Steak and Kidney Pudding

I enjoyed reading this tweet a few weeks ago:

I feel it’s only fair to warn you: This is an “Okay, so..” post. Click here to skip to the recipe.

This post is in response to a request made over on Time To Cook Online, and I was happy to take a deep dive into this dish because of both its convenience and cheapness. This steak and kidney pudding can be made using a slow cooker and thus uses only a small amount of electricity. It also uses the cheaper cuts of beef (although it can be used with other fillings) as well as (by some) low-regarded and lowly offal. This notwithstanding, it makes for a fantastically satisfying meal that can be ready and waiting for you when you come home from work, with very little to do other than lift it out of the slow cooker and onto a plate. You can also make it ahead and reheat easily, again using the slow cooker.

This recipe goes back a long way, into the Georgian Era of the early nineteenth century, and is a development of the even older Beef Pudding. Contributors to the Wikipedia article on Steak and Kidney pudding rely on Jane Grigson’s assertion that Mrs Beeton was the first to include both steak and kidney in a suet pastry. However, there are at least two recipes in print that pre-date Beeton. One of the quirks of British recipes is that their names are rather fluid, and the same recipe can exist under numerous names. In short, you’re not going to get very far recipe hunting if you only look for ones that bear the same name as modern ones. Differences might be related to geography, or in this case, decades of time.

Anne Cobbett published the following recipe in her (undated, but generally believed to be) 1835-ish book The English Housekeeper.

From The English Housekeeper, Anne Cobbett, 1835-ish.

An even earlier recipe can be found in Alexander Murray’s The Domestic Oracle, also undated, but believed to be around 1826. where the star of the dish would appear to be the kidney, and the steaks almost an afterthought.

From The Domestic Oracle, Alexander Murray, 1826ish.

In the almost two centuries since then, as with any recipe, there have been various tweaks and adjustments made to the basic recipe. Additions that I’ve noted include oysters, oyster sauce, mushrooms, mushroom ketchup (the catsup of Anne Cobbet’s recipe), lemon pickle, mustard, beer, wine.. it really can be whatever you want to make it.

Which brings me to my next point: there are some things you should not skirt, if you want your steak and kidney pudding to taste delicious, and I’m going to take a bit of time to explain what you should do and why you should do it. If you follow these key points, you will have the knowledge to turn out a pretty darn near perfect steak and kidney pudding right from the get-go. In addition, much of it will be adaptable to other, suet pastry puddings, both sweet and savoury. If you’re already impatient to get to the recipe, you can skip ahead by clicking here.

