How to make pies: Beef & guinness pie

Beef & guinness pie

It's tough writing a food blog when you're in a different hemisphere to 90% of your readers. While you guys drip with sweat I'm roasting chickens, and in a couple of months when you're covered in snow I'll be posting pictures of watermelon and lime smoothies photographed in the stark 7pm sunlight. But like a brave little steam engine, I push on nobly.

With winter in full swing here, I was feeling a distinct lack of pies. You know that feeling you get when you haven't had a pie in a while? The sweating, the nausea, the irritability and vague sense of paranoia? Classic pie withdrawal. The only cure: a good pie. Pot pies are great, but to achieve a state of true nirvana a hearty stew encased on all sides in buttery pasty — that is, a proper pie — tastes as good as it sounds. Can you tell I like pies?

While the recipe is for a beef & guinness pie, this entry is about pies in general. If you do everything from scratch it might take you an afternoon, but with pastry and stew in the freezer you can easily knock out a pie on a weeknight. There are 3 basic steps that you can read about after the jump: The pastry, the filling, and then bringing it all together.

The pastry
Shortcrust pastry for the base, puff pastry for the top. If you can't be bothered making your own shortcrust, buy premade (but with butter, not vegetable oil, please) and don't feel guilty about it. That said, shortcrust pastry is deceptively easy to make using this simple formula: 1 part water, 3 parts butter, 4 parts flour, and a little salt.

Shortcrust pastry

Ingredients (makes 2 pies with some pastry leftover):

  • 160g plain flour
  • 120g butter, chilled and in small cubes
  • 40ml (1/4 cup) ice cold water

1. Add the flour and butter to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they just come together (any more than this will melt the butter and overwork the flour).
2. Add the water, a third at a time until you get a dough that is not sticky but holds together when you press it compact in your palm.
3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, and bring together to form one ball of dough. Refrigerate until firm.

What you don't need can be frozen and used later for quiche crusts, galettes, anything really. Freeze it rolled out rather than in a ball, to allow for quicker thawing. Just make sure to seal it well to prevent drying.

The filling
Reason #34 of why pies rule is that you can put anything in a pie. Meat, fish, vegetables, and although I only just thought of it I bet you could put macaroni cheese in there too. Oh I'm so doing that. There are a few classics however, and beef & guinness is surely one of them. As I see it, you want to taste the Guinness but you also want to taste the beef, so make sure to balance the beer's bitterness with salt. It won't taste too salty, trust me, but it is needed. If you cut the beef into larger chunks this also serves as a tasty stew.

Beef & guinness stew/pie filling

Ingredients (makes enough for 2 pies):

  • 300g braising beef (e.g. chuck), cut to small cubes
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 3 tbsp canola/vegetable oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced finely
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1.5 tsp thyme (1/2 tsp if using dried thyme)
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup (250 ml) beef stock
  • 200ml Guinness or other stout
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt & black pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Meanwhile, dust the beef with 1 tbsp of plain flour. Heat a thick pan until very hot, then add 2 tbsp of the oil and cook the beef until the outside develops a deep caramel crust (in batches if necessary). Set the seared beef aside.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil, the onions and carrot. Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring, then add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, remaining 1 tbsp of flour, and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
3. Return the beef to the pan, then pour in the Guinness, beef stock, and Worcestershire sauce and bring to a boil. Place in the oven and cook partially covered for about 1.5-2 hours until the beef is tender and the gravy reduced. If it's looking at risk of burning stir in 1/4 cup of water.
4. When cooked, adjust the seasoning and set aside for making the pie.

Beef & guinness pie

Bringing it all together

This the part that, if prepared, you could do in no time at all. I highly recommend these mini springform pans for making pies, but you can use almost anything. I've successfully cooked mini pies in a muffin tin before, and just from glancing into the cupboard I can see some straight-sided ramekins that could work in a pinch. You don't have to worry about sticking, as the amount of butter the pastry will allow them to slide right out of whatever they're cooked in.

Bringing it all together


  • Shortcrust pastry (homemade or prepared)
  • Pie filling
  • Puff pastry
  • 1 egg, whisked together

1. Roll out the shortcrust pastry to 2-3mm thickness. Cut circles that are larger than your pie mold, and line the pie molds with the pastry leaving some excess overhanging (the pastry will contract). Refrigerate for a couple of hours1 until firm.
2. Preheat your oven to 200ºC/390ºF. Trim the cooled pie shells in their molds, leaving about 1cm of excess. Blind bake the pie shells for 10 minutes.
3. Fill the pie shells with filling (duh), and brush the rim with whisked egg. Place a circle of puff pastry on top, pressing at the edges to help stick it to the base. Cut a flap in the puff pastry2, brush the top with whisked egg and place in the oven for 25 minutes3. Devour.

(1) Or use the freezer to speed this up, just don't forget about them.
(2) This will let steam escape, preventing your pie from blowing out where the roof meets the base.
(3) The exact time will depend on the size of your pie molds.

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