Wednesday, March 02, 2011

An UnCornish Pasty

My earliest memories of Cornish Pasties comes courtesy of Nana. I was probably 11 or 12, still deeply ingrained in my hated of vegetables phase, and was out in Victoria visiting my grandparents. They had this old 1960's camper van that we took on a day trip to the ocean.

I loved this camper van - to this day, I wish it was mine. It wasn't a huge rv; there weren't any bathrooms in it, and I don't remember there being any running water either. But there were places to sleep! While someone else drove!

Trust me, as a kid who had made the trip from Ottawa to St. John, NB in one day several times, the idea of being able to stretch out and sleep in a van seemed like pure luxury.

I don't remember much about the day other than the camper van and being handed a pastry in the shape of a half moon. Inside the pastry was meat, laced with onions, carrots and peas. These were all things I hated - especially the onions. But, my Nana had made it, and I loved her and saw her so rarely that I didn't want to disappoint her.

As a full disclaimer, you should know that I am terrible with pastry. It's not the recipe. It's me.

Grandparents get a totally different relationship with you than your parents, don't they? Your parents (read: my parents) get the good, the bad and the ugly. Because we lived across the country from my grandparents, it didn't seem right that they got to see the latter two qualities.

So, I ate it.

And I didn't hate it, which, I imagine my parents thought, was a miracle in and of itself.

Years went by without having Cornish Pasties again. My Nana died when I was a young teen, so her recipe has long since been lost. I rather suspect that, like all her recipes, it was never set in stone in the first place. But, when I moved to Japan and started dating the handsome British bloke who would eventually become my husband, I wanted to impress him with something from home.

So I made pasties. They were an absolute disaster. The pastry was rock hard; the filling was flavourless and greasy. Not a winning combination.

Since then, I've attempted several more recipes, each better than the last. The last time I was in England, I forced my husband to join me on a Cornish Pasty taste-testing. We compared 4 different pasties from the 4 different bakeries in Formby (his hometown).

In case you're curious, the winner was from Satterthwaites.

I suppose now that the Cornish pasty has an EU "protected food" designation, I cannot consider any of the pasties I've had to be the authentic Cornish variety. And, based on the recipes I've seen, there's no firm consensus as to what makes a pasty. Even the EU designation leaves a lot of room for interpretation! Should the filling be cooked before going it into the pastry? Should one add herbs? Worcestershire? What exactly does "light seasoning" mean?

I don't have the answers to those questions, but I do have a recipe that tastes good. At the end of the day, I'm shooting for my Nana's recipe, not the EU branded Cornish one.

Cornish Pasties

(adapted from this recipe and this recipe)


300g/10½oz all purpose or bread flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch salt
150g/5oz cold butter (more traditionally, you'd use lard), cut into chunks
cold water, to mix (about 3 tbsp, but you may need more or less given the humidity in your kitchen)


300 g (10 oz) skirt steak or beef stew, cut into small pieces (I made mine about ½" square)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and finely chopped
a healthy dash of Worcestershire (and that looks like about 1 tsp to me)
kosher salt and pepper to taste (I like my pasties heavily seasoned, so take that for what it's worth)
1 tbsp minced parsley (optional)

1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp water


1. [I have the most luck with pastry when I use my food processor - you can do this by hand too.] Blend flour and salt together in food processor. Pulse on and off while adding butter. It's incorporated when it forms small pieces - like breadcrumbs. Add a little water down the chute of the food processor, a tablespoon at a time while continuing to pulse until it just comes together. Turn out mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap. Using your hands, bring the mixture together to form a ball. Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for an hour or so.

2. In a large bowl, mix together beef through parsley.

3. Preheat oven to 325º.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to approximately 3mm thick. Using a small plate as a guide, cut out circles about 6 - 8" in diameter. I had about 4 circles.

5. In a small bowl, mix together egg and water.

6. Divide filling in quarters. Spoon filling into the centre of each pastry circle. Brush edges with beaten egg and water mixture and fold the pastry over the filling to make the distinctive half moon shape. Crimp edges together to seal.

7. Place pasties on greased baking sheet and brush with egg mixture. Place in oven and bake for 55 minutes. If pastry does not brown, crank the heat up to 400º for the last 10 minutes.

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