  • Raw or Cooked Filling
    • The Old School way was to put the filling in raw. For the past 50 years or so, people have been following Jane Grigson’s advice to cook the filling first, to stop your pudding becoming soggy. This approach increases both the length of time it takes as well as the Faff Factor™ quite considerably: First you have to cook it, then you cook it again. Well, as will be demonstrated below, if you take a little care with your preparation, there’s no danger of your pudding becoming soggy, so sorry Jane Grigson, we’re going to cut out about two hours of fiddling around on the stove, and fill the pies raw.
  • The Suet Pastry: As with baked pastry crusts, people gradually realised that it didn’t need to be just an outer casing of food, it tasted pretty darn good too, infused with all the juices from the filling. These are some steps you can take to make sure your suet pastry is the crowning glory of your pudding.
    • Suet: Back in the Dayes of Yore, suet came fresh from the butcher and had to be soaked and then grated by hand. You can still find friendly butchers that will supply you with lumps of fresh suet if you ask, and it really is worth the effort in terms of the texture and flavour of the suet crust it produces. I understand not everyone has the time for such Faff,™ and luckily we have the convenience of packs of suet on the supermarket shelves. The suet in these packs has an amazingly long shelf life, because it differs from fresh suet in that it is dried. Here’s the important point for this and any old recipe you might want to try: you need to use LESS dried suet than usual. Most old suet paste recipes are pretty much ‘half fat to flour’, which is fine if you’re using fresh suet, but when using dried, it can make the pastry heavy. So when using dried suet, you should aim to use about 10% less. For example, if a recipe called for 225g of flour, I would use 115g of fresh suet, or just 100g of dried.
    • Baking powder: The original suet pastry would have been rather heavy, but with the advent of baking powder, it can now puff up to a delightfully light texture. The general rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of baking powder for every 115g flour.
    • Breadcrumbs: You can also lighten the pastry further by incorporating some fresh breadcrumbs into your suet pastry. Again, it is proportional to your flour, so 1 part breadcrumbs to 4 parts flour (divide the weight of your flour by 4 and that’s the weight of the breadcrumbs to use).
    • Seasoning: You don’t want your suet pastry to be a lump of nothingness, so season it! The very minimum should be salt and pepper. If you’re feeling bold, add in some chopped, fresh herbs, or a bit of mustard powder or horseradish – something to give it a bit of personality.
  • The Meat – Beef
    • For all its high-falutin’ title, the very best beef for this pudding is not going to be steak. At least, not STEAK steak. You should actually pick one of the less-prime cuts, ones that are full of flavour and do well with long, slow cooking. I recommend beef cheek, if you can find it (Morrisons supermarket in the UK has an excellent meat department and has always had it in stock whenever I’ve needed some). Also excellent is beef skirt (also carried by Morrisons). Although I haven’t tried it, beef shin is another cut that benefits from long, slow cooking. Finally you could try hangar and/or flat-iron steak, both of which have the marbling to make for a very succulent filling. Cut your meat into 1.5cm dice, so they can be packed tightly into your puddings and be perfectly cooked at serving time.
  • The Meat – Kidneys
    • I appreciate that offal is very divisive, but it tends to be cheap and it is packed with valuable vitamins and nutrients. Even within the offal world, kidneys are somewhat niche. And having researched numerous recipes to prepare for this post, I can understand why people might be kidney averse, or even be in the ‘tried it once, hated it’ camp. Because I was horrified to discover that the majority of recipes fail to prepare the kidneys properly. Everyone is very gung-ho with chopping them up and throwing them in, and I am APPALLED. There are two important stages to preparing kidneys:
      • Removing the core. The core is the hard, white ‘business part’ of kidneys and should be cut away completely. It’s not nice to chew and it never gets soft, even with extended cooking. Cut the trimmed meat into 1.5cm pieces.
      • Soaking the kidney. THIS IS IMPORTANT! The function of kidneys is to filter out the waste products from the blood and send them, and excess water to the bladder. If you don’t soak the kidney in acidulated water or similar (which will draw out the bad-tasting waste products), then they will still be full of all those waste products. That’s going to make the kidney, and everything it’s cooked with, rather ‘funky’ to say the least. Now some people might like that flavour, but for those that think they hate kidney, they probably ate a dish where the kidneys had not been soaked prior to cooking. To soak your kidney, put them in a bowl of cold water to cover, with a teaspoon of salt and the juice of half a lemon (or 2 tablespoons of vinegar) added. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place it in the fridge for 2 hours, after which drain and discard the soaking liquid and pat the meat dry with kitchen paper.
