Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Spiral Beef Pudding

This is my own variation on a well-tried theme: a kind of warped love-child of two classics of British cooking, the Steak and Kidney Pudding and the Jam Roly Poly.  Done badly, both these dishes can be appalling; done properly, they are divine, and I hope you find that my creation will fall into the latter camp.

This is filling, economical, and pretty easy: don’t let the long list below put you off, as each step is a simple one.  My mission as The Guerilla Griller is that anyone can cook, however inexperienced and nervous in the kitchen, and can go from learning one dish to create many.  This is a great example: once you’ve got the basic principle you can run with it and be as inventive as you like.  I have used ground/minced beef here, but you can use what you like as a filling – use other meat or fish, go purely vegetarian, or, as I’ll show you at the end, make it into a sweet course.  I spoke to a friend about this recipe recently, and she said that her mother used to make something very similar to use up the remains of a boiled gammon, or other cooked meats left from the Sunday roast.

If you’ve never heard of Roly Poly before, the idea is that you make a simple suet pastry, spread your filling of choice on it, roll it up like a somewhat over-sized Swiss Roll, and then bake it in the oven.

Equipment: you will need a rolling pin, a good quality baking tin or tray, and a pastry brush (or you can use a wad of kitchen towel if you don’t have a pastry brush).  You will also need a good sized saucepan or frying pan to make the filling.


For the suet pastry:

8oz/225grams plain/general purpose flour, plus a little extra flour for the rolling out
4oz/110grams grated or shredded suet
Pinch each of salt and ground pepper
Approximately (see method) 4-8 tablespoons of cold water

To glaze: a little milk, one beaten egg, or a mixture of both

For a simple beef filling (or get inventive and create your own)

8oz minced/ground beef
1 medium onion, diced finely
2 cloves of garlic, diced or sliced finely, or crushed
1 stick of celery, de-stringed as much as possible, diced finely
1 carrot, peeled and diced finely
1-2 teaspoons of your favourite mustard
1-2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of tomato puree, or if not available, tomato ketchup/catsup
2-4 tablespoons good beef stock, or if not available, use one crumbled stock cube or an equivalent amount of Bovril or other beef extract

Salt and pepper – remember that the Worcestershire sauce, and also maybe the mustard, puree and stock will be seasoned, so taste first

You may also need a little more stock, plain water, or perhaps a splash of wine if the mixture becomes too dry in the cooking – don’t add this unless you really have to

A little oil for frying and for greasing the baking tray


Pastry: you can do this by hand, or in a mixer.  Sift the flour and salt into the bowl and add the grated suet and pepper.  Mix well, and begin to add the water, starting with the smallest amount.  Keep mixing, and stop adding water as soon as the dough comes together.  Cover, and refrigerate until needed.

The filling: fry the beef on a medium to high heat, allowing it to brown.  You may need to do this in batches.  Remove the beef, allowing excess fat and other liquids to drain away.

Gently sweat the onion, carrot and celery for a few minutes then add the garlic.  Cook for a few minutes more, until the vegetables have begun to soften and take on a little colour: do not let them burn, especially the garlic which can go from gorgeously golden and nutty to blackened and bitter the moment you turn your back.

Return the meat to the pan, and add the other filling ingredients.  Cook gently over a low heat for at least another fifteen to twenty minutes, but the longer you can leave it the better.  Add a little more liquid if necessary, but remember that you want the result to be only just moist, not sloppy.

Once cooked to your satisfaction (are the meat and vegetables tender and tasting good?) remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Both the initial pastry making and the cooking of the filling can be done way ahead of time: even a day or two before the final cooking.

To assemble and cook the Spiral Beef Pudding:

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F.

Lightly oil/grease the baking tin/sheet and dust with a little flour.

Turn out the pastry onto a floured board: flour your hands and the rolling pin too.  Roll out into a rectangle roughly 8x12inces/20x30cm – the pastry is fairly flexible and easy to handle, so pat in the edges with the side of your hand, then roll and trim until you get a good shape.  (You could form the trimmings into little balls, freeze them, and then you have dumplings ready to pop into your next stew.)
Spread the cold filling onto the surface of the pastry rectangle, leaving a half inch/1cm border all round.  Use only a thin layer of the filling, just enough to cover: you may well have some left over, so reserve (perhaps freeze) to use as the base of a pasta sauce or similar at a later date.

Brush the border with your milk/egg wash, then fold in these margins, which will make a little barrier to help prevent the filling oozing out while cooking.  Now, working from the thinner edge, roll the pastry with its filling fairly loosely (it will need room to expand inside)  until you have a plump Swiss roll shape.  Wipe off any excess filling that oozes out, and firmly seal the ends of the roll.

Carefully lift onto the baking sheet, with the seam underneath.  Using your pastry brush (or your substitute wad of kitchen paper) brush all over with the egg/milk wash.  Bake in the oven for around one hour – nearing this time, insert a skewer or thin knife to make sure that the pastry has cooked right through; bake for longer if necessary.  The shape will have settled into something more oval than round, and if you rolled it a bit too tightly the top may have split a little as the dough expanded during the cooking: neither is a problem in the eating.  The outsides will be golden and crunchy, while the insides remain soft and fluffy.

Cut off the very ends (these can be disposed of, or munched as a “cook’s perk”) then slice the roll into suitable portions.  You probably don’t actually need any more carbohydrate, yet a nice mound of creamy mashed potato, along with some good gravy and a fresh green vegetable, would go very well here.

For those who don't want the oval shape, and the crusty outside, you may wish to consider cooking by steaming, a more traditional method for suet puddings.   Prepare, fill and roll as above, then wrap loosely but thoroughly, first in a layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, and then in two layers of kitchen foil.  Make sure that both layers of foil are tightly sealed at the joins.  Place on a rack above gently simmering water, and cover.  You will need a very large pan, or you can do this in the oven on a rack in a covered roasting tray full of hot water.  The cooking is much longer by this method: at least three hours, possibly four.  The foil wrap helps it keep a rounder shape, and it will be soft and fluffy all over, with no crusty-ness.  Personally, I love the contrast between crusty and fluffy, and I don't mind at all about the shape, but it's up to you.

And finally, yes, I did mention the sweet option earlier in this piece: for Jam Roly Poly, just substitute your favourite jam for the meat filling.  Cook by either the baking or steaming method,  and serve with cream or good custard.


  1. Sounds great, I never tried anything with suet. Will try this sometime.

  2. Suet pastry is great: it should never be heavy and stodgy as some imagine, it should be light and fluffy. You can cook by steaming to get a soft texture throughout, or bake uncovered to get a combination of crusty top and fluffy inside, as I detail in the recipe. Hope you enjoy, do let me know how you got on.