Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Mince Pies for Haters

Mince pies ready for the oven
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.

Pear Mincemeat

(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.


Brave Sir Robin said...

Ummmm, orange juice in the pastry? Wow, I'll bet that is really good.

Are those tarts the same size as mini-muffin pans over here? (The same pan I make pecan tassies in?)

Pear and ginger, that does sound good.

I'm sure mine won't be as pretty as yours, but I will put them on the menu.

Thanks for posting this!

I'll take photos when I make them and put them up.

Bee said...

BSR - Quick draw McGraw!

The OJ in the pastry is genius. I will never make another kind of pastry for mince pies. And yes, I'm using the mini-muffin pans which I ALSO use for pecan tassies.

I think that the mini size goes down well with kids. You get a better pastry to mince ratio, I guess.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

I love mince pie! It's been so long since I've had it though. Yours looks sooooo yummy! Is it really and truly easy to make? If it is, I MUST make it.

willow said...

These actually look and sound scrumptious! I don't think I've ever had mince pie. They get a bad reputation, kinda like fruit cake, don't they?

bonbon said...

Have yet to try Nigellas pastry but O.J. sounds like it could add a little pizazz. I am now using a pastry recipe from my pasteleria course and Cracker informed me they were better than usual!
I amd using homemade mincemeat just not my own! I bought it at the church bazarre from Peru's version of the W.I. Which would translate as I de M. and could cause confusion.
I was even handed out mince pies at the orthodontist's office today.
My book group snaffled a whole plate so like you I still don't know how well they freeze.

I may give the pear mix a whirl as

Anonymous said...

Well now I don't have to track down my grandma's recipe! This looks wonderful. Thank you.

Lorie said...

I have never tried mince pies, but those sound good!

Bee said...

Alyson - These would be fun to make with kids! Do you have mini-muffin pans/tins?

The mincemeat is really easy - requiring only minimal cutting and stirring skills.

The pastry is really easy as far as pastry goes. If you have a food processor, it is particularly easy. The thing to remember is that you should add the liquid carefully and gradually . . . you don't want your dough to be too wet. When you can easily shape it into a ball, it's ready.

Willow - It's hard to say. Where I grew up, people didn't make mince pies. In fact, mincemeat got phased out in our family sometime in my early childhood. In England, they are ubiquitous. De rigueur, even. Most people seem to like them.

Bon Bon - Try the pastry! I'm really curious to see what you think. I'm amazed that you are being offered food at the orthodontist's office.

(I have so much mincemeat that I think I will make some extras today and freeze them for when we get back from the Bahamas.)

DCup - It probably isn't your grandma's recipe, but at least modern children will eat it.

Hi Lorie - Please try them!

fairyhedgehog said...

That looks like a wonderful recipe. I don't usually cook much these days but I'm copying this recipe and I might even give it a try.

Elizabeth said...

I admit these are the best looking mince pies I've ever seen.
I think the star tops are excellent.
I'm sure they taste super too.........
You are good to adopt English the best of English food.
We used to have a very ancient Mrs. Beeton with illustrations.
A whole section on recipes for invalids - and how to arrange the tray.
Useful advice: ( I paraphrase)The sickly eye must be delighted. Use a variety of colors.)
American Hopspitals take note.
White bread
white fish
mashed potato.......!

Braja said...

Oh I used to LOVE watching Nigella when I lived in London...she is so beautiful and rounded and lusty :) That's the kind of woman who should be just know whatever she makes is delicious. I think your little pies might help cure a lot of hate in your immediate circle. Wait... not that i'm saying there's a lot of hate around you. Ah crap...

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee your images and recipes bring back memories of English Christmases. You capture all the flavors well. It’s good to see you enjoying your new camera too. I enjoyed the post below with its fun visuals. I hope you are finding time to put your feet up and enjoy the fruits of your labor too.

Nimble said...

Okay, I'm won over too, these itty bitty mince pies look great! I don't have mini muffin pans. But I think I can just use my regular muffin pans to make bigger flatter pies. Please reply if you have any other baking pan advice.

Bee said...

fairyhedgehog - I like the thought of you nibbling on a mince pie! Very cheery.

Elizabeth - By January, I may need some advice on invalid food. I've cooked and baked for weeks now . . . and I think that I'm running out of steam. Maybe I'll start talking about books again!

Braja - I try to keep everyone around me sweet by feeding them up - and sending them home with little care packages. It works, mostly. Speaking of the heavenly Nigella, she is doing her Xmas Special all week long.

Sarah - Sadly, there's not a lot of "feet up" going on at the moment. I'm pretty sure that this is the first time I've sat down since this morning!

Nimble - I'm sure you can make bigger pies. That way, you can get more of the lovely filling in. They might need more cooking time, but don't let them get too brown. BTW, the gingerbread men are fine (good, actually) with butter. I had to try them out that way because I am a CRAZY person. The dough is slightly harder to work with, though. That is the only caveat.

Blog Princess G said...

oohhh, can't wait to try these!

Brave Sir Robin said...

Bee - I've been translating this into American measurement - What is "mixed spice"??

Anna said...

Hi Bee, wow your post is so cool, I will definitely come back to make a note of those recipes. They sound so tasty. Love the story about the pie hater, lol, that was funny. BTW thanks for the recent visit to my blog, your toughtful comment is very appreciated. Anna :)

Bee said...

Blog Princess G - Let me know if you do try them . . .

BSR - I'm always torn with recipes as to whether I should use metric (most UK recipes use it, so you have to have a good scale here) or the American "cup" and "teaspoon" system. I go back and forth between the two fairly easily now.

As for mixed spice, it is packaged by that name. I can't remember if they sell it in the U.S. or not. It is a blend of coriander, cinnamon, cassia, ginger, caraway, nutmeg and cloves (so easy to duplicate, right?).

Anna - Thanks so much for visiting me! I will check in with you again soon.
(That little mince pie hater was so funny! Her parents swore she wouldn't touch one, but she ate at least five.)

Anne said...

Yes! Brilliant. Thank you, Bee, for the recipe. I can't wait to make these. And I have just the cutting tins for the top bits of pastry! I got a set just last weekend with all sorts of small holiday shapes: a star, a tree, a candy cane, and maybe a gingerbread man. I think I might even have a mini muffin tin lurking somewhere in the kitchen. And pear + ginger = heaven, so these are guaranteed to be good.

I'd never seen orange juice in pastry, but I have seen vinegar, so I'm guessing that the acid is the key thing there. And I bet the orange flavor is lovely.

BSR, I think that mixed spice is similar to garam masala, so if you have that, you're probably set. If you don't have any and can't find it in your area, Penzey's sells it.

NYPete said...

Garam masala is very different from mixed spice, which is a sweet blend, as opposed to the hotter, gutsier g.m. Try this mixture, which I nicked from another website. Adjust the quantities as you like:
6 teaspoons ground coriander
5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground allspice
3 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Merry Christmas!!

Bee said...

Anne - Did you try the pastry recipe? What did you think? And btw, you put your mini cookie cutters to very good use! I thought that your Xmas Linzer cookies were particularly inspired.

NYPete - Thanks so much for visiting - and sharing the mixed spice info!

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