Baking challenge: classic Cornish(-style) pasty

Cornish pasties are a pastry filled with raw beef, swede, potato and onion – no carrot. The filling steams inside the pasty while the pastry bakes. They are a plain, unfancy kind of food, very filling, and stretch out a bit of meat, which is appropriate given their associations with working-class food (although Henry VIII ate them in some form or another). Of course Cornish pasties are now protected by the European Commission; to be called a ‘Cornish’ pasty they must be prepared in Cornwall (though not necessarily baked there – and the ingredients do not have to come from Cornwall, making the distinction somewhat academic in my opinion – more a boost to pasty factories than Cornish producers and bakers. But what do I know?).

Cornish pasties were also the technical challenge for the ‘pastry’ episode of GBBO. I’ve made Nigella’s recipe before, which pre-cooks the filling. The trick to this recipe, obviously, is to cut the pieces of vegetable and meat rather small and very evenly so they all cook through at the same rate. As they were prepared in London they were, therefore, legally Cornish-style pasties. The recipe in the Great british Baking book differed from Paul Hollywood’s recipe on the BBC website; I used the website recipe.

My pasties obviously looked messy and the crimping was less than perfect. I rolled the pastry out on a silicone pastry mat to ensure I rolled each one out to the correct size each time (very unlike me to be so precise, but I guess it’s part of the baking learning experience), which left faint indentation marks from the guidelines in the raw pastry. They faded once baked, however, so no reservations about using such a mat are necessary.

The cooked pastry was, despite the thinness it had been rolled to, elastic and slightly chewy and not very breakable – it didn’t have any snap to it –  which was excellent for transportation purposes, as is fitting for a baked good eaten by Cornish miners as a hand-held food.

The Cornish pasty recipe requires you to put a knob of butter on top of the filling before baking; I did this for two but forgot for the others. We ate a pasty each for dinner (hot) and took one each to lunch (I ate it cold). They stood up well to the Tube journey and weren’t runny, although there was a little leakage of juices during and just after baking. The key to this recipe – as discovered by Miranda in the show – was good seasoning and lots of black pepper.

Classic Cornish-style recipes
From the BBC recipes website

For the pastry

  • 500g strong bread flour
  • 120g vegetable shortening or suet (I used suet)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 25g butter
  • 175ml cold water
  • 1 free-range egg, beaten with a little salt (to glaze)
For the filling
  • 350g beef skirt, rump steak or braising steak (I think I used something like 320g as I just bought a pack)
  • 350g waxy potatoes (mine may not have been waxy) (I measured the weight before peeling)
  • 200g swede (I measured the weight before peeling)
  • 175g onions (again, I measured the weight before peeling
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • knob of butter
  1. Tip the flour into the bowl and add the suet, a pinch of salt, the butter and all of the water.. Using a spoon, gently combine the ingredients. Then use your hands to crush everything together, bringing the ingredients together as a fairly dry dough.
  2. Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface (you do not need to oil or flour the surface). Knead the dough to combine the ingredients properly: use the heel of your hand to stretch the dough. Roll it back up into a ball, then turn it, stretch and roll it up again. Repeat this process for about 5-6 minutes. The dough will start to become smooth as the fat breaks down (it does take ages and the dough is very stiff to work). If the dough feels grainy, keep working it until it’s smooth and glossy. You can be quite rough with this. My dough was a little too dry even with plenty of kneading and I did end up having to add some extra water eventually
  3. When the dough is smooth, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for 30–60 minutes.
  4. While the dough is resting, peel and cut the potato, swede and onion into cubes about 1cm square. Cut the beef into similar sized chunks. Put all four ingredients into a bowl and mix. Season well with salt and some freshly ground black pepper, then put the filling to one side until the dough is ready.
  5. Lightly grease a baking tray with margarine or butter and line with baking paper (not greaseproof).
  6. Preheat the oven to 170C.
  7. Once the dough has had time to relax, take it out of the fridge. Weight the dough and divide it into four equal-sized pieces. Shape each piece into a ball and use a rolling pin to roll each ball into a disc roughly 25cm wide.
  8. Spoon a quarter of the filling onto each disc (although I did weigh the dough, I didn’t weigh the filling as I was hungry). Spread the filling on one half of the disc, leaving the other half clear. Put a knob of butter on top of the filling.
  9. Carefully fold the pastry over, join the edges and push with your fingers to seal. Crimp the edge to make sure the filling is held inside – you can do this with a fork or by twisting the dough with your fingers (I did the latter). When you’ve crimped along the edge, fold the end corners underneath.
  10. Put the pasties onto the baking tray and brush the top of each pasty with the egg and salt mixture. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes or until the pasties are golden-brown. If your pasties aren’t browning, increase the oven temperature by 10C for the last 10 minutes of cooking time. Can be eaten hot or cold.
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