Hot water crust pastry is the most forgiving type of pastry. It doesn’t judge you by your experience and even when you fail, it allows you to start again and make it better – that is, if you keep it warm. When it cools, it doesn’t stretch and it will break, and become more demanding.
Hot water crust is sturdier and therefore may be a little less elegant than shortcrust or puff pastry, but as a result it can also handle wetter and heavier fillings without fear of sinking, leakage or dreaded soggy bottoms. The pastry holds up and sculpts very well and is therefore ideal for hand-raising pies, moulding the pastry around a pie dolly or pie block, and for free-standing pies, where the pie mould or tin is lined with pastry and then removed before the last stretch of baking. It should certainly not be kneaded too much – just enough to make sure that everything is blended well. Overworked hot water crust pastry turns into a tougher, chewier crust, but this doesn’t mean the result will be inedible, just that it could be better.
Because the fat for the hot water crust is melted, it is much better distributed throughout the dough, which creates a consistent pastry that will colour much more evenly while it bakes. Other pastry methods require you to rub the fat into the flour with your fingers, which can lead to inconsistencies in the colour of the baked result.
Except for pork pies and Scotch pies, the dough should not be rested before use as it tends to toughen up, dry out and crumble when cooled. For large pies using a tall game pie mould, you need the pastry to be warm, which means it is pliable so that the pastry can sink into the mould and take its shape, building it up the sides and moulding it with your fingers. In contrast, filled pork pies should be rested in the fridge before baking and for Scotch pies the pastry cases are rested before they are filled and closed. As they are baked without the support of a tin, the pastry has to be dried out to keep its shape while baking. Pastry that has rested also yields a better colour when baked. When the pie goes into the oven, the water in the pastry evaporates and the dough becomes crisp. You don’t have to grease your tin or mould because the pastry contains enough fat and will never stick.
Of all the different types of pastry, hot water crust is the pastry that is most closely related to the pastry used for the large, impressive pies in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. To make your pies look even more impressive, roll out any left-over pastry, let it cool and dry out for half an hour to make it more sturdy, and then cut or stamp out your decoration.
I adore hot water crust pastry because of its versatility and its ability to hold the most challenging fillings and make it look effortless. Even though it’s the sturdiest of pastries, I like to compare it to a strong woman who, even though she’s had to deal with a lot, on the outside looks incredibly elegant and dignified. A large pie like the ones you find in these pages will impress your dinner guests and make a wonderful table decoration at the same time.