Time for another savory treat. I was ready to finish baking these pork pies and write a post about how bland and awful they were. How they sat on our countertop for three days and how I had to throw them out because they got soggy and mold-prone. But I can't write that entry. Instead, I have to write an entry about how delicious they were, how my husband and I ate the entire batch over the course of the day, how cute quail eggs are, and how the leftover filling made for an amazing faux-Filipino dish for dinner.
Life is hard.
First, let me tell you about my journey to get these ingredients. As background, I had made my last entry's recipe, Brandy Snaps, about two weeks ago. I like to have my recipes actually baked in advance, so I can take my time writing the entry and reflecting on the experience. I had to go to New York for business last week, so I thought I would make these pork pies before I left, and spend my time away writing this entry, and keep my schedule of baking and posting.
But do you know how hard it is to find quail eggs at mainstream boring American grocery stores? It's hard. Lucky and Safeway yielded nothing but chickens. Trader Joe's had nothing. I was going to try Whole Foods, but I like having a positive bank balance, so I tried Mollie Stones, which would also eat up my paycheck, but at least it would be going toward a local business. They also had no quail eggs. That's when I went out one nightto a drag show with my husband and our friend Diana, who is a fan of this blog. I told her my next entry would be delayed because I couldn't find quail eggs and she told me all I had to do was go to an Asian grocery store, where they carry them in droves.
Richmond New May Wah did not disappoint, and last Saturday I took a stroll up there and bought nearly two dozen quail eggs. I only needed 6 for the recipe, but they were just so cute.
While at the Asian grocery store, I grabbed the rest of my ingredients, namely, the meat. Because at $2.99/pound, I would be a fool not to buy my meat there. Even if they only sold the lump bacon in a size about 4x what I needed. You can never have too much bacon.
And speaking of fat, you need lard and butter for this recipe. When I read that, I started to have hope for what I thought was going to be a bland British dish. Butter is great. I love butter. I would never trade it for margarine. But like I wrote in my Cornish Pasties entry, there's just something about a recipe that dictates for lard which gets my juices flowing. Low fat is no way of life.
Let's talk for a second about this crust though, this lard-and-butter-made magic dough. The British pork pie calls for what is called a "hot water crust," meaning it's made with, surprise, hot water. This is directly in contrast to most pie crusts, which deliberately tell you to keep your ingredients as cold as possible, and to use ice water to bring everything together. This may not seem like a big detail, but what it does is it melts the fat in the dough completely, which keeps the crust from having "pockets" of fat that evaporate in the oven, pockets which help you achieve the flakiness we know and love in pie crusts.
There's an interesting bit of history about this dough. The crust dough we make today--with ice water--is designed to be flaky and tender. In contrast, hot water crusts are made to be free-standing indestructible edible luggages for the filling. Back in the day, these kinds of pastries (including the Cornish pasty) were made for mine workers to bring along as lunch, and Ziploc hadn't yet been invented, so they had to be a bit more organic about their vessels of choice for carrying the meat (and potatoes) that would sustain them through this greuling work.
The dough, surprisingly, was actually not made to taste very good. Many times, the crust was actually thrown away because of its inedibility, once the inside had been consumed. The good news for the baker is you don't need to be as gentle with it as you have to be with ice water pie crust.
I'm happy to report, however, that this is not the case with this recipe. Paul Hollywood has done well in keeping the essence of the hot water crust alive, while making it absolutely delicious, if a bit tougher and less flaky than your average pie crust. I think it has something to do with lard and butter and only melting the lard in the hot water, whilst rubbing the butter into the flour.
The filling itself is also delicious. It's a mixture of pork loin (for meat) and bacon (for fat), as well as onions (though make sure you get a small onion -- mine were a bit too onion-y), and parsley. It's simple, per British standard, and could be a bit bland, so make sure you add enough salt and pepper. Also, I would add in some garlic.
And I actually did add some garlic to the leftover. Be forewarned: this will produce about 1 full cup of leftover filling--at least. We cut up some extra pork loin and bacon, added some garlic, and fried the mixture until it was super crispy (some might say burnt), served alongside some rice. For the Filipinos or Filipino food lovers out there: it's like sisig, but more meat and less cartilage. Or so my husband says.
It's a bit of a mess getting everything together, and forget about prettily crimping it (those niceties are for Mary Berry)--I ended up just slopping things together and pressing to seal with my fingers.
Despite what it may look like before, it's gorgeous after. They would be cute as an appetizer, or a couple as a full meal. Good to have around the house to snack on.
One word of warning: the egg wash will make the top look done, but the crust underneath won't be crispy unless you overcook it by a few minutes. I did not and I was running along the line of "soggy bottom," though thankfully did not cross into soggy bottom territory. I wish I had cooked it a bit longer to make the crust crispier.
