Mary Berry's Unexpected Secret Ingredient For The Best Cottage Pie

Look, if Mary says it works, it works...
Anne DEL SOCORRO via Getty Images

She puts chicken in her lasagne. She coats her roast spuds in semolina. She creates a full-on dishwasher tablet jacuzzi for her grimy baking trays. Mary Berry has no time for your kitchen’s rules ― she’s Mary Berry. She makes her own.

So, when she told me to put an unexpected ingredient in my beloved cottage pie, you’d best believe I listened.

Not only does she top her decadent meal with dauphinoise potatoes instead of regular mash, but she adds a couple of spoons of brown muscovado sugar to the mix, too ― and having tried it, I promise it’s worth every granule.


The sugar is added to a thyme, flour, wine, stock, and Worcestershire sauce combo that’s cooked in the oil left by cooking the mince and veggies.

After a little bit of time, it reduces into a thick, lightly syrup-y mix that coats the mine perfectly and tastes subtly richer and darker than the caramel-free kind.

The good news continues ― the delicious meaty sauce can be made in advance of cooking the meal, partly because the sugar and booze-containing sauce is too thick and emulsified to go runny in the fridge.

“The minced beef mixture can be made 1-2 days in advance,” the former Great British Bake-Off star said ― though the potatoes must be made on the same day.

How do I make it?

You need one tablespoon of oil, 900g of beef mince, two onions, four sticks of celery, 50g of plain flour, and 250ml red wine.

You’ll also need 300ml (half a pint) of beef stock, two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons of light muscovado sugar, one tablespoon of chopped thyme, 250g small brown chestnut mushrooms, and a dash of gravy browning if you like (this is optional).

Of course, you’ll need some salt and pepper too, as well as one and a half kilograms of King Edward potatoes (peeled and sliced into 4mm slices), 150ml double cream, and 100g strong cheddar.

Heat your oil in a hot frying pan, add in the beef, and stir it until golden-brown. Remove the mince and add your finely-diced onions and celery, frying until almost soft. Return your beef to the pan.

Whisk your flour and wine into a smooth paste, and add the stock, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, and thyme. Add it to the pan and bring it all to a boil, stirring until thickened; you can add mushrooms and gravy browning if desired after that.

Season the mix according to your taste. Simmer the whole mix, covered, for 45 minutes until the mince is tender.

Blanch your potato slices for 4-5 minutes, and then drain them. Preheat your oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7 (200C fan).

Layer the potatoes over your meat mixture, pour in half of the cream, and repeat, seasoning between layers. Finally, pour on the remaining cream, then sprinkle cheese on top of it. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling

Having tried it myself, I can basically guarantee you won’t go back.

Go To Homepage