Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Cottage Pie buns

Lovely, warm, meat-filled rolls
And so to Dan's favourite meal. Cottage pie, of course. Or shepherd's pie. It's all the same to Dan. So long as there is a juicy minced-meat sauce and huge amounts of mashed potato, he's happy. Usually about four-servings happy. Honestly, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't think it possible for a nine-year-old boy to put so much food in his mouth at one sitting without coming apart at the seams. But so it is.

To turn the meal into one of our bread inventions, I decided to make potato bread rolls stuffed with a spoonful of cottage pie filling. Though I say it myself, they were very successful - best invention so far. (Double-yum thumbs from the whole family.)

Dan's Thumbometer - Double yum
(both warm and cold the next day)
I couldn't see any point in making a filling just for this invention, so I made a cottage pie for dinner one evening and put aside some of the filling before covering the rest with mash. I froze the extra for the rolls because it was several days before I wanted to make the bread, but I could just as easily have put it in the fridge and used it the next day.

There must be as many ways of making a cottage pie filling as there are cooks in the land, and the easiest thing is to fill the rolls with your usual recipe. But in case you've not made cottage pie before, I've dropped my own recipe for the filling at the end of this post. I have no intention of telling you how to mash a potato!

Anyhow, here's how we made the rolls. I used the Hairy Bikers' recipe for the potato bread and made it to the quantities they recommend (although I replaced the sunflower oil with olive oil and didn't add onion seeds  - and forgot to save the water that the potatoes were boiled in so got it from the tap).

Special ingredient
140g cottage pie filling, cold
1 egg, beaten

Having forgotten to save the potato water, I used cool tap water rather than warm and left the dough to rise for two hours rather than the usual one. (I use cool rather than warm water because Paul Hollywood says that the slower rise gives a better flavour, and I've found that to be true.)
The flour was eventually incorporated
I followed the Hairy Bikers' guidance to the letter on making the dough, resisting the temptation to add water to the initially very dry dough - and was glad that I did because it did become tacky and needed a constant dusting of flour while being kneaded. Once the dough had risen for two hours, it was deliciously soft. Still a bit sticky if you played with it too much, but lovely and silky.

After rising, I weighed the dough and found it to be exactly 700g, so divided it into 7 pieces each weighing 100g. I rolled each piece into a ball, flattened it into a circle, put 20g of cold cottage pie filling into the middle and pressed it down gently. I then shaped the roll around the filling by pulling up the sides, carefully massaging them over the filling, then caging my hand around the dough and rolling it back into a ball shape. The pictures should give you a rough idea of how I did it - though I couldn't 'cage' and take a picture at the same time, so no image of that.

1. Circle of dough with filling added
2. Dough pulled up around filling
3. Dough fully worked up around filling
4. Fully rolled and turned over

At this stage, I would usually have left the rolls to prove for about an hour and then baked them at 200C (400F, gas 6), but I had to go out for a few hours. So once I'd put the newly made dough rolls on a baking sheet lined with oiled greaseproof paper and placed the sheet in a plastic bag, I put it all in the fridge. When I got home, I took covered baking sheet out, woke the rolls up near a radiator for about 3/4 of an hour, brushed them with beaten egg and baked them for 25 minutes. I love how you can play with timings in this way.

We ate most of the rolls after just 15 minutes of cooling. The bread was soft, the filling warm and oozing (looks fittingly rude in the picture, don't you think?). The whole was incredibly satisfying. They worked the next day too, and would be good with mayonnaise for a picnic lunch.

Cottage Pie filling 
Makes a pie big enough for 4 greedy people - even where one of them is Dan - plus enough for 7 rolls.

1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 sticks celery, diced
500g beef mince
500g pork mince
good dollop of tomato puree
herbs of choice
750ml stock, approx (probably more if you cook it longer than 2 hours)
     (good cubes of any flavour; posh or homemade stock also good but unnecessary)
1 teaspoon honey, dissolved in stock
olive or vegetable oil, for frying


Put the minced meats in a large bowl and mix them together with your hands.

Gently fry the diced onion, carrots and celery in a large ovenproof casserole, until they are well softened but not brown (or not very). Add the meat and fry until it is all browned, stirring to make sure you've got it all. Add the tomato puree and seasonings, stir and then pour over enough of the honeyed stock to cover the meat. Bring to a low boil then turn down the heat to its very lowest setting so that the mixture is only just bubbling. Leave it to do this for at least 2 hours, stirring every so often. Do not cover the pan. Add stock whenever the mixture most of what you've already added has been absorbed/evaporated. If there is a lot of excess oil on the top, skim most of it off, though do leave some.

After 2 or even 3 hours, the meat should be glossy, moist and unctuous with not too much liquid sauce. It is then perfect to be topped with lots of mashed potato - start putting it on around the edge and then move inwards so that you contain the sauce as you go (a tip I picked up years ago from Gary Rhodes). Fluff up the top of the mash with a fork, or use the fork to make a ridged pattern.

Put the pie in an oven heated to 200C (400F, gas 6) for about half an hour. If the potato hasn't browned a little by this time, whack the pie under the grill for a few minutes before serving.


  1. I want these in my mouth. Unfortunately I have work today and will have to make them tomorrow, instead.

  2. Good luck when you do make them. Though I say it myself, they are utterly gorgeous.