Friday, January 13, 2006

Breakfast Pastry

I have no official opinion on the old maxim that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I do know, however, that it's the meal that I'm least likely to prepare for myself. In fact, a good deal more often than I'd care to admit, breakfast comes from the drive-thru (I am using the spelling that the fast food emporium that I most frequently drive through uses). This abysmal practice is most consistent on mornings when I am taking A. to school. We have to be there by 7:15, which means leaving the house by 6:45, and A. likes the Sausage Egg McMuffin (with a Diet Coke; don't judge us!) nearly as much as I do. (We both used to love the hash browns as well, but there has, within the past year, been a change in either the formulation of the potato products or, more likely, the fat in which they are cooked, and neither the hash browns nor the fries are nearly as good as they used to be, and don't think that we haven't noticed, McDonald's!)

A Sausage Egg McMuffin is not a terribly expensive thing (and, really, there are worse breakfasts that you could have, and many of them are available at McDonald's; it is never going to pass as a health food store, but if you're both pressed for time and responsible, you might consider that a regular Egg McMuffin [i.e., one that is made with Canadian bacon instead of sausage] is only about 300 calories or 6 Weight Watchers points, not that I would know that sort of thing), and I certainly can afford to eat one as often as I want, but over the course of a year, that sort of expenditure adds up, so there is a mild financial, as well as a major dietary, inducement to find a substitute.

I was, you may recall, in Cornwall this past summer, and while the full English breakfast (which includes tinned baked beans, yuck, yuck, yuck) clearly wouldn't meet my needs, something similar to the Cornish pasty ought to do the trick. I did, unsurprisingly, purchase a small Cornish cookbook while I was in Penzance, and that book, equally unsurprisingly, had pasty recipes, but, really, why would anyone need a recipe? You make something like pie dough, you make a filling, you fill the pie dough with the filling, you crimp, you bake, and quicker than you can get halfway through a volume of Proust, you've got yourself some pasties.

As it happens, this is not a particularly quick recipe, but neither is it very difficult. If you want to reduce the preparation time by a significant margin, then boil your potatoes before you dice them, and don't count the time that you spent boiling the potatoes because, after all, you just had to give them a quick scrub and throw them in a pot of water, and how hard was that?

You will note the incredibly cute name of this recipe.


For the dough:

1 c. all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. cold butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces
1 egg
1/2 c. milk

For the filling

4 slices bacon
1 c. finely chopped onion
2 pounds potatoes, with peel still on, cut into 1/2 inch dice
grated sharp cheddar

egg wash

Make the dough:

Cut the butter into the flour and salt using a pastry blender, two knives, or your Kitchenaid. It should look like coarse meal. Add the egg (beat the egg first if you are doing this by hand) and mix to incorporate. Continue to mix and add the milk until the dough balls up. It may take slightly less or more than 1/2 cup.

Preheat the oven to 375.

Make the filling:

In a saute pan, cook the bacon over medium-low heat until it is very crisp. Remove the bacon strips from the pan and drain on paper toweling. Turn the heat very low and add the onions, stirring for a minute or two until they are translucent. Add the potatoes, toss to coat with fat, and cook over low to medium-low heat until they are tender. Crumble and add the bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste, and remove the pan from the heat to cool.

Roll the dough out as thin as you are comfortable with. Cut circles or squares about 6 inches across from the dough. Roll them out a bit thinner if you can. In the middle of each piece of dough, put a small pile (i.e., as much as you like) of grated cheddar. Then add a spoon full of the filling. Paint the edge of the dough with egg wasy, then fold over and crimp to seal. Move the pasty to a baking sheet. When you have stuffed and sealed them all, cut two slashes in the top of each pasty and coat the tops with more egg wash. Bake for approximately 25 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

The step that will allow you to get more familiar with Marcel is the step where you cook the potatoes. Diced raw potatoes over a low flame take a long time to get tender, but they will be very nicely brown when that happens. You only need to stir them occasionally, but you can certainly boil the potatoes the day before (or use some leftover boiled potatoes) and dice them while the bacon is cooking. They will be ready to go very quickly.

My knowledge of potato varieties is woefully inadequate, so I cannot tell you which type of potato is best for this sort of filling. I used Yukon Golds because I had some in the pantry. They seemed to work pretty well.

This particular dough is probably not for everyone. I was trying to somewhat limit the amount of butter, and the half-and-half flour mixture was another attempt to introduce a measure of healthfulness that may or may not be worthwhile. I frankly expected to merely tolerate the dough, but I was pleasantly surprised (but don't substitute another fat for the butter, please). You will want to make the dough border rim as narrow as possible, though. You can get more filling in that way, and the parts of the pasty that are just dough folded on itself could be considered a trifle dry (though that also could have been due to the fact that I abused this dough somewhat; I left the Kitchenaid running while I did other things, and the butter and flour were somewhat overmixed; I really need to find my pastry blender). You could certainly use a nice pâte brisée instead (this would basically involve doubling the butter and some other minor adjustments, but recipes for it are not hard to find), and it would be flaky and delicious.

The filling recipe here is doubled from the one I used because I had twice as much dough as I needed for that filling -- the potatoes cook down a fair bit -- and I ended up with only four pasties, and you might as well have eight (if you make four, you are liable to find that, despite the best of intentions, they have all been eaten without you having taken a picture of the finished product to put on your blog). There are many other things that would be good as additions to this filling. You could add some diced ham, some cooked sausage, some parboiled broccoli and/or cauliflower, some feta or cottage cheese. Spinach would also be an inspired addition, but you knew that already.

If you are not making the pasties in advance, you will want to bake them for more than 25 minutes. They are only lightly browned at that point, and you want them to be well browned when you eat them. You will, however, be putting them in your toaster oven for another five to ten minutes in the morning before you grab them while making a run for the car serve them, so they ought to be slightly underbaked when they go into storage.

I ate two of the pasties for breakfast. A., alas, did not appreciate them as much as I did. When she came downstairs last night to ask me if I could get her into school by 6:30 (yikes!) this morning so that she could consult with her math teacher prior to her semester exam, she saw the pasties sitting on the stove, cooling, and asked if she could have one. She thought they were apple turnovers. I have since been given to understand that she does not appreciate potatoes in anything that is bounded by dough. Alas. I thought they were pretty good, but I am forced to admit that I would probably have enjoyed apple turnovers even more, and if I'd been expecting apple turnovers when I bit into mine this morning, I would likely have been disappointed.

Anyway, this morning, at the ungodly hour of 6:15, we went through the drive-thru, so that I could order A. a Sausage Egg McMuffin, and the cashier was shocked that I was only ordering one. I felt a little bad for her, so I ordered the Diet Coke. Nobody's perfect.


Blogger TheBrad said...


I thought those were what y              [NO CARRIER]

10:25 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

These are the original "hot pockets", no?
Excellent name, Mr. Pasties.
Little savory pastry packets, so handy for the working person's lunch bucket, seem to appear in every culture and they are all so appealing...empanadas, spinach pies in filo et al.
My mother made cornish pasties with a minced beef, potato, parsley, turnip combo, which I adored. (Though english, she was not cornish, and I doubt if her recipe was any more authentic than anyone else's).
My packed lunches were always so much better than the other kid's bologna sandwiches. Sometimes the other kids could tell, sometimes not. On this issue alone I was immune to peer pressure. I didn't give a damn if anyone thought my lunch was weird. I knew.

11:43 AM  

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