  • Flouring The Meats
    • When cooking your pudding using a raw filling, you don’t want your pudding to become soggy during cooking, so it is advisable to toss your meats in seasoned flour beforehand, so the flour can act as a thickening agent for all the juices released during cooking. What is lacking in all the recipes I’ve read is the important point that THIS SHOULD BE CORNFLOUR. This is because cornflour doesn’t stick to itself, and consequently, unike regular flour, it doesn’t clump, so there’s only ever a very light covering on the meats and no lumps. In addition, cooked cornflour is transparent, which makes for a wonderfully clear gravy inside your pudding.
  • Gravy:
    • With your puddings properly sealed, the juices from the meats (and vegetables if using) will mingle together to keep it moist. But they will need a little help. You can choose to add water to your puddings, but the better choice is to use beef stock. I use a beef-flavoured stock cube (actually it’s a pot of jelly-like stuff) to make some double strength stock, and add in a splash or two of Worcester Sauce. You can also use beer or wine instead, which can be nice but also something of a hit-and miss in that you need to guesstimate how much to put in at the very start, instead of tasting and adjusting as you go.
    • You should also have some gravy ready to serve with the meal, either on the side or to pour directly into your puddings. Raw ingredients shrink during cooking, so there will always be a gap between filling and the top of the pudding, whatever the size.
  • Add-Ins
    • As mentioned above, there are lots of little tweaks you can do to both the pastry and the filling to jazz it up. Onions are mentioned by many of the old recipes, but are only recommended in very small quantities. They don’t break down during the cooking, which some might find noticeable pieces of onion off-putting. I recommend using onion powder/granules instead, which give the flavour without distracting from the richness of the meat filling. Carrots are another popular choice, but with a raw filling, you have to either dice them rather small, or add in already cooked carrots and run the risk of them turning to mush. Personally, I’m a bit of a purist, and believe the filling should be richly and unapologetically meaty. Perfectly cooked vegetables can be served on the side. However, as can just be made out in the photos, I have taken Dorothy Hartley’s advice and added some black-gilled mushrooms to the mix. Mushrooms have a complementary ‘meaty’ texture and their juices make a flavoursome addition to the gravy, as well as darkening it to a rich brown.
  • Buttering Your Bowls
    • This is what is going to make your puddings turn out beautifully. Use REALLY softened butter and a pastry brush to paint it on. The secret to the beautiful golden colour of the suet crust in the pictures above and below? Butter and a long slow cook in the slow cooker. Taking care to ensure every part of the inside of the bowl is buttered, will ensure a perfect pudding turnout every time.
  • Covering Your Bowls
    • The water in your slow cooker needs to come at least 3/4 of the way up your bowl(s). It never boils furiously, so there’s no danger of the water splashing over the top of the bowls. The main reason for covering your puddings is to protect from the drip of condensation from the lid. Before the advent of the pudding bowl, steamed puddings used to be covered with a floured pudding cloth, but the modern method of greased and pleated parchment and foil works very well.
  • Cooking Your Puddings Long Enough
    • This is probably the main reason things go wrong with steamed puddings, sweet or savoury. All of the old recipes suggest puddings be cooked for many hours, simmering in water which must be constantly topped up to ensure the puddings don’t boil dry. Five hours is a time frequently mentioned. Using a slow cooker has the advantage of being able to, literally, set it and forget it. No need to constantly monitor the water, as the lid keeps it all inside. No need to top up or check if it’s boiling dry. It is very difficult to overcook a suet pudding in the slow cooker. What is very easy to do, is under-cook a pudding. In her column “How To Cook The Perfect Steak and Kidney Pudding”, Felicity Cloake had little complimentary to say of Constance Spry’s cook-from-raw recipe, “The raw beef … comes out gloopy with flour, and tough as a Victorian boarding school”. In Constance’s defence, she did specify beefsteak and stewing steak had been used instead, but in my opinion the main problem was probably cook time. I trialled cooking these puddings in the slow cooker on both High and Low heat settings using raw ingredients. On High, they take 5 hours – not too bad if you’re at home all day, but not really helpful in terms of having a meal ready when you get in from work. On Low I tested puddings with cooking times of 8 hours and 10 hours. Both ended up with golden fluffy pastry and meltingly cooked filling. So provided you can get up early enough to assemble your puddings and get them cooking before you leave for work, they can be ready for supper at the end of a long day. The only suggestion I would make would be to have lots of extra gravy to hand if you’re cooking your puddings 8+ hours.

