I was fortunate enough to snag an antique pie mold at my local flea market last year. It looks a lot like the one Mat used for his signature raised game pie in this episode of The Great British Bake Off. His was marked “1850.” I can’t tell exactly how old mine is; it just says “Made in France” on the bottom. But I’ve been looking forward to this challenge ever since so I’d have a chance to try it out.
Until the invention of the pie mold, raised pies had to be raised by hand using a pie dolly, and the pastry walls had to be thick enough to stand on their own. In the Middle Ages, these pie shells were called coffins; at that time, the pastry was simply used as a vessel in which to cook the meat and was usually discarded rather than eaten.
By the 18th century, raised game pies made for elaborate feasts for the aristocracy. They would contain anything from venison to tiny birds, like thrushes and sparrows. A recipe for a pie made at a country manor in the English Lake District in 1763 lists 24 different kinds of birds (151 in all!), plus 20 rabbits, half a ham and a leg of veal.
The sprung metal pie molds like mine that became popular in Victorian times brought raised pies from the tables of the prosperous gentry to the growing middle class. They came in a variety of intricate designs and allowed for thinner walls of pastry, because the metal sides support the pie while it bakes.
Raised pies today are still made with hot water crust pastry because it’s sturdy enough to hold up to the moist, heavy fillings. Game pies are filled with chopped meat or fowl — even Paul Hollywood’s recipe calls for pigeon and boar — and either gravy or a gelatinous aspic, which holds the contents in place when the pie is cooled and sliced.
My raised game pie was inspired by a classic that I ate when visiting the U.K. a few years ago — steak and ale pie. In trying to figure out what kind of game I could get my hands on, I remembered a particular vendor at my local farmers’ market that sells elk meat. So I called them up and asked them to set aside a couple pounds of stew meat for me to pick up the following Saturday.
I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe for hot water crust pastry and adapted a recipe for steak and ale pie from Richard Burr, who was a finalist in the 2014 season of Bake-Off.
A couple of recipes (including Paul’s recipe for Poacher’s Pie in his cookbook How to Bake) say to remove the pie from the mold before it’s completely baked, brush it with egg wash and return it to the oven to brown the outside. Others say to leave it in the tin until it’s completely cool to give the juices time to set.
I wasn’t sure which advice to follow, so I compromised. Because my filling was already fully cooked, I knew it wouldn’t take as long in the oven, so I let it bake for about an hour, until the top crust was nicely browned; then I took it out of the oven and let it cool enough to handle, after which I removed the mold, brushed it with egg wash and put it back in the oven to brown a little more.
Unfortunately, it started to leak! Transferring the pie from the mold to a baking sheet caused a weak spot in one side to form a crack. There wasn’t much I could do except sop up the leaking juices and hope for the best. I decided not to cut into it until the next day, giving the insides time to settle and, hopefully, congeal a little bit. So after it cooled to room temperature, I popped it in the fridge.
The damage from the leakage was not too bad, although it did make for a partially soggy bottom. Other than that, it was a beautiful pie. I had decorated the top with pastry cutouts in the shape of leaves, and the fluted mold really worked a treat. The pie was tasty, too! I’m not a fan of gamy-tasting meats, and the elk was not gamy at all, in my opinion. The effect of the whole thing was like beef stew in a pastry crust. It would make a wonderful Christmas feast for a Victorian family, or even a modern one!
Elk and Ale Raised Pie
Filling recipe adapted from RadioTimes.com
For the filling:
For the hot water crust pastry:
- For the filling, put the flour in a bowl and mix it with the sea salt and pepper. Roll the elk meat in the seasoned flour to coat.
- In a large frying pan, fry the bacon until brown but not completely crispy. Remove bacon from the pan and set aside in a clean bowl. Pour most of the fat from the pan and reserve for later use.
- Fry the elk meat over high heat until well-browned. (If it doesn’t all fit in the pan at once, fry it in smaller batches. Set the browned meat aside while you fry the rest.) Remove all the meat from the pan and place it in the bowl with the bacon. Reduce heat to low. Pour one-quarter of the beer into the pan and swirl it around, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any bits of flour and meat that have stuck. Then pour it all into the bowl with the elk meat and bacon.
- Pour a little more bacon fat into the empty pan and fry the onions and carrots over medium heat, stirring occasionally. If the frying pan isn’t big enough for all the ingredients, transfer the onions and carrots to a larger stock pot, then add the browned meat and drippings. Add the rest of the beer, the stock, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a simmer and leave to reduce for 1 hour, remembering to stir regularly. Stir in the mushrooms, garlic and lemon juice and cook for another 30 minutes. You may need to add a little water if the filling seems a little dry. Leave to cool completely. (If you have the time, refrigerate it overnight.)
- To make the pastry: Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Line the bottom of the pie mold* with parchment, leaving an inch or two hanging out the sides when you put the mold together. (This will help in removing the pie from the tin.) Grease the inside of the mold with lard (or use lining paste**).
- Combine the flours in a bowl, add the butter and rub it in lightly with your fingertips.
- In a saucepan, heat the water, salt and lard until just boiling. Pour the mixture over the flour and mix together with a wooden spoon. Once cool enough to handle, tip onto a floured surface and knead into a smooth dough, about 2-3 minutes. Cover with a tea towel to keep it warm while you use part of it.
- Working as quickly as you can (the pastry will become crumbly as it cools), cut off 2/3 of the pastry and roll it out on a floured surface. When it’s about ¼-inch thick, roll it around the rolling pin and transfer it to the prepared pie mold. Gently drop it into the mold, then use your fingers to press the pastry into the tin, making sure it reaches into the corners. Allow the excess to flop over the edge. (This will help prevent the pastry from falling into the tin.) Plug any holes or tears with more pastry. Roll out the remaining pastry for the lid and cover with the towel.
- Spoon the chilled filling into the pastry-lined tin. Press it down and level the surface. Brush the rim of the pastry with beaten egg yolk and place the pastry lid on top. Crimp the edges to seal, and trim off any excess pastry. Use dough scraps to make decorations. Brush the lid liberally with the egg yolk and add the decorations, brushing them with egg yolk, too. Cut a hole in the middle of the lid for steam to escape.
- Place the pie tin on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the heat down to 350˚F. Bake for about 40 more minutes, checking after 15 minutes to see that it’s browning evenly. If the top begins to brown too quickly, tent it with foil.
- When the top is nicely browned and the internal temperature is at least 150˚F, remove the pie from the oven. Let cool slightly, then remove the mold and brush the sides of the pie with egg yolk. (I recommend leaving the pie on the base of the mold until it’s completely cool.) Place the pie back in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the outside is nicely browned. Serve while still warm.
*If you don’t have a traditional pie mold, try using an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.
**I use Nancy Birtwhistle’s recipe for lining paste: Equal parts (by weight) of vegetable shortening (Crisco), flour and vegetable oil, whisked together. Store in refrigerator.