Wise yer bap… put pasties on them!

Growing up reciting the Lord’s Prayer everyday at school, it made perfect sense that we asked to be given our daily bread. Belfast is a city of bakeries and practically every meal, including our famous Ulster Fry, combines bread in some shape or form. In fact, the city even gives its name to the world famous crusty Belfast Bap.

Perfect filled with anything, mainly fried goods, this humble bread roll has an illustrious past. Invented by master baker, cross community pioneer and philanthropist Barney Hughes in the 1840s, it is credited with feeding the city during the Famine and ensuring it wasn’t as badly affected as many other parts of Ireland, paving the way for it to become one of the great industrial centres of the Empire, famed especially for shipbuilding, including the Titanic.

The Belfast bap is still baked daily back in Northern Ireland, forming the basis of many a meal. There’s few things that don’t taste better stuffed into a buttery Belfast bap. In fact, a crisp sandwich isn’t a crisp sandwich unless it’s Tayto Cheese & Onion on a proper burnt brown topped bap. But the ultimate Belfast meal is that stalwart of every chippie, the Pastie Bap.

Nothing like its pastry-cased Cornish cousin, the Belfast pastie is a patty of sausagemeat and potato dipped in batter, deep fried til golden and then either slipped between side of a buttered bap and anointed with your choice of sauce, or  served as a pastie supper with chips. Designed to use up the leftover chips from the day before, they have become a delicacy in their own right. They are the perfect food to fortify you on a cold, damp Belfast day with the wind whistling down from the Cave Hill.

Unfortunately no-one in England has ever heard of them and even with my phenomenal ability to carb load, I can’t get a Cornish pasty into a sandwich. I tend to pine for them when I’m in London and make a beeline for the chippie when I’m home. But that’s not enough anymore. Inspired by an afternoon with a friend who’s just moved back to Belfast, I decided the time had come to make my own pastie baps from scratch.

I started with the bap. I knew I wouldn’t be able to achieve quite the same sensation at home. Belfast Baps have a crispy flour dusted oven scorched top and a chewy texture that comes from the hottest commercial oven possible. But as long as it was big and golden, any bap would do. I started by looking for a recipe from my prized copy of The Belfast Cookbook by Margaret Bates. Published in the 60s by the head of Domestic Science at the teaching college, it’s the bible for local foodstuffs and sure enough, there’s a recipe for (Scottish) baps.

Easy enough once you’ve got used to lbs and ounces, I followed it to the letter, scalding milk and melting lard and proving the dough on a sunny Sunday morning before baking in a hot steamy oven that made the house smell fantastic. Sadly though after waiting with baited breath I opened the oven door to bap shaped bricks. Despite an ounce of yeast in the mix, the baps didn’t rise an inch. It was a total bap malfunction.

Disappointed beyond belief, I went back to Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet and used his recipe for soft white baps on page 60. A little bit more time consuming, but delightfully forgiving (even though I left the sponge overnight), these ended up being totally bap-tastic. The tops got a good chewy crispy vibe going and then the insides were soft and bouncy and beautiful. I couldn’t stop staring at them.

I eventually tore my eyes away and got stuck into the pasties. These are best made with sausagemeat, so ask your butcher for some if you don’t want to be stood skinning sossidges for hours. Get something coarse cut, not that weird pink sludge you see at Christmas time in supermarkets. You want some bite. Fry it off lightly until just cooked and allow to cool. Then if you don’t happen to have some spare uncooked chips knocking around, do some mash instead. Drain it really really well and mash lightly. Lumps are fine. You don’t want paste in your pastie.

Then get your spices together. Pasties are packed with flavour and not at all bland. They were probably the most spiced thing available in Northern Ireland for years and you want them tasty. Put about a teaspoon of black pepper and freshly ground nutmeg in. Then a half teaspoon of ground cloves, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, ground coriander seed, ground ginger and white pepper are added and everything gets well mixed. You don’t need to bind the mixture with anything. The fat in the sausagemeat holds it all together. Then with your hands, form into patties and flatten out. Put them on a plate and pop it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so to make them easier to dip in the batter.

Your batter is simple. Use self raising flour and sparkling water to make a batter with a light dropping texture. Don’t rest it as you want the bubbles to keep it airy. Then dip your pasty into the batter, covering it completely and shaking off any excess. Carefully slip into a pan of hot oil and deep fry for about 2 minutes or until the batter is golden, puffed up and lovely and crispy. Drain onto kitchen towel and slip between an opened buttered bap. Sauce is optional.

