Cornish Pasties

Usually I like to begin by talking about the history behind a recipe, but there’s not much hard evidence with Cornish pasties. I would, however, like to clear up a few potential misconceptions before getting to the interesting stuff.

Over the years, there has been much discussion over what the proper filling for a Cornish Pasty should be, but it is now all rather academic since the standard for Cornish pasties has been both established and published online by the Cornish Pasty association.

The filling ingredients number just four – beef skirt, potato, swede and onion – and are used raw, with generous seasoning. Meat forms the largest quantity, making up just over one third of the filling. But the filling is only half the story, and I’d like to discuss the half that rarely gets a mention, namely the pastry.

Pastry is made up of a mixture of fat and flour in varying proportions, bound together with a liquid. It is probably common understanding that by varying the proportions of fat to flour, different types of pastry can be made, from crisp shortcrust to butter puff. What is easy to overlook is the role the type of fat plays in the end result.

A ratio of 50% flour/butter  makes for delicious pastry, but the end result is rather delicate. Puff pastry’s crisp, light flakes crumble at the slightest touch. A more sturdy result is achievable by reducing the proportion of fat to flour (either 3/4 fat to flour for rough puff/flaky pasty, or half fat to flour for shortcrust) and substituting lard for half of the butter. This produces a tasty pastry thanks to the butter, and also crispness due to the lard. Lard is also the fat of choice for hot water crust used mainly for pork pies.

Unfortunately for some people, this makes pastry something of a forbidden fruit as the use of lard makes pastry unsuitable for vegetarians. Doubly unfortunate is that with the lower fat/flour ratios, an all-butter pastry becomes flabby and tough. Some years ago I discovered a solution in an old Victorian baking book, which is the use of cornflour in an all butter pastry. By substituting 20% of the flour with cornflour, it restores the crispness of a lard/butter pastry, but, to the joy of vegetarians, without the animal fat. Using this principle, I have made a very delicious all-butter, hot water crust.

Despite the butter/lard combo being recommended by the Cornish Pasty Association, I’d like to suggest something a little different, which if you have never tried, is a serious gap in your taste experiences: beef dripping pastry.

Matching the fat of the pastry with the protein in the filling, is a great way to enhance the flavour of the whole pie. Collecting and clarifying your own is obviously the best option in terms of flavour and cost, but you can get blocks of beef dripping in the supermarket. Although it flakes very nicely when sliced thinly, it is a bit lacking in flavour, as evinced by it’s dazzling whiteness. If you know a butcher who renders their own, the flavour would be greatly improved. Otherwise, in the UK, the Morrisons chain of supermarkets stock their own jar of golden beef dripping.

As with lard and butter, beef dripping has it’s own characteristics when it comes to pastry. Firstly, you need less of it, just 40% fat to flour. The price you pay for this positively healthy option is the slight increased effort required to make the pastry. The dough is initially mixed with just ¼ of the fat, then it is rolled out and the remaining fat added by the puff pastry method, i.e. three successive rolling/dotting of fat over the surface/folding/turning. Finally, the dough should be fully rested in the fridge before use. There is no need to use stong bread flour for this pastry, regular plain flour is fine.

What you end up with is a robust (but not heavy or tough), flaky, crisp pastry that can be rolled relatively thinly (5mm), perfect for keeping the filling moist and flavourful. Brushed with a little beaten egg before baking, the pasties come out of the oven bronzed and beautiful.

Cornish Pasties

The filling is essentially proportional – almost equal parts meat and potatoes, half quantities of swede and onion, so whilst this recipe has specific quantities, you can make Cornish pasties with whatever quantities you have to hand.

500g plain white flour
200g beef dripping
1tsp salt
ice water to mix

400g beef skirt
300g potatoes – whichever type/texture you like. I prefer mealy Maris Piper
150g swede
150g onion
salt
pepper

1 egg for glazing

  • Put the flour, salt and 50g of beef dripping into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the motor running, gradually add the ice water, a spoonful at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the pastry out onto a floured surface and knead once or twice until smooth. Don’t work it for more than about 15 seconds, otherwise you’ll get tough pastry.
  • Roll the pastry out into a long rectangle and dot 50g of beef dripping over 2/3 of it.
  • Fold the plain pastry down over half the fat-covered pastry, and then over again. Turn the pastry 90° and repeat until all the fat is used (3 rollings in total).
  • To keep the final block of pastry neat, make the final fold a book fold (fat covering the centre half, fold both ends into the middle, then fold in half like a book.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  • Cut the meat neatly into 2cm cubes. Although this is larger than the rest of the ingredients, the meat will shrink a little during cooked, and so even everything out.
  • Cut the potatoes and onions into slightly smaller cubes, and the swede into 1cm cubes.
  • Mix the meat and vegetables together thoroughly and season well with salt and pepper.
  • Roll out your chilled pastry to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Cut circles of the desired size – whatever size you like is fine, as you can adjust the cooking time accordingly.
  • For each pasty, dampen the edges with water, and place a suitable quantity of filling on half of the pastry.
  • Gently lift the pastry over the filling. Don’t pull or stretch the pastry – if it won’t meet, then remove some of the filling. Stretched pastry will shrink back and run the risk of tearing or bursting open in the oven.
  • Press the edges of the dampened pastry together to make a firm seal.
  • Now here’s a bit of heresy: I don’t like the folded and crimped edge – it makes the pastry excessively thick and consequently is rarely cooked properly by the time the rest of the pasty is ready. So I don’t do it. I use the tines of a fork to press down on the edges of the pastry. It makes a nice, simple pattern and means the edge is both sealed properly and not overly thick.
  • When all the pasties are done – or you run out of either filling or pastry – set them aside to rest while the oven is heating up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Whisk the egg and brush generously over the pasties.
  • Cut a single vent slit in the top of each pasty. The heat of the oven and the moisture from the vegetables will create the steam that cooks the filling, but you don’t want it to be trapped in their otherwise your pasties are going to burst.
  • Bake your pasties until the filling is cooked and the pastry is golden brown. Large pasties will take 50-55 minutes, smaller ones 30 minutes. Check the undersides are fully baked before you remove them from the oven.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Lancashire Butter Pie

The Lancashire Butter Pie is a regional, traditional pie specific to western Lancashire, especially the area around Preston, and has also been known as Friday Pie and Catholic Pie.

