Christmas Eve and everyone is busy with their last-minute preparations! Just to build a little suspense, I’ve held off with my twelfth and final post of the Christmas season until late on Christmas Eve. And what did you think it would be? I’ve love to know what the candidates were, but there was always a certain inevitability about mince pies. I mean, if I’ve made things from Japan, Norway and Italy, it just wouldn’t be right to ignore the perennial British favourite. And when it comes to mince pies, the home-made look is what it’s all about, so I’m happy that mine look charmingly rustic.
Mince pies have a long history. They started out as meat pies flavoured with fruits and spices (more likely than not done in the days before refrigeration to mask the taste of meat that was, let us say, less than fresh, rather than for flavour itself). They were banned under Puritanism in the 17th century, and have today morphed into the sweet treats we all know. Many visitors from abroad look at you most curiously when you offer them a mince pie, expecting something savoury, but most tend to like what they find – small pastry tarts filled with a mixture of dried vine fruits, citrus and spices, plus a little brandy to keep everything.
Mincemeat is also not particularly hard to make at home. You just need to gather the ingredients, cook gently in the oven to preserve the fruit (you use applies, and if you don’t cook them, they tend to ferment, with a propensity to make the jars of mincemeat explode in a rather messy way). There is a great recipe from Delia here.
However, this year I’ve been a little bit sneaky. Today is a little bit of a cheat’s recipe as the real hard work – actually making the mincemeat – is skipped ever so artfully by buying it and then just adding a few bits and pieces to customise it and make it a bit fancier. In fact, for this reason I was going to go with the title “Pimp my Mince Pie”. I just went with whatever met my eyes in the kitchen, and as it happened, that involved the zest of a clementine plus the juice, some chopped crystallised ginger and finely diced candied papaya and a spoon of vanilla sugar.
Inspired by the Heston Blumenthal mince pies currently in stores, I also wanted to have a flavoured sugar to dust on top of the finished pies. I toyed with a couple of ideas. Rosemary would be aromatic and sophisticated, but I was not sure it was quite right. Mastic gum would be equally aromatic, but I didn’t go with this one as when you grind it to a powder, it tends to stick to things and get messy. But the third idea was just right – clementine sugar.
I was very make-do-and-mend in my approach to the flavoured sugar. I saved the used peel from the clementine I added to the mincemeat. I trimmed off the pith, shredded the peel and left it overnight in a jar of caster sugar. The next morning – clementine sugar to sprinkle on the mince pies! While this tasted lovely, it had to be dried before use. I sieved the sugar to remove the peel (pop the peel into some mulled wine) then spread it on a plate. Leave to sit in a warm place until dry, then grind to a powder (go as fine as you like). This adds a lovely extra citrus note to the pies, warm or cooled.
For the pastry, I thought I would look to the recipes of master baker Paul Hollywood. His recipe uses lots of butter and some ground almonds, but needs to be chilled for three hours. So long? Yes, as it turns out, so long. The pastry was very soft. Think the texture of peanut butter, more like a paste. It needed to be completely chilled in order to be able to roll it out and cut it. I was dubious that this was going to work, concerned that the pastry would be too fragile to contain the filling during baking or to hold its shape afterwards. However, my fears were baseless. The fragile texture before baking meant that they pastry was wonderfully crumbly and worked perfectly with the filling. So good that it made up for the total pain of working with a pastry that preferred to hang out on the kitchen worktop in a semi-liquid state. Expect frequent trips for this little dough back to the fridge before you’re done!
As for the taste…these were sensational! The mincemeat bursts with citrus and the papaya adds flashes of jewel-bright red. The ginger adds a little warmth, and the brandy and sloe gin are, of course, always welcome.
So there we have it – another series of the Twelve Bakes of Christmas! I hope that you have enjoyed them this year. I’ve probably played fast and loose with the time in the festive season that these things appear on this site (as some people do not feel shy about pointing out!) and made tweaks to recipes that take them away from being truly authentic. However, I’ve tried to make things that are delicious and appealing, and things that I would want to eat and be happy to serve to people who come to my place over the Christmas period. I hope you’re also able to relax and enjoy time with friends and family. wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
To pimp your mincemeat pies:
Makes 12 pies
• 1 jar mincemeat (400g)
• 1 small clementine, zest and juice
• 2 pieces candied ginger
• 1 small handful candied papaya
• 1 small handful flaked almonds
• 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
• 1 tablespoon brandy
• 1 tablespoon sloe gin
• 165g plain flour
• 25g ground almonds
• 120g unsalted butter, cold
• 55g caster sugar
• 1 egg, beaten
1. Pimp the mincemeat – throw everything in a bowl. Mix well, cover and leave to sit overnight.
2. Make the clementine sugar – remove the remaining orange peel from the used clementine. Cut into thing strips and put into a jam jar with some caster sugar. Seal, shake well and leave to sit overnight as well.
3. Make the pastry – put all the ingredients apart from the egg into a bowl. Work with your fingers until you have a mixture that looks like large breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix to a soft dough. Cover in cling film and chill for two hours minimum.
4. To make the tarts, preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Grease a muffin tray with butter. Roll out two-thirds of the pastry and cut out large circles with a cutter. Use to line the muffin tray. Add around two generous teaspoons of the mincemeat mixture. Use the rest of the dough to cut out lids for the pies. Star shapes are easiest and look great!
5. Brush the tops of the pies with milk, then bake for 20 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
6. In the meantime, prepare the clementine sugar. Put the sugar into a sieve and shake – you’ll be left with the peel in the sieve. Spread the sugar onto a plate and leave in a warm place to dry. Once dry, grind until fine and use to dust the mince pies.
Worth making? I love these pies! It’s a great way to add more of what you like to the filling – I adore the extra shot of citrus, and there’s nothing quite the same as home-made mince pies.