Mince pies! You either love or hate them. For enthusiasts, there’s nothing finer than a short, buttery pastry case, sprinkled with crunchy sugar and filled with juicy fruit.
The Origin Of The Mince Pie
Who first had the idea to put mincemeat and fruit into a pie case? The earliest cited recipe was in 1615, in The English Housewife by Gervase Markham. By the nineteenth century, Queen Victoria was commanding mince pies as part of the annual Christmas feast – and Mrs Beeton included a beef mincemeat recipe in her legendary cookery manual.
Today, the mince pie no longer contains meat – even the use of animal suet is becoming more rare. But keen cooks still enjoy ‘stirring up’ (east to west, and make a wish) the mincemeat in advance of the celebrations.
So what are the essential ingredients for a mince pie? If you don’t buy your mincemeat, it’s fairly easy to make your own using currants, raisins, dried peel, grated apple, sugar, sherry, brandy, cognac or rum, and lemon juice. You could also add chopped nuts, cranberries, or other dried fruit such as figs or apricots. A good way to experiment is by making up a batch of regular mincemeat (Nigella and Delia both offer traditional recipes) and then dividing it into two or three bowls so you can add extra ingredients and see which you like best!
Finishing off the mince pies is another point where you can tweak the tradition to suit your taste. Although mince pies traditionally have cover-all lids, Nigella has popularised her star-topped version, with Pastry Stars that don’t quite cover the filling – a good option if you want to cut down the pastry content. Whether you top with shapes or circles, finish with a sprinkle of Demerara sugar: this adds extra crunch to the pies, and can even be tossed with a little edible gold lustre before sprinkling, for a truly festive finish!
At Cake Baker we rely on Nigella’s recipe for mince pie pastry – it contains iced orange juice, which gives a short, crumbly finish. A good idea is to put the orange in the fridge the day before so it’s nice and cold. As with all pastry, cool hands and a cool working environment will improve the chances of success.
- 240g plain flour
- 60g Lard or vegetable fat
- 60g unsalted butter
- Juice of 1 orange
- 1 jar of mincemeat
- One cooking apple (optional)
- Extra splash of orange or lemon juice, brandy or rum (optional)
- 1 egg (optional – for a shiny finish)
- Demerara sugar (optional – for sprinkling)
Cut the fats into a wide bowl, and put them in the freezer while you juice the orange. It’s a good idea, at this point, to open a window or door and bring the kitchen temperature down! You only need be uncomfortable for a few minutes.
Sift the flour into the fat and, either in a food processor or using a knife, swiftly cut up the fat and crumble the mixture (using your, hopefully by now cold, fingers to finish). You’re aiming for a sandy consistency. Now tip in the juice and a pinch of salt, and bring the dough together in as few turns as possible (either on Pulse or using your fingers). The dough needn’t be smooth and coherent – it will probably be a messy-looking mixture. Wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.
Open the jar of mincemeat and tip it into a bowl. Grate in the cooking apple, and at this point you can also add any other extras that you would like – a handful of dried cranberries and a splash of cherry brandy, or extra lemon or orange juice or zest.
Retrieve the pastry from the fridge and roll it out on a floured board. Use a fluted cutter to cut circles slightly larger than the holes in your tray, and push them in gently. Dollop a teaspoon (or more) of mincemeat in each (it will bubble and rise slightly in the oven) and cover with a round or star-shaped lid. Brush with egg if liked, and sprinkle with granulated or Demerara sugar before baking at 220 degrees C for 15 minutes.
These are best eaten warm from the cooling rack, but will keep in an airtight tin for at least a week!