Last thing I want to have a little rant about in this marathon of a blog post, is the falsehoods I found being perpetrated ‘out there’ with respect to photographs of steak and kidney puddings. The images being posted were frequently not of the recipe they appear alongside. The worst example I found was of a photograph that has been on the internet since 2009 being posted alongside a recipe from 2022. Also, do not be deceived into thinking if you cut a wedge out of your steak and kidney pudding, the meat will tumble artfully onto the plate like many of these pictures suggest. If it does, it will leave your crust rather empty. What it will also do is ruin the structural integrity of your pudding and, if it is undercooked, cause its slow and heartbreaking collapse into a heap on the plate. Setting aside the very insipid colour of some of the pastry, even if the photo is of the actual recipe, it will have been staged for maximum eye appeal, and probably had extra filling added in order to make the image seem plentiful. I am puzzled, for example, how all this filling fit inside this pudding? If your pastry is no oil painting, do not despair, you can always drown it with the gravy (that this recipe doesn’t even tell you how to make).

So in light of these criticisms, I feel compelled to admit to the shenanigans I’ve employed in the pictures on this post. This image is from another of the test puddings, made on a different day (hence the different lighting) in a slightly smaller bowl to the one in the top picture. The ‘manipulations’ I have used include removing the top of the pudding pastry to reveal the filling, and adding in some extra gravy to increase the eye appeal. No extra filling was added and this pudding is absolutely made from the recipe below.

Steak and Kidney Pudding


These quantities are sufficient for two generous puddings in bowls of diameter 12cm. You can also put everything into a large bowl and use the longer of the cooking times. You can also increase the quantities to suit your needs. As a general guide, you need 100g beef, 40g kidney, 1 large, flat mushroom per person, but you can adjust these ratios to your liking.

For the filling:
200g beef cheek/skirt/hangar/flatiron steak, in 1.5cm pieces
80g prepared and soaked beef/ox kidney (see above), in 1.5cm pieces
2 large, dark-gilled mushrooms, chopped into 1.5cm pieces
60g cornflour
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp onion powder/granules
250ml strong beef stock
2-3tsp Worcester Sauce (optional)

For the pastry:
340g plain flour
3tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
150g dried suet (170g fresh)
85g fresh breadcrumbs

softened butter to grease the bowls

  • Butter your pudding bowls generously.
  • Tear off and butter 2 pieces of parchment to cover your puddings. The butter will help brown the pastry, and keep it from sticking. Fold a pleat across the middle of each. Set aside.
  • Tear off two pieces of foil to cover your puddings. Fold a pleat across the middle of each. Set aside.
  • Cut lengths of string to tie around the foil to keep it in place. Set aside.
  • Mix all the ingredients for the pastry.
  • Add cold water and stir gently until the mixture comes together into a soft dough.
  • Divide the dough into two. Cut off a small piece of dough to make the lid.
  • The dough is too soft to warrant using a rolling pin. Pat out the larger pieces of dough on a floured surface until about 1cm thick. Lift the dough and drop it gently into each bowl, allowing about 3cm to hang over the rim of the bowls. Be sure to patch any holes that form with extra pastry. The pastry must be ‘watertight’ to keep all the gravy from leaking out.
  • Pat out the smaller pieces of dough until 1cm thick and set aside.
  • Mix the cornflour, salt, pepper and onion powder together.
  • Toss the pieces of kidney in the seasoned cornflour . Remove any excess cornflour by tossing the pieces in a sieve over the bow. Set aside.
  • Repeat for the pieces of beef, including tossing the coated pieces in the sieve (you may need to work in batches).
  • Layer the beef, kidney and chopped mushroom until the bowls are full. The filling can be a little higher than the edge if necessary.
  • Add the Worcester sauce to the stock if using, and then pour into the puddings until the liquid is just visible below the top layer of meat.
  • Lay on the pastry lid and moisten the edges with water.
  • Fold the excess pastry over onto the lid and use a fork to seal the edges well.
  • Cover the tops of the puddings with the buttered parchment, butter side downwards.
  • Cover the parchment with foil and press closely to the sides of each bowl.
  • Tie string just under the rim of the bowls to keep the parchment/foil in place.
  • Turn your slow cooker to High or Low, depending on your schedule.
  • Place your puddings into the slow cooker.
  • Boil some water and pour carefully into the slow cooker, until the water level is ¾ of the way up the sides of the bowls.
  • Cover with the lid and cook according to your needs. On High, the puddings will take about 5 hours. On Low, they will be done in 8 hours, but can go as long as 10 hours with no deterioration in quality.
  • To serve, switch off the slow cooker and remove the puddings from the water. I find a long-handled skimmer/strainer spoon useful.
  • Cut the strings and remove the foil and parchment.
  • Place your serving dish/bowl over the puddings and turn over.
  • Lift off the bowls.
  • Serve as is with extra gravy and freshly cooked vegetables on the side, or cut the tops off the puddings and stir in some gravy to moisten before serving.
  • You can reheat the puddings by wrapping in foil (to keep from drying out) and putting into a 170°C, 150°C Fan oven, or, if using ceramic bowls, in the microwave. Alternately, keep the parchment and foil on from the original cooking, and reheat in hot water in the slow cooker on High.
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Plough Monday Pudding