The pastry as a whole was delicious. I like my food spicy, so of course I added some sriracha after these pictures were taken, but it was delicious even without the sriracha. I didn't think the quail egg would really add anything that special, but it really took these to a different level that makes me prefer them over other such savory bakes like the Cornish pasty.
And we did finish all 7 in one afternoon, so there's that.
Mini Pork Pies
makes 6-7, with extra filling
240 grams (8 1/2 ounces) FLOUR
50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) BUTTER
3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) WATER
1 teaspoon SALT
60 grams (2 1/4 ounces) LARD
1 ONION, very finely chopped
350 grams (12 ounces) PORK LOIN, finely chopped
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) BACON, finely chopped
small bunch of PARSLEY
SALT and PEPPER
6 QUAILS' EGGS
1 large EGG
jelly ingredients (optional -- I did not use):
1 CHICKEN STOCK CUBE
5 ounces (1/2 cup) BOILING WATER
2 leaves GELATIN
1. Preheat the oven to 400F and grease a muffin tin, or 6 small ramekins
2. Rub the BUTTER into the FLOUR until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
3. Bring the WATER and SALT to a boil, then add the LARD and stir until all is melted
4. Pour the melted lard over the flour mixture and form a dough, then work it into a smooth ball
5. Roll the pastry out to 1/8" and cut out six 5" circles to line the muffin tin, then re-roll and cut out six 4" circles for the lids, and poke a hole in the center of each lid
6. Cook the quails' eggs in a pan of boiling water for two minutes, then cool and peel
7. Put the ONION, PORK, BACON, and PARSLEY into a bowl, season with SALT and PEPPER, and mix until well combined
8. Spoon a little of the mixture into each lined pie case, place the cooked and peeled quail's egg in the center, and spoon over more of the filling
9. Brush the edge of each pie case with a little beaten EGG, place the lids on top, and crimp to seal completely
10. Bake in the oven for 40-55 minutes (check to see how brown your pies get), then set aside pies to cool
11. To make the jelly (optional: I stuffed my shells so full that I had no room for jelly), dissolve the CHICKEN STOCK CUBE in the BOILING WATER and soak the GELATIN in a little cold water, then squeeze out the excess water and whisk in the stock; alternately [insert instructions for powdered gelatin here]
12. Pour the gelatin mixture into the hole in the top of each pie until filled
13. Serve warm, or allow pies to set in the fridge overnight
Like I said, I took a week off from my Bake Off Challenge because I got married! But don't worry, I was indeed baking, because, like a crazy person, I decided to make my own cake. First, I couldn't bear paying $14/slice for a cake that I could make myself for one-tenth of the cost. And second, I'm really picky, and I don't think anybody's chocolate cake could beat the recipe I use. So, I spent two very (very) long days baking and decorating the cake. A whole microsite of this page will come with more details but suffice to say, I survived, and came back for more baking. Upwards and onwards to the great Cornish pasty.
Or, I guess I should say "San Francisco" pasty. According to the Powers That Be in the British culinary world, you can only call your pasty "Cornish" if it is made in Cornwall. So, despite using classic ingredients of potato, rutabaga, beef, and onion, and following the recipe to the T, these do not get the designation of being Cornish--instead, I'm giving them my own geographical title, and dipping the pasty in sriracha sauce as I eat it in protest.
I say any recipe that starts by asking me to spoon out a quarter pound of lard and then immediately asks me to add another knob of butter on top of it is a good recipe. I mean, I've been looking for an excuse to use lard and not feel bad about it. If Mary Berry is telling me to do it, I can't in good conscience say no. So... lard it is.
The crust is fairly straightforward. Slap it all in a bowl and mix it all together. I crumbled the fats into the flour by hand before adding the water, but the main impetus behind that is that I just love the feeling of fat and flour in my hands, not that it was actually part of the recipe. This dough is very dry, and it really will just come together, so don't add any more water than the recipe calls for. I noticed it most when I was mixing with my hands and the dough didn't stick to my fingers like pie dough sometimes does. It very easy to rub the dough off my hands and leave them clean--which, for a clean freak like me, was actually quite nice.
Now here's the fun with the dough. While a normal pie dough, which has the same ingredients, needs to be touched as little as possible so as to retain the tender flakiness of the crust, this dough actually needs to be worked. Paul Hollywood recommends a stretching, rolling, and turning triad of motions to build up the gluten or somesuch and make a sturdier pastry before resting the dough in the fridge to let it relax (after all that stretching and rolling, I could use a rest to relax as well TBH)
The history behind this rough behavior with a generally delicate dough is that the Cornish pasty came to popularity among the tin miners of Cornwall, as a portable lunch they would bring to the mines with them. A delicate pastry shell would not have survived the commute and the mine, and a yeast dough would become too easily soggy to hold the ingredients.