Preston has traditionally had a strong Catholic presence. In Tudor times, it was resistant – and at times downright hostile – to the Reformation. In 1583 the bishop of Chester denounced it as having a people ‘most obstinate and contemptuous’ of the Elizabethan laws on religion.

Since it was forbidden for Catholics to eat meat on Fridays, this pie, having only three simple ingredients, was ideally suited to the pious abstaining from their usual rich fare. And it does make for a good ‘story’.

However, my curiosity over the fact that it is the butter that gives the dish its name, rather than the potatoes and the onions led me to do some digging around into the pie’s history. My thoughts were that, although butter is commonplace for us now, it must have been regarded as a delicious treat in poorer times.

The modern incarnation of Butter Pie is alleged to owe much to the British Butter board, although I can find no verification for this. What I did find was what could be an ancestor of the modern recipe, in an account of the desperately poor existence of the cotton weavers of Lancashire, dating from 1827.

Joseph Greenwood, a worthy man of independent spirit, who has never troubled his parish, 60 years of age, with a wife and six children, lives at Bridge Inn, two miles and a half from Todmorden, on the Burnley road. He has five looms, and has wound and wove in his family, on an average, every week for the last four weeks, 16 pieces, each 30 yards of super calico, 28 west, at 9d, which gets 12s. per week. This sum is to support eight persons, pay rent, fire, clothes, candles to work by, shuttles, repair looms, &c. yet he will not run into debt. This family’s mode of living is as follows: they purchase a quantity of oatmeal, make gruel of oatmeal, salt, and water only, which serves for breakfast and supper; for dinner they bake a small quantity of the meal into a cake, and buy a little blue milk, as they call it, at ½d. per quart, and sup the milk along with the cake, but this is a luxury they cannot have every day. By way of change they sometimes buy wheaten flour to make the porridge, but with that they cannot afford to have the milk. Butter, cheese, and flesh meat, weavers never think of, unless now and then they purchase two ounces or a quarter of a pound of butter: or one or two pennyworth of suet, or odd bits of interior meat, to make a potatoe pie. The mode of making this pie is as follows: the potatoes are washed and cut into, slices, placed in a dish and sprinkled with salt, then filled up with water, the bits of suet are mixed with the potatoes, and the whole is covered with a thin crust, and if they cannot raise the suet or butter, the pie is made without them.[1]

Porridge morning and evening, oatcakes and skimmed milk for lunch. Having to choose between skimmed milk or wheat flour. Potato Pie as a treat. It’s a sobering thought. And little wonder that the tale of it being a dish of abstinence is the more popular, or at least, easier on the conscience. In this modern age, we are sometimes a bit too blasé about food and shameless with food waste. The story behind Butter Pie makes me, at least, be grateful for the abundance we have. This pie was a treat. IS a treat. No matter the humble ingredients.

So, if I haven’t plunged you irretrievably into a pit of despair, let’s talk ingredients!

This pie is deliciously savoury and ‘toothsome’ as Victorians were wont to say – ridiculously so, given the simplicity of its ingredients. Even with such a short list, you can vary the mix to produce delicately nuanced and finely-tuned combinations whilst still respecting the original.

My absolute favourite potato is the Pink Fir Apple, a fingerling-type potato with such a delicious flavour, I eat them as they are – no butter, no salt – they’re that good. In terms of texture, they sit perfectly between floury and waxy, relieving me of having to choose between these two different types of tuber. They aren’t very easy to find, alas. Many people have a specific preference, and will deign to eat only that one type. I, however, believe that there are times when one is more suited to a recipe than the other, and in this recipe you can celebrate both types according to the season. In spring and summer, use waxy new potatoes and spring onions or chives for freshness. In autumn and winter, big slices of soft, floury King Edward or Wilja potatoes with delicately softened brown onions turn this into an unctuous and comforting dish.

Whichever style you choose, the pastry should provide contrast against which the filling can really shine. Now you could be forgiven for thinking that with such a buttery filling, a rich buttery puff pastry would be the way to go, and you would be perfectly within your rights to try it, but it would not be the best option. It’s just too rich. Everything gets lost. My recommendation is for a cornflour, all butter, shortcrust pastry. It bakes incredibly crisp and the presence of the cornflour makes it a dry crispness – something not usually achievable with an all-butter pastry. And this unassuming, plain pastry is the perfect background for the soft, buttery filling to shine. It’s all about contrasts, of textures as well as flavours. You need the plainness of the pastry to really enjoy the rich-tasting filling.

Butter Pie Slice

Lancashire Butter Pie

The choice of potato is entirely up to you. I used Anya potatoes this time. The quantity of butter in the filling is restrained: you can also dot more over the potato layers if you’re feeling indulgent.

Pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
ice cold water

  • Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off two thirds. Put the remaining third back into the fridge.
  • Roll this piece out to a thickness of 4-5mm and use it to line a greased 18cm pie tin, loose-bottomed for preference, making sure there is enough pastry overlapping the sides of the tin to allow for joining the lid.
  • Chill the pastry while you prepare the filling.

Filling
750g potatoes
120g unsalted butter
2 medium onions
salt and ground white pepper

1 egg yolk for glazing

  • Peel the potatoes and cut into 1cm slices.
  • Boil or steam (preferred) until tender. Spread out on a clean cloth to cool/dry.
  • Chop the onions finely.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the onions.
  • Cook gently over a low heat until softened. Do not allow them to take any colour.
  • Spread a thin layer of buttery onions over the base of the pastry and season with pepper and salt. Cover with a layer of potato slices, cutting them if necessary to fill any gaps.
  • Repeat until the pie is filled, remembering to season each layer of onions. Pour any remaining butter over the top.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to make a lid.
  • Damp the edges of the pastry and lay the lid on top. Trim to leave a border of 1cm.
  • Crimp the pastry edges between finger and thumb. Gently press the crimped edge inwards until it is standing vertical.
  • Mix the yolk with 1-2tsp cold water, and glaze the pastry lid thoroughly using a brush.
  • Cut out some decorations from the offcuts of pastry and arrange on top of the glaze. Leaving the decorations unglazed will keep them from taking on too much colour in the oven, which means they will stand out more when baked. Cut a steam vent in the centre of the lid.
  • Chill the pie in the fridge while the oven heats up.
  • Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake the pie for 40-45 minutes, turning it around after 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
  • Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before turning out and serving.
  • Also delicious cold.

[1] Niles’ National Register, Volume 32,  1827, p118

Mini Chicken and Bacon Pies

Jane Newton, circa 1675

Jane Newton’s 17th century manuscript recipe book (MS1325 at The Wellcome Library) is unusual for the time, because it appears to have been written by the lady herself, rather than a scribe. It is meticulously set out, beginning with an alphabetical index and progressing through a range of recipes, informally grouped together: potages, roasts, boilings, collarings, puddings, picklings, tarts, wines and preserves.

The handwriting is regular, the lettering excessively flourished – Jane loves an upper-case letter and refuses to confine them to the beginning of sentences – the spelling quirky and capricious. The ink has faded to brown, but the scarlet margins and diligently underlined titles are still bright and bold.

The book has a very informal tone, and on reading, it is possible to imagine Jane chattering away about her cookery recipes, complete with interruptions to her train of thought. In the recipe for Taffety Tarts, she gets as far as rolling out the pastry, only to leave the instructions hovering unfinished on the page as she then gets distracted into starting a recipe for Manchet. This too appears incomplete as, after setting the dough to rise, the recipe is hurriedly ended with the vague hand-wave of “yn bake itt.”.

Two incomplete recipes from the pen of Jane Newton
Two incomplete recipes from the pen of Jane Newton

The title of this miniature pie recipe is a perfect example of the informal tone of most of the book. In the early pages,  Jane closes out a recipe for Partridge Pottage with the following comment:

This Pottage is proper to bee Garnished wth Pitti Patties or Little Pa∫sts a thing never yet in Print And I shall give yow the be∫t diretton for the makeing them when I treat of Bakemeates wch wil bee thereafter given yow

It takes more than twenty pages for this recipe to turn up. Rather than a succinct yet descriptive title, Jane opts to call it To make the Pufes I was Speaking of before in my Pottage. I don’t know about you, but I can almost hear Jane’s vague introductory “Oh…you know…. those things…. pastry bits…. whatchamacallits…. the ones I was talking about earlier!” and all-too-easily picture the accompanying distracted, flapping hand.

Jane was, justifiably, very proud of these tasty morsels:

The∫e are a thing wch is delightfull to the Eater & is not a u∫uall thing at many Tables to be had and Invented by an Italian

These pies are a true déja food recipe through the use of cooked meat in their composition. Although I’ve chosen to use just chicken, the original recipe suggests a combination of both chicken and veal. Other suitable alternatives would be most poultry and pork.  The filling also differs from most modern pies in that it contains neither sauce nor gravy. A mere squeeze of orange juice, possibly a Seville, and the moisture in the fresh ingredients keeps the filling from drying out and keeps the pastry from becoming soggy during baking. Once baked, a few drops of chicken stock are added into the pies to supply both seasoning and lusciousness.

The most unusual detail for these little savoury pies is the inclusion of a grape in the middle. Originally, these would have been from bunches taken as thinnings of the vines commonly grown by the great houses (there’s never enough room to allow every bunch of grapes to ripen) so they would be small, underripe and quite sharp to the taste. In the baking they soften a little and provide a bright burst of freshness to the cooked pie.  Small green gooseberries work equally well, if you don’t have a vine to hand.

Jane suggests serving these as garnishes to the aforementioned pottage (meaty soup) or even on a dish by themselves. I would widen this by recommending including them in lunchboxes, picnics or as nibbles/appetisers.

Mini Chicken & Bacon Pies

Makes 20 mini pies

shortcrust pastry – made with 300g flour
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry.

