Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mini-Cornish Pasty

Mini-Cornish Beef Pasties

I'm continuing my autumn pie-mania with a savory turn today: the Cornish pasty.  I know, I know, it's past unofficial pie season and we're now in cookie season!  But this pie lover thinks it should always be pie season.  I also hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving as much as I did.  We got to spend it with our families, which is a treat when you've spent as many Thanksgivings working in a newsroom as I have.  And I started out stressed, thinking about all the things I could cook and bake and how to make everything perfect.  Then I loosened up.  My pumpkin pie looked imperfect.  I helped Mom make the meal instead of interfering with the planning or trying to take over.  I shrugged when the the table wasn't styled like a magazine spread.  Because the whole family was together, and it was a darned good meal.  A plentiful one.  My dad suddenly bought lobsters, of all things, Thanksgiving morning.  My brother went out and bought Italian cookies and a ricotta pie.  "Gee, you think we have enough?" I asked them.  And then we feasted.

Audrey baker
My niece, Audrey, on Thanksgiving. She's going to be my apprentice baker one day.
Let's say this is a pie sendoff before I kick off cookie season.  Some friends are throwing a British-themed Christmas party this weekend, and I will be bringing these Cornish pasties.  They're like beef stew in pie form, the flaky pastry filled with beef, carrots, onion, and potato.  And because people will be milling around the party and there will be lots of other food, I made them minis.

Pasties unbaked

Besides scaling them down, I adjusted the filling.  The recipe doesn't call for cooking it before the pies go into the oven, but I figured beef and vegetables steamed in a crust can't taste as good as the pan-seared and sauteed variety.  I put that to the test by making them two ways, and I was right.  The uncooked filling was bland (though Joe was happy to polish those pies off), but the cooked filling was aromatic and full of flavor.  The recipe, from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain, also included zucchini and butternut squash in the filling.  I kept the ingredients closer to that of a traditional beef stew, and I didn't want watery squash or the trouble of dicing hard butternut anyway.  Swap in whatever you like -- the recipe suggests peas, fava beans, or asparagus in spring.

I won't lie -- these are kind of a production.  But worth it!  Don't attempt the whole thing in one day.  Make the dough one or two days ahead, the filling one day ahead or the day of.  Give yourself time to roll and re-roll the dough and assemble the pasties.    They can be fully assembled, frozen, and baked later.  When done, reward yourself with a beer and a couple pasties.  They'll make a great holiday party starter, or a hearty winter lunch.

Mini-Cornish Beef Pasties
Adapted from Early Autumn Cornish Pasties in Jamie Oliver's Great Britain

Makes 20 pies

For the crusts
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
16 tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
½ cup cold water
1 large egg, beaten (for brushing)

For the filling
6 oz. skirt steak
4 oz. yellow onion, peeled and chopped into ⅓-inch dice
6 oz. Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into ⅓-inch dice
4 oz. carrots, peeled and chopped into ⅓-inch dice
Whole nutmeg, for grating
Sea salt and black pepper
Sprig of fresh rosemary (or substitute dry)
1 tsp olive oil

Make the dough.  In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour and salt.  Add the butter, and pulse until the butter is about the size of small peas in the flour.  Add most of the cold water, and pulse a few times.  Check the dough by squeezing a small fistful. If the dough holds together, it's ready.  If it's still too dry, sprinkle in a few drops of water and pulse a few times, then test it again.  Don't overmix the dough or add too much water, or it will be tough.

Empty the dough into a large bowl and knead just until it comes together in a cohesive ball.  Divide the dough in four, and flatten each piece into discs.  They shouldn't be perfect discs because you don't want to overwork the dough, and you'll roll the discs out later.  Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least a half-hour.  If refrigerating for several hours or overnight, they'll be hard so wait about 20 minutes before rolling them out.

Make the filling.  Heat a skillet, cast iron if you have it, over medium-high heat until very hot.  Peel the leaves off the rosemary and give them a rough chop, then set aside.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the beef.  Drizzle the oil into the skillet, then put the beef in the pan.  After a couple minutes, check that the underside is seared a nice brown, then flip the steak.  After a couple minutes when that side is browned, move the steak to a cutting board to rest.  The meat does not have to be cooked through at this point.

Lower the heat to medium.  If needed, drizzle in a little more oil. Add the onion and saute for 1 minute.  Add the remaining vegetables and rosemary and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then give them a stir and leave them undisturbed for about 2 minutes.  The potatoes should have developed a golden and slightly crusty underside.  Give them another stir and let them sit another 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat and spoon the filling into a large mixing bowl.  Slice the beef into the same ⅓-inch dice as the vegetables, then add it to the bowl.  Grate about a quarter of the whole nutmeg into the bowl, then stir to combine.  Let the filling cool to room temperature before assembling the pastry so it does not melt the butter in the pastry.  You can also cover the filling tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight until ready to use.

Assemble.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside a small bowl of water with a pastry brush.  Have a paring knife ready.  Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Roll out one disc of dough to ⅛-inch thickness.  Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut as many rounds of dough as you can out of the dough and place them on a parchment-lined sheet.  Set aside the dough scraps and repeat with the remaining discs of dough.  (If you're making these on a hot day, which we won't see here for many months, you might need to return the dough to the refrigerator in stages to keep it chilled and workable.)  Lightly knead together all the dough scraps, and roll them out to ⅛-inch thickness and cut out as many circles as you can.

Take a circle of dough and spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling in the center, leaving an empty border.  Take another round of dough and pinch lightly around it to widen it just slightly.  Then brush the border of one side with water using the pastry brush, and place on top of the filling, wet side down.  Press down around the border, and crimp with a fork or tuck in the edges to seal.  With the paring knife, make 3 or 4 small slits in the center of the pie.  Return the assembled pie to a parchment-lined sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling.  You can freeze fully assembled pies on the parchment-lined sheets in the freezer until hard, then transfer them to a zip-top bag and bake at a later time.  If baking right away, put the sheets in the refrigerator while you preheat the oven.

Bake.  Preheat the oven to 400°.  Using the pastry brush, brush the tops of all the pies with the beaten egg.  Bake about 20 to 22 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned.  If baking from frozen, do not thaw, and bake at the same temperature and time.  Serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. Oh yes, I already know Audrey is going to be a great baker one day having auntie like you! She's so lucky! I really wished that there was someone in my family who actually knew how to bake. I think both side of family I have zero!!! These pastries look so delicious and gorgeous!

    1. haha When Audrey visited in October, she enjoyed adding ingredients to bowls and stirring them (and making a mess). And sprinkling toppings on pizza. But she would not eat them! Picky toddler through and through.
      I think you're the family baker! Between cheesecakes and popovers, I think you hold the family title. ;)

  2. Perfect little snacks! I love savoury pies.

    1. Yes, Raymund -- sweet pies get all the attention, but savory pies are so good!

  3. I love the savoury filling! Those little pies must be heavenly. Shirley.


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