The moment we arrived in New Zealand, the long line at the car rental station made it clear to me that most visitors prefer to view the country by driving through it. Sure, you could easily take a short flight to go from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island, but you would miss the ever-changing, mind-blowingly beautiful landscape that New Zealand has on offer. You’d also miss the opportunity to grab some of the best pies you’ll ever eat—from any gas station along the road.
Every gas station I went to in New Zealand carried a wide range of warm hand pies ready to be picked up and eaten on the go, no utensils required. You’ll find them in hot cases near the checkout counters. Flavors are a-plenty, ranging from bacon and egg to steak and cheese, butter chicken, chicken and mushroom, smoked fish, and my all-time favorite—mince and cheese (beef and cheese).
These mince and cheese pies feature ground beef encased in a thick, dark, beefy gravy interspersed with pockets of melted white cheddar cheese. No flaky, buttery pastry shell I tasted was soggy or leaked any filling. We tried pies from coffee shops and restaurants, but they didn’t stack up to the gas station pies. According to my cousin, it’s not a matter of ingredients; she told me that even the beef used in the gas station pies is grass-fed, due to the warm climate and endless abundance of fresh green grass all year round.
As soon as I got back home, I wanted to figure out how to recreate NZ pies in my own kitchen. There are a lot of varying recipes out there, and what most had in common was puff pastry. I started there, using puff pastry as the base for the pies. I needed a pastry that was flaky enough to bite into but strong enough to avoid getting a soggy bottom, while holding lots of beefy gravy. I found the key was making sure both the filling and the pastry were totally chilled before being filled and baked. (It helps to make the filling the day before.)
I also avoided adding any extra vegetables for nutrition because, well, mince and cheese pies don’t need them. That’s why I opted to make these in a muffin pan, instead of in a larger individual pie size, which is what you would find in New Zealand. Two, plus a salad, can be lunch; one is a tasty snack.
Now that I have a stash in my freezer, if I feel like eating one in the car, I can heat one up and eat it on the go. The only caveat is that I’ll just have to settle for city views instead of breathtaking landscapes around every bend.
Note: You can save the puff pastry scraps and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar or Parmesan cheese & fresh thyme to make a tasty snack. —Miranda Keyes
- Prep time 3 hours
- Cook time 45 minutes
- Makes 12
small onion, finely diced
clove garlic, minced
lean ground beef
1 1/2 cups
450-gram packages pre-rolled butter puff-pastry, thawed in the fridge
(100g) aged white cheddar cheese, finely diced
- Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add onion, cook, stirring often until tender and starting to brown on the edges, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Add ground beef to pan and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no pink remains, about 5-6 minutes.
- Stir in salt and a few cracks of black pepper. Sprinkle flour over beef and cook, 1 minute. Pour in beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. Bring to a boil, scraping all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer until gravy has reduced and thickened, about 6-8 minutes.
- Scrape beef mixture into a bowl and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, this will take at least 1-2 hours. The filling can easily be made the day before.
- Remove puff pastry from fridge. Roll sheets to 1/8-inch thick. Cut puff pastry into twelve 4-inch rounds and twelve 3-inch rounds. Pre-mark where you will cut each round as you will have just enough dough for all the rounds. Place onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and let chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Place larger puff pastry rounds in the base of each muffin tin, pressing along the sides so they are flush with the bottom and sides of the tin. The dough should slightly overlap the rims, stretch dough slightly if needed.
- Remove the chilled beef mixture from the fridge. Stir in the diced cheese. Evenly divide filling between each pie, packing them right to the top.
- Whisk the egg in a bowl. Brush the edges of the pastry overlap with the egg mixture and top with smaller pastry rounds. Press around the edges of the pies using the tines of a fork to create a seal. Cut a small slit into the top of each pie. Use the remaining egg to brush the tops of each pie. Place the tray in the freezer to chill for 15 mins before baking.
- While the pies are chilling preheat the oven to 425° F. Bake pies for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.