In times past, when secular life intertwined much more with the religious, and life was closely linked with the land, Plough Monday was the first Monday after (the) Twelfth Day (of Christmas), the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th. It was supposedly the day when work in the fields resumed for the men with spring ploughing and is a tradition that stretches back centuries. It is mentioned in the writings of Thomas Tusser in 1580:

“Plough Munday, next after that Twelf-tide is past,
Bids out with the Plough; the worst husband is last:
If Plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skrene,
Maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen:”

An explanation of these lines is provided by Daniel Hilman in 1710 (in his publication Tusser Redivivus) as follows:

“After Christmas (which formerly, during the twelve days, was a time of very little work) every gentleman feasted the farmers, and every farmer their servants and task men. Plough Monday puts them in mind of their business. In the morning the men and the maid servants strive who shall show their diligence in rising earliest. If the ploughman can get his whip, his plough-staff, hatchet, or anything that he wants in the field, by the fire-side, before the maid hath got her kettle on, then the maid loseth her Shrove-tide cock[¹], and it wholly belongs to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On this Plough Monday they have a good supper and some strong drink.”

Despite the mention of ‘a good supper’, I’ve been unable to find any mention of precisely what this consisted of, and most recipes for Plough Monday Pudding, or just Plough Pudding date no further back than the mid 20th century.

In December, 1960, Folklore magazine published[²] the following recipe that had appeared in The Times newspaper on the 8th August of that year. Although titled ‘Plough Pudding’ the introductionry paragraph indicated it was a recipe to be found in Sussex farmhouses.

Subsequent versions all appear to be based on this recipe. Mary Norwak’s 1979 version[³] (below) made the very practical change of transferring the cooking vessel from a cloth to a bowl, and was ascribed to Norfolk. Mary Norwak lived in rural Norfolk, so perhaps this was a nod to her home county. She also quadruples the amount of sausage meat to make a very substantial pudding indeed.

Norfolk Plough Pudding

By the time her English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury was published in 1981, she has adjusted her recipe to reduce the cooking time to three hours and included some stock in the filling, for added moisture. She also comments “Some Plough Puddings are suet rolls wrapped around bacon rashers with onions, sage, pepper and a little black treacle.”[4]

Norfolk Plough Pudding

All other recipes appear to be variations of Mary Norwak’s, although few acknowledge it. The one exception I managed to find was in the Archers’ Country Kitchen by Angela Piper[5].  This version uses cold roast beef, presumably the remains of the Sunday roast and nothing like the original: sausagemeat and bacon being a much more believable stout yeoman’s supper than prime beef.

Plough Monday Pudding

This recipe is also far from perfect in the method, in my opinion. The instructions for using a pudding cloth lack essential details (should be scalded and floured, to prevent the pudding from sticking), the illustration clearly shows a lidless saucepan, which no-one in their right mind would use to cook a STEAMED pudding, and the pan itself is on what appears to be a professional chef’s griddle rather than something more believable for a farmhouse dish. We’ll draw a discrete veil over the ‘pink beef gravy’ serving suggeston, as this page is the only one in the book which mentions it, so it will be forever a mystery.

ANYHOO…

Plough Monday Pudding 2021

My version of Plough Monday Pudding is yet another adaptation, this time for individual steamed puddings. My version also includes an alternative cooking method: the slow cooker. The great danger with the long steaming a suet pudding requires is the need to ensure the water doesn’t boil dry. Honestly, I find it rather stressful. Enter the slow cooker, where you can leave your pudding blissfully unattended, secure in the knowledge that the water will remain largely unevaporated from the moment you switch it on, to the time you haul out your golden delights.

It’s actually better than the traditional method. In support of this statement, I’d like to offer the following photograph:

Slow cooker vs steamed.

The pudding on the left was cooked for 4 hours in the slow cooker on High. The pudding on the right was steamed for 2 hours. Both are fully cooked, but the longer, slower approach of the slow cooker makes for a richer, more golden crust. Another option is to cook on Low for 8 hours – perfect to come home to on a cold, winter’s night.

