This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week five (pie week) of series three: a Wellington
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.
[Address to a Haggis]
So says the poet, by which I mean Robert Burns (1759-1796), Bard of Ayrshire, Ploughman Poet, son of Scotland, whose prolific artistic output is matched by the unmitigated directness of his verse. For all that his works are often written in Scottish dialect, they remain piercingly accessible to those of us used to reading only standard English, and even today they have lost none of their resonant power. I think this is perfectly illustrated by one of Burns’ more popular poems, Tam O’Shanter (which I encountered in my fluorescent-lit English Literature classroom on the first day of Sixth Form), which veers between the frankly comic spectacle of an angry woman, sitting up waiting for her drunken husband, who she knows is stumbling home late (“Where sits our sulky, sullen dame, / Gathering her brows like gathering storm, / Nursing her wrath to keep it warm”) to an elegiac meditation on our small human grasp of happiness: “But pleasures are like poppies spread, / You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed; / Or like the snow falls in the river, / A moment white-then melts for ever”.
Robert Burns’ life, work and cultural impact are celebrated annually on Burns Night, which technically has no fixed date as such but is typically held close to Burns’ birthday of 25 January. Is there any other celebration like Burns Night? I can’t think of any other poet, writer or artist so commemorated, not even Shakespeare. (If there is something similar, though, I’d love to know about it!). Burns suppers are characterised by the holy Scottish trinity of haggis, whisky and a side of Burns’ poetry. Traditionally, a recitation of Burns’ Address to a Haggis follows the ceremonial entry of this savoury pudding. The Address is long and the recitation must be gruelling: I have hosted a Burns Night-themed dinner at which a friend’s boyfriend gamely recited the whole thing and it was seriously impressive as a feat of stamina.
Haggis, a mixture of the liver, heart and lungs of a sheep, mixed with onion, oats and suet, by convention encased in a sheep’s stomach, seems to be very off-putting to many (the anxiety on a friend’s face when I offered her a slice was something to behold), but it’s delicious. Suet, which people often think of as claggy and heavy, actually lends food a very light texture (as long as it’s warm – once cold, it certainly stiffens up). If you eat fancy haggis procured by a butcher and sold at a nice restaurant, it will taste like a big spiced meatball, with a delicate, quite soft (almost loose) texture; commercially-bought ones from the supermarket that you heat up are firmer and (inevitably) saltier, but still make for a really good, nubbly-textured savoury dish.
I came up with the idea of a haggis Wellington because, frankly, fillet of beef is too expensive, and it seemed like something reasonably original – though, as ever, a few people got there before me. As it turns out haggis marries beautifully with a pile of mushrooms sautéed with cream and brandy and a wrapper of rough puff pastry. If you want to serve up haggis in a slightly different way, I think this is a great choice. With a side order of Burns.
Recipe below the jump, as ever.
For the rough puff pastry
Note: For this rough puff I suggest using the book turn rather than the more commonly-used letter turn. I prefer it as you build more layers through the extra fold with no extra work; I still do the full number of turns with the pastry. The amount of layering, folding and turning means your rough puff pastry can rise almost as much as full-on puff, but it adds no additional work to the process.
I make a lot of pastry so the language above makes sense to me, but if the terminology is new to you, you can find a good illustration of the book turn here (under step six) and here. I would also recommend getting Michel Roux’s book Pastry; the methods and ratio below are based on his book, although he uses the letter turn.
- 150g plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
- 150g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1-3 TBS ice-cold water
- Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Add the cubes to the flour gradually, tossing them to coat. Once all the butter has been added, work the butter into the flour using your fingertips or a pastry cutter until most of the butter is in small sand-like pieces, with some larger rubbly bits (about pea-sized).
- Gradually add the cold water, mixing it in each time until the dough comes together. You want to avoid it being too wet so mix it in after each addition and add the water carefully. Pat the dough into a disc, wrap it in clingfilm, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- After this time, dust the work surface lightly with flour. Roll the pastry into a 40x20cm rectangle. Fold one side of the pastry (on the short end) over to the middle of the rectangle, then do the same with the other side. Turn one folded side over the other, as if closing a book. Give the pastry a quarter turn (i.e. 90 degrees)
- Roll the pastry out into a 40×20 rectangle and repeat the book turn again. Carefully wrap the pastry again and refrigerate 30 minutes.
- Repeat the process of rolling out and folding two more times with the pastry, to give a total of four quarter turns. Wrap the pastry block in clingfilm and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before using (and it can be made up to three days in advance)
For the duxelles
- 25g unsalted butter
- pinch salt (you need to be careful here because commercially-prepared haggis can be very salty, but you also need the salt to draw out the moisture from the shallots to stop them from browning. Don’t season with the quantities you would use for unseasoned meat)
- 2-3 shallots, finely minced
- 200g chestnut mushrooms, finely minced
- a few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
- 80ml brandy
- 2-3 TBS double cream, preferably at room temperature or warmed up slightly (if it’s fridge-cold the fats could separate out)
- Melt the butter in a smallish pan over medium-low heat. Add the finely minced shallots and a pinch of salt and cook for 2-3 minutes until they are softened.
- Increase the heat slightly and throw in the mushroom pieces and thyme. Cook for about 10 minutes until the mushroom pieces have softened and have given off their liquid (this can sometimes be quite a lot).
- Add the brandy, stirring, and let it bubble away until completely reduced. Lower the heat down to as low as possible and stir through the double cream. It will likely bubble and reduce right down. Remove the mixture from the heat and let cool, then chill until needed.
- Note: if the mixture has split and the fat has separated out, just drain the bulk of it off and stir the remainder back into the mixture before using.
- One batch rough puff pastry (as above) or a 320-350g ready-made puff pastry sheet
- One batch duxelles (as above)
- 500g haggis (you could also use vegetarian haggis)
- 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten (for glazing and sealing)
- Using a sharp knife, slice off the tapered ends of the haggis (as thin as possible) so it is of uniform diameter throughout.
- Roll out the rough puff pastry to a rectangle of about 30x20cm (it only needs to be quite rough) and place the haggis on it, slightly off-centre on the long side. Pat the cool duxelles mixture onto the top of the haggis, pressing it in firmly. Once cold the mixture is actually surprisingly pliable and almost clay-like, so this is rather fun.
- Carefully lift one side of the pastry (if you’ve positioned the haggis slightly off-centre, as above, use the longer end) and drape it round over the haggis, making sure it’s as tight as could be around the mushroom-covered haggis.
- Brush over a little of the beaten egg yolk on the rim of the pastry and press the pastry edges together to seal where they meet. Trim off the excess with a small sharp knife. If you like, take the pastry scraps and cut out little shapes with them using a biscuit cutter, and decorate the top and sides of the wellington with them, using a little of the beaten egg yolk so that they adhere.
- Wrap the wellington in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C.
- Once chilled, remove the wellington from the fridge and unwrap. Place it on a baking tray and brush the wellington all over with the remaining beaten egg yolk. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slashes in the top – you can do one large one or several smaller ones, decoratively or not, as you choose.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden.