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I decided to make mince pies for the first time ever last night.

The only rationale I can offer for this is that the Other Half loves them.  Because I hate them. They’re just wrong.  The only mince pies I enjoy are those made by a lovely friend of mine to a family recipe.  Even then I wash them down with copious amounts of tea (if consuming pre-noon) or mulled wine (whenever socially acceptable).  Bought ones, if I can be persuaded to eat them, are either bitter, chewy or strangely paper-ish. I accept I may be alone in my mince-pie-malady.  And don’t get me started on Christmas pudding.

As an aside, is mulled wine to wine as squash is to orange juice? Something to ponder at a later date.

I digress.

The recipe starts off with procuring the best mincemeat. And to me, this time of year, there is only one place to go for festive wonderments – Magic & Sparkle.  So off I went, trotting along aisles, up hill and down dale, and a major yomp later I tracked down the last two jars of best mincemeat. Clearly, next year I need to start baking earlier.  Or just buy the buggers.  An orange and a lemon and no bells of St Clements later, I was good to go.

Next year, if I am determined to repeat this exercise, please remind me to use the food processor to make the pastry. This year it was too much of a hassle to get it out, being hidden behind all the stuff I’m not allowed to leave out on the work surfaces.  And several jars of nicely maturing pickled onions. I don’t have a pastry cutter, seeing as how this counts as ‘kitchen stuff I’m sure I’ll never use’. So this year’s pastry was ever so slightly lumpen.   It rolled out just fine and for a minute I was lulled into a false sense of security and homemade goodness.  But then, having carefully sealed all my mince pies bar six, I realised I hadn’t put in the mascarpone. So I had to unseal them all, performing mincemeat surgery, and then reseal them, by which time I was thoroughly fed up with the whole thing and convinced they were going to explode all over the oven.  Plus, I was tired and wanted to go to bed, the kitchen was full of uncooked pastry crumbs and orange zest, and I still needed to put the Christmas cards up.

But you know what? The end result is pretty flipping marvelous. Worth the effort, if I do say so myself.   They didn’t explode, they taste of Christmas.  I’m no dab hand with pastry but it is crumbly to perfection.  If it’s not meant to be flakey, on this occasion I think I’ve got away with it.

There’s no way you could ever mistake my pies for shop bought perfection, trust me.  You know the scene in Allison Pearson’s wonderful ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ when Kate Reddy, the main character, is battering shop bought mince pies with a rolling pin in the middle of the night prior to sending them into school labeled as homemade? They look like the post-battered version. Perhaps I’ll just plaster them in sifted icing sugar and ply any guests with mulled wine until they don’t notice the lumps and bumps.

And the recipe? Turns out it’s a Joscelyn Dimbleby special.  Given she’s converted me to mince pies, I wonder what her Christmas pudding recipe is like…

Indulgent mince pies with orange pastry – officially makes about 24, I reckon you could get 30 out of this mixture.  I made 24 and 3 giant ones (for Boxing Day).

Ingredients

For the pastry
500g strong plain white flour
175g icing or caster sugar
375g butter
the finely grated rind and juice of 1 large orange

For the pie filling
250g cream cheese or mascarpone
25g golden caster sugar
500-625g good quality mincemeat
the grated rind and juice of 2 lemons
milk to glaze

 Make the pastry by sifting the flour and sugar into a mixing bowl if you want to do it the long way round or can’t be bothered to get out the food processor.  Cut the butter into small pieces, cut these into the flour and rub lightly with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the orange rind. Keep cutting across the bowl, stir in enough of the orange juice until the dough just begins to stick together. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using.  Try not to handle it overmuch as the heat from your hands won’t do it any favours. If you want to make double the batch, you could freeze the pastry at this stage, or keep it in the fridge overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.

Butter or spray your bun tin to ensure the pies will slide out easily post cooking. Beat the cream cheese or mascarpone and caster sugar together until smooth. Knead the pastry lightly and roll out about three quarters fairly thickly. Using a medium sized pastry cutter cut out 24 rounds, re-rolling the pastry as necessary. Line your bun tin with the pastry rounds, which will come most of the way up. Spoon the mincemeat into a bowl and stir in the lemon rind and juice. Fill the bottom halves to about half their depth with mincemeat, then put a teaspoonful of the cream cheese mixture on top and spread level.

Roll out the remaining pastry and using a star-shaped pastry cutter cut out 24 stars, or if you’re running out of the will to live, just use a slightly smaller round cutter. Place on top of each mince pie. If using a round cutter, make a small slash in the top of each pie to allow the steam to escape during cooking.

Brush the tops of the pies with a little milk and bake in the centre of the oven for 15-20 minutes until light golden-brown. Let the pies cool down before easing them from the tins gently with a round-bladed knife. Serve warm (they can be reheated), or at room temperature. Before serving, sprinkle with caster or icing sugar.

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