Baking challenge: savoury (at last) beef pie

I have moved into the penultimate episode of the first series of the Great British Bake-off, and the great thing about Pastry week was the opportunity to make savoury items. Usually, when I’m doing a challenge, I have to make sure I have people coming round to polish off an excess of sweet goods. With this one – although I did serve it up when I had a friend round – it could just be served up for an ordinary dinner. Very convenient.

I actually made up the very same recipe for the signature bake that Ruth Clemens served up. This pastry episode was quite a funny one, both in the amusing and raised-eyebrow sense – Ruth made some comments which were quite controversial in various GBBO online fora (yeah, they exist), and there was some pointed editing going on to imply a Miranda-Ruth rivalry. Still, also served up by Ruth was a really cracking-looking beef pie, which even Paul Hollywood complimented despite being initially sceptical for its lack of sophistication. The recipe I took from The Great British Book of Baking, which I own because of a 2 for £10.00 deal at WH Smith’s (it’s a little disappointing in not having a huge amount of recipes from the show).

The pie was surprisingly small and I was sceptical that it would actually serve four as stated in the recipe, a point which was agreed upon by my guinea pigs (there were three of us). The verdict was ‘might serve four if two of them are under eight’. I also thought there was a smidgen too much pastry for the recipe, and it was a little thick when I used it all. Although by the end of the suggested baking time the pastry was nicely browned and certainly looked cooked, it was actually a little underbaked in its centre at the bottom and the top, so I’d recommend another couple of minutes in the oven. I couldn’t remove cleanish slices from the pie but can’t remember if that was actually achieved in the show.

Where Ruth used Lancashire cheese, I used mature Cheddar, and I used more liquid than she called for to cook the veg and meat together – maybe my mixture was a little less moist than hers but had I let it bubble away without extra liquid it would have scorched. Altogether, very delicious – my friend recommended serving with gravy and peas, which certainly would have made it go further. Man and child-friendly food, as Ruth notes. Hers was beautifully crimped but I am not as adept at making things look pretty as she is.

Minced beef pie with cheese crust
Ruth Clemens’ recipe (she was a finalist and indeed first runner-up for the first series of the GBBO) in The Great British Book of Baking, but it’s also available online on her website; slightly adapted


  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 75g Cheddar, finely grated
  • pinch salt
  • 1 medium free-range yolk
  • 4-6 TBS cold water


  • 2 TBS vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 25g lean minced beef
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 stick of celery, diced
  • 4-8 TBS ale
  • 3 TBS tomato paste
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • salt and pepper
  • Egg white, to glaze

You will also need a 20x15cm enamel deep pie dish. I used the exact same one as Ruth (a friend of mine once told me, “You know how some people buy the same clothes as Kate Middleton or whoever? You’re like that, except with kitchen equipment.” It’s true!)

  1. Ruth made her pastry in a food processor but because mine is rather petite, I made it by hand. Place the flour, salt and butter cubes in a large bowl and cut the butter into the flour, using either a pastry cutter (like me) or two knives, or rub the fat into the flour using your thumb and fingertips. Do this until the mixture resembles petit-pois-sized crumbs.Stir through the cheese until thoroughly combined.
  2. Mix through the egg yolk and four TBS cold water and mix together. If the pastry doesn’t come together and there are dry crumbs at the bottom of the bowl, add a tablespoon or two of water one at the time until the mixture comes together to form a bowl of dough. Remove a third of the dough (for the lid), pat into a disc, and wrap in plastic wrap. Pat the remaining two-thirds of the dough into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill both parts of the dough in the fridge while you make the filling.
  3. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan; add the onions until soft but not coloured. Add the minced beef and brown over a medium heat until thoroughly browned. Turn the heat down to low and add the diced carrots and celery to the pan, stirring the mixture together so that it is evenly combined. Cook gently together, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened, about ten minutes.
  4. Add the four tablespoons ale, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and salt and black pepper, stir well and then simmer until the meat is tender and the mixture is moist but not runny, about ten minutes. If you need to, add another few tablespoons of ale throughout the cooking time. Towards the end, if the filling is still wet, turn up the heat and stir the mixture constantly until some of the mixture has evaporated (as mentioned above I had the opposite non-problem, rectified by the additional ale). Let cool completely (very importantly as it will otherwise melt the pastry)
  5. When ready to bake, roll out the two-thirds of the pastry on a lightly floured work surface to a rectangle big enough to line the base and sides of the pie dish. Lift the pastry up using a rolling pin and gently drape it over the tin. Using a tiny scrap of pastry rolled into a ball, press the pastry onto the base and sides of the pie dish, pressing out any air bubbles. Patch up any cracks or holes with pastry scraps and any overhang from the sides if necessary.
  6. Trim the overhanging pastry so that the pastry just covers the rim and brush the rim of the pastry with the egg white. Spoon the cold filling into the dish.
  7. Roll out the one-third of pastry to a 20x15cm rectangle (or however the dimensions of your dish are) for the lid. Using the rolling pin, lift the pastry over the dish and gently press it onto the egg white-painted pastry rim to seal firmly. Trim off excess pastry using a sharp knife. I also knocked up the edges, which means holding a knife horizontally against the sealed edge and gently tapping the pastry all the way round to form a good seal. It worked – no gaps! If you can [be bothered], crimp or decorate the edges.
  8. Leave to rest for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 190C. After the ten minutes, brush the pie lid with the egg white to glaze and make a small steam hole in the centre. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown. Serve hot!

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