Don’t think you HAVE to cook your Plough Monday Pudding in individual dishes, or indeed in traditionally-shaped bowls. I have acquired a number of Victorian and later jelly moulds, which sadly sit unused for weeks at a time. Although the pastry needs care to ensure it nestles in all the nooks and crannies of the mould, the result is delightfully grand. Best of all, it can sit quite happily for up to 12 hours in the slow cooker on Low.

Jelly-mould Plough Pudding
Jelly-mould Plough Monday Pudding

Plough Monday Pudding

You can choose any of the above recipes, or follow mine below. I have cherry-picked from all.

For 4 individual puddings or 1 large one.

250g self-raising flour
125g suet
½tsp salt
melted butter for the moulds
1 pork sausage per individual pudding, or 6 for a large one.
2 large onions, chopped finely
125g lean bacon, chopped finely
2tbs chopped fresh sage or 1tbs dried
150ml chicken stock
1tbs treacle

  • Mix  the flour, suet and salt together and add sufficient cold water to bring it together in a soft dough.
  • Grease your pudding moulds well with the melted butter.
  • For individual puddings, divide the pastry into 4 and roll out and line your dishes. Let the excess pastry hang over the edge until your puddings are filled. If you’re making a large pudding, cut off 1/4 of the dough for the lid and roll the rest and line your mould.
  • Remove the sausage skins. For each individual pudding, roll one sausage between clingfilm to about 5mm thickness. Line the pastry in the moulds with the sausage meat. For the large mould, you can press the sausagemeat in by hand, or roll them out and ‘patchwork’ it in.
  • Mix the chopped onion and bacon and add the sage and black pepper.
  • Spoon the onion mixture into the middle of your puddings.
  • Press down gently but firmly. You don’t want to be too rough, because you might tear the pastry, but the filling needs to be firmly packed to give structural integrity when they are turned out, and the raw onion will soften and shrink during cooking.
  • Add the treacle to the stock and heat gently until the treacle melts in.
  • Spoon the dark brown stock into your puddings, allowing time for it to seep down into the gaps, until you can see liquid level with the top of your filling. It should be 2-3 tablespoons for each individual pudding.
  • Cover the ‘top’ of your puddings. You needen’t be too precious about this, because when the puddings are turned out, this ‘top’ will be hidden underneath. For the small ones, fold over the excess pastry from the sides, and use water to moisten and seal the edges. For the large pudding, roll out the reserved pastry to size and again, use water to moisten and seal the edges.
  • Tear off some parchment for each pudding. Brush the underside with melted butter and make a large, single pleat in the parchment, then press on top of your puddings. Repeat with some foil. The pleat will allow the pastry to expand as it cooks, without running the risk of the foil tearing and allowing water to get in. Press the foil closely around the  pudding basin to keep both parchment and foil in place.
  • For ease of lifting from the hot water at the end of cooking, you might want to tie string around the edge of the foil and create a loop over the top to grab onto.
  • Put your puddings into your slow cooker, ensuring there is space around them for the water to circulate.
  • Add sufficient water to the cooker to come ¾ of the way up the bowls/mould.
  • Turn the heat to High for 4 hours, or Low for 8 hours.
  • When ready to serve, lift the puddings from the cooker and set on a towel to drain and rest for 10 minutes.
  • Turn the puddings out and serve with either a hot tomato sauce (Norwak 1979) or gravy (Norwak, 1981).
  • Top Tip: If your puddings are looking a bit anaemic, you can brush them with melted butter and set into a 200°C, 180°C Fan oven for 5-15 minutes (depending on size), to give them a bit of colour.
Beef and onion Plough Monday Pudding
Beef and onion Plough Monday Pudding

Top Tip: If you’re making the version of the pudding using cooked beef, toss your diced beef in cornflour before mixing with the onion. It will thicken the stock, stop your pudding becoming waterlogged and help hold it together when turned out.

 

[¹] It was a tradition that the local lord gave a gift of a cock hen to the woman of the house at Shrovetide. The Plough Monday friendly competition was a race to see who could get up earliest on that day, and either have their work implements ready (men) or have water on to boil (women). The winner received the prized chicken for that year.

[²] Folklore, Vol. 71, No. 4 (Dec., 1960), p262. All thanks to Dr Annie Gray for helping me get my hands on this article.

