Mouth-ready in less than 30 minutes
I don't know if this recipe can actually cure other sorts of hate in the world, (Christmas wishes aside), but I believe in its power to reverse prejudice of the mince pie kind.
Tonight, after my oldest daughter's carol concert, we had some friends over for mulled wine and mince pies. One of the guests - a notoriously picky eater - identified herself as a confirmed mince pie hater. She politely declined my offer of a pie - oh, several times at least - but then I wore her down and she reluctantly agreed to try a bite. Well, of course there can only be one conclusion to the story! The mince pie hater became a mince pie lover . . . and long after the adults had moved on to Stilton and biscuits, she kept appearing in the kitchen to ask, "May I please have another one?"
Since I've had a little fluttering of interest in mince pies from the American contingent, and at least one solid request, I thought that I'd share my own eccentric version. The mincemeat is flexible; but don't mess with the pastry! It is perfect as it is.
(adapted from a Waitrose Food Illustrated recipe from December 2006)
This mincemeat has many advantages: it doesn’t have to be made ahead of time; it doesn’t contain suet, and is therefore healthier and suitable for vegetarians; and most importantly, it tastes light, fresh and delicious! I could happily eat it with a spoon – or mixed into vanilla ice cream. My family loves the flavors of pear, ginger and pecans – all fairly unusual ingredients for the traditional mincemeat.
3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and chopped into small (1 cm) cubes
50g crystallized ginger, chopped fairly small
75g pecans, chopped fairly small
400g dried fruit (I’ve used raisins, sultanas, dates, apricots and cranberries in various combinations. Mix it up according to your preferences and – as always in my kitchen – with what you have available.)
50g dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
Grated zest from an unwaxed lemon
3 tablespoons of brandy (although you can substitute apple juice if you are teetotal)
Mix up all of the above ingredients in a bowl. Give them a good stir. Let sit for at least an hour – and that’s it! (If you put the mixture in a sterilized jar it will keep for awhile . . . although I’ve never discovered just how long that “awhile” lasts. Weeks, definitely. Months, maybe. For months, you should probably up the brandy!)
Tip: You can sterilize a jar by running it through a dishwasher cycle OR by washing it in soapy water, pouring boiling water in it, letting it stand for a few minutes, and then drying it out in a moderately cool (140 C/280 F or so) oven.
Nigella Lawson’s Perfect Mince Pie Pastry
(with measurements taken from Nigella Christmas and method taken from How To Be A Domestic Goddess. The wording is sometimes/often my own.)
240g plain flour
60g cold vegetable shortening (Crisco in U.S., Trex in UK)
60g cold butter
Juice of 1 orange (or 3 clementines, if you happen to have those on hand)
Pinch of salt
Necessary embellishment: Icing (confectioner’s) sugar for dusting.
Unnecessary embellishment: Egg wash (egg yolk watered down) for brushing over the top – if you think you need it, and I rarely do.
Pulse the flour and the COLD fats in a food processor until fine and crumbly. Mix the salt into the orange juice and add it gradually into the flour mixture – just until the dough starts to come together. Remove from the processor, and bring the dough together into a ball with your hands. Make sure all ingredients are well-incorporated. Then divide into three sections, pat down, wrap in clingfilm (Saran wrap) and put in the refrigerator to “rest” for 20 minutes or so.
(If you don’t have a food processor, you can do this the old-fashioned way. Just “cut in” the fats with a pastry cutter or fingertips and thumbs.)
Working with one section of dough at a time, roll out fairly thinly – but it should still be sturdy enough to make a pastry case. Lightly flour the surface you are working on – and also your rolling pin – but it is not a sticky or temperamental pastry.
I use a fluted round cookie/biscuit cutter to make the discs which will line miniature muffin/tart pans. Then I make some little stars to put on the top. You might need to go with a glass (or whatever you have), as long as it makes a circle which will fit into the tart pan you are using. The dough should come all the way up to the top, but not overhang.
This pastry is really easy to work with – and really flaky and delicious to eat. You can roll it out, and patch it, and mess with it, and it will still be tender. The orange juice is the master stroke – both for a hint of sweetness, and also for its tenderizing properties.
Place a teaspoon or so of mincemeat into the pastry case. It should come almost up to the top. Put your little pastry star on top, and brush with eggwash if you want that golden, shiny look.
Bake for 10-15 minutes in a very hot (220 C/ 440 F) oven.
Ease out of the pans onto a wire rack after a minute or so of cooling. When the pies are cool, or even almost cool, sprinkle some powdered sugar over them. I use my flour sifter for this delicate job!
For extra delicious decadence, spread brandy butter or rum butter on top of your mince pie.
According to Nigella, these freeze well. I can't speak to that - as I never have any left over.