Scottish Steak Pie Ale Hogmanay New Years

This Scottish steak pie is made with ale (preferably a dark one!) and uses ready made puff pastry – the result is a deliciously filling crumbly pie!

For most countries, the apex of the holiday season circles around the mid-December timeframe. With “big hitter” holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah (and even those like shab-e-yalda), much of the festive cheer is expended before New Year’s Eve.

The Scots, however, approach things a little differently. Their celebration of Hogmanay trumps everything else, and foods like steak pie are a major part of it.

Steak Pie, Hogmanay, the Vikings and Superstitions

Before diving into the steak pie itself, we’re going to first dive into one of the most intriguing holidays of them all: Hogmanay.

Origins of Hogmanay

Whereas the celebration of the New Year is a fairly new tradition (only since ~400 years ago) for us in the Western world, the Scots have maintained the ancient tradition of Hogmanay for much longer than that.

There’s an ongoing debate as to where the actual name Hogmanay comes from. Some debate that it comes from the Old Anglo-Saxon words Haleg Monath (Holy Month) while others think it derives from the Gaelic Oge Maidne (New Morning). Yet despite the name quibbles, you’re brought nonetheless back to the one overarching theme of Hogmanay: to ring in the New Year on a positive note.

The tradition traces back to between the 8th or 9th century and the arrival of the Vikings. Like we saw with Finnish joulutortut and Norwegian sandkaker, the Norse had already a longstanding pagan tradition Jul honoring the winter solstice. In other Nordic and Northern European nations, Jul gradually evolved into similar forms of Christmas celebration as Christianity spread throughout the continent.

A Different Evolution

There are two reasons for things transpiring differently in Scotland.

First, the Scottish used the Celtic calendar in pre-Christian times. As opposed to the standard 12-month Gregorian calendar that would come later, the Celtic calendar placed special emphasis on mirroring the Earth’s seasonality and, by extension, the “cycle of life.” At each Quarter Day, the Scots held multi-day celebrations to usher good luck into the new turning season. The wintertime festival in the Celtic calendar was called Samhain, and many of its traditions are still alive as transplants in the Hogmanay celebration.

What really drove Hogmanay into its own unique traditions, though, was the Protestant Reformation. While the 16th century Reformation had a massive impact over the entire continent, the rise of Protestantism had an especially powerful effect on the very pious Scottish nation. Triggered by Henry VIII’s conversion – which took the entire English nation along with him – Scotland quickly decried Catholicism and anything that went along with it.

Perfect for This Unique New Year’s Celebration

For most countries, the apex of the holiday season circles around the mid-December timeframe. With “big hitter” holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah (and even those like shab-e-yalda), much of the festive cheer is expended before New Year’s Eve.

The Scots, however, approach things a little differently. Their celebration of Hogmanay trumps everything else, and foods like steak pie are a major part of it.

Modern Traditions Around Hogmanay

While some older Hogmanay traditions have died out – like dressing in cattle hides and running around town getting hit with sticks – there are still plenty of rituals that go into the celebration.

One of the most important Hogmanay traditions involves a major house cleaning. The act of “redding the house” ensures the household a fresh, clean start in the New Year. Between redding and “saining,” or blessing, anything in sight (even the water), you’re ready for prosperity in the year ahead.

In line with saining, a properly executed first footing will bring your home luck as well. First footing refers to whomever sets the first foot into your house after the stroke of midnight. If the first foot belongs to a dark-haired male, the household gains good fortune. If not, the household is unfortunately stone out of luck. Those entering the house often bring gifts, which can range from lumps of coal (in a good way) to whiskey to shortbread, for their hosts as well.

There’s plenty of partying going on during Hogmanay too. Fire ceremonies for cleansing and purifying the soul – an original remnant from Viking tradition – remain a key component of Hogmanay today. And of course, there’s more common partying adjoining the fiery fun. The evening of Hogmanay offers up some serious partying well into the wee hours of Ne’erday (New Year’s Day).

Alcohol is a key component for these parties, but so is hearty, delicious food like steak pie.

About the Recipe

Especially with the rise of the “gastropub” and a renewed interest in homemade British cooking, there’s a fierce debate on how to properly cook steak pie. On one side, you have the traditional approach of cooking the filling and pastry together as one cohesive steak pie unit. On the other, you’re advised to pre-cook the filling separate from the pastry.

