Delicious meat hand pies made with a soft bread crust and filled with ground beef. These hand pies are easy to make, taste authentic and are best served with natural yoghurt. Made from a traditional Crimean Tatar recipe from Dobrogea, Romania.
What are hand pies?
Hand pies are small pastries, typically in a semilunar or half-circle shape, with either a savoury or sweet filling. The delicious hand pies can be made using puff pastry, flaky crust or any bread dough. Whichever choice of pastry, it's usually made into a round disc, then a dollop of filling is placed in the middle. The edges are then sealed shut or crimped, and the hand pies can be baked or fried (even deep fried).
Meat hand pies are typically made using ground meat, including: beef, pork, lamb or chicken. The most popular meat choice is beef, and it's usually paired with onion, potatoes and other herbs.
What are Cantik hand pies?
Cantik (pronounced 'djantik') is a type of meat hand pie traditionally prepared by Crimean Tatars in Eastern Europe. The delicious meat pie is made with a bread crust and ground beef filling, then baked in a large, round tray. Cantiks are placed in the tray close to each other, which gives them a petal-like shape.
I grew up eating these delicious hand pies made by Tatar friends and family. Although having settled in Dobrogea region in Romania since the 13th century, Tatars have preserved their authentic recipes.
The cantik recipe below is fully authentic, and it was passed down through generations. I was taught how to make them by a family friend, as it's one of my all time favourite recipes.
Where do meat hand pies come from?
Meat hand pies can be found in most cultures across the globe in different variations. They are very similar to their cousins - the turnovers or pasties. Hand pies are extremely popular due to how easy it is to eat on the go or as a snack.
Here are my favourite types of meat hand pies from across the globe:
- Crimean Tatar Cantik - recipe below
- Cornish Pasty (British)
- Empanadas (Spain & Portugal)
- Borek (Turkish)
- Briouat (Moroccan)
- Patty (Jamaican)
- Samosa (Southeast Asia)
- Brik (North Africa)
- Placinta cu carne (Romania)
- Meat pie (Australia & New Zealand)
- Kreatopita (Greek)
- Sfeeha (Lebanese)
The meat hand pie crust is made from soft bread dough. Here's what you'll need for the dough:
Flour - the base for your bread dough. I recommend using bread flour if possible. Plain flour can also be used, just not self-rising or cake flour.
Water - the liquid in the dough
Fresh yeast - the rising agent in our bread dough. Instant dry yeast can also be used, please see recipe notes.
Vegetable oil - this makes the bread dough very soft. Please use an odourless oil, such as sunflower or rapeseed.
Apple cider vinegar - although optional, I highly recommend adding it to the recipe. Fresh yeast responds very well to acids (such as vinegar), making it rise faster. Furthermore, the apple cider vinegar will improve the texture of the bread, making it lighter and softer.
The meat filling
Although the meat in the filling can be changed, the traditional recipe uses ground beef. Here's how to make the perfect filling for Cantik meat hand pies:
Ground beef - Use lean beef if possible for maximum flavour.
Onion & garlic - the best natural flavours for any meat based pie
Water & oil - used to make the meat juicier and prevent the filling from going dry when baked
Spices & herbs - Any flavours can be used to your liking, in addition to a generous helping of salt and pepper. I prefer thyme and oregano, but you can also add dried basil, chives, rosemary etc.
If you're not much of a meat eater, you can replace it with white cheese or cheddar. The best cheesy filling is using equal parts white cheese (like Bulgarian brine or Danish white) and cheddar cheese. For a more authentic taste, I recommend using kashkaval cheese, which is much softer than normal cheddar. You can find kashkaval cheese is most Arab / Turkish or Eastern European markets and shops.
How to make meat hand pies (Cantik)
Preheat oven to 180°C (or 360°F) with fan. In a large bowl, place lukewarm water, fresh yeast, flour, vinegar and salt. Mix with a large wooden spoon until the dough comes together in clumps. Afterwards, add the vegetable oil in 2-3 stages, while kneading the dough by hand. Continue kneading until all the oil has been soaked up and the dough is no longer sticky.
Cover the dough with cling film and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in volume.
For the filling, ensure you chop the onion finely and either grate or use a press to crush the garlic. Afterwards, combine the ground beef, onion, garlic, salt & pepper and all the herbs in a bowl. Use your hands to combine everything well, then add the oil and water. Again, use your hands to combine everything.