150g cooked chicken
60g smoked, dry-cured streaky bacon – about 4 rashers
3tbs finely chopped fresh parsley(10g)
1tbs fresh thyme, stripped from the stalks
2 rounded tbs chopped shallot (1 ’round’ or ½ a smallish ‘banana’ shallot)
¼ tsp ground white pepper
a pinch of salt
juice of ½ an orange – about 2tbs/30ml
20 small, sharp grapes/gooseberries

Egg for glazing

100ml well-flavoured chicken stock

  • Dice the chicken and bacon finely and stir together with the herbs, onion and seasoning.
  • Add the orange juice and stir to combine.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry, cut out 20 rounds and line the greased cups of a mini muffin tin.
  • Spoon a little of the mixture into the cups, place a grape in top, then cover with more of the filling mixture.
  • Dampen the edges of the pastry with a little water.
  • Cut out 20 lids from the puff pastry and press them gently on top of the mini pies.
  • Trim any excess pastry.
  • Brush over with beaten egg and cut a small hole in the top of each pastry lid – a plastic straw works well.
  • Bake for 15-18 minutes until the pastry is cooked, the lids puffed and golden.
  • Use a small funnel or teaspoon to pour a little chicken stock into each pie to moisten the filling.
  • Cool on a wire rack.
  • Serve warm.

Venison Pie

This is a great Deja Food way to transform the cooked venison from a joint into another meal. Since the filling has already been cooked, there is little shrinkage during baking, thus making it a fabulously sturdy picnic pie once cold.

Whichever way you choose to enjoy it, remember to serve with redcurrant jelly.

Venison Pie

500g cooked venison
salt and pepper
300g cooked potatoes
venison, beef or lamb stock, thickened with a little cornflour
beef or lamb dripping pastry, made with stock instead of water.
1 large egg to glaze

A 24cm spring-form tin.

  • Divide the chilled pastry into two pieces, one large than the other.
  • Cut off about 1/3 of the pastry and roll out for the lid of the pie. Cut it to size with 2cm extra all round. Cover with cling film and set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings together with the rest of the pastry and roll out for lining your greased pie tin. Be sure not to have your pastry too thin, as it will have to support a lot of filling – no less than 1cm on the sides and a little thicker over the bottom half of the pie. Let any excess pastry lie over the edges of the tin.
  • Chill the tin in the fridge until required.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Cut the meat into cubes, discarding any fat or connective tissue.
  • Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Cut the potatoes into cubes roughly the same size as the meat.
  • Add the cubed potatoes to the seasoned venison, together with enough gravy to coat.
  • Add the filling to the pie and press down firmly. Spoon over a little extra gravy.
  • Moisten the top edges of the pastry with water and cover with the pre-cut lid. Press firmly to seal, then crimp the edges either by hand or with the tines of a fork. Use the offcuts of pastry to form decorations and secure to the lid using a little water.
Venison and Potato Pie decoration
Pie decoration example
  • Cut a vent hole for steam, then whisk the egg and brush over the top of the pie.
    Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is crisp and brown and the filling hot.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove and serve, or if eating cold, allow to cool fully in the tin.

Christmas Pie

Charles Elmé Francatelli, 1863

This is a version of the traditional raised pie that graced the sideboards of many a rich household going back centuries. With much time being devoted to celebrating the festive season, the amount of time spent waiting on the kitchen could be drastically reduced with a sideboard groaning under selection of cold cuts and pies to slice throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

The most famous Christmas pies were undoubtedly from Yorkshire, whose frequently gargantuan sizes inspired both awe and wonder, not to mention expense.

“The host of the Angel Hotel, at Whitby, last week, set before his friends a Yorkshire Christmas Pie, seven feet in circumference and containing four stones of flour, 12lbs butter and suet, a brace of pheasants, a brace of partridges, two geese, two rabbits, ten chickens, six ducks, two tongues, one turkey, and six pounds of ham.” ¹

The traditional format of these pies consisted of the birds being boned, seasoned, rolled and then stuffed one inside the other, in the manner of Russian babushka dolls, quite putting the modern ‘turducken’ to shame for its amateurishness. Hannah Glasse’s recipe of 1747 called for a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge and a pigeon. In addition, to fill up the gaps around the main bird, on one side was laid a jointed hare, on the other side woodcock, and “more Game, and what Sort of wild Fowl you can get.”

These large pies were frequently packaged up and sent to London as gifts, or merely as provisions for the festive season. Unfortunately, their size and sturdiness wasn’t always a guarantee of safe travel. In 1832, The Age newspaper carried the following morsel of information in it’s roundup of news snippets column, the Georgian newspaper equivalent of an “And finally…” news item:

“The Lord Chancellor’s Christmas Pie upset, broken and devoured by dogs.”

Adapted from his book The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, Francatelli’s recipe simplifies the difficulty of baking so many different types of game and poultry from raw, by pre-cooking the birds to medium rare, filling the pie with the meat, and then finishing the cooking when the pie is baked. The baking time is also considerably reduced.

Christmas Pie cut

This recipe has a lot of steps, none of which are particularly difficult, but you can spread them out over a couple of days rather than feel obliged to have one mammoth kitchen session.

Christmas Pie

Seasoning
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp mace
1/4 tsp cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
2 crushed dried bay leaves
1.5tsp dried basil
1.5 tsp marjoram
1.5 tsp winter savoury
1.5 tsp thyme
0.25tsp chilli pepper
0.5tsp sumac dried mango powder
1tsp garlic powder

Forcemeat
150g butter
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
1tsp salt
500g rindless streaky bacon, chopped
500g chicken livers, rinsed

Filling
1 whole turkey leg, slow-cooked overnight on a raft of celery, carrot and onion
An assortment of game birds, preferably with carcass, such as:
1 duck crown
1 goose crown
1 pheasant
2 woodcock

Savoury jelly
1 litre of beef stock
turkey stock from cooking the turkey leg
Any trimmings/bones from cooking the game birds
1 onion
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
2 bay leaves
1tbs black peppercorns
3 sprigs thyme
1 blade mace
1 batch game pie pastry (see page xx)
1 large egg for glazing.

