It’s a cheerful marriage between American Thanksgiving and British Christmas: a mini cranberry pie.
Who doesn’t like mince pies?
I was inspired by my daughter who doesn’t like mince pies and meticulously scrapes the filling from each only to eat the pastry. I should just get her a packet of shortbread each Christmas, shouldn’t I?
I completely sympathise with those who detest mince pies only having sampled the shop bought ones. However ‘all-butter’-y they might be, the mincemeat is invariably overpowered by cheap booze and currants, with pips. And it’s usually too mushy and too sickly.
I was the same, until I put my hand to it and decided to show all those ‘deep filled’, ‘luxury’ or famous chef-labelled who’s boss. My pastry melts blissfully in the mouth and my mincemeat is a perfection, nothing there to be modest about.
Still, the impossible woman scrapes the mincemeat out and leaves it behind on the plate (of course I eat it; which mother can control the leftover hoovering up habit of a lifetime, however long ago it was?).
Occasionally, if I have unfilled pastry left, I make her a small batch of jam pies and observe her scoffing those with dismay. How is it even Christmassy?
For those who don’t mince
This is a solution, to satisfy the mincemeat objector and the Chrimbo spirit I infuse into my bakes at this time of year.
The shortcrust pastry is the same I use for my mince pies and it’s gorgeous. The filling is cranberry butter – nothing to do with dairy, it’s a smooth cranberry preserve, thicker and sweeter than sauce and more buttery than jelly.
But it’s seriously easy and quick to make so there’s no reason not to make it all from scratch.
How to make cranberry butter?
There is a detailed, dedicated recipe if you should like to make it just because, instead of festive cranberry sauce for example.
For a quick pie filling, you can cut a few corners.
First briskly cook the cranberries with a splash of water for about ten minutes, until they soften. Then whiz the pulp in a blender until smooth, or use a food mill to pass it through, if you have one (the smallest mesh).
And then cook it down with sugar and spices for about fifteen to twenty minutes, until it thickens.
Fish out the cinnamon stick and the cloves – the latter might be a little tricky but better to remove them than risk a guest losing a filling on one.
The best shortcrust pastry for pies
My pastry repertoire is pretty decent, but this is a star of the show.
It’s easy to make, even without a food processor or mixer, as you just need to rub butter into the dry ingredients, then stir in the egg yolk wash with a fork. A couple of kneads and it’s ready.
Shortcrust pastry needs to relax in the fridge before rolling it out, otherwise it will turn into a handful of crumbs. But after the rest it’s impossible to roll unless thawed a little at room temperature.
It all seems like a pointless, counter effective exercise but trust me, trust the pastry cookbooks: it’s necessary.
Cutting, shaping, baking
I like to make both my mince as well as the mini cranberry pies in individual cases because it makes them perfect for gifting.
You can buy a huge batch of throwaway foil cases from online suppliers – mine has lasted me probably five years already and I bake A LOT every year.
My cases are 6 cm (2 ½ inch) in diameter so the pastry cutter to fill them should be 7 cm (3 inch). You can obviously use cases whatever size you please, just make sure to use a cutter slightly larger in diameter.
Pushing the pastry discs into cases is easy if the pastry is pliable, another argument to follow the chill-thaw routine. Fill them sensibly with cooled cranberry butter and top with any shapes you like, as long as they are Christmassy, haha.
The hazelnut topping is optional but it’s a lovely crunch. If you want to make or buy hazelnut praline, use that. Otherwise pounding a few nuts with coarse sugar for a sprinkle will do almost just as well.
Traditionally, mince pies are baked unvarnished and dusted with icing sugar when out of the oven. You can apply this treatment to cranberry pies too.
Otherwise brush the pies with an egg wash before baking them so they emerge golden and burnished.
Plus the luxury, decadent (or just over-the-top) finishing touch would be to make a little lemon icing and brush it all over pies, as thinly or thickly as you like.
More small Christmas bake recipes
The same shortcrust pastry is used here for mince pies. Homemade mincemeat is very easy to make and much nicer than anything you could buy. And thankfully eating them on Christmas Day is not illegal anymore!
Traditional chocolate covered lebkuchen or gingerbreads with jam filling are soft and indulgent. And the fun of dipping cookies in melted chocolate is the spirit of Christmas!
Stollen bites, mini treat versions of the German fruited Christmas log. I make them with pistachio marzipan and apple marmalade and they are completely irresistible.
More cranberry recipes
Classic American dessert, pumpkin pie, gets a festive twist in the shape of cranberry layer, adding tang and cutting through sweetness. And the pie crust is made from scratch, and to die for.
Cranberry ketchup is a sweet and sour sauce, a perfect condiment for cold meats or roasts. I’m going to serve it alongside duck for Christmas lunch this year.
Cranberry and walnut bread made with fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped walnuts and orange juice and zest, it has intense flavour, gorgeous cranberry tang and crunchy sugar topping.