Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas to us Brits without our traditional Mince Pies. Dozens are made and devoured during this festive season and enjoyed as a teatime treat with a cup of tea, a glass of sherry, or as dessert with whipped cream. A custom dating from the middle ages say that if you eat a mince pie every day from Christmas to Twelfth Night (evening of the 5th January) you will have happiness for the next 12 months! On Christmas Eve, little children in the UK daren’t forget to leave hardworking Santa Clause a plate of mince pies with a small glass of brandy to keep out the winter chill and fortify him during the long night. Of course, the reindeers are not forgotten and enjoy a treat of crunchy carrots!
Modern day mince pies are baked in round tartlet pans and topped with pastry stars or a small circle of pastry. Turning back the clock a hundred years or so, they were made in an oval shape to represent the manger that Jesus slept in as a baby, with the top representing his swaddling clothes. During the Stuart and Georgian times, mince pies were a status symbol at Christmas! Wealthy people liked to show off at their Christmas parties by having pies made in different shapes (like stars, crescents, hearts, tears, & flowers); the fancy shaped pies would often fit together a bit like a jigsaw! They also looked like the ‘knot gardens’ that were popular during those periods. Serving elaborate mince pies meant you could afford to employ the best, and most expensive, pastry cooks.
My recipe uses a wonderful, crumbly, pastry flavored with orange