I’ve never made a pasty (that’s pah-stee) before—let alone a Cornish pasty—so I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Obviously I turned to Paul Hollywood’s recipe for my inspiration, and then browsed a few others to get a sense of possible variations in method and technique. (I had some issues with Paul Hollywood’s GBBO recipe as it appears on BBC.com, so I had to do some research to get clarity. I think the recipe you’ll find below resolves the issues; see the note at the end if you are curious!)
surprise, surprise: there are “rules” about cornish pasties
For any fellow followers of GBBO, it probably won’t come as a surprise that there are rules about Cornish pasties. For one thing, they must contain “swede,” otherwise known as rutabaga, potato, onion, and beef. Salt and pepper. That’s it. The filing must go into the pastry raw…and come out cooked. They should be shaped like semicircles and there should be, traditionally, 20-21 crimps to seal the edge.
a couple more notes before we dive in
The dough, for a classic pasty, needs to be sturdy. That’s because these served as complete portable meals for the miners of Cornwall. Just grab n’ go!
The way you work this dough (and boy, do you work it) seems a bit backwards if you are used to recipes urging you to use a light hand, not to overwork the dough, etc. etc. Those urgings are all fine and well when you are going for a tender crust, but that’s not the endgame here. Remember, Cornish pasties served as portable meals for miners, so the dough had to withstand a bit of rough treatment.
Finally, the pastries in Paul Hollywood’s recipe are also HUGE! (See feature photo above.) He has you roll out the dough into 10-inch circles. After I made two of that size, I decided to adapt the recipe. A 10-inch pastry might be an appropriate meal for a miner laboring away all day, but I have no cause to need a 10-inch pastry for dinner. Half that size seemed about right.
I almost forgot. how did they taste?
The pastry reminded me a little bit of Sophie’s knish, but not quite as good. It is sturdy, a good container for a soft filling, and besides that not particularly remarkable.
The filling is good…I loved the flavor the rutabaga adds, and how soft and juicy the meat and veggies cook up. Overall, these Cornish Pasties are classic, simple, rustic and satisfying. One of my gripes with Paul Hollywood’s recipe was the lack of specificity for some ingredients, like seasoning & butter (“knob of butter,” although charming, isn’t super helpful). I think with some guidance—which we offer from our own experience below!—these would go from “pretty good” to something more spectacular.
makes 4 10-inch pasties, or 8 5-inch pasties
[For the pastry dough]
500 grams (3 2/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 ounces (10 tablespoons) butter, cold and cubed
3/4 cup cold water
1 egg, whisked with a pinch of salt, for the glaze
[For the filling]
12 oz beef skirt or flap steak
12 oz potato (about the size of 1 large russet)
7 oz rutabaga (about 1 medium-sized)
7 oz onion (about 1 medium-sized)
4-8 tablespoons butter (see note)
salt and pepper to taste
Make the pastry dough. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add the cold, cubed butter and cut with a pastry cutter or use your fingers to rub into the flour until the texture is like coarse sand. Add water and stir until it forms a shaggy dough. Dump the contents out onto a clean surface (no need to flour or grease) and begin kneading, stretching the dough by pushing down with the heel of your palm and pushing/smearing it away from you. Gather dough together again into a ball and repeat until you have a smooth, shiny dough, about 5-6 minutes. Don’t be afraid to be rough! When the dough is smooth, form it into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to allow the gluten to relax, about 30-60 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Cut the steak, potato, rutabaga, and onion into small evenly-sized pieces, about 1/2-inch cubes. Toss with salt and pepper to taste. (I used 1 teaspoon of salt and about 10 grinds of fresh paper—it could have used more salt.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line with parchment paper or lightly grease two baking sheets.
Shape the pastries. When the dough is finished resting in the fridge, remove the plastic wrap and divide it equally into 4 pieces if you plan to make 10-inch pastries OR 8 pieces if you plan to make 5-inch pastries. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece of dough into a circle (10-inch diameter for large pastries, or about the size of a dinner plate; 5-inch diameter, or about the size of a salad plate, for smaller pastries.)
Place a scoop of filling on the bottom half of the pastry round. That’s about one heaping cup of filling for large pastries, and half that amount for the smaller pastries. Top the filling with a “knob” of butter (!), which is somewhere between 1/2-1 tablespoon per small pastry (so double that for a big one). I say, the more, the better!
Fold the top half of the pastry over the bottom half, bring the edges in line, and then press down firmly with your finger tips all along the edge to seal. Crimp the edges with the tines of a fork or, for more traditional pasties, use your thumb and forefinger to create the classic 20/21 rope crimp. (there are different ways to do this but here’s a great demo video for one method)
Place the filled and crimped pastry on the prepared baking sheet, and brush with the egg yolk beaten with a pinch of salt. Repeat the rolling/filling/sealing process with remaining pieces of dough.
Bake pastries. Bake the Cornish Pasties in the oven at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, remembering to rotate the pans halfway through to ensure even baking and coloring. Check on the pastries at the 35-minute mark — if they aren’t taking on a nice golden color, then crank up the heat to 350 degrees for the remaining 10 minutes of cooking time.
Serving suggestions: we ate ours like we eat our knish—with mustard and sour cream for dipping—although I’m not sure that’s particularly authentic! Although a “complete” meal in themselves, these pasties would be complimented well by a side of greens.
pastry dough: Paul Hollywood’s recipe calls for a combination of butter and suet/vegetable shortening. I prefer all-butter doughs and so adjusted the recipe accordingly. Likewise, the original recipe doesn’t specify cold butter, and the first step is simply to “combine” ingredients. In my recipe, I opted for the classic pastry approach, cutting cold butter into the dry ingredients.
beef steak: The original recipe calls for a cut of good-quality beef skirt, rump, or braising steak. I found flap steak at my local Whole Foods at a good price, and it worked very well. Also, I wanted to be precise so I cut off the extra 3 oz from my 15-oz steak, because the recipe only calls for 12 oz. We found the steak to be on the skimpy side, so next time around I will throw it all in!
rutabaga: although related to a turnip, and in fact referred to as “turnip” in Cornwall, a rutabaga is NOT a turnip. I found rutabaga at Whole Foods, and wanted to be as authentic as possible, but I am positive a turnip would work just as well if that’s what you find at your local grocery store. (Just don’t tell Paul!)
butter in filling: Paul’s GBBO recipe calls for “knobs” of butter to be placed on top of the filling before folding the pastry over. Not particularly precise! I went with roughly 1 tablespoon per large 10-inch pastry (so 1/2 for each half-sized pastry), and it seemed about right…but next time I think I would add a little more, because that is the only “sauce” the filling gets.
cooking time: I forgot to check my pastries at the 35-minute mark, so by the time the timer rang and they had been cooking for 45 minutes, they still didn’t have a good golden color. I cranked up the heat and cooked them for an additional 10 minutes…they gained a good color and the filling didn’t suffer.
Adapted from Paul Hollywood’s GBBO recipe, as it appears on BBC.com.