  • Preparing The Pie Components
  • Set aside 1 tablespoon of the seasoning mixture for use on the filling.
  • Melt the butter for the forcemeat in a large pan with the chopped garlic.
  • Add the chopped bacon and cook for 5-10 minutes.
  • Add the chicken livers and sprinkle with the seasoning mixture.
  • Cook until just pink in the middle.
  • Remove from the heat and tip into a food processor fitting with a chopping blade.
  • Blitz until smooth, pour into a bowl, cover and set aside until required.
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4.
  • Season the game birds with salt, pepper, and the tablespoon of the seasoning mix.
  • Spread with a thin layer of the forcemeat.
  • Arrange in a baking tray and brush over with melted clarified butter.
  • Bake until just cooked through (internal temperature of 74°C).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  • If using crowns or whole birds remove the breasts, as whole as possible, from the carcass and strip the rest of the meat from the bones. Allow to cool completely then cover and chill in the fridge until needed.
  • Put the remnants of the carcasses into a large pan, together with the stocks, seasonings and vegetables for the savoury jelly.
  • Bring to a boil, then cover, turn down the heat and simmer for 2-3
    hours to allow the flavours to develop.
  • Strain the stock twice: once through a fine sieve and then again through dampened muslin to remove all the unwanted solids.
  • Allow the stock to cool, then chill in the fridge. Remove the fat from the surface of the chilled stock and decant the stock into suitable containers.
  • Make a note of how solid, or not, the stock is when cold, and when the time comes to mix the gelatine, adjust accordingly: if the stock is fairly stiff,
    then little or no gelatine will be required, if it is a soft-set, then just half the regular quantity of gelatine may be all that is required.
  • Constructing The Pie
  • Cut off about 1/3 of the pastry and roll out for the lid of the pie. Cut it to size with 2cm extra all round. Cover with cling film and set aside.
  • Gather the trimmings together with the rest of the pastry and roll out for lining your greased pie tin. Be sure not to have your pastry too thin, as it will have
    to support a lot of filling – no less than 1cm on the sides and a little thicker over the bottom half of the pie. Let any excess pastry lie over the edges of the tin.
  • Spread a 1cm layer of forcemeat all over the inside of the pie. Arrange a layer of the meat and cover with a layer of forcemeat to fill in any gaps. Continue layering until all the filling and forcemeat has been used up.
  • Brush the top edges of the pastry with water. Lay the pie lid over the top of the pie. Press firmly around the edges to seal. Trim any excess pastry using the back of a knife, then crimp the edges of the pie to decorate. Use the trimmings to make decorations for the top of the pie.
  • Cut a 1-2cm steam vent in the top of the pie, large enough for the savoury jelly to be poured through once the pie is baked.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Brush the lid of the pie with beaten egg and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 70°C. If the top starts browning too much, cover loosely with a sheet of baking parchment or foil.
  • Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for several hours. When almost cold, measure out 600ml of the savoury jelly and warm in a pan. If using gelatine, soak as many leaves as required in cold water before draining and adding to the stock.
  • Stir until the gelatine has melted.
  • Before you start pouring the savoury jelly into the pie, you might want to check whether there are any holes in your pastry. Carefully remove the pie from the tin and inspect closely. You can either mix up a flower and water paste to fill any cracks, or wrap the sides and bottom of the pie tightly in cling film: this won’t stop the leaks, but it will keep everything contained until the jelly has set.
  • Return the wrapped pie to the tin before adding the jelly.
  • Pour the jelly a little at a time through the hole in the top of the pie. Use a jug and/or a fine funnel.
  • Allow time between pourings for the liquid to permeate the pie filling – it has to find and fill all the air pockets between the meat.
  • Leave to set in a cool place, or, if you have room, in the fridge overnight. The jelly will seal off any air pockets and thus prolong the shelf-life of the pie.
  • Properly stored, it can adorn a sideboard buffet all the way from Christmas almost to the New Year.

1 “Local and General Intelligence”, The Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser (Leeds, England), Saturday, January 7, 1843; Issue 269. p3.

Cockle and Mussel Puffs

Jane Parker, 1651 adapted from A New Booke of Cookerie, 1615

The availability of British seafood has increased dramatically with the introduction by the major supermarkets of dedicated fish counters staffed by professional fish mongers. No longer do we have to live close to our coastline in order to enjoy fresh seafood. Ideally, you would create this dish from scratch, and if you have the time and the inclination, it will no-doubt be superb. However, for those with limited time, by taking full advantage of pre-prepared seafood and ready-rolled puff pastry, this can come together in less than 30 minutes.

I first came across this recipe in the household manuscript book of Jane Parker (MS3769 at the Welcome Library). I subsequently discovered that she had copied it from John Murrell’s 1615 A New Booke of Cookerie, rephrasing it slightly and adding a little note to herself about changing the shape if frying them instead of baking. As noted elsewhere, Mistress Parker was not reticent about embellishing and improving the recipes she cherry-picked from the scant number of cookbooks of the day to suit her own style and preferences.

A Made dish of Cocokles and Mussels
From John Murrell’s A New Booke of Cookerie, 1615, p20
cocklepierecipe
From the manuscript book of Jane Parker, MS3769 at the Welcome Library

I have refrained from chopping the seafood as finely as suggested, much preferring to allow the constituent parts to be both distinguishable and identifiable omce the crisp pastry reveals it’s contents. I have added only pastry decoration to the original recipe.

