Butter pies are a Lancashire classic. Supposedly a relic of the county's Catholic history, these meat-free pastries may have been eaten by fasting Lancastrians as early as the Medieval and Early Modern periods. They remain popular today, a fact demonstrated by the fact that Preston North End’s 2008 decision to drop butter pies from match-day offerings was met with fierce opposition and protest; butter pies were swiftly returned to the menu.
Though it might not seem a likely candidate for veganising, the butter pie can actually be made into an excellent vegan option. Its key components- a flawless shortcrust pastry and buttery potato and onion filling- are both easily done with a vegan butter substitute. Butter pies are the perfect hot snack for autumn and winter, but are also equally at home in a summer picnic basket. To be honest, there's never a bad time for a butter pie- at least not in my eyes.
Makes: 4 12cm pies
Preparation time: 2 hours (including baking time)
For the pastry...
500g plain white flour, plus extra for rolling
250g vegan butter, cubed and refrigerated
200ml ice-cold water
A pinch of ground sea salt
For the filling...
2kg potatoes, peeled and very finely sliced
150g vegan butter
400g brown onions, peeled and sliced into thin rings
A handful of fresh thyme leaves (optional)
Ground sea salt (to taste)
White pepper (to taste)
For the “egg" wash...
3 tbsp non-sweet soy milk
1./ First make the pastry. Add the flour and salt to a large mixing bowl and mix together with a whisk or fork. Add 250g of cold, cubed butter to the flour and combine the two by rubbing gently through your fingers (alternatively, you can briefly pulse the flour and butter in a food processor). This should result in a sandy, breadcrumb-type mixture. You want this to be as even as possible (i.e. with no big lumps remaining), but don’t overwork it. To this mixture add the water while bringing the pastry together with one hand. You may not need all of the water, or you may need a little more; the pastry just needs enough to keep from crumbling, but not so much that it becomes sticky. Again, handle the pastry gently. It should come together with a little gentle kneading. Once you have a smooth, coherent dough, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate.
2./ Turn on the oven to preheat at 200 degrees Celsius.
3./ Prepare the potatoes for the filling. Boil the peeled and sliced potatoes in a large pan of salted water for 15-20 minutes or until softened but not mushy. Drain, rinse thoroughly with ice-cold water, drain again, then set aside.
4./ Take the pastry dough out of the refrigerator. Cut off roughly two thirds of the volume for pastry cases. Roll this out to a thickness of 2-3 mm, then cut rounds large enough to line completely the base and sides of your pie dishes/tins. Trim and blind-bake these pastry bases in the dishes for 5-10 minutes, weighing them down with pastry weights or pulses (separate these from the pastry with greaseproof paper).
5./ While the pastry cases are baking, fry the onions for the filling. Add half of the remaining butter (or about 75g) to a frying pan over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion rings, a pinch of salt, and the thyme leaves (if using). Fry this mixture until the onions are soft and golden-brown. Remove from the heat, then stir in the potatoes; if you like a more mash-like filling, give them a bash about as you do, and season to taste with plenty of salt and white pepper. Once the onion and the potato is mixed, set aside ready to fill the pies.
6./ Roll out the remaining pastry, again to about 3mm thick, and cut circles for lids. Remove the pastry cases from the oven and take out the pastry weights. Fill each pie to the top with the onion-potato mixture, adding in a few dots of vegan butter in the middle of and on top of the filling. Cover each pie with a lid, trim if necessary, and poke a couple of holes in the top.
7./ Bake the pies in the pre-heated oven for around 30 minutes, or till golden-brown. About halfway through this cooking time, carefully brush a little soy milk onto the lid. Keep an eye on the pies throughout, and just take them out when they look good.
8./ Eat the pies immediately or when cold. They're great with red cabbage, pickled onions, and/or a good beer.