Steaming hot, crispy, chewy, savoury and the right side of stodgy, I can only give these pasties the highest accolade and say they taste just like ones from childhood. But I think the baps might be even better than the ones I grew up on. Slightly less abrasive and better flavoured, they were amazing. Try making both the bread and the filling from scratch if you can, but even shop bought baps will give you the proper chippie style experience, especially when served with some scalding hot mousetrotting strong Belfast Brew tea. You’ll see why Van Morrison wrote a song about them…

A Sense of Wonder by Van Morrison

Wee Alfie at the Castle Picture house on the Castlereagh Road.
Whistling on the corner next door where
He kept Johnny McBride’s horse.
O Solo mio by McGimpsey
And the man who played the saw
Outside the city hall.
Pastie suppers down at Davey’s chipper
Gravy rings, wagon wheels, barmbracks, snowballs.

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17 replies
  1. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    I’m so disappointed that I didn’t get to experience anything like this when I went to Belfast last time! It looks immense in all the right ways.

  2. Miss Cay
    Miss Cay says:

    These remind me slightly of that great Northern delicacy, ‘the pie barm’. You take a barmcake (which is a lot like the baps you’ve described here), and then you insert a pie between them. I’m quite fond of Cheese and Onion pie barms, even if my waistline isn’t.

    The pasties sound like they’re just deep fried pieces of Lorne sausage. Which means that they sound absolutely GENIUS.

  3. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    I thought pie barms were a joke. A delicious sounding joke that I have always wanted to try though.

    The pasties are a bit like Lorne Sausage, but with chips added in. Swoon!

  4. Dave
    Dave says:

    You’re right about no-one in England knowing about these, I’ve never heard of such a thing. I want one now, it looks amazing.

    Do all the chippies in Belfast do them? (…consults Skyscanner to plan weekend break)

  5. Mister North
    Mister North says:

    I’ve never seen one over here (though I wonder if the Scots may also do something similar… it’s better than a cheap deep-fried burger, I can tell ye!)

    The nearest thing since I came to England is the great Northern fish-cake… two slabs of spud, with fish in between, then battered. A dying breed these days. Perhaps we can persuade local chippies to give making pastie baps a go? :-)

  6. chris
    chris says:

    I’m going to try this at the weekend, I hope it comes close to the taste of home! I’ve got potato bread, and fish shop battered cod perfected, now to perfect a pastie :)

  7. Sean Bloomfield
    Sean Bloomfield says:

    Hi Guys
    Finally took the plunge and have introduced the famous “Belfast Pastie to our customers. Been testing them with existing and passing customers over the last six weeks..after much investigation and recipe trials..it is no meen feat to try and stand along side the belfast staple…
    However our customers are now reveling in what they had been missing
    Regards
    Sean

  8. kirkby
    kirkby says:

    So you put the potato or leftover chips in with the sausagemeat in the patties?
    Not that I should ever be allowed to eat these ………… too moreish!

  9. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Kirkby: yup, they are uncooked chips, squashed by your hands and then mixed with the sausagemeat so you get a fairly chunky patty. Defrosted oven chips work quite well or some fairly lumpy mash is good too. A good pastie isn’t smooth inside but has some bite. And yes, they are beyond moreish eaten piping hot, doused in vinegar and with chips on the side….

  10. Ricardo
    Ricardo says:

    These things had meat in them? I always wondered what those pink granules were. I recall that the spices were what made them for me. Though I doubt our local chippie could have known what coriander was (I’m talking about pre-Easyjet days when a ‘foreign’ holiday was Ayr). Have you ever thought of opening a gastrochippie? There’s a market for it. And these pasties.

  11. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Ricardo: I LOVE the idea of a gastrochippie! I think that’s my happy place in my mind. I’ll warn you though, a bad pastie is the worst thing ever. Like pink slime with cheap crisp flavouring. Good ones like from the Hungry Hound 2 on the Ormeau Road are sublime though!

