I am not a fantastic cook. I would say I am a decent one but I lack the intuition, guts and creativity that my husband has. That is the reason why he looks way more convincing with the chef’s hat on while I look sexier brandishing…an egg whisk.
But there are a few dishes that M would trust me to cook. One of these is the beef pie, which is a full-bodied, savoury beef stew topped with a flaky, buttery puff pastry beret in our household.
Don’t get me wrong. M breathes life into beef stews! But he now snubs frozen ready-to-roll puff pastry for the one I make ever since I fed him with homemade no-fry chicken curry puffs and beautifully flaky Portuguese egg tarts. So naturally, the task of making beef pies has fallen into my hands.
There was much to be excited about as I hadn’t made puff pastry in a looooong time (my last attempt was made in London); I was hoping to nail it in the tropical heat but of course, I had to cheat with air-conditioning. I was also particularly keen on breaking in some of our very cute Le Creuset mini cocottes. I mean, puff pastry berets on colourful mini cocottes?! Wouldn’t YOU hyperventilate at the thought of that, too?
I spent all day in the kitchen to make these pies. It was back-breaking work but I was delighted to see my husband happily tuck into the pies. You see, he always does it with dramatic flair, by hitting the puff pastry beret ever so gently with a spoon to reveals most satisfying ‘crack!’ that hints at its flakiness, before letting a wide grin of approval spread across his face and digging deep into the pot for liquid gold. It is strangely satisfying to watch. Now, your turn.
Makes one 8-inch and two 4-inch (diameter) pots of stew
1kg stewing beef tenderised and cut into 2cm by 2cm by 2cm cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1.5cm by 1.5cm by 1.5cm cubes
7 sticks celery stalks, leaves removed and cut into 1.5cm by 1.5cm by 1.5cm cubes
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1.5cm by 1.5cm by 1.5cm cubes
450g portobello mushrooms, sliced thickly
Few sprigs of rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
600ml beef stock
2 heaped tablespoons plain flour
5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Hot water on standby to add to stew
1. Preheat oven to 170 Celsius.
2. Add olive oil to Dutch oven over medium high heat and sear beef cubes. Once golden brown, remove beef from Dutch oven and set aside.
3. Lower to medium heat and add onions and garlic to Dutch oven. Fry for 10min until onions are soft and very lightly browned.
4. Add carrots, celery, potatoes and cook for 5min. Add mushrooms and rosemary, give it a quick stir and then add the beef. Pour in the hot beef stock and add balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in plain flour to thicken gravy.
5. Place Dutch oven into preheated oven, with lid on and leave the stew in there for 1.5 hours. Give it a stir every half hour and top up with some hot water if gravy dries up too much. Always add the water such that the liquid barely covers the ingredients in the stew. Cook for a further 1.5 hours or until beef is tender and bring Dutch oven out onto the stove to further simmer (with lid off) if you would like a thicker gravy. For pies, I would suggest a very thick gravy so that the pies don’t turn out too wet.
6. Spoon out some stew into ovenproof pots or baking dish, and cover the top with the uncooked puff pastry. Make sure that puff pastry isn’t directly in contact with the stew as the pastry will be wet and soggy. Bake at 210 Celsius for 20-25 minutes till pastry is puffed up and golden. Serve with salad or your favourite sides.
Makes one 8-inch and two 4-inch (diameter) pie berets
250g unsalted butter, very cold, sliced to 2cm by 2cm by 2cm cubes
250g strong white bread flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of salt
125ml ice-cold water
1 egg, beaten for egg wash
1. Freeze butter cubes for half an hour.
2. Pulse butter, flour and salt in food processor for one second. Mix things up in the processor and pulse again. Do this for a few times till mixture is combined and resembles rough cornmeal.
3. Add water and pulse briefly till water is just incorporated. This will not form a ball of dough just yet and will still resemble rough cornmeal.
4. Turn out mixture onto lightly floured work surface, bring mixture together with lightly-floured hands to form a cylinder.
5. Roll cylinder out to form a rectangle with the shorter end facing you. It should look like a letter to you. Fold the dough as you would a business letter (into thirds). Rotate 90 degrees anti-clockwise such that the shorter end is facing you again and flip the dough such that the folded seams are facing downwards. Roll dough out again to a rectangle. Freeze between layers of baking parchment for 15-30min. Repeat such that you roll and fold for a total of four times each. Only very lightly dust work surface and rolling pin when the dough is sticky, although I would avoid this as much as possible.
6. The final rolled-out dough should be fairly elastic, smooth and about 4mm thick. Cut out desired shapes, apply a light layer of egg wash with a pastry brush, place pastry on top of cocottes/baking dish that are already filled with cooked stew and bake at 210 degree Celsius for 20-25 minutes till pastry berets are puffed up and golden brown.