Who doesn't love a mince pie and to me, Mince Pies are an essential during the festive season. The smell of them cooking conjures up memories of Christmases past and make me feel a tingly warmth inside with anticipation for the forthcoming celebrations.
Mince Pies make wonderful treats with a glass of mulled wine in the evening or mini versions are a perfect way to finish off your Christmas lunch. You can cover the tops of them completely, or cut out pastry shapes. You can use traditional mincemeat or variations such as cranberry. You could even flavour your pastry with something like orange zest for a change. They are so versatile, these little crumbly, fruity, delicious treats that you simply have to have a go at making your own.
To make the perfect pastry, there are few things you need to bear in mind...
- Always pre-heat your oven and set the temperature according to your recipe. If the oven is too hot, you are likely to burn the tarts before the filling is properly cooked and if it is too cool, the fat in the pastry will melt before the pastry has firmed up and it will collapse and dry out.
- Use a pastry blender or make sure you have cold hands so that the dough doesn't get to soft.
- Resting pastry before cooking is ideal to allow the fat to firm up again, perhaps 30 mins in the fridge.
- Talking of the fridge, always ensure your filling is cold before topping to your pastry to avoid the heat melting the fat in the pastry and causing a soggy bottom (no-one needs a soggy bottom!).
- Go steady on the flour. I know it is really tempting to heavily dust the worksurface with flour to make it easier to roll your pastry out, but a light dusting is preferable to avoid drying your dough out. Either brush off excess flour when you have got the pastry rolled or if you are worried about over doing it, roll out your pastry between two sheets of plastic wrap so you don't need flour at all.
- What sort of finish would you like? Glazing pastry always makes it look amazing so you could use beaten egg for a lovely deep golden colour, egg whites for a more shiny effect or for a golden matt finish, use milk.
- When you bake pastry, the middle shelf is the best option to enable the heat to circulate for even cooking of the pastry, top and bottom.
Mincemeat - bought or homemade?
Well, you cannot beat homemade mincemeat, preferably made months in advance and stored in sealed, sterilised jars to allow it to mature and the flavours to develop. I'll give you a mincemeat recipe below but I fully understand that sometimes, you just need a quick option and there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a jar of shop bought mincemeat.
So, now you are ready to start on your mince pies...
To make 300g mincemeat
450g mixed dried fruit
115g Demerara sugar
115g shredded suet (vegetarian/vegan suet is readily available too)
115g mixed peel
115g chopped almonds (optional)
zest and juice 1 lemon
115g grated apple
1 tsp mixed spice
1/2 tsp grated or ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 tbsp brandy (optional)
If not using immediately, pour into sterilised jars and seal.
For the pastry:
100g butter, plus extra for greasing
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
25g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
1 egg yolk
2-3 tbsp milk, plus extra for glazing
Pre-heat the oven to 180C / 350F/ GM4
Grease a 16 hole tartlet tin with butter and set aside.
To make the pastry:
Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the butter. Using your finger tips (cold hands!) or a pastry blender, rub together until you a breadcrumb effect. Stir in the egg yolk and sugar and just enough milk to bring it altogether as a soft dough.
Put the pastry onto a lightly floured worksurface and kneed long enough to turn it into a smooth dough ball but don't overdo it and stretch the gluten too much or you'll end up with tough pastry.
Roll out your pastry to about a 1cm thickness and then using a 7cm fluted cutter, cut out 16 rounds and place into your pre-prepared tin.
Put it altogether:
Now half fill each pie (don't be tempted to overfill or it will ooze out and bubble everywhere in the oven).
Using your left over dough, gently re-roll and cut out 16 shapes of your choice for the tops, we usually use stars. Pop onto your pies and then glaze with milk.
Bake for about 15 minutes until you have a beautifully golden coloured pastry. Leave to cool on a wire rack and once completely cold, dust with icing sugar.
And there you have it! Exquisite mouthfuls of Christmas. Enjoy!