Cockle and Mussel Puffs

200g cooked cockles
200g cooked mussels
4 large yolks
¼ tsp pepper
pinch of salt
a little grated nutmeg
60ml white wine
60ml orange juice
2 sheets puff pastry
1 large egg for glazing

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/gas 7.
  • Mix the cockles and mussels in a bowl.
  • Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  • Mix 2 tablespoons of the orange juice with the yolks and stir to combine.
  • Pour over the cockles and mussels and toss gently.
  • Taste and add more orange juice if liked, but beware of making the mixture too wet.
  • Roll the pastry sheets lightly to smooth, then cut four strips of 1cm width across the shorter side of each pastry sheet. Leave one sheet for the bases, and roll the second sheet thinner (tops), to fit overthe filling easily without stretching.
  • Moisten the edges of the bases and use the strips to build up a border around the edges.
  • Divide the solid part mixture evenly between the four bases and spread out. Don’t worry about adding the liquid at this stage, wait until the pies are sealed.
  • Moisten the pastry strips with a little water and lay over the lids.
  • Brush the border with water, then lay over the lids, pressing around the filling firmly to seal.
  • Trim the edges to neaten. Use a pastry or pizza wheel, or a neat, vertical cut with a sharp, unserrated knife. The cleaner the cut, the better and more puffed the edges will become.
  • With the back of a knife, press down all around the pie, 5mm from the edge, to seal.
  • Brush the tops of the pies with beaten egg, making sure none drips down the sides, as this will stick the pastry layers together and stop them from puffing up. Cut a vent hole to let out steam during cooking.
  • Divide any leftover liquid between the pies, pouring it through the vent hole.
  • Use pastry offcuts to shape some decorations. Leaving these pieces unglazed will make them stand out more against the glazed pastry.
  • Transfer the pies to a baking sheet lined with parchment.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, turning the baking sheet around 180 degrees after 6 minutes to ensure even colouring.
  • Serve immediately.

Batalia Fish Pie

Battalia Pie is a classic, double-crust pie from times past, the filling for which filling could be made from any of a number of ingredients. It’s origins are thought to come from the French béatilles, meaning titbits, and originally comprised of all the little odds and ends that are too small to use by themselves: cockscombs, lamb stones, sweetbreads, ox palates, etc.

By the 18th century, the spelling had settled onto Battalia, but in the 16th and 17th centuries it was a much more ad hoc affair (beatille, beatilla, beatilia), although the French origin can still be seen. To the ear, however, it sounded closer to ‘battle’ and William Rabisha embraced this interpretation with gusto, styling his fish pie in a pastry castle, complete with crenellated battlements, which I think is a fabulous concept as well as being visually stunning for a special occasion or centrepiece.

This design works especially well with the mixture of ingredients called
for in his filling, as he suggests that each tower hold a different kind of fish and sauce. Then again, he also suggests that the decapitated heads of the various fish and seafood creatures be stuffed and propped on the battlements like some macabre seafood re-enactment of the siege in Beau Geste, thus illustrating the importance of being selective when choosing which aspects of historical recipes to revive.

bataliafishpie
From The Whole Body of Cookery Dissected (1661) William Rabisha

Another presentation idea is to utilize the castle and battlement elements for a cold, seafood buffet, as in the picture above. Each tower is filled with a different seafood, and the main body of the ‘castle’ can incorporate garnishes, salads and seafood items better suited to being laid out, such as smoked salmon and/or trout and oysters on the half shell.

Instructions are given below for how to construct and bake your crenellated pastry castle. Do not be constrained by the picture – only by the dimensions of the tin that will fit inside your oven: a large roasting tin will give you ample space in which to lay out your centrpiece.

Neither should you think only in terms of rectangular shapes for your ‘castle’. Use whatever baking tins you have to hand and create your own fortified masterpiece. A variety of heights will add interest as well as flexibility to your display.

Happy castling!

Batalia Fish Pie

William Rabisha, 1661

Game Pie Pastry made with wholemeal flour instead of white
2 large eggs for glazing.

To make the castle pie shell

  • Select a pie tin suitable for serving; round of rectangular, either is fine. It should be at least 10cm deep in order to form the walls and crenellations.
  • Select tins to shape your towers. These can be ordinary tins from soup or vegetables; remove the labels by soaking, and cut off both ends, leaving a tube. Cover all of the tins with foil or baking parchment, leaving one end open on each of the smaller ‘tower’ tins. The pastry will be baked on the outsides of the tins, to ensure a neat appearance.
  • Turn all of your tins upside down. Grease well.
  • Preheat your oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
  • Roll out the pastry to about 1cm and use to cover all of the tins with a smooth layer. Trim any excess pastry.
  • Re-roll the scraps of pastry and cut into 3cm strips. Brush the top edges – which are currently the bases of the tins – with beaten egg and attach the strips of pastry. Press firmly.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut out the crenellations on the towers and the castle. Make them 1.5cm deep and 1.5cm wide.
  • Brush the pastry with the beaten egg.
  • Using the tip of a sharp knife, lightly score the pastry into a brickwork pattern.
  • Set your tins, still upside-down, onto a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until browned and firm.
  • Remove from the oven and CAREFULLY turn the tins the right way up.
  • Ease the foil/parchment away from the tins and lift out. Remove the foil/parchment, leaving the pastry shell. Brush the insides of the pastry with beaten egg and return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until fully cooked.
  • Cool on a wire rack.

Oyster Tarts

A great little recipe from that classic baking institution: Be-Ro.

Thomas Bell founded his grocery company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1875. Amongst other items, he manufactured and sold baking powder and the world’s first self-raising flour under the brand name Bell’s Royal.

