Savory, sweet, shortcrust or puff pastry – even no pastry at all – pies have been the subject of British and Irish gourmet love affairs since the 12th century, when the pie crust was called a “coffyn” and the dish consisted of more crust than filling, unlike the pies we eat today. Like Magpie birds, collectors of things, "pies" are named after these creatures because in their flaky cases you can "collect" anything you want.
In Britain and Ireland, normally a pie has both a base and a covering of pastry. When it's a base only, the pie is usually called a tart. Sweet and fruity fillings, creamy and sugary custards, vegetables and potatoes, mince and all sorts of meats, Irish and British pies have it all.
01 of 03
Savory Pastry Pies
All of these pies are great lunch or supper dishes. Most are also great cold and so are perfect for a lunch box, a party or a picnic. All of them benefit from the filling being made the day before, if possible, which gives time for the flavors to develop. Use a pre-made pie crust or frozen pie dough if you're pressed for time:
- Beef and Guinness Pie: The hearty filling of this pie is made out of beef, onions, Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, and Guinness. Such an unusual combination of ingredients makes a savory pie with tender and flaky meat. If you have time to make the pastry from scratch, don't miss the chance: the amazingly flavorful crust uses lard and the result is beautifully buttery and golden brown.
- Game Pie: Use any game meat that you can find or a mixture of some like venison, rabbit, pheasant, and pigeon as recommended by the recipe. Once the meats are cooked in olive oil, make a filling with mushrooms, onions, redcurrant jelly, herbs, and spices. Serve with mashed potatoes and savoy cabbage, the traditional way.
- Chicken Leek and Prune Pie: This traditional pie from Wales uses little-known, salty Caerphilly cheese in a pie of chicken, prunes, onions, and cream. Although the ingredient combination sounds odd at first, give this pie a try. It's not only incredibly easy to make but it's really delicious. Make the filling with chicken stock and wine as cooking liquids, and add tarragon and mustard for an unexpected kick. The pie cooks in just 25 minutes after it has been assembled, giving you plenty of time to make some side vegetables.
- Steak and Kidney Pie: Although kidney consumption is not very common in the average American household, generations that lived through recession due to war are well-versed in making and enjoying pies filled with offal. The British love kidney pie and this recipe, although time-consuming, is a good start to get used to the texture and flavor of kidneys. Combined with beef and cooked in vegetables and beef stock, the kidneys soften and give the filling a beautiful texture. Serve with mashed potatoes.
- Mini Pork Pies: Raised pies with hot water pastry require skills and a sort of artistry that's hard to find. But making your own raised pies (no tin or shape to hold them) it's a fun way of putting your cooking skills to the test. These small hand-raised pork pies are great as appetizers or for late afternoon tea. Pork shoulder and pork belly, combined with nutmeg, give the filling a unique and satisfying flavor, and the prepared gelatin that is placed inside with a funnel to make the filling set gives the pie a traditional presentation. If it seems too daunting to hand raise them, you can always use muffin tins to keep the shape.
- Venison Pie: Venison and lard make a fatty dark filling alongside onions, mustard, dark ale, carrots, brown sugar, malt vinegar, and spices. Cook the meat for 1 hour and a half before filling your pre-made pastry crust. Even if you're not used to consuming game meats, this is a good way to try venison for the first time, thanks to an aromatic and flavorful stew that resembles beef stews you've had before, except the meat is firmer and drier but equally succulent.
02 of 03
Pies are usually thought of as being enclosed in pastry, but that's not always the case when it comes to British and Irish pies. It is believed shepherd's pie was invented in the 18th century by frugal peasant housewives looking for creative ways to serve leftover meat to their families. This makes sense today; with rising food prices it is no wonder shepherd's and cottage pie are enjoying something of a renaissance:
- Cottage Pie: This traditional recipe uses beef or lamb, or a combination of beef and sausage as the base of the dish. Carrots and onions and the meat sit below a thick layer of buttery mashed potato and the whole dish is generously covered with shredded cheese and baked until the cheese bubbles and the potatoes are golden. This is a delicious lunch that requires just a side salad to be a complete meal. If you'd like a sweet addition, try the sweet potato cottage pie.
