Mince Pies and the First Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!  As a kid, I always considered the 12th of December to be the first day of Christmas (12 days leading up to Christmas Eve).  So for the next twelve days, it will be all holidays, all the time.  I heartily apologise to all my non-Christmas celebrating readers (particularly since Hannukah is on this week – Happy Hannukah to all the chosen people tuning in), but there’s something lovely about the lights of the holidays.  It’s my third year being in London in December, and there’s something really lovely about all the lights and the bustling shoppers and having an excuse to have my oven on a constant go (although, sadly, unlike the London portrayed in Love Actually, there is a LOT more rain).

But even more special for me is the time with my family in Delaware.  There’s nothing more Christmas-y for me than hot chocolate with my sister on Christmas Eve, seeing snow out the window and getting to snuggle up in my pink XL flannel pajamas.  Luckily for my readers, my blog will span three countries over these holidays (London, small town USA and rural Ireland) and I’m hoping to share the best of all traditions with you.

So on the first day of Christmas, my friend Claire gave to me…a mince pie reccc-iiiii-pppeeee (can you hear that playing in your head?)  Claire’s an amazing friend I met through feminist activism in Ireland and as feminist bakers (yes, they do exist!), we’ve gotten to be really good friends.  So when I told Claire I was doing Christmas recipes, she was excited to share mince pies (something I’ve never done as an American).  So without further introduction, I’ll turn over to Claire!

I makes mince pies every Christmas, and have done since I was about 12. So when Beardy kindly asked me to blog about it, I was sort of amazed- surely everyone makes mince pies every year? The crumbly, flavoursome, fruity fudginess of homemade mince pies is far superior to any bought ones- even the fancy ones that point out that the pastry is all butter, or that they have some kind
of special reserve brandy in the mince.

Pick an evening when you have plenty of time, and patience. There are quite a few steps involved in making mince pies, so if you don’t have the time make the mince one night, the pastry the next, and assemble the pies the next night.

So here it is: my mince pies recipe. It makes 24 pies.

Firstly make the mince. I tend to make mine a couple of days in advance because I don’t add any suet. Suet is a hard animal fat which is in most old recipes for mince, presumably because it acts as a preservative. I prefer my mince to be
entirely vegetarian, but if kept in an airtight container like a Kilner jar, in the fridge, I have no doubt that it would last for a month. You can also make it the same day and it’ll still be delicious.

150 grams sultanas

150 grams mixed dried fruit

50 grams Glacé cherries

100 grams ground almonds

100 grams Muscovado sugar or soft dark brown sugar

1 apple

50 grams butter (not pictured)

150 mls whiskey (with an ‘e’ because I’m Irish.)

Mince ingredients

Spices: A cinnamon stick

1 star anise

Ground black pepper

About 5 whole cloves

About half a tsp of grated nutmeg

1 piece of crystallised ginger, or half a tsp of ground ginger.

About half a tsp of vanilla extract

SpicesSPices 2

The mince isn’t an exact science that way that baking usually is. If there are particular dried fruits that you like you should use them, for example apricots, cranberries, figs, dates etc. I use sultanas because they’re most juicy than raisins, but it’s entirely up to you.

Put all the dried fruit with the almonds, sugar and butter in a small saucepan, over a low heat. Peel the apple, and grate it into the fruit mix. Add the whiskey, and gently stir until everything is well mixed.

The spices are also very subjective: if you hate cinnamon leave it out, it you love all things liquorice, add more star anise. Like with the fruit, the combination I use it very traditional- apart from the twist of ground black pepper that I add. I love black pepper in all its forms, and it adds a really nice gentle heat to the mince.

Leave the cinnamon stick, star anise, and cloves whole. Beware using more than about 5 cloves as they can taste medicinal in large doses (probably because they are medicinal- if you have a toothache or a cold go for it.)

Grate the nutmeg until you have about half a teaspoon. If you’re using crystallised ginger grate it, and add the vanilla. Stir the mixture, and leave it over a very low heat for an hour to let all of the spices mull. It should look like this.

Mince in the saucepanMince

Pastry

This is the specifically baking bit, so you need to measure everything properly for it to work. As with all pastry making, try to keep everything cold throughout, and handle the pastry as little as possible.

1 lb plain flour

2 oz icing sugar

10 oz cold butter (If you want to stay vegan use hard margarine, and half a
teaspoon of salt)

2 egg yolks

Juice of half a lemon

Pastry ingredients

I use a food processor to make pastry for several reasons: it’s faster, it’s colder, and I think it makes lighter pastry. Mix the flour and the icing sugar together in a bowl until it’s all blended. You can sift it if you like but I don’t bother. Put half of the flour mix into the processor, add the cubed butter, the egg yolks and the lemon juice. Pulse it until the butter is all integrated, then add the rest of the flour mix and blend until it’s all mixed and starts to make big clumps of pastry.

Pastry mix

Tip it out onto a clean, dry surface and press all of the pastry together. This might take a few minutes. The heat of your hands will soften the butter a little which will make it all bind, so press it all together rather than kneading it at all- this stretched the gluten and makes for tough pastry. Bleugh.

Wrap the pastry in cling film and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.

Pastry

PIES

Put the pastry onto a floured surface, then turn it over so that both sides are floured. Roll out the pastry until it’s less than 1cm thick. As long as you keep the surface under the pastry floured it’ll be ok, you won’t have to lift the pastry at any point as you would for a big pie or tart. Use a cutter to cut the circles of pastry for the bases. A cutter of 7cm in diameter fits a standard tin. There’s no need to grease them or flour them, there’s enough butter in the pastry to make them easy to take out of the tins.

In the tin

Fill the cases (as full as you like) and then cut out the lids. I do star lids because I think they look nice.

Cut out pastry

If you’re doing a full lid make sure to brush around the rid of the pastry with some beaten egg before putting the pastry lid on so that they stick together. Then brush a layer of beaten egg over every pie.

With the egg wash

Put them into a preheated (this is important!) oven at 200°C for 15 minutes.  They should be golden coloured at that stage. To get them out of the tins, let them cool and they’ll lift out with no problem.

Yum

Happy Christmas!

Thanks, Claire.  And coming on the third day of Christmas: a review of a very special holiday book I’ve been enjoying.  How is everyone else’s Christmas prep going?

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