Baking challenge: hand raised chicken and apricot pie

This post is part of my challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week five (pie week) of series three: a hand-raised pie.

Chicken and bacon hand-raised pie

The Great British Pie of picnic fame is not a soupy affair topped with buttery pastry that breaks into flakes and shards: the quintessentially British pastry is of course hot water crust. Hot water crust turns everything you know about pastry on its head: hot fat and water are sloshed into water to make a paste, which is kneaded – kneaded! – until smooth, then used almost immediately lest it dry out and crack. No resting, no turning, no coddling in the fridge. It can be – as Gavroche would say – tough on the teeth, but what the hell. It’s a strong, durable carapace and I find it can hold slightly wetter fillings on account of this without collapsing in the oven.

I was a bit hesitant about making this pie, namely because I don’t love chicken and am actually quite repulsed by meat jellies. However, with equal parts bacon to chicken, the taste of the chicken is not particularly pronounced (even though I only used thigh instead of the mix of breast and thigh as instructed in the recipe). The bacon also makes the pie very salty and for this reason I have omitted the instruction to season the filling with salt: I love salty flavours but, hand on heart, do not feel that this needs more than what is already present in the bacon. It might be different of course if you are buying traditionally cured bacon, which is usually less salty, but mine was just from the supermarket.

Picnic pie

As to the jelly, in experienced hands it might trickle down snugly among the meat and provide an impervious, savoury seal around the meat, but in my case it just trickled down straight through the pastry, seeking out any structural flaws in the pastry (and, as it turned out, there were plenty). There were a few little shivery nuggets of jellified stock here and there, but I could scrape them aside without difficulty.

My reservations about this pie are purely personal: my British boyfriend thought it was utterly delicious and happily took the remainder with him for his lunch. If you are a lover of savoury pies, something sturdy like this – or the pork and quail egg pies which have had a previous outing – would make for excellent picnic food. I do think that British culture really inculcates that love of savoury pies into its people, and it’s hard to bridge that cultural gap if, like me, you missed out on it in childhood.

Hand-raised chicken, bacon and apricot pie

The episode of the Great British Bake-Off in which the pie was hand-raised shows the bakers struggling to shape the pastry around the pie dolly and, guess what, it is hard to do. The video which accompanies the recipe on the BBC site instructs you to set aside the just-made pastry for ten minutes before starting to mould it around the jam jars (you can buy pie dollies, but even for me, queen of kitchen paraphernalia, this was a step too far), though the written recipe gives no such suggestion. I tried several techniques in my attempt to get the damn pastry round the jars – at one point holding the jars upside down and patting the pastry down rather than up, for example. No method was perfect and removing the jars from the pastry was not as easy as the recipe made it sound. Finally, although I used the size of jar directed in the recipe and packed the filling in tightly, there was a scrap too much; maybe reducing the measure of meat to 280g each would do it. It was a ridiculously tiny amount to have left over.

Recipe below the jump.

Hand-raised chicken and bacon pie
Recipe from BBC Food

You will need two straight-sided jam jars, approximately 340g size, to make this recipe (or indeed a pie dolly, but my views on buying this single-use item are above), and some clingfilm.

For the pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 40g strong flour
  • 50g butter
  • 130ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 60g lard
  • 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

    For the filling

  • 300g chicken breast and thigh meat, cut into chunks
  • 300g smoked back bacon rashers
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 240g dried apricots, chopped
  • 2 leaves gelatine
  • 140ml hot water
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flours then rub the butter in with your fingertips.
  2. Mix together the boiling water, salt and lard in small saucepan. Heat and stir them together until the lard melts. Pour the lard and water mixture on top of the flour mixture, stirring with a spoon until everything comes together.
  3. Tip the dough onto a floured surface and bring the pastry together into a ball with a few firm, decisive kneads.
  4. Wrap a piece of clingfilm around the two clean, empty jam jars (see recipe headnote). Divide the pastry in half, then remove a quarter from each half for the lids of the pies.
  5. With the remaining three-quarters of the pastry, place on a flat surface and place a jam jar on top of the pastry in the middle. Sculpt the still warm pastry around the dolly, try and make sure the pastry is an even thickness. Make sure the bottom is not too thick and that there are no holes in the pastry.
  6. Chill the pie bases in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C.
  7. Roll out the reserved quarter of pastry into a circle to match the size of the pie top. Make a hole in the centre of each one and chill in the fridge.
  8. Take the pastry cases out of the fridge and carefully pour boiling water from a kettle into each jam jar to soften the pastry and release it from the mould. If it softens too much and begins to sag you may need to chill again for 10 minutes or so. Trim the top of the pie shells to make sure they are even.
  9. Keeping them separate, season the chicken and bacon well with pepper and fresh thyme.
  10. Now pack the filling into the pie, start with bacon, then chicken, then a layer of roughly chopped apricots. Repeat until the filling is all used up.
  11. Place on the lid and crimp around the sides, sealing thoroughly. Brush the lids of the pies with egg wash. Place on a baking tray and cook for 50-60 minutes, or until the pastry is nice and crisp all the way around.
  12. While the pies are baking, dissolve a chicken stock cube in 150ml/5fl oz of hot water. Soak two leaves of gelatine in cold water for five minutes. When soft, squeeze out the excess water and whisk into the warm stock.
  13. When the pies are cooked, place them on a cooling rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Carefully pour the stock into the slit on the pie lid, to fill in any spaces inside the pie with (what will be) chicken stock jelly. This must be done when the pie is hot.
  14. Leave to set overnight before eating.

4 thoughts on “Baking challenge: hand raised chicken and apricot pie

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