Voice of Bruck News Service

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Friday, June 03, 2016

A Pasty Caught Fire in a Cornish Tin Mine – You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next!

OK, I’ll tell you. According to legend, the fire spread to the support timbers and caused a collapse. I’m not sure what transpired thereafter, but mining disaster stories rarely end well. A mining story with a happier ending brings you today’s dispatch, how to make the Finnish Pasty.

The Finnish Pasty is a regional specialty of northern Michigan and the surrounding environs, derived from the traditional Cornish pasty, which was imported by miners who emigrated from Cornwall to the Upper Peninsula during the 18th and 19th centuries. The art and skill of homemade pasty fabrication have been passed through generations of American Finns, with recipes honed and optimized over time, but never departing too far from the original.

Not all American Finnish families participate in the passing of this cultural tradition, but your faithful editor is happy to hail from one that does. Normally, conventional gender roles and all that, cooking traditions pass through the maternal/female line of a family. Not so here – the otherwise excellent but questionably Finnish sister of Bruck (OEBQFSOB), who is incidentally one of the more prominent ribs chefs in the family, has declined to carry the pasties standard, therefore it must be borne by yours truly.

As this is a proper technical dispatch, I must make a couple of points about scope and nomenclature.

1) The singular form of “pasties” is “pasty,” not “pastie.” This, and its pronunciation, distinguish it from the tassels attached to the mammary organs of burlesque dancers: the “a” in “pasty” is short.

2) Pasties are not part of European Finnish cuisine. This is strictly a tradition of American Finns.

3) The Finnish pasty is composed of an outer pastry filled with beef, pork, potatoes, onions, carrots, rutabaga (yellow turnip), butter, salt, and pepper. The traditional Cornish pasty does not contain carrots, and is seasoned with parsley. There may be other variations that I’m not aware of. There are some construction differences as well, but that’s outside the scope of today’s dispatch. And to clarify things for the pasties tourist, here are some things that do not appear in a proper Finnish Pasty:
  • ·         Chicken or other meats
  • ·         Hamburger or other ground meat and filling
  • ·         Gravy
  • ·         Peas or other vegetables
  • ·         Tuna
  • ·         Other seasonings
  • ·         Pretty much anything not listed above.
Now I’m fully cognizant of the loose tolerances that have been placed on the definition of pasties over the years, particularly by restaurants specializing in same, and I’m also aware that quibbling over esoteric details does not get you invited to the after-party party, therefore instead of taking up arms in the matter, I would encourage pasty purists to simply deal with the matter by forming air quotes in their heads when someone purports a non-conventional pasty, and keep the eye rolling as discreet as possible.

For my faithful readers not currently engaged in the debate, I would say this: if a nuclear physicist apprises you of the contents of reactor fuel, you wouldn’t debate it, right? You wouldn’t think, well, can’t we save a few bucks by substituting copper for uranium, would you? All I’m asking is that you afford the same respect to the Finnish Pasty chef.

Here’s the recipe from the archives of the Ancestors of Bruck:

 Well, obviously not directly from said archives - we put it into a doc file. If you are over 40, you may need to blow this up: right-click on the image, select "view image," and hit ctrl-plus or command-plus as needed.

If this were all there was to it, we could stop here, but critical aspects of the all-important technique are not specified. There are three main steps: pastry dough, filling, construction, and cooking (okay, that’s four steps, just seeing if you’re paying attention).

If you’re still reading by now, I figure there’s some chance you’re thinking about trying to make some yourself, so let’s discuss timing. Working backwards from meal time, pasties take about an hour to cook. Prior to that, they take an hour to assemble (budget more for your maiden voyage); and preceding that, it takes about an hour to cut up the meat and vegetables. The pastry dough is best made the day before – it should sit in the refrigerator at least four hours but ideally overnight, and then it needs to come to room temperature. If you’re making the pastry dough and the pasties the same day, budget about an hour to make it. It’s best to cut the meat while it’s partially frozen, so it should also freeze overnight, then thaw about a half hour to an hour prior to cutting.

Step 1) The Pastry Dough

Note about ingredients: “oleo” is also known as “margarine.” Fleischmann’s margarine is recommended, if your grocer carries it. In addition to the ingredients, you’ll need a pastry cutter, a large bowl, measuring cups and spoons, other utensils, and nine raisins (nuts, candies, or shots of tequila may be substituted for raisins).

Measure out nine level cups of flour into the bowl, eating one raisin after each, to help you keep count. Add the salt and mix evenly.