Dividing the dough
After the filling is done, we can move onto shaping the hand pie dough. Once the dough has doubled in size, divide it into 35 equal balls of dough. You can divide the dough in two ways:
Method 1: Roll out the dough, then cut it
This method is the fastest, as we will be eyeballing the size of each ball of dough. Start by rolling the dough out with your palms and shaping it into a long circular strip. Divide the dough in half, the quarters, eighths etc - until you get 35-36 balls of dough.
Method 2: Use a kitchen scale to weigh equal balls of dough
This method works best if you want perfectly even sized meat hand pies. If you use the full recipe ingredients, you should have about 1.4 kgs of dough. This will give you 35 balls of 40g (1.4 oz) each.
Assembling the hand pies
This is the fun part, but also the tricky part. Shaping and arranging the meat hand pies is really important if you want to get that semilunar/crescent look.
Firstly, we need to prepare the dough by rolling into a round ball. Then, we will flatten it with the palm slightly, and cover it with flour on both sides. Next, you will use a rolling pin to flatten the dough into a thin disc roughly 12 cm (5-inches) in diameter.
Afterwards, you will place a bit of the meat filling in the middle of the dough. Don't overfill it, as too much meat might prevent the dough from cooking on the inside, leaving it raw. You are looking at about 20-25g of meat, or roughly 1 loaded tablespoon of filling.
To shape the meat hand pies, grab opposite sides of the dough and bring it together in the middle, pinching to seal. Run your fingers at the lower part of the dough, pinching to seal, then keep pinching until you meet the top of the hand pie. Ensure the hand pie is properly sealed, so the filling does not spill out.
Arranging the meat hand pies in the tray
In addition to shaping each individual hand pie, arranging them in the baking tray is also important for the final cantik. It is best to use a large, round baking tray of around 40 cm diameter (or 15-inches). I used a tray like this one here.
Start by properly greasing the tray with vegetable oil. Next, you will dip the top of each meat hand pie into vegetable oil. With one hand tilt the tray at 30 degrees, then start arranging the meat pies in overlapping rows. By tilting the tray, you ensure the meat hand pies are fitted snuggly. This is what gives them the elongated semilunar shape, forcing the pie to rise upwards.
Alternatively, if you do not have a round baking tray, you can also use a rectangular one. Just ensure the tray is of a similar size. To get the same shape cantik as with a round tray, start laying out the hand pies from the corners. Each meat hand pie after the first one will be placed at a 45 degree angle.
Baking the meat hand pies
Bake the pies in a preheated oven at 180°C (or 360°F) with fan for 40-45 minutes. The total baking time will depend on your oven, as well as how tightly you have fitted the cantik in the tray. As a general rule, however, the meat hand pies will be done once they have a golden-brown colour. If they start browning too quickly, cover with aluminium foil.
Once baked, cover the cantik hand pies with aluminium foil and a kitchen towel to keep warm. By covering them, the bread crust will soften from the condensation. This will make the meat hand pies incredibly soft. However, if you like a crusty exterior, do not cover the tray.
How do you serve meat hand pies?
Cantik meat hand pies taste best when freshly baked, whilst still hot. When hot, the meat pies have a crusty exterior, and a soft bread-like interior. The filling will also remain juicy and fragrant, perfect for devouring!
Meat hand pies are best served with a side of natural or Greek yoghurt or a tall glass of Turkish Ayran.
How long do meat hand pies last?
Meat hand pies can last up to 5 days in the fridge if stored in an air-tight container. After baking, let the pies cool down completely before placing them in a tupperware container and refrigerating.
Due to their individual size, these cantik hand pies are ideal for a quick snack or breakfast on the go. I like to have 1 or 2 of these for breakfast, with a generous helping of Greek yoghurt - YUM!
To reheat, microwave an individual cantik for 30 seconds. Alternatively, place them on a baking tray and heat in an oven for 7-8 minutes at 180°C (or 360°F).
Can meat hand pies be frozen?
Yes, absolutely! Meat hand pies behave very well when frozen after baking. I actually recommend it, as hand pies are perfect treats to have on hand in the freezer. Whenever I visit Romania, I always come back with 40 pieces of cantik that I freeze for later use.