  12. Sean Bloomfield
    Sean Bloomfield says:

    Having posted back in July
    I feel the tight recipe for the pastie (my version )from a flavour perspective can only be based on my memory.
    Just like when you find your favourite chinese or Indian take away you probably have to pass 2or3 locations to get to your favourite.
    We own a successful fish and chip shop in the midlands and although my passion for quality has to be backed with consistent attention, it can become repetitive as the staple chip shop menu can be restrictive….so I get bored ..thankfully I go into experimental mode which provides me an opportunity for culinary discovery.
    Our belfast pastie based on my investigation back home ..is
    1: bucket of cooked chips, 4 skinned raw jumbo sausages,2 cooking onions, and the key ingredient for that home memory is a generous 4 heaped desert spoons
    of ” white pepper” very distinctive from black pepper ,all mixed with salt to season in a large pot or mixing bowl…I generally get 21 – 24 pasties around 4inches wide, so adjust your domestic portions to suit .
    We already sell cod and we add salad to our kebabs ….so
    With some added Cajun seasoning and no batter we have a
    Cajun cod dressed with lemon juice Cajun seasoning and served on a bed of salad also dressed.
    Then introduce the lemon pepper variation
    Also then introduce the mini fish version served in a pitta bread
    Gastrochippy I wish… But working on it

  13. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Sean: this had me Googling train times to your town. Sounds fabulous and I love a wee bit of gastro-ing up the chippie. Hope people enjoy. I’m pining for a pastie supper now and it’s months til I can get my hands on one!

  14. Steve Pugh
    Steve Pugh says:

    Hey Miss South,

    A BIG thank you to you for posting this blog post, the Irish Pasty brings back so many good memories for me as a kid going back and forth to Belfast to visit relatives!

    My mums from Northern Ireland and married my farther who was in the forces at the time. I grew up traveling the world with my dad’s various postings but every year as a kid, my brother and I would always travel to Belfast at least twice a year to catch up with the family there. This meant that twice a year I was luckily enough to savour these heavenly delight’s, even thinking about them conjures up some wonderful memories of my dearly departed granddad (he was the first person to introduce me to the unforgettable taste!).

    I have to be honest and admit that I came across your post back in 2012 when you first posted after Googling “Irish Pastie Recipe” (as you do) and the link has sat in my ‘favourites’ pretty much since then. After countless attempts to prize the recipe from various ‘chippies’ over in NI (the recipe appears to be as top secret as it gets!!) and yet more Google searching I came right back your post and decided to give it a try! After a few months of ‘tweaking’ I think I have finally nailed the taste that adore so much.

    I think it’s fair to say that no two Irish Pastie recipes are the same, each chippie uses a slightly different (closely guarded!) approach to their spicing but using your spice list I was off too pretty much a great start.

    For me, the inclusion of cayenne together with the white pepper made the mix a little to hot for my taste buds so I ditched the cayenne and dumbed down the white pepper a little too. I found also that the half teaspoon of cloves over-powered the other sweet spices; namely the nutmeg and cinnamon so I lessoned this also.

    On my most recent visit, last November, I asked the owner of my favourite NI chippie if she used onions in her mix, the reply was no, not onions; onion powder and some parsley to balance it out (that was the only information I could charm out of her!!)…

    In any case, after MONTHS of research and roughly 16 attempts (all slightly different) I’ve come up with a recipe that best mirrors the taste that I enjoy so much. Based mainly on your recipe here it is;

    6 good quality course pork meat sausages (you are correct in saying that butcher bought sausages are the best to use). Skins removed, pressed with the back of a folk to separate the meat out.

    8 medium sized floury potatoes, (I used Maris Piper). Pealed, diced, boiled and roughly mashed (lumpier the better).

    Then the spice list;

    1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper.
    1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I tried it with ground nutmeg from a jar but it was far to intense in flavour!)

    1/2 tsp all spice
    1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
    1/2 tsp ground ginger

    … and my slight alterations;

    3 ground clove stems
    1/4 tsp ground white pepper
    2 tbsp onion granules (no need to season with salt)
    2 tbsp dried parsley

    The method used, including the batter is all thanks to you :)

    Again, many thanks for sharing your recipe and your experience of the wonderment that is the Irish Pastie, I’ve finally cracked a recipe that has frustrated me for many years.

    P.S. loving the sound of “gastrochippy”… although I would settle for the Irish Pastie featuring on my local (Welsh) chippie’s menu :)

  15. Miss South
    Miss South says:

    Steve: this is the best comment ever written. I honestly couldn’t be happier to be bringing pasties to the masses and sating the ex pats’ desires. And you sound like you’ve totally got it. I’m going to try this at the weekend as I have some really nice sausagemeat in the frezer from Christmas needing used up. I am hungry just thinking about it….

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