Next, cut in the shortening and margarine, in approximately tablespoon-sized chunks. Agitate with a mixing spoon, but not too thoroughly – stop when the granularity looks to be about 1/2” to 1/4” on the average, and no tangible amounts of shortening remain. Be sure to scoop from the bottom up, so as to mix in all the dry flour.

Meanwhile, prepare about two cups of ice water. To complete the dough, form a depression in the flour/shortening mixture, add a few tablespoons of cold water, and mix it in until a portion of the flour/shortening turns into firm dough and push it to the side. Repeat until all the flour/shortening is converted to dough, which will consume about two cups of ice water. Make the dough a little drier than your instincts would advise – it will cure in the refrigerator.

Form the dough into a ball as shown, wrap it in a few layers of waxed paper, pressing out as much air as possible, and put it into the refrigerator. Overnight works best, but at least four hours are required.

Step 2) The Filling

At this point, you should take your dough out of the fridge, to let it come to room temperature by the time you’re ready to use it.

Note, the actual number of individual items shown may differ from the recipe shown above – onions and potatoes don’t come in standard sizes. This is where the judgment of the inestimable mother of Bruck (IMOB), with her experience making thousands of pasties comes into play. In my more limited experience on the order of dozens, I’ve always ended up with extra filling. The important part is the ratio of components, and we’ll talk about how best to use the leftovers later.

Peel the carrot, onions, and potatoes, and cut the rutabaga into quarters. Retain and peel one quarter of the rutabaga. Notwithstanding all that talk about starving children in India, the IMOB discards the rest. I have a favorable alternative that I’ll share later. Cut all ingredients into 1/4” to 3/8” cubes and mix. This includes the meat. As noted above, it helps to freeze the meat and then allow it to partially thaw before cutting. I also recommend an electric knife if you’ve got one (and if you don’t, they’re only about $20 on Amazon).

Step 3) Construction

You’ll need a rolling pin, a rolling sheet, small bowls of flour and salt, and a shaker of pepper. You’re going to be placing the constructed pasties on cookie sheets for baking, so line two full-size cookie sheets with aluminum foil.

Cut your dough into approximately 12 equal pieces. Take one piece out, form it into a ball, and roll it into a squarish circle (or circlish square), about 1/8” thick. Be sure to lubricate the rolling board and rolling pin with plenty of flour, and roll from the center of the ball outward.

Place one cup of filling on the bottom half of the circle (not all the way to the edge), then sprinkle it with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a couple shakes of pepper, and top it with a 1/4” pat of butter or margarine.

Carefully fold the upper half of the pastry over the mound of filling and press its edge into the bottom edge. Remove any bits of filling that find their way between the edges. Trim off any edges exceeding 1”. Crimp the edges by gently squeezing approx. 1” sections and twisting (to this day I can’t make crimps like mom’s, so I’ll show you one of hers). If there are any gaps or splits, you can roll out a small piece of pastry to patch them – make sure there are no openings in the edge or they will leak while cooking. Poke three 1” slits in the top of the pasty, about 3/4” apart.

Very carefully, put the pasty on a cookie sheet. It’s best to cup it in both hands, then slowly roll it off of the board from one hand into the other, and place it onto the cookie sheet. Arrangement: ideally, you will want to put six pasties on a sheet, four in parallel on one side and two in the remaining space of the other side, and not touching each other. If circumstance preclude this, or if you end up with more than 12 (this is not always an exact science), put the extras on a third cookie sheet and cook them separately.

Step 4) Cooking

Preheat the oven to 375F. Your oven racks should be in the middle two positions. Put one sheet on each rack, close the door, and lower the temperature to 350F. Bake for a half hour, then swap the sheets’ positions (upper to lower, lower to upper) and bake for another half hour.

Serve and enjoy! A popular side dish with pasties is “chow chow,” aka mustard pickle. Beverage pairings are the same as for red meat, which for most American Finns means beer. I tend to deviate from tradition by eating mine with ketchup, which never fails to elicit a sidelong glance from the IMOB.

Final Advisories

1) What to do with extra filling: make a pasty pie.

2) Rather than discard 3/4 of a perfectly good rutabaga: make mashed potatoes/rutabaga, with about equal parts of each.

3) The pastry doesn’t like humidity, which is why winter pasties tend to turn out better.

4) Commercial pastry: you can save a lot of time and effort by using it, but there are a few downsides:
- It doesn’t taste as good.
- It’s expensive.
- You’ll feel cheap and tawdry, having compromised your principles in the name of expediency.

5) Pasties are not health food. If you attempt to make them “lite,” by recklessly using leaner/less fattening ingredients, I can’t be responsible for the results. Full disclosure: the Finnish great-grandmother of Bruck who spoke no English (FGGMOBWSNE) used lard for shortening.

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