The first time I even heard of a Cornish pasty was when I went to Cornwall (not surprisingly).
I had planned to go on a camping trip with some friends near Newquay. (A town in Cornwall has been a tourist spot for more than a hundred years! Not surprising when you see those gorgeous beaches!) After days of planning, we hopped in the car and started driving. The five of us (one Scottish, one South African, one from Isle of Wight, one Irish, and myself, the American) had a grand ole time in our drive. We start driving from Crawley, England and it took forever. When we finally arrived, I had one of the craziest camping experiences of my life.
I’ve been camping many times throughout my life. The part that struck me as most odd is that in England unless you have permission to camp on someone’s land it is illegal. Which meant that my friends have never done, what I now know to be called, wild camping. Rather, they always did what used to call glamping. Glamping, until that time, I associated with camping at like a KOA or some other such facility. It left me utterly shocked that they had never properly been camping.
We check into our campsite, take out the tent, and set everything up. As I had just moved to England, all my camping supplies were in the USA so they graciously offered to bring me the required gear. Once we had the tent pitched and our belongings safely inside, dinner time had come. We prepared some nice tasty meal and had the most wonderful dessert. Composed of s’mores using the dark chocolate McVities biscuits and some interesting marshmallows. (There’s nothing like the marshmallows in the US they’re very very different in the UK.)
We all went to bed and it was then that I realized some mistakes.
- It’s cold in Cornwall during April nights
- You should always double-check the sleeping bags before you leave your home
- Always make sure that the people preparing the trip know what to do
Unfortunately, the sleeping bag I had been given was about as thick as a fleece blanket and definitely not designed for weather below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The first 30-degree night left me frozen. The second night I literally woke with a layer of ice on the outside of the sleeping bag (most likely dew that froze). This should give you an idea of how cold this was.
Cornish Pasty: My Discovery and Delight
The next day we set off to explore the city. While driving inside, all I. could think about were pasties. (Well, when in Cornwall you can’t very well leave without having Cornish pasty! I’m not mad you know!) During the drive, I frantically searched Google for the best place to find a pasty in Cornwall. Time was of the essence and my belly couldn’t handle waiting for the succulent meaty flavors to touch my palette.
We parked our car and began walking around. Lo and behold our parking spot just so happened to be less than a five-minute walk from my desired location. (Unfortunately, I can no longer remember the name of the store). None of my friends knew why I wanted to get a pasty so badly. But so is the life of a non-foodie.
Initially, the scent was faint, and as we approached the mouth-watering aroma did its job and made my mouth water. Drool practically pooling around the corners of my mouth forced us to immediately enter the shop. The smells spun around us like mist among a dance of witches at night. Only, unlike any witch we may have encountered, we followed the scent to the counter. A myriad of sizes lays displayed before us like the treasure trove of some giant’s lair. Without waiting for another second, I ordered the extra-large traditional Cornish pasty.
When the pasty in my hand I took a moment to admire the tasty morsel before me. It was warm and felt nice almost like a pastry. Though, not precisely like a normal flaky pastry or pie. For it didn’t have the flake of a pie crust or the layers that you may find in a croissant. Rather, what I held before me was some sort a cross between a pastry and a calzone. I don’t mean calzone solely for the shape but also the gluten-structure. The pasty is a whole different ballpark compared to the normal pastry I’ve had before, and it is worth every bite.
Pasties were made so the miners, farmers, and sea folk could hold their meals without it falling apart. (If you’ve ever tried to transport a pie a long distance without a pie tin made of glass or a really strong material you probably know exactly what I mean.) Instead, you need a pastry that can handle a little bit of rough and tear caused by transporting it around.
End Aside: Back to the pasty!
Pasties are wonderful and mine was no exception. On the inside, you always find a whole lot of ingredients put together with love. Traditionally, your tongue will notice the succulent pieces of beef, potato, swede, and salt and pepper. (Now we’re talking about a traditional pasty. And you’ll only find beef and the above-listed vegetables inside. Albeit, I personally enjoy some carrot inside my pasty – which isn’t entirely uncommon albeit not what some of Cornwall may say is the traditional recipe.) You can almost immediately tell how the raw ingredients’ flavors merge together as they undergo their slow baking. Mmmmmm… I could hardly hold myself back from wolfing down the entire extra-large pasty in one go.
We left the shop and I read about how pasties were made as we walked around Newquay. Dribble and flecks of pasty no doubt checkered my napkin as I had, for myself, delightfully discovered the hidden world of Cornish pasties.
I suspect that it’s the slow baking that develops that Cornish pasty’s amazing taste. The gorgeous juicy flavor is as rich as the perfect custard and yet remains savory. That richness remains in the mouth and making you salivate and wish you had another.
Oh gosh! I’m sorry to lose myself in this description. I’m already salivating! I need to make some more of these pasties. Let me quickly finish the script for my trip and then will jump into the Cornish pasty recipe. Oh my, pasties are wonderful, strong, durable, and yet somehow have a perfect amount of flake for such a glutenous turnover.
Preparation and pancakes
The rest of the trip was really interesting. The girls who prepared all the food had, in fact, mostly brought snacks… You can imagine how three young men were so perplexed. For three fully-grown young men solely eating snacks doesn’t fill you up. Let me provide a simple example. English pancakes.
English pancakes are very different from American pancakes. A Swedish friend, not too long ago, told me the pancakes we have in America are called American pancakes. Why are you might ask? It was not just because they are made in America.
