Sunday, 20 December 2009

Mince Pies

Mince pies are one of those foods that for ages I thought I didn't like. I vaguely remember my mother making mincemeat when I was young but I can't actually remember ever eating it. When I first came to England I found myself constantly refusing mince pies, I imagined them to be heavy and cloying -and admittedly they often are. Eventually, in an effort not to offend someone offering home-made mince pies I tried one and surprisingly found it quite nice. Over the years I have even come to like some of the store bought pies but nothing comes close to home-made.

I suppose I am also a bit of a mince pie traditionalist as I only like them made with shortcrust pastry. Puff pastry or crumble topping somehow seems wrong to me but you can use them if that's your preference -no judgement... I promise.

In previous years, believing that making mincemeat was complicated or a little too labour intensive, I would make my own shortcrust and buy the mincemeat filling. It is actually a good cheat; if you add some citrus zest and a little grated nutmeg you could probably fool most people- as long as the pastry is from scratch. I am one of those people that never buys shortcrust- I know that people are sometimes intimidated by making pastry but it really does take less than 10 minutes (plus extra for chilling) to make. The key is just to keep everything as cold as possible and try to handle the dough as little as possible.

So this year I decided to make my mincemeat from scratch. I searched through so many recipes and eventually came up with my own based on the dozen or so that I looked at. It really is as simple as throwing everything in a pot and cooking until everything is plump and soft. Like Christmas Pudding you can adjust the spices and alcohol to suit your tastes. Mincemeat can be made up to six months in advance so you can make it whenever you have a bit of time. The additional benefit to making mincemeat is that it makes the house smell lovely and festive.

I won't bore you with the detailed history of mince pies except to mention that mince pies have not actually contained meat since the 19th century and most are made with vegetable suet so are vegetarian friendly. You can have them with brandy cream or as they are.

1 large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
400 g mixed dried fruit
100 g dried cranberries
125 g mixed chopped peel
50g pecans, toasted and finely chopped
125 ml brandy
zest of 1 orange, plus the juice of 2
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp orange blossom water
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
175 g muscovado sugar
100 g shredded vegetable suet

Combine all the ingredients except the muscovado sugar and suet in a large saucepan. Simmer over a low heat for 30 minutes or until the fruit has plumped up and most of the liquid has evaporated but not dry. Remove from heat, once cooled stir in the muscovado sugar and suet.

This recipe makes about twice as much as you need for the pastry but you can store it in steralised jars in a cool place for up to 6 months or give the rest away as gifts.

Shortcrust Pastry
300 g of plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
90 g of cold unsalted butter (cut into small pieces)
60 g of vegetable shortening (I use Trex but Crisco is fine)
3 or 4 tsp ice water

In a food processor blend the flour and with the butter and shortening until its combined to a sandy crumbly texture with no large pieces of butter. Add water one spoon at a time until it is just starting to come together. Place mixture in a bowl and form into a flattened ball, divide in two wrap it in pastry and put in the fridge to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, transfer to a floured work surface and roll out until about 1/8 of and inch thick. I have recently discovered that if you place a sheet of clingfilm over the dough as you roll it it resists breakage and sticking. Cut out with round pastry cutters (enough for top and bottom) and place in bun tins, spoon the prepared mincemeat into the individual pies and and then top with pastry cut outs.I used these cute little snowflake to top my pies but stars or plain rounds are good too. Just be careful not to overfill or they will stick and make removing the pies difficult. Bake at 200°C for about 20 minutes or until slightly golden.


Santa Claus apparently has a weakness for mince pies, so if you have any left...


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