There’s competitive. And then there’s fly-across-the-ocean, return-to-your-home-country and prove-yourself competitive.
Mike Burgess and Nicola Willis-Jones fall into the second category.
The owner and chef, respectively, of Pure Pasty Co. in Vienna are hunkering down in Cornwall, England, this week, preparing for Saturday’s World Pasty Championships. The event, supported by the Cornish Pasty Association, will draw more than 150 competitors to the Eden Project, an environmentally focused education charity that also welcomes visitors to its gardens and biomes.
“It’s a long way to go,” Burgess admitted. As a small business, scrounging up the resources to fund the trip has been a bit of a challenge, but Willis-Jones has been pushing to enter it for years.
“I want to show off,” said Willis-Jones, who has been with Pure Pasty since the shop opened, “and we’ve got quite a skill at it.”
“It” is the art of the pasty — pronounced “PASS-ty,” not to be confused with the accessories favored by strippers. (“I can’t change that,” Burgess said of the linguistic overlap.)
Pasties are “like an empanada, but bigger and better,” Willis-Jones said — basically a hand pie encasing a filling. Now widespread across England, pasties are native to Cornwall, the scenic region in the southwest corner of the country that may be most familiar to Americans as the setting of “Poldark,” the sweeping drama that has so far aired two seasons of its current remake on PBS.
As “Poldark” fans will know, Cornwall was a strong mining community, with peak production in the 18th and 19th centuries. Pasties were the perfect solution for a portable lunch. Those specimens, however, were more likely to have a tough shell that would survive being jostled. Willis-Jones favors a buttery pastry (known as “rough puff” to “Great British Baking Show” fans) that is tender and flaky but still sturdy enough to support the 10-ounce pasties.
She does honor tradition in several other noticeable ways. One is the thick, crimped edge — inspired by the edges of the miners’ pastries that they would supposedly use as handles to avoid contaminating their food with arsenic, which is a byproduct of tin mining. The crust would then be tossed to the mine spirits — or, rather, the rodents who would actually eat them.
The other classic flourish is the symbols the bakery uses to denote the different flavors (square for veggie, triangle for chicken masala, club for the chef’s special, etc.). These honor the way miners’ wives would use shapes or initials to indicate which pasties belonged to which men in towns where the pies would be cooked in a community oven.
That being said, tradition is not binding at Pure Pasty. Willis-Jones does make a standard Cornish filling with beef, potatoes and onions, but “we get very playful for our flavors.”
“There’s no American recipe that’s sacred to us,” said Burgess, who used to work in IT management. That’s why at any given time you may find riffs on the cheeseburger, Thanksgiving dinner and Philly cheesesteak on the menu.
Right now, Pure Pasty is the only American company that has applied to be in the World Pasty Championships, and Burgess and Willis-Jones hope their cultural mash-ups will help them stand out.
“We can’t go over there and do an English/British dish,” Burgess said. (The fact that they are based here means they can’t compete in the “Cornish pasty” section; instead, they’ll be entered in the “open savoury” draw.)
In the professional category, Willis-Jones, whose previous work experience includes cooking at the Royal Air Force, is doing three American-inspired pasties: a barbecue pork with homemade sauce and slaw; a vegan Santa Fe with sweet potatoes, corn, black beans, red pepper and dairy-free cheese; and Kevin’s Bacon with bacon, red pepper, red onion, cheddar and Brussels sprouts — a nod to the former employee named Kevin who helped concoct it, and to the actor.
As a company, Pure Pasty is putting up a Reuben pasty with a filling of corned beef, sauerkraut, potatoes, Swiss cheese and caraway. Burgess called it “stunningly different” and said he is sure it will catch the judges’ eyes with its colorful interior.
As an individual, Burgess will compete with two more staples from Pure Pasty’s roster: chicken masala, made with potatoes, onions, peppers and curry powder; and Moroccan lamb, with spinach, chickpeas and raisins.
Beyond recognition for the actual pasties, “There’s more at stake as well,” Burgess said. Each year, the competition names a world pasty ambassador. The 2016 ambassador hailed from Canada, so Burgess is hoping an American winner is a possibility this year. “We would like to do that.”
