A hot water crust pastry is a pastry made with the crust from which it gets its name, and it normally is a meat pie such as a pork pie or kidney pie. The crust is traditionally made with hot water, flour, lard and salt. Also known as coffer paste, this crust originally was used as a protective covering for the cooking and storage of meat and game. The crust itself was meant to be discarded before the contents were eaten, but, throughout the years, it has been refined to the point of becoming a favorite, especially for pork pies and game pies.
A popular staple of British cuisine, hot water crust is fairly simple for one to make. Melted fat, usually in the form of lard, is added to boiling water. The flour and salt are then mixed in. It is important for the ingredients to be kneaded together while they are hot. The resulting mixture, while still hot and fairly sticky, can then be shaped.
Unlike other kinds of dough, hot water crust does not have any leavening agents, so it is hand-raised. This means that a hot water crust pastry must be shaped by hand using something as a mold. One popular method uses an empty jar, such as one used for canning.
The jar is turned upside down, and the bottom is lightly dusted with flour. A piece of the crust is then lightly pressed down over the jar so that it takes on the shape of the jar. After it has cooled, the jar can be removed, and the crust will hold the shape. The hot water crust pastry can then be filled and topped with another section of crust.
With these types of pastries, there is rarely a consistent appearance to the finished product. The hot juices of the meat filling will create bulging and sagging as it cooks. For many people, this handmade appearance is part of the appeal of hot water crust pastry.
There are numerous variations of ingredients for fillings and even on the hot water crust itself. Some cooks advocate substituting shortening or butter for the lard. Many people believe that the taste and consistency of the crust suffers, though, and that there really is no way to alter the recipe to make it available to vegetarians or the overly health conscious.
Meat pies created with hot water crust can be stored for as long as several months. Traditionally, they were served cold, but many people prefer them heated. They are very popular as the main course or as appetizers for parties and family gatherings.