In our case, we’re going to lay out the recipe as you would pre-cook the filling. It offers a more fool-proof way of not burning your pastry, and it gives you a little more control over the general process.

There’s no mistaking it: steak pie does take some time to make. Luckily, most of the time is passive as the pie cooks in the oven.

stockpot and sliced and cubed ingredients

The Filling

You’ll start by putting a stockpot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat on your stovetop. The first step to preparing your steak pie filling is to pre-sear and brown your cubed beef pieces. It’s very common to pre-dredge your beef in a seasoned flour before browning, but you’ll see later on why we personally chose not to do that.

Once browned, you’ll remove the meat from the stockpot and proceed with lightly cooking your hearty vegetables like onions, carrots, mushroom, etc. As the vegetables start to soften and sweat, you’ll add in your braising liquids and add back in your meat.

Cooking onions, carrots, mushroom in stockpot
Adding red wine in the stockpot
Cooking braising liquids and vegetables together in stockpot

Depending on the recipe you find, you might feature a braising liquid of broth, red wine, beer, or any/all of the above. If you choose to go the beer route, be sure to choose a non-hoppy type of beer. As the braising liquid reduces during cooking, hoppy beers lend an unnecessarily bitter taste to the steak pie filling. It’s better instead to use a beer like a dark ale, a stout or a porter.

With your liquid added, you’ll then submerge some additional aromatics and herbs. Cover your stockpot and place it in the oven for 2.5 hours, and you’re on your way to a delicious steak pie filling.

Delicious filling is cooked after 2.5 hours in oven

Putting It Together

As your steak pie filling finishes braising, remove it from the oven and let it cool uncovered for a bit. The key to having a delicious, flaky steak pie is in letting your filling cool. If the filling is still overly hot come assembly time, the puff pastry wilts and becomes soggy from the heat and emanating steam.

While your filling cools, take your puff pastry and roll it down to ~1/4 inch thickness. The goal is to have the entire puff pastry cover your casserole dish and to seal the steak pie filling into the casserole chamber. When your puff pastry is thin enough, set it aside for the time being.

Rolling dough on wooden surface with rolling pin

Putting your steak pie together is a real cinch at this stage. Fill your casserole dish with the cooled filling, then drape the puff pastry over top of the entire dish. Cut the excess pastry away from the dish, brush the top of your steak pie with some eggwash, and pop the whole thing in the oven for ~35 minutes.

Filling evenly spread in casserole
Evenly cutting edges of dough surrounded casserole
Cutting decorative petal from dough and placing it on top of casserole

That’s it! By the time you take the steak pie out of the oven, you’ll have a sumptuous hearty entree perfect for your Hogmanay-inspired feast.

Our Take on the Recipe

Given the diversity of options for steak pie, it was tough to keep ourselves strictly beholden to one recipe’s methods. In making our choice, though, we opted for a recipe deried from Maw Boon’s cookbook to start us on our way.

With this as a base, we did make some substantial changes. For starters, we made the major adjustment of swapping out beef stock for a combination featuring a porter with red wine and vegetable stock. For us, this led to the most flavorful version of steak pie that we preferred most.

In addition to the basic ingredients, we also added a few more aromatic pieces into our steak pie filling. From celery to garlic (of course) to an increased amount of mushrooms, we found that the filling benefitted overall if there were more complimentary flavors to just the steak. A bouquet garni featuring herbs like flat leaf parsley, sage, bay leaves and fresh thyme also worked wonders.

Herbs - cilantro, thyme, bay leaf

We also made a huge adjustment related to the flour in the recipe. Rather than dredging the meat in a seasoned white flour like the original recipe suggests, we swapped out a healthier, more flavorful chickpea flour. Instead of dredging the chickpea flour around the meat, we created a slurry thickener that went into the filling just before putting it in the oven to braise.

As for the puff pastry, we used a store bought version (though still all natural) to help us cut down the amount of active time put into the recipe. It would have been nice to make the puff pastry from scratch, but there were enough moving parts in the recipe as is. If you feel up to making the puff pastry from scratch for your own steak pie, we send our kudos to you.

It might take a while, but the time spent making a steak pie like this is so well worth it. Take just one bite – maybe even in the midst of a Hogmanay celebration – and you’ll see why.

How do you prepare your steak pie? Comment below!

click to download recipe

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