[³] The Farmhouse Kitchen, Mary Norwak, (1979), Warwick Press, p49.

[4] English Puddings: Sweet and Savoury, Mary Norwak, (1981), London : Batsford, p109

[5] Archers’ Country Kitchen, Angela Piper, (2011) Newton Abbot : David & Charles, p84

 

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.

Mincemeat a la Royale

This recipe dating from 1900 sits right on the cusp of the centuries and comes from the pastry manual “Savoury Pastry” written by Frederick T. Vine.

I have a bit of a thing for Mr Vine and his manuals. Written for the bakery trade, they are packed with recipes for the variations and huge range of goods that made Victorian bakeries so amazing. Mr Vine also published books on ‘Practical Pastry’, cakes, biscuits, ‘Saleable Shop Goods’ (covering a range of small items), Christmas puddings and bread.

A little trouble needs to be taken in order to scale down the recipes to a more manageable domestic size (the original size of this batch was over 120kg), but it is well worth it in terms of flavour as well as delight in the sheer number of (to our 21st century eyes) innovative and unique baked goods.

Here’s the thing, though.

This traditional mincemeat contains meat.

Stop! Wait! Come back!

I thought it best to be up front about it, because I can then explain why I can thoroughly recommend you try it.

You don’t taste the meat. Well, actually you do, but you don’t realise that you do. It’s an underlying umami taste that makes the whole flavour experience much richer, deeper and just generally bigger. Can you honestly see the meat in the above photograph? No, I can’t either – and I made it!

Having read probably close to a hundred mincemeat recipes spanning five centuries of books and manuscripts, I feel confident in stating that, overwhelmingly, the best meat for mince pies, according to the recipe writers and my own taste testing, is ox-tongue. But I appreciate that that is a bit ‘full on’ for the meaty mincemeat novice, so I have chosen this recipe as a ‘gateway recipe’ to all the wonderful savoury-sweetness that traditional mincemeat recipes hold.

The recipe calls for lean beef. Some recipes I have read suggest that this should be beef fillet, but personally, I think that too extravagant, so my recommendation is for beef skirt, as it’s widely available, lean and economical.

Another reason why I like this recipe is the use of a couple of ingredients that don’t usually get included in modern recipes.

Mincemeat a la Royale

Makes approx. 1.5kg, enough for 36 individual mince pies. Be sure to read the ingredient notes at the bottom of the post.

140g beef skirt
170g fresh suet [1]
265g sharp apples
112g raisins
190g currants
95g sultanas
95g raw sugar [2]
60g citron peel
70g preserved ginger
50g glace fruits [3]
50g candied orange peel
50g candied lemon peel
25g brandied cherries [4]
25g chopped almonds
½ lemon – zest and juice
3tbs/45ml brandy
2tbs/30ml sherry
1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, allspice, ginger, salt

  • Trim any fat/silverskin from the meat and cut into 1cm cubes. The aim for mincemeat is for everything to be roughly the same size. Small, but not so small that it goes to a mush. The meat will shrink as it cooks.
  • Cut the suet into 5mm cubes (obviously skip this step if using dried).
  • Peel, core and cut the apples into 1cm dice.
  • Leave the dried fruit whole, unless, for example, the raisins are very large, in which case cut them in half.
  • Cut the preserved fruit and peel into small dice (5-10mm).
  • Mix everything, including the liquids and spices, together thoroughly.
  • Check the seasoning by heating some in a pan or by zapping in the microwave until the suet has melted, and tasting. Add more spices/salt/alcohol as you think fit.
  • Keep in an airtight container in the fridge until required.

 

 

[1] If you can’t get fresh suet, dried is absolutely fine. Atora is the main brand in the UK. NB If using dried, reduce the weight to 120g.

[2] Not 100% sure what Mr Vine means here, so since I had some in the cupboard, I used jaggery. Soft, light-brown or light muscovado is also fine.

[3] Don’t splurge on expensive boxes of preserved fruits just for 50g for this recipe, use a mix of any sweetened and dried fruit you have to hand – glace cherries, pineapple, mango, etc.

[4] I didn’t have any of these, and couldn’t find any in the supermarket, so I used dried cherries and soaked them in brandy. Verr’ nishe. *hic!*.