Just before Christmas I was given the arduous and immensely enjoyable task of judging a Festive Baking competition at The Driftwood Spars Hotel in St Agnes along with my friend Lisa. We tasted our way through mince pies, Christmas cakes, cheesecakes and biscuits galore and risked offending friends and neighbours with our decisions.
However, we were absolutely in agreement over our love of these tasty little pies and they won the Best Use of Festive Flavours category in the bake off. I enjoyed the flavour so much I bought one to take home! They were made by Ben Wheeler who adapted an original recipe from the Pieminster – A Pie for all Seasons cook book. Ben calls them Christmas buns but I have used a more prosaic “does what it says on the tin” title for them.
I haven’t had a chance to make them myself yet but I fully intend to in the very near future.
I had intended to get this recipe up before Christmas but there’s no reason at all that they couldn’t be made anytime – especially if you still have a cupboard full of chutneys and preserves to accompany them.
Hot water crust pastry
450g /1 lb Plain Flour
2 tsp Caster Sugar
1 Egg plus 1 more for glazing.
60g / 2 ½ oz Butter
100g / 4oz Lard
900g / 2 lb good Pork Sausage Meat (choose your favourite sausages and skin them)
2 medium Red Onions, sliced
1 tbsp Cider Vinegar
1 tbsp Sherry Vinegar
1 tbsp Dried Sage
About 15 whole Chestnuts (fresh or tinned)
For the Filling
Caramelise the onions in a bit of olive oil with the cider vinegar over a low heat – about 45 mins or so until cooked right down and sticky. Ben suggests starting with the lid on then taking it off half way through. Add the sherry vinegar a few minutes before the end and cook it down so no liquid remains.
If you are using fresh chestnuts roast them in the oven – cut a cross in the top of each one with a sharp knife, place on a baking sheet in an oven preheated to 200C for about 25 mins. Ben warns that some may still explode in the oven! Once cool enough to handle, peel and chop roughly. Alternatively chop the pre-cooked, tinned chestnuts – this is more convenient but will give less flavour.
Place the sausage meat in a bowl and add the caramelised onions, chestnuts and sage, along with a decent grind of black pepper and grate about half a nutmeg in. Mix with a fork to distribute everything evenly.
With wet hands shape the sausage mixture into 6 equally sized balls. Set aside while you make the pastry.
For the Pastry:
Mix flour and sugar in a bowl. Lightly beat the egg and mix into the flour.
Put the water, lard and butter in a saucepan, heat gently until the fat has melted and the water just boils.
Slowly add the hot water/fat mixture to the flour and beat in with a table knife then knead lightly to make a smooth dough.
Use the pastry while hot (as hot as you can handle). It’s extremely pliable while warm and very tolerant, you can just mould it around like play dough.
Remove a little bit of the pastry for decoration, then divide the remaining pastry into 6 evenly sized pieces.
Take a piece of the pastry, roll into a ball, then flatten out with your hands on a work surface into a circle a few mm thick
Place a sausage ball on the pastry circle and bring the sides up and around. Pinch together to seal and mould it around with your hands to make smooth.
Flip it over so the seal is underneath then tidy it all up into a domed bun shape, turning between your hands. Repeat for the other 5 and place all on a lightly greased baking tray.
Cut decorations out from the reserved bit of pastry (this is easiest once pastry has cooled a bit and gets a bit firmer). Glaze the buns with a little beaten egg, stick the decorations on top and glaze all over with more egg. Cut a hole in the top of each bun to let the steam out.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180° C / 350° F / Gas Mark 4 for about 45 mins. When cooked a skewer stuck into the middle through the hole in the top should come out hot. Some sticky juice will seep out of the hole and maybe through cracks in the pastry, According to Ben this just makes it taste good!
Can be eaten cold, but best when still a bit warm.
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