The filling of a Cornish pasty is deceptively simple, and wholly British. Root vegetables, meat, and a touch of salt and pepper. British food--God love 'em--is not known to be the most interesting of cuisine. I mean, mushy peas... do I need to say more?
And once you've gathered these (bland) vegetables, you chop. And chop. And chop. It's a lot of chopping. I had a ruler, because I'm a freak, but honestly you don't need to be that exact with the filling. As one of my favorite chefs, Chef John of Food Wishes says, all you need to do is "pick a size and stick to it." The only way you could mess up the inside is by having wildly varied sizes of the filling ingredients. If you have a pebble-sized potato slice here and a golf ball-sized one there, they will not cook at the same time and one will be soggily overcooked while the other is inedibly undercooked. So, pick a size and stick to it.
Now here is where it all comes together. The prep work is done, the dough is hanging out, and you get to assemble. Get your dough out and divide it into four, along with your filling. And whip out your rolling pin (or an empty bottle of wine--hey now, we've all been there).
This dough is fantastic to roll out. It may be the chilled rest in the fridge, or the massive amount of fat--let's get real, it's the fat--but this dough easily rolls out thin without snapping back or sticking, and without a fear of ripping, even with the hefty amount of heavy filling we're asking it to hold.
The last step is the crimping, which, I'm told, is an integral part of the pasty process. I do not know how to crimp, and despite watching Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, despite expert YouTube videos and walkthroughs, I still cannot crimp. Thankfully, and it seems I say this at least once in each of these Bake Off weeks, I am not being judged by Paul Hollywood, and he doesn't get a say on if my crimping is exactly proper. I'm only judged by my own taste buds, and the taste buds of my family.
And my taste buds (and my stomach) approve. I'm giddy for this golden brown. The crust, which is the true "baked" part of this challenge, was fabulous. While serving the utilitarian purpose of holding the nutrition of the filling, it also added a crisp and tough but tender texture that would have been missing if you ate the filling alone.
Speaking of the filling, I alluded earlier that British food is not the most interesting in terms of taste, and this is no different. I get that some people love potatoes, but in my opinion, this recipe has way too much potato, especially considering you have an entire crust to deal with. Not that I'm one to knock carbohydrates, but it's a bit overkill, I would knock the potatoes down to match the 7 ounces of the other root vegetable, and replace the missing with another 4 ounces of meat. After all, if I'm working in a tin mine, I would much rather get my energy from beef than from potato. Totally get that there are socio-economic matters at play in the history of these ingredients, but GMOs man. GMOs....
Altogether, I approve of the Cornish pasty. It's not hard to make (once you get over all the chopping), and boy, is it filling. I ate one of these at 2PM and wasn't hungry until the next morning. Plus, these things keep amazingly well (they'd better, if I'm having to feed a hungry miner throughout his day), and crisp back up with just a handful of minutes in an oven. Who says baked goods can't be savory, hm?
makes 4 pasties
500 grams (1 pound, 1 ounce) BREAD FLOUR
120 grams (4 ounces) LARD
1 teaspoon (5 grams) SALT
25 grams (1 ounce) BUTTER
3/4 cup (175 milliliters) COLD WATER
1 EGG, beaten with a little water and salt
350 grams (12 ounces) BEEF (rump or skirt steak or any good braising cut)
350 grams (12 ounces) POTATO
200 grams (7 ounces) RUTABAGA
175 grams (6 ounces) ONION
2 tablespoons BUTTER
SALT + PEPPER
1. Combine the FLOUR, LARD, SALT, BUTTER, and WATER and use a spoon to gently combine the ingredients, then switch to your hands and bring the ingredients into a dry dough
2. Work the dough using the heel of your hand to stretch, roll, and turn the dough and repeat for about 5 minutes until it's smooth and glossy
3. Wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the fridge for 30-60 minutes
4. Peel and cut the POTATOES, RUTABAGA, and ONION into 1cm squares, and cut BEEF into similar sized chunks
5. Put all filling ingredients in a bowl and mix and season with SALT + PEPPER
6. Lightly grease and line a baking tray and preheat the oven to 325F
7. Cut the dough into four equal-sized pieces and shape each piece into a ball, then roll out to a 10-inch wide circle
8. Spoon a quarter of the filling onto one half of each disk, and top with one quarter of the knob of BUTTER
9. Fold the pastry over, and join the edges and seal with your fingers, then crimp the edges with a fork, or by making small twists along the sealed edge, and fold the end corners underneath
10. Put the pasties on the baking tray, and brush the top of each pasty with the EGG wash
11. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 45 minutes, until the pasties are golden brown (if they're not browning, increase temperature 50F for the last 10 minutes)
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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