The position doesn’t seem that much of a stretch, given the 6½ years Pure Pasty has been in business and teaching Washington-area residents about their British specialty.
“We’re doing it on a daily basis,” Burgess said.
Pure Pasty Co., 128-C Church St. NW, Vienna. 703-255-7147. purepasty.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this article contained a misspelling of Nicola Willis-Jones’s last name. This version has been updated.
The pastry’s flaky and the filling smells and tastes like the deli sandwich it’s named after. It was their first “mashup” pasty, and customers loved it.
MAKE AHEAD: The chilled shortening and/or butter need to be grated on the large-holed sides of a box grater and then refrigerated or frozen until firm. The dough needs to be refrigerated three times – first, for 30 minutes; then rolled and turned twice (Iike a laminated dough for puff pastry) and rested for 25 minutes, and then for 1 hour. The filling can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance.
From Nicola Willis-Jones of the Pure Pasty Co. in Vienna.
For the pastry
1 pound bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 ounces chilled Spectrum brand organic vegetable shortening, or the shortening of your choice, grated (may substitute chilled unsalted butter; see headnote)
4 ounces chilled unsalted butter, grated (see headnote)
7 to 8 ounces cold water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (may substitute distilled white vinegar)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
Caraway seed, for garnish
For the filling
10 ounces sliced, lean corned beef, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup drained sauerkraut
2/3 cup cooked white potato, cut into small dice (from 1 medium russet potato)
About 22/5 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded or grated (2/3 cup)
1/3 cup Thousand Island dressing
2 teaspoons caraway seed
For the pastry: Sift together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the chilled, grated shortening and butter; use a pastry cutter or your clean, cool hands to work it into the dry ingredients.
Combine the cold water and lemon juice; add just enough of that mixture and stir with a fork to form a crumbly mixture that is not wet or sticky, adding a little extra flour, as needed. Gather it together and wrap in plastic wrap; refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Lightly flour a work surface. Unwrap and roll out the pastry mixture into a 6-by-12-inch rectangle. Fold in one of the short sides a third of the way toward the center, then fold the remaining dough over the first fold. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 25 minutes.
Re-flour the surface as needed. Unwrap the folded dough and roll it out to the same size rectangle as before. Repeat the folding steps. You should end up with a rectangle of folded dough that’s about 4-by-9 inches. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
For the filling: Combine the corned beef, sauerkraut, potato, cheese, dressing and caraway seed in a mixing bowl, mixing with your clean hands until well incorporated. The yield is about 31/2 cups. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 1 day).
When you’re ready to assemble the pasties, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
Divide the filling into 7 equal mounds. Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon of water to form an egg wash.
Lightly flour a work surface. Unwrap and roll out the dough there to a rectangle that measures about 14 by 19 inches, with a thickness of no more than 1/4 inch. Cut a total of seven 6-inch rounds, using a plate or bowl as a template; you should be able to cut 6 rounds, then re-roll the scraps to create the 7th round. You may have some scraps of dough left over. Keep the rounds covered and refrigerated as you form the pasties.
Working with one round at a time, roll each one out to a slightly oval shape so the length is perpendicular to the edge of the counter. Place one mound of filling on the lower half of the dough oval, shaping it with your hands so the filling has a 1/2- to 3/4-inch margin around it. Brush that margin with a light coat of the egg wash. Fold over the dough to create a half-moon shape, then crimp the edges with a fork or your fingers so the pasty is sealed tight. Brush with the egg wash and sprinkle the top with caraway seed, then place on the baking sheet. Once they’re all done, use a sharp knife to cut a small vent in the top of each one. Discard any unused egg wash.
Bake (middle rack) for 25 to 35 minutes, rotating the sheet from front to back halfway through. The pasties should be golden brown. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.
Nutrition | Per pasty: 540 calories, 18 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 35 g fat, 17 g saturated fat, 60 mg cholesterol, 840 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar
Recipe tested by Kara Elder; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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