- Shepherd's Pie: This well-known dish uses lamb and vegetables as the bottom layer of a delicious dish that is covered with mashed potatoes and cheese. The addition of lard gives the filling a lot of character and makes it really scrumptious. Replace the milk and butter for soy milk and margarine for a dairy-free option. For a lamb-free pie to serve to people with special dietary needs, use our vegetarian shepherd's pie recipe.
- Fish Pie: This fish pie is as easy and it gets. Milk-poached assorted pieces of fish are flavored with bay leaf and spices and then combined with leeks in a thick and creamy sauce. The fish is covered with creamy mashed potatoes and cheese and baked until the cheese is melted and the potatoes are golden brown.
- Sausage Cottage Pie: Back bacon and Cumberland sausages make the filling of a pie that uses a souffle mixture and not mashed potatoes on top. Sweet Madeira wine and beef stock are the cooking liquids of the meats and mushrooms. A silky souffle-like egg preparation with milk and flour sits atop of the pie and bakes until raised and fluffy.
03 of 03
Sweet Pies and Tarts
The British love all things sweet and sweet British pies are renowned around the world. This selection is just a sample of all the things sweet the Islands have to offer:
- British Apple Pie: This all-time favorite pie is really straight-forward and easy to make. A quick buttery pastry dough filled with apples, cinnamon lime, and sugar. There's nothing much else to it but the classic sweet and tart flavor of a homemade pie that's always a winner no matter the time of the year or occasion. Serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. For a tart take on this pie, check out our apple-blackberry pie filled with apples and tangy berries.
- Mince Pie: Mincemeat has many variations but the sugary concoction usually has raisins, currants, candied peels, sugar, nutmeg, mixed spice, citrus zest, apples, and brandy in larger or lesser quantities depending on the cook. Our mince pie uses either store-bought or homemade mince pie to fill homemade pastry cases. Traditional and delicious, this pie is one to have with your favorite cup of tea.
- Bilberry Pie: Bilberries look like smaller blueberries and are wild fruits that grow in the northern and western areas of the British Isles. Very acidic but very sweet when cooked, these little fruits make a perfect filling for a buttery pastry. Serve with heavy whipped cream or ice cream.
- Lemon Meringue Pie: A lemon custard sits atop of a pastry case and then a fluffy and thick meringue covers the pie. The meringue browns in the oven for 20 minutes during which the custard sets. The pie needs some time to cool off before cutting, but mainly a lot of patience on your end because the lemony aroma is irresistible.
- Eccles Cakes: Named cakes, these traditional pastries are technically pies and are conveniently individually-sized, although eating just one is really hard. Discs of buttery pastry are filled with dried fruits and spices and then closed and baked to perfection.
- Treacle Tart: Treacle, similar to molasses, is a byproduct of the sugar-making process, with a bitter but sugary taste. The recipe is very simple because you can use pre-made pastry dough. Mix treacle, eggs, lemon, and syrup and fill the pastry. Bake and let rest after it's cooked before slicing it. Serve with ice cream or creme fraiche.
- Bakewell Tart: This tart has a carefully layered filling of raspberry jam and a creamy almond, egg, sugar and butter mixture that sits on top. The tart bakes and the almond mixture dries up and fluffs out to make a delicious dense filling. Decorate with sliced almonds and sprinkle powdered sugar on top before serving.
- Yorkshire Curd Tart: If you can get ahold of milk curds or want to make your own, this classic tart puts them to good use. A flaky pastry makes the base of the tart, and eggs, curds, sugar, butter, raisins, and currants make a sweet and tart filling. The tart is best when still warm with a generous dollop of cream.