Rather, it is because they are very different from pancakes around the globe. An English pancake is more of a thick crêpe. On the third day of eating snacks, we began the day with breakfast. We had English pancakes. 12 pancakes to be exact. That’s 12 pancakes and 5 people. Again, 12 pancakes, 5 people of whom 3 were ravenous men. Now, I’ve done a lot of math (a master’s in mathematics will help you with that!), and I am absolutely sure that something is wrong. For, 5 does not evenly go into 12 nor does 2 and 2/5 of a pancake fill someone who, after exercising, has burned at least 300 calories.
To be honest, I’ve probably been a little harsh. I did enjoy the camping trip. There were a lot of things I learned. For instance, when we arrived in Newquay I discovered that people went to Newquay to swim and see the beaches. So, based on that lack of knowledge I didn’t bring a swimsuit. Leaving me the one man on the beach… As a final complaint, let me just make a comment about camping. If you go camping in sub 30°F weather, please do not use a sleeping bag designed for 50°F!
I really enjoyed it. I had a great time. It was fun to be around go camping, eating pasties and other Cornish foods. I had the chance to try a few kinds of cheese that are unique to Cornwall. In fact, I often consult Cheese.com when I’m traveling just to help me expand my tastes. You never know what you may find! For instance, there’s a type of cheese in southeast England, Lord of the Hundreds. I highly recommend it! Imagine the perfect clash between parmesan and tangy earthy flavors.
The trip was fun enjoyed it love the pasty.
A random musing
Oh on a different note, if you ever have a chance there’s quite a bizarre exhibit. It’s the gnome reserve. It is really strange yet kind of funny at the same time. Imagine walking through a garden that has hundreds of mini gnomes celebrating all sorts of things from fishing and NASA to race cars and Santa. Gnomes of all sizes from tall and the small to the massively large and weird little baby ones.
You never know what you’ll find if you go off the beaten path from the ‘normal’ tourist sites! (Personally, I think many of the large tourist sites aren’t worth it. They are mostly viewed as the must-dos of a trip and that’s it.)
Getting back to the delicious wonderful Cornish pasty.
I know there are very specific about what makes a pasty. They say that if you make a pasty west of the Tamar in Cornwall then it is a pasty. Otherwise, it is not and never will be a pasty. By this definition, we will not be making pasties. However, if you follow my instructions and make this turnover west of the Tamar you will have a beautiful pasty. Without further ado, we jump into the recipe.
The making of a Cornish pasty
Wow. I’ve said a lot so far. Let’s get started so that you can enjoy your very own Cornish pasty sooner than later!
- 400 grams (14 ounces) of beef skirt, cut into cubes
- 300 grams (0.66 pounds) of potato, peeled and diced
- 150 grams (1/3 pound) swede/turnip, peeled and diced
- 150 grams (1/3 pound) onion, peeled and sliced
- Salt and pepper to taste, 2:1 ratio
- Beaten egg or milk, to glaze
- 500 grams (4 cups) of strong bread flour
- 120 grams (1/2 cup) of lard
- 125 grams (1/2 cup) of butter, unsalted, tepid, and cut into squares
- 6 grams (1 teaspoon) of salt
- 175 milliliters of water, cold
- Mix filling: Place all the ingredients together in a bowl (uncooked), give them a quick stir, and set aside for later use.
- Mix dry ingredients: In a large mixing bowl, mix the salt and flour.
- Combine the butter and flour: Scatter the butter and lard across the surface of the flour. Rub the fats into flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add water and knead: Add water to the dough and bring the mixture together. Knead until the gluten begins to develop and it becomes elastic.
- Allow the dough to rest: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge to rest for 3 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 170℃ or 340℉ (150℃ or 300℉ if convecting).
- Cut out six pasties: Roll out the pastry. Then cut into circles approximately 20 centimeters (7.87 inches) in diameter.
- Add filling: Place about ½ cup of filling into the center of each circle.
- Crimp to seal: Gently brush the edge of the pasty with water. Fold half of the pastry over the filling and squeeze the half-circle’s edges firmly together. Press down on the edge of the pasty. Using your index finger and thumb, twist the edge of the pastry over to form the first crimp. Repeat this process along the edge of the pasty. When you’ve arrived at the end of the half-circle, tuck the end corners underneath.
- Glaze with beaten egg or an egg and milk mixture.
- Bake: Place the pasties on a baking sheet and place in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for about 50 – 55 minutes until golden. If the pasties aren’t browning, increase the temperature 10℃ or 25℉ for the last 15 minutes of the bake.
- Serve and enjoy!
A Few Notes
- Rough puff pastry can also be used
- Flour with a high protein content is needed. Pasties have a strong gluten structure that helps produce a nice pliable pastry
- Lard produces a flakier pastry than butter would by itself
- The water quantity may vary based on altitude, flour, and other factors
- Do not use white turnips. In Cornwall, swede is a yellow-fleshed vegetable. It’s also known as yellow-turnip, Swedish turnip, and rutabaga
- Beef skirt is the traditional meat used. It lacks the gristle and higher fat of other cuts of meat
- Use a waxy potato rather than a floury one otherwise the potato will fall apart
- Kneading will take longer than normal pastries as pasties must hold both the heavy filling and maintain the shape.
- Allow the pastry to rest. As the gluten has been developed more than more pastries, it will be almost impossible to roll and shape the pastry when fresh.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!!