How to make my (now) famous Mince and Onion Pies (Part 1 of 3)

As with everything there is a story behind this post, I’ll try to make that part brief but then we get into the nitty-gritty of how to make these bad boys.

History

I made my first one about a year ago in response to a challenge at the office, it was pie day and they wanted volunteers to make a pie which would be judged by my co-workers and prizes would be given to the winners.  It seemed like the general idea was to make a fruit based pie since it was coming around to Spring, I had other ideas.  I decided to make a British Mince and Onion pie based on a recipe that I found on the BBC website.

I kept this plan a secret and proceeded to make a 9 inch pie which I thrust upon the judges, this (not to put lightly) went down like a storm, after the judging (and a win for me of course) other people in the office got to try it.  I can only describe this as if a pack of dogs was let loose on wet food, it was gone in less than a minute.  So the legend was born and the recipe was handed out to anyone that was interested.  Since then people have asked me for the recipe and the method for making these pies so, rather than sending out email etc. this blog post was born.

I am going to break down this whole thing into a couple of posts, the first (this) will be about making the pastry, second will be the beef filling (I’ll even give a vegetarian recipe for this) and finally the assembly and baking along with reheating instructions.

The Pastry

Any good pie needs some pastry, in the case of this pie you need a base as well as a top, some recipes out there only specify the top, a real mince and onion pie has a top and a base.  The recipe that I found called for 50% butter and 50% lard, since lard is not one of my favourite things I decided to use 100% butter, this gives you a wonderful pastry that is sturdy enough for the pie but light enough in the mouth.  Also since it only includes butter this is ideal for vegetarians (but not for strict vegans because of the butter).

The recipe is for a single batch, this is enough for a base or top of a 9 inch pie, if you are making 5 inch pot pies then one batch is enough for 1 and a half pies (or put another way 2 batches makes 3 pies).

What you need?

  •  7 oz of plain white flour
  • 4 oz of butter (unsalted)
  • Pinch of salt
  • A couple of table spoons of water
  • A mixing bowl
  • A little patience

Method

This is where it gets interesting, some of the recipes out there call for a food processor, since I do not have a food processor I do this by hand.  Although this sounds awful it does not take too long and is quite easy (and somewhat therapeutic).

First thing you need to do is to get the butter ready, using hard butter straight out of the fridge makes for a lot of work, take a stick of butter (for my UK friends, 4 oz) and leave it out for about 15 to 20 minutes so that it is still solid but a little bit softer.

4 oz of unsalted butter
4 oz of unsalted butter

Weigh out the flour and put it into the bowl.

7 oz of plain white flour
7 oz of plain white flour

Add the salt to the flour.

A pinch of salt
A pinch of salt

Slice the butter into small pieces and put them in the bowl, this makes it easier to work with.

Adding butter flour and salt
Adding butter flour and salt

Now for the fun part, you need to work the butter into the flour so that the mixture is the consistency of breadcrumbs, you are not trying to make the dough (that comes in a moment).  What I do is to work the butter between my fingers and thumbs so that the flour takes up the butter, take your time as getting this right will make the pastry nice and consistent and easy to work with when you roll it out.

Working the butter into the flour
Working the butter into the flour
Working the butter into the flour
Working the butter into the flour

As I said before the consistency of the result should be like breadcrumbs and should not contain any visible lumps of the butter.

The mixture should look like breadcrumbs
The mixture should look like breadcrumbs

Now to make it into a dough, this is where you need to do a little guess work, I add a couple of tablespoons of water to the mixture (probably about 3 to 4).  The idea is that the pastry should not be too dry otherwise it will not be easy to roll out and it will crack, on the other hand you don’t want it too wet otherwise it goes gooey and does hold itself together during rolling.

Anyway, this is how I do this part, open out a cavity in the centre of the bowl to accept the water and add the water, now throw some of the mixture over the water so that it soaks it up a little, then using your hand with fingers apart start mixing, the mixture should start to clump together (this is good).

Adding the water
Adding the water

Once all the water is soaked in to the mixture check to see whether you think the dough is too dry or wet, if it’s too dry add a little more water, if it’s too wet add a little more flour and continue mixing.  Now gather the dough into a ball and start kneading it so that you have a nice consistent ball of dough.

What I do now is to shape the dough into a slab about 3 inches wide and 8 inches long which I wrap in cling film and put it into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  If you are making many batches you can leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight and use it the next day quite safely, I’m not sure why this is required but it does make working with the dough much easier.

That’s it, the pastry dough is ready, remember that for a 9 inch pie you will need 2 of these batches.

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