VEGAN PIES: It was my fourth year judging the British Pie Awards this week. I’ve written about it each year, although this time the organisers threw me a curved ball and put me on the vegan pies category! I knew it would happen eventually, but as an avowed omnivore I did go in with some sense of trepidation. Not because I wouldn’t be getting any meat, I was more worried about what the pastry would be like…
I needn’t have worried. The standard, generally speaking, was excellent. And in an attempt to take a slightly different angle to my previous pie-based musings, I’d like to introduce you to some of my favourites, now that the winners have been announced. The main negative that we saw was The Dreaded Soggy Bottom. It seems that often vegan pies have a lot more of a liquid filling than their meat-based compatriots. I’m not sure of the reason for that because there are plenty of great vegan thickeners out there but perhaps it is the absence of animal fat in the pastry combined with a more moisture-laden interior. I don’t know the science of it, I’ll be honest. Something to watch. But on to the ones to watch.
Highly Commended (Gold) – King’s Pies
Vegan Mature Cheddar, Chive & Spring Onion Pie – this was my vegan pie of the day and won one of the top 3 in class overall. I was blown away by the rich pastry and gloopy, unctuous interior. It was by far the best faux-cheddar I’ve tasted, certainly having that mature cheese vibe going on. I defy anyone to try this pie and not enjoy it. The perfect mix of crisp pastry and indulgent creamy filling.
Gold – King’s Pies
Vegan Chicken Tikka Pie – the first pie we judged, can you believe it! My judging partner and I were both absolutely amazed to have a gold standard pie, right off the bat. King’s were established in 1989 according to their website, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect their craft. Our pie had good chunks of ‘chicken’, a rich and creamy sauce with excellent spicing that was complex and built on the palate. Again, a wonderful pastry. I would happily neck this with a portion of chippy chips. Note just a slight halo of uncooked pastry along the base, but otherwise a textbook offering.
Gold – Rourke’s
Celeriac, Apple & Hazelnut Pie – a little tower of pure gold. I didn’t particularly expect to enjoy this pie from the description, but the filling was an absolute masterclass in balance. Autumnal in feel, the root veg had great flavour and the bite of the hazelnut added another dimension both texturally and in terms of flavour. A lovely crumbly pastry encased this well-filled pie and I liked the unique appeal of the mini tower shape, just the right amount for one.
Silver – Turner’s Pies
Butternut Chilli & Cheese Pie – Special mention for this one because it was practically perfect, except that the pastry was too thin and the filling as too wet so it simply collapsed. We couldn’t use a knife on it, just a fork. However, the pastry was one of the best of the day and I absolutely loved the combination of delicately spiced, rich and tomatoey butternut squash filling with an enticing creamy layer of cheese above. It was the only layered pie we tried, and as I recall it scored just one point off a gold because it was so good. I would like to see it as a smaller pie, which would have more integrity and structure. But the flavour was first class.
And finally, a nod in dispatches to the Garlic Mushroom Pie from Magpye, the Hey Vegan Creamy Cashew, Pea & Mushroom Pie and the Derbyshire Pie & Co Saag Aloo Pie which we gave bronzes too. These aren’t all the pies that my team awarded medals to, but they are all my personal favourites.