After the death of King Edward VII the use of the word ‘Royal’ in business was prohibited, so Thomas shortened each word to just two letters, and the Be-Ro brand was born.

To encourage the use of self-raising flour, the company staged exhibitions where visitors could taste freshly-baked scones, pastries and cakes. This proved so popular, and requests for the recipes so numerous, the Be-Ro Home Recipes book was created. Now in it’s 40th edition, the company claims that, at over 38 million copies, its recipe booklet “is arguably one of the best-selling cookery books ever.”

I’m not sure which edition my Be-Ro booklet is, as it’s undated, but from the appearance of the smiling lady on the front it definitely has a 1930s feeling; it’s pictured on the Be-Ro website, with a deep red cover.

These little tarts are a beautiful example of how the simplest ingredients can be given a subtle twist and appeal by both their appearance and the ease with which they are whipped up. In essence, these are a Bakewell Tart with cream, but a little tweak turns them into sweet ‘oysters’.

I’m not a fan of almond flavouring, so I’ve used lemon zest to brighten the almond sponge and used a seedless blackcurrant jam inside. Adding the jam after baking (unlike the method for Bakewell Tarts) circumvents cooking the jam for a second time, and so it retains its brightness of flavour as well as colour. The pastry is crisp and dry and a perfect contrast against the moist filling. I’ve opted for an unsweetened pastry, but feel free to use a sweetened one if you prefer.

You could customise these tarts by swapping the ground almonds for almost any other nut, and matching the jam accordingly. Here are a few that occurred to me.

  • Almond with orange zest, and orange curd as the filling.
  • Coconut and lime curd, with a little lime zest in the filling.
  • Hazelnuts or pecans, with a praline paste or Nutella in the filling.
  • Walnut and a little coffee icing.

Have fun with them!

Oyster Tarts

Pastry
60g cornflour
225g plain flour
140g butter
ice-cold water

Filling
70g unsalted butter, softened
70g caster sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1 small lemon
85g ground almonds

To serve
200g cream cheese
200ml whipping cream
1tsp vanilla extract
1-2tbs icing sugar, plus more to sprinkle
120g sharp jam

  • Put all the pastry ingredients except for the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Gradually add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Knead smooth, then roll out thinly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge to relax.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Beat the butter and sugar for the filling until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes to get as much air into the mix as possible.
  • Add the egg and whisk in thoroughly.
  • Fold in the lemon zest and ground almonds.
  • Grease a 12-hole shallow tart tin.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut out 12 circles. Line the prepared tin with the pastry.Add about a tablespoon of filling to each tart. I use a small ice-cream scoop but 2 spoons will also work.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the tin around after 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.
  • Transfer the cooked tarts onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
  • Whisk the cream cheese, vanilla and cream together until firm. Gently stir through a little icing sugar to slightly sweeten.
  • When the tarts have cooled, slice off the top of the filling with a sharp knife and set aside.
  • Add a teaspoon of jam and either spoon or pipe a little of the cream mixture into each tart.
  • Set the ‘lids’ back on the tarts at a jaunty angle, so as to appear like a half-opened oyster.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Bacon and Egg Pies

Sometimes the best-tasting food is also the simplest. This recipe was yet another from one of my many dusty W.I.pamphlets from the mid 20th century. It was so brief it barely qualified as a paragraph, let alone a recipe, so I’ve added some detail below to help things along. In essence, you can count the number of ingredients in this pie on one hand: pastry, egg, bacon, seasoning. The pie in the picture above also contains diced tomato, which I thought would add freshness; it did to a certain extent, but not to the degree I was hoping, and in fact, the ‘plain’ bacon and egg pie was tastier. Alas, my cross-section photo for this pie (see below) wasn’t as visually arresting as the one above, so I decided to lure you with the picture above, then set the record straight. You can choose whichever version appeals most.

Bacon and Egg Pie
Also, I’ve mentioned them before, but I just LOVE my small cake/tart tins I found at my local The Range (4 x 10cm diameter pans for £2.50). They have a small lip on the side, which makes them great for tarts or, in this case, for firmly attaching the pastry lids of pies. This is not a paid endorsement – I just think they are a bargain and am sharing.

You can be as pro-active or as lazy as you like with these pies – make everything from scratch or buy it in if you’re pressed for time. Personally, I like to hover, metaphorically, between the two: make the pastry for the base, but buy a sheet of ready rolled puff pastry for the top, on account of life too short etc. The cornflour shortcrust is dry and crisp, and the buttery, flaky, puff pastry is both delicious and a fantastic contrast. Once the pans are lined, sprinkle over a little cooked bacon, crack in a whole egg and add the lid and you’re done!

OK, yes, you should add a sprinkling of fresh parsley too.

And pepper. Of course pepper.

Well OBVIOUSLY crimping the edges is a good idea.

And it goes without saying that egg-yolk wash will give both colour and shine.

I’ll come in again.

AMONGST OUR WEAPONRY are such diverse elements as….

Oops! Wrong sketch.[1]

Once the pans are lined, sprinkle over a little cooked bacon and some fresh parsley, season with black pepper, crack in a whole egg, a little more parsley and pepper, add the lid, crimp the pastry edges, wash over with beaten egg and you’re DONE!

The quantities are up to you and however many you’re catering for. The suggestions below are for 4 individual pies. Any excess pastry, of either sort, can be frozen for later, as can the cooked pies, for up to a month.

