell. Top with a layer of the turkey-gravy mixture.
6. Roll out the remaining third of the pastry dough between two pieces of parchment, using the same technique as for the bottom crust. Transfer the dough in the same way, flipping it over to cover the top of the pie. Trim and crimp the edges. While it’s harder to patch tears in the top crust, you can cut the trimmings into decorative shapes and use them to cover any mistakes.
7. To vent the top crust, press small canapé cutters or the round handle of a wooden spoon into the crust to make holes for the steam to escape. This helps to keep the top crust flat and helps prevent the filling from leaking out. Brush top crust with beaten egg. Bake at 375°F for 40-50 minutes until the crust is golden brown and steam is coming out of the vent. Cool at least 15 minutes before unmolding.
Pie No. 2--Duck & Red Wine Pie
- 1 t. sunflower oil
- 3½ oz. thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 large duck legs (or about 2 lbs. of legs, wings and additional duck meat)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 large shallots, peeled and quartered
- 1 t. sugar
- 2 T. butter
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- ¼ c. flour
- ¾ c. Merlot
- 1 1/3 c. beef stock
- 2 t. redcurrant jelly
- 2 c. chopped carrots
- 1 c. frozen peas
- 4 t. mint leaves, chopped
- ½ recipe hot water crust pastry (see below)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- Prepare all fillings before making the pastry. Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in a large, ovenproof skillet on the stove; add bacon and fry until browned and crisp. Remove bacon to a large plate using a slotted spoon. Leave grease in pan.
- Sprinkle the duck with salt and pepper, and fry on both sides in the bacon grease until golden brown. Remove duck to the plate.
- Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the grease from the skillet. Add the shallots and fry until they begin to brown. Sprinkle them with the sugar and continue to cook until they are golden all over. Set them aside with the bacon and duck.
- Add butter to the skillet. When melted, add the garlic and fry for just a few seconds, but don’t let it brown. Stir in the flour, and then gradually stir in the red wine, beef stock and redcurrant jelly. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Return the bacon and shallots to the skillet and rest the duck on top; cover with ovenproof lid or foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove lid, stir in the carrots, cover again and return to the oven for another 30 minutes until the duck is very tender. Lift the duck legs out of the pan and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then discard the skin and remove meat from the bones in chunky pieces. Skim fat from the surface of the sauce and then stir in the duck meat, peas, mint, and additional salt and pepper to taste.
- Now prepare the hot water crust pastry. Set oven to 375°F. Have a 9-inch pie pan ready to fill. If making a full recipe (for two pies), cut dough in half and set half aside for the other pie. (If you’ve already used half for the turkey pie, proceed with the reserved half of the dough.) Divide the dough in two pieces, one slightly larger (for the bottom crust) than the other. Roll the bottom portion out between two sheets of parchment, peeling away the paper occasionally to allow the dough to relax so it can be rolled out further. Flip the dough and parchment upside down and do the same thing with the bottom piece of parchment. It should be rolled to about ¼-inch thick.
- Hot water crust is easy to patch, so if holes or tears appear, simply patch them with a little piece of dough and continue rolling. When you’ve reached the desired thickness, peel off the top parchment layer and use the bottom piece of parchment to transport the pastry to the pan. Flip the pastry into the pan. Don’t worry if it tears; you can still patch it together. Carefully push the pastry into the corners of the pan, sealing any tears or holes with extra dough. Trim evenly around the edge of the pan, leaving an inch or so to crimp with the top crust.
- After patching any tears and making sure the patches are sealed, spoon the filling into the pastry-lined pie pan. Be careful not to overfill the pastry shell.
- Roll out the remaining portion of dough between two pieces of parchment, using the same method as for the bottom crust. Transfer the dough in the same way, flipping it over to cover the pie filling. Trim and crimp the edges. (While it’s harder to patch tears in the top crust, you can cut the trimmings into decorative shapes and use them to cover any mistakes.)
- To vent the top crust, press small canapé cutters or the round handle of a wooden spoon into the crust to make holes for the steam to escape. (This helps keep the top crust flat and helps prevent the filling from leaking out.) Brush top crust with beaten egg. Bake at 375°F for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and steam is coming out of the vent. Cool at least 15 minutes before serving. (If you plan to remove the pie from the pan, it’s best to refrigerate it overnight. The pie can be reheated after taking it out of the pan.)
Hot Water Crust Pastry
- 5 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. bread flour
- 1 ½ t. salt
- 2/3 c. water
- 1 c. (8 oz.) butter
- 1 c. (8 oz.) lard
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Add the butter and lard, and stir until melted. If needed, bring the mixture back to a simmer briefly — it needs to be hot.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the hot liquid into it. Start stirring it with a fork, mixing until it forms a shaggy mass. (It should form a ball but not look smooth.) Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it on a clean, smooth surface until it’s smooth, 2-3 minutes. Then let it rest for a few minutes (no more than 10).
4. While the dough is still warm, divide it as needed for your recipe. You can roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper to prevent sticking, ripping and tearing. (If you don’t want to bother rolling it out, you can also press the dough into a pan, although it’s harder to get the crust even and smooth. You want smooth sides and no chance for leakage.)
5. Proceed with rolling and filling each pie according to its recipe.
Pie No. 3—Curried Chicken Pie
Pastry recipe adapted from BBC Food
For the filling:
For the pastry:
- 2½ T. ice water
- 1½ t. lemon juice
- 1¾ c. flour
- 1 t. turmeric
- ½ t. salt
- 9 T. unsalted butter
- 2 eggs, divided
- To roast the sweet potato, preheat oven to 425°F. Spray a roasting pan with vegetable oil spray, and lay the sliced potato in a single layer in the prepared pan. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 15-20 minutes until tender.
- To make the pastry, mix the cold water with the lemon juice in a small bowl. Put the flour, turmeric and salt in a larger bowl, and use your fingertips or a pastry blender to rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add one whole egg. Mix the pastry with your hands, gradually adding the water and lemon juice mixture until you have a smooth dough.
- Transfer the pastry to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it into a ball. Flatten to create a disk shape, then wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for at least 10 minutes.
- While the pastry is chilling, make the curried chicken: Fry the onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft. Stir in cumin, garlic, red pepper flakes, coriander and garam masala. Add chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is no longer pink. Stir in chutney and cilantro, and remove from heat.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Have a 7-inch tart pan with removable bottom ready to fill. Remove the chilled pastry dough from the fridge. Divide it in half and roll out one half on a lightly floured surface until it is large enough to line the tart pan. (Pastry should be between 1/8- and ¼-inch thick.) Line the pan with the pastry, pressing it into the corners and leaving a slight overhang around the edges.
- Start to fill the pastry crust with a layer of roasted sweet potatoes. Then top with the chicken. Roll out the remaining pastry, and cut a circle large enough to cover the pie with about one inch hanging over on all sides. Center it over the filling and press the edges down to seal. Trim and crimp the edges. Cut slits in the top crust for steam to escape.
- Lightly beat the remaining egg and brush the surface of the pie with the beaten egg. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the pastry is dark golden brown. (If the pastry begins browning too quickly, cover the edges with foil to prevent burning). Remove pie from oven and cool on rack for a few minutes before removing from tin.
To stack the pies
If you want to stack your pies, insert 3-4 cake dowels into the two larger pies and cut the dowels to the same height as the pies. Place the two smaller pies on cake boards or plates that match the diameter of the pies. Then place the duck pie on top of the turkey pie and the chicken curry pie on top of the duck pie.