To freeze meat hand pies, I recommend using a food-safe vacuum to seal them in bags. I generally place 8 hand pies in a bag, so you have a few servings once unfrozen. Removing all air ensures that the pies do not get freezer burn and are in perfect condition to consume ever months later. Vacuumed cantik can be kept in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Alternatively, you can wrap a few pies in foil, then place in a ziplock bag. I recommend consuming these within 2-3 months.
I do not recommend freezing unbaked meat hand pies, as the bread will not be as soft and fluffy as when baked from fresh.
How to reheat frozen meat hand pies
After freezing, the meat hand pies will need to be thawed before re-heating. If you know you'll be consuming them, remove the cantik pies from the freezer 4-5 hours beforehand and leave at room temperature.
Once thawed, the meat hand pies can either be microwaved or heated in the oven. I personally recommend using the oven, as this will make any extra moisture evaporate. The oven method will also give you an almost identical texture to the freshly baked meat pies. To reheat in the oven, simply place the cantik hand pies on a baking tray, then bake at 180°C (or 360°F) for around 10 minutes or until piping hot. Let the pies cool down for a few minutes before eating, as the meat will get quite hot.
Tatar music to listen to whilst making Cantik
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Ground Beef Hand Pies (Crimean Tatar Cantik)
- 40 cm (15-inch) round baking tray
The bread dough
- 800 g bread flour (or plain) 7 ½ cups
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 500-550 ml water 2 ¼ cups
- 25 g fresh yeast 1 tablespoon + 1 tsp
- 50 ml vegetable oil ¼ cup
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
The meat filling
- 800 g lean ground beef 1.7 lbs
- 1 large onion
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon fine ground pepper
- 1 ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 ½ teaspoon oregano
- 50 ml water ¼ cup
- 50 ml vegetable oil ¼ cup
- 200 ml vegetable oil, for greasing & brushing 1 cup
Making the bread dough crust
- In a large bowl, place the lukewarm water (around 37C) and the fresh yeast, mixing to dissolve it. Add the vinegar, flour and salt, mixing with a wooden spoon or your hands to combine.
- Once a dough forms, start adding the vegetable oil in 2-3 stages, kneading to incorporate it. Keep kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and supple and all the oil has been absorbed.
- Cover the dough with cling film and leave in a warm place to prove for 30 minutes.
The beef filling
- Finely chop the onion and use a garlic press or grater to finely crush the garlic.
- In a large bowl combine the meat, onion, garlic and spices. Mix them thoroughly using your hands, then add the water and vegetable oil. Continue mixing until a smooth paste forms.
Assembling the meat hand pies
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (or 360°F) with fan.
- Once the dough has proved enough, divide it into 35 small balls, each weighing roughly 40g (1.4 oz).
- Sprinkle a little flour on the work surface. Using a thin rolling pin roll out each dough ball into a circle, 10 cm (2-inches) in diameter.
- Add 1-2 tablespoon of the meat filling in the middle of the disc of dough.
- Take the opposite sides of the dough circle, and bring them to the middle. Pinch to seal the two sides together. Run your fingers over the lower seams, pinching to seal them shut. Continue pinching across the sides until the hand pie is fully sealed.
- Prepare a large round baking tray by greasing it well with oil. Dip the top of the hand pie into vegetable oil, then place it inside the tray, whilst tilting the tray at an angle. Keep stacking the hand pies on top of each other. Ensure all the pies are touching but are not too tightly fitted in the tray.
- Bake the hand pies for 40-45 minutes or until golden-brown in colour. Once baked, remove the tray from the oven, then cover it with aluminium foil. This will make the pie crust go softer and delicious.
- Serve whilst still warm with a side of Greek yoghurt or sour cream.
- I recommend using a kitchen scale in grams for more accuracy. The cups used for the conversion are standard US customary cups (1 cup flour = 136g). There are many different types of cups across the globe, which is why I strongly recommend using grams instead.
- This recipe calls for bread flour, however plain white flour can also be used. Self-rising flour is not suitable.
- Fresh yeast can be substituted with instant dry yeast. For 25g of fresh yeast, use 8g of instant dry (or quick) yeast.
- Baking time differs according to each oven, and can sometimes take longer. To ensure the meat hand pies are fully baked, they should have a golden-brown colour. The best test is to remove one of the hand pies and check the interior to see if fully baked.