Bacon and Egg Pies

1 batch cornflour shortcrust – scroll down on this page
1 sheet of puff pastry
100g lean bacon
4 large eggs
4-6 tablespoons of chopped, fresh parsley
coarse-ground black pepper
4 tomatoes – skinned, de-seeded and diced finely – optional

1 large yolk – for glazing

  • Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • Roll out the shortcrust pastry to a thickness of 5mm.
  • Grease and line your tart tins with the shortcrust pastry, making sure to ease the pastry into the bottom edge of the pan, not stretch it. Leave excess pastry hanging over the sides of the tin and chill in the fridge until required.
  • Chop the bacon into small dice and cook until just done. No browning. Drain on kitchen roll.
  • Remove pies from fridge.
  • Scatter the bacon in the bottom of the pies.
  • Add a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a little back pepper. No need for salt, as the bacon is salty enough. Add the tomatoes if using.
  • Crack an egg into each pie. If you want the yolk to be dead centre, you could clear a space amongst the bacon, but it’s not really necessary.
  • Add more parsley and black pepper.
  • Cut four squares of puff pastry, large enough to cover the pies.
  • Brush the rims of the pies with water then lay over the puff pastry squares.
  • Press firmly around the edges, then trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife.
  • Crimp the edges of the pies for a decorative effect.
  • Whisk the yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush the pie tops liberally.
  • Cut three or four small vent holes, NOT in the middle – you don’t want to break the yolk inside.
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is puffed and golden and the underside crisp.
  • Enjoy hot, warm or cold.

[1] NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Least of all my husband who read all of the above with a blank expression then said “I don’t get it.” *sigh*

Radnor Cranberry Tart

If you have an extended social life in the run-up to Christmas, and sample nothing but mince pies throughout December, by the time you get to the 25th, what with the Christmas Cake and Christmas Pudding, you can be all mince-pied out.

Also, sometimes you find yourself fancying something a little savoury at the end of a meal, and this is why this recipe is perfect. It’s simple and straightforward – just two main ingredients of fresh cranberries and juicy raisins. The raisins take the edge off the sometimes eye-popping sharpness of the cranberries and the little dash of vanilla also gives the aroma of sweetness, so only the merest sprinkle of sugar is required. It’s festively reminiscent enough of a mince pie to deserve a place on the table, its fresh-tasting, palate-cleansing, sweet but not too sweet, can be served hot or cold, but ALWAYS with a slice of cheese. I’m thinking some vintage cheddar, crumbly white Cheshire or even one of the fruited cheeses – white Stilton and apricot anyone?

It is a traditional (Welsh) border tart, ideal for Christmas – just look at that glorious colour! The original 1930s recipe in Mrs Arthur Webb’s Farmhouse Cookery didn’t specify any particular pastry, so I’m taking the opportunity to offer for your delectation and amusement, a new pastry recipe! Yes, I know I love the cornflour pastry – and I really do, both sweet and savoury versions – but I can’t resist something that has the potential to add a new arrow to my pastry quiver, as it were, and in this case, I’m really glad that I did.

It’s Eliza Acton’s 1845 recipe for cream pastry and it has my seal of approval for several reasons:

  • Simplicity – in its basic form, it can be whisked together with just two ingredients.
  • Taste – when baked, it is crisp and dry, without any hint of greasiness or stodginess.
  • It can be enriched with butter, but at a ratio of just 1/4 fat-to-flour, it is not as indulgent as it tastes. When enriched with butter, the texture is moving towards the flakiness of flaky pastry, yet with the ‘dryness’ and crispness of the cornflour pastry – Nom!
  • And on the practical side, it handles and rolls really nicely.

You can, of course, use your own favourite pastry instead.

Radnor Cranberry Tart

Eliza Acton’s Cream Pastry
This quantity makes enough for a 20cm pie.

225g plain flour
0.5tsp salt
300-450ml double cream
56g butter

  • Put the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor.
  • With the motor running, gradually add in the cream, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together.
  • Tip the mixture out and knead until smooth.
  • Roll out the pastry into a long rectangle.
  • Using the same method as for Flaky Pastry, dot over half the butter.
  • Fold the ends over, turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat.
  • Roll out one last time, and fold the ends inwards.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Make the filling (see below).
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut into 2 pieces (2/3 + 1/3 is about right).
  • Roll out the large piece and use it to line a greased, 20cm loose bottomed tart tin. Ease the pastry into the sides, rather than just stretching it by pressing down too hard. Leave the excess hanging over the edge of the tin.
  • Roll out the smaller piece of pastry to make the lid, and lay it onto a cutting board.
  • Chill both pieces of pastry in the fridge for 20 minutes. This will make sure it is relaxed and less prone to shrinkage in the oven.
  • By this time, the filling should be cool enough to use.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the two lots of pastry from the fridge.
  • Fill the lined tin with the cooled filling and smooth over.
  • Using a pastry brush, wet the edges of the pastry, then lay the lid across the top and press the edges together.
  • Trim off the excess using the back of a knife.
  • Crimp the edges to your liking – I used the tines of a fork to make for a good seal.
  • Brush the surface of the tart with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  • Cut a steam vent in the middle of the pastry lid using a sharp knife.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden brown.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool, if not serving warm.
  • Serve with a nice wedge of cheese.

Filling
450g fresh cranberries
225g raisins
30g sugar
60ml cold water
0.5tsp vanilla extract

  • Rinse the cranberries and put them in a pan with the raisins, sugar and water.
  • Cover and warm on a low heat until the mixture comes to the boil and you can hear the cranberries starting to pop.
  • Simmer for just five minutes, then turn off the heat.
  • Taste to make sure of the sweetness, but remember, this is not supposed to be a really sweet tart, however, it shouldn’t be too sour either. If you think it needs a little more sugar, add it by all means.
  • Stir in the vanilla and leave to cool.