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There are a few interesting things about mince pies. First and foremost the filling – mince? Mincemeat? Surely there isn’t any meat in them?
It goes back to the times of crusades and the Middle Eastern approach to sweet and savoury, mixing meat with spices, fruit and nuts. The crusaders must have brought back the pies around Christmas time and so they became a seasonal treat, albeit at times frowned upon as Catholic whimsy. But then what did the Puritans not frown upon?
Back in the day they were indeed filled with mutton, goose or beef mixed in with suet, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and orange peel. Makes you almost feel a shame that meat is left out these days, doesn’t it?
The second interesting thing is that although they are easy to make AND I MEAN IT, and especially the damn mincemeat is just a case of emptying a few bags out of store cupboard and mixing them a bit in a bowl – they sell jars of the filling in supermarkets! I should think actually buying ready pastry, making your own mince would make some sense but the other way round beats me, frankly. A bit like buying cooked beetroot.
And the third thing is they can be lovely or thoroughly disgusting – the latter some shop bought, without naming or shaming. Overwhelmingly full of sickly peel and reeking of cheap brandy. Many people I know truly hated mince pies until they tried homemade ones (mine, needless to say!). So give it a go – and they are fun to make, and not much can go wrong.
The recipe is a conglomerate of several, with the mincemeat owing the most to Good Food Channel.
mince piesServings: 2 dozenTime: a couple of hours
- For the pastry:
- 250g plain flour
- 75g ground almonds
- 50g icing sugar
- 150g softened butter
- 2 egg yolks
- 3 tbsp iced water
- zest from a large lemon
- For the mincemeat:
- 55g melted butter
- 1 small apple, coarsely grated with skin on
- 260g mixed dried fruit: sultanas, raisins, currants, chopped apricots, chopped figs
- 40g mixed peel
- 45g chopped bleached almonds
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 1 ½ tsp mixed spice
- 3 tbsp port or brandy
- 80g brown sugar
- 1 banana, chopped finely
1. You can make the pies in individual tin foil cases, about 7cm/2½ inch in diameter. You can use a mince pie or Yorkshire pudding tin with holes similar size. Even a muffin tin will do, but the pies will be quite deep filled - which is not a bad thing.
2. Make sure you have the right size cutters: the one for the bottoms needs to be slightly bigger than the cases/holes in your pie or pudding tin. For the individual cases I used a 3 1/16 inch/78mm cutter. For the lids use a cutter as large as the holes. You can also cut small shapes for half-open pies.
3. First make the pastry: mix the flour with the almonds, the icing sugar and the zest, then dice in the butter and rub in or mix everything in a standing mixer with a paddle attachment. Beat the egg yolks with the iced water and pour in. Mix or knead to a soft dough, form a ball, wrap it in cling film and chill for at least half an hour.
4. Prepare the mincemeat: melt the butter, mix together all the other ingredients, then add the melted butter and stir in. It will last a few days in the fridge and freezes well but make sure to give it a good stir before using.
5. Before rolling it out, take the pastry out of the fridge to thaw a little - the chilling is for gluten development but it must be a bit more pliable again to roll out and cut. Roll out the pastry, in batches, to about 3mm thick.
6. Cut out the bottoms and insert them into the tin holes or the individual cases by pressing very gently from the edges. Chill briefly while you cut out the lids. Put the lids on a tray and chill as well while you fill the pies.
7. Do not overfill, pack the mincemeat in gently. To make the half open ones, just press the lids onto the mincemeat. To make the closed ones it’s handy to brush a little of the egg white left over from making the pastry around the rim of the lid, slip on and press it gently around the edge. Pierce the tops to let the steam escape while baking.
8. Bake in the oven preheated to 190C/375F/gas 5 for about 15 minutes until lightly golden around the edges. If using cases, leave the pies in them to cool and to store. If a tin, let it stand for a few minutes and push them out gently with a little spoon.
9. Cool on a wire rack and dust generously with icing sugar.