I first came across the beef pasty during my year in England, Brighton to be exact. As a poor Masters student, I survived on my own cooking, lots of sandwiches and salads. And the very tasty beef pasty. There was a pasty shop a few minutes’ walk from the international students’ housing – here I have to add that this was one of the attractions of Sussex University – its international graduate students were housed in a block of apartments across the beach. As in a hop skip and a jump to the pebbly beach and freezing water, and just down the beach was Brighton Pier and all. I woke up every morning to seagulls and the smell of the sea. And walked along the beach almost every day. It even snowed twice when I was there. And the sight of a snow-covered beach is something else altogether!
Ok meandering memories aside, I fell for the pasty. It was cheap(ish), filling and hearty, and very convenient!
(Interestingly the Husband (then The Boyfriend) and I also came across pasties when we drove from Champaign-Urbana where he was studying* to Mackinac Island in Upper Peninsula Michigan. According to this website, Cornish miners brought it to Michigan when they went to work in the copper mines there!)
My Mum and I have made this recipe from Rachel Allen’s Bake before (she bought me the book!), although we’ve had to tweak it a bit as I find her recipes lacking in salt (her pastry dough calls for a “pinch” of salt – I’m not very good with ‘pinches’ and would really prefer things measured in teaspoon or grams!). But this is the first time we’ve made a spicy version! Kind of like a beef curry puff I suppose (although curry puff aficionados in Singapore will snort in derision).
I’m copying and pasting her recipe below, also available online. We followed her hot water crust pastry quite exactly, making a double portion of it, as we had 1 pound of beef to use up. I felt that the dough was too soft though, so I’ll try to find another recipe for hot water crust pastry the next time I make this!
With the filling, instead of coriander seeds and cumin seeds and mint, we used a mixture of spices at hand, such as a bit of all-spice and a Everyday Seasoning mix from Trader Joe’s that I use regularly. Nothing too strong as this non-spicy version was for the kids. I didn’t have mint so we substituted coriander leaves instead. And added corn kernels as well as the peas.
My Mum decided to also make a spicy pasty, using the other half of the pound of ground beef. We added to that two small parboiled potatoes, in small cubes, and some chillies, these were really spicy little chillies, so the seeds had to be removed first, then chopped fine. Also added to the mixture was one shallot chopped fine and plenty of coriander leaves and a bit of the stems too. She also added some garam masala.
(No specific proportions unfortunately, as we aren’t very good at measuring things and it’s more of a taste and see how it goes kind of cooking!)
Instead, here are some other recipes, Singapore/Malaysia-style, that you might want to consider, if you’re into spicy pastries. I am especially fond of spicy sardine puffs and miss eating those!
Hot water crust pastry (Makes 250g) – from Rachel Allen’s Bake
75g butter, cubed
225g plain flour
Pinch of salt (I used about 1/2 tsp)
1 egg, beaten
Place the butter and water in a medium-sized saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, then allow the mixture to come to a rolling boil.
Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg.
Pour the hot liquid into the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to mix. Spread the mixture out on a large plate with the wooden spoon and allow to cool (about 15 minutes), then wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes until firm.
Beef and pea pasty filling – from Rachel Allen’s Bake
2 tbsp olive oil
150g (5oz) onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp finely grated root ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)
200g (7oz) minced beef
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
100g (3 ½ oz) fresh or frozen peas
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425°F), Gas mark 7. Make the pastry.
While the pastry is chilling, make the filling. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan set over a medium heat, add the onions, garlic and ginger, season with salt and pepper and cook until the onions are soft and slightly golden.
Grind the seeds in a mortar with a pestle, then add to the pan with the beef, tomato purée, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes or until the beef is cooked. Add the peas for the last 1–2 minutes of cooking. Add the chopped mint, then season to taste and allow to cool.
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface until it is approximately 2mm (1/16 in) thick. Using a small saucer or something similar, cut the dough into 12cm (4 ½ in) circles.
Lay 1 generous tablespoon of the mixture on one half of the circle and brush the edge of the other half with beaten egg, then fold it over to form a semi-circle. Pinch the edges together to seal, making sure there is no air trapped inside, and mark the edges with a fork. Repeat until all the circles and filling are used up.
Brush the tops with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle of each comes out hot. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Verdict: We LOVED the spicy version! I’m so going to make it again. I think I might try the non-spicy version with some fresh basil and some chopped up bacon or pancetta next time.
Or maybe try this version from The Guardian. Or maybe these mushroom, cheese and potato pasties from Hungry Hinny!
* yes we had a rather long-distance relationship, having met (on a blind date no less!) a few months before we were both going onto graduate studies. Me to England, him to Illinois. Then him to the San Francisco Bay Area, and me back in Singapore. It’s been quite a journey!
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