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April 11, 2008 6:34 AM   Subscribe

How do I get my pastry for Cornish pasties to have the consistency of a good shop-bought pasty?

Now I'm Cornish myself, so I feel pretty ashamed asking this question to a group of people who, in the main, are neither wreckers nor tinners, but here we go...

If you've ever eaten a pasty made at a good Cornish bakery, you'll know the consistency of the pastry, but I'll try to describe it nevertheless. It's quite thin (probably around 3mm) yet has a high degree of resilience - it needs that so that it can be carried around in the pocket of one's donkey-jacket. The texture is slightly chewy, distinctly layered, and holds the rest of the ingredients together well. There's nothing crumbly or flaky about it. If anything the consistency is almost like the crust of a calzone.

My mother (a strong advocate of the "it's not a pasty if it isn't wrapped in shortcrust" school) says it's just a variety of shortcrust. But I'm not convinced as I haven't been able to replicate it.

So... do we have any expert pastry- (or better still, pasty-) technicians willing to offer some tips?
posted by popkinson to Food & Drink (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect the trick is letting the dough rest after rolling it out. You start with your room temperature, perhaps a little on the moist side dough, roll it out into circles, then let it rest/firm up in the fridge for a bit. At least, that seems to work best when I attempt them at home.

But then again, I'm an American and only consume authentic pasties on too infrequent trips across the pond.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:51 AM on April 11, 2008

I can’t say about the shop-made kind, but my Cornish grandmother (whose father was a tin-miner) did indeed use a variety of home-made shortcrust when she made pasties. Unfortunately I don't know what her recipe was. Her pastry was not, as I recall, ‘layered’ and nor was it particularly resilient—you wouldn’t have carried her pasties unwrapped—but it was delicious.
posted by misteraitch at 6:54 AM on April 11, 2008

Best answer: I learned to make pasties in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, from a woman who learned at her mother's side (her father used to work in the copper mines). She used a standard shortcrust dough (lard, of course), but worked it more than she would for a piecrust, then shaped it and let it sit while she mixed up the filling. (The copper miners were Cornish, Finnish, and Italian, mostly. Leads to some interesting accents and food.) Piecrusts are worked just enough to hold together -- if you work a standard piecrust too much, the gluten starts to 'develop' and it gets tough. This is actually what you want for a pasty. (The copper miners were Cornish, Finnish, and Italian, mostly. Leads to some interesting accents and food.)

Another "pasty" crust I learned up there was a flat bread crust. (More from the Italian side of things.) Those tended to be more showy, but were still good, and were durable enough to eat in the mine. Use a standard, lightly yeasted bread recipe. Let it rise once. Do not do a second rise. Punch it down, shape and fill. Brush with an egg-white/water wash. You get a nice browned, slightly shiny finish.
posted by jlkr at 7:13 AM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What you're referring to is called rough puff pastry. It's rather like a cheat version of puff pastry, not as delicate or multilayered. Basically very cold cubes of butter (or other fat, like shortening or lard, or a mix) are mixed into the flour, very cold water is added to form the paste, and you fold it over a few times to get the layers. If you overhandle it it does have a tendency to be a tad tough, but for pasties that you want to carry around it's not a bad thing. Here's a page where the short crust pastry vs. rough puff pastry is described. This recipe looks about right, except for the margerine - use butter instead.
posted by thread_makimaki at 7:52 AM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

if all else fails, you can always order them at
posted by j at 7:59 AM on April 11, 2008

Response by poster: jlkr > Thanks; I had an idea that developing the gluten might help. And I'll make a note to try the bread crust approach at some point - I've never heard of it before and it sounds intriguing.

thread_makimaki > I believe you're right. I'd considered that it might be puff pastry, but the usual variety is just too flaky and loose to be any use. Rough puff could well be the answer I'm looking for. I'll try it out tonight with the lovely bit of skirt steak I bought from the local farm store.

j > I'm in the UK, so there's no shortage of fine pasty shops to keep me fat and happy - but somehow making them yourself is so much more satisfying, and is part of the requirement for being Cornish - they won't let me back over the bridge until I can make a proper pasty.
posted by popkinson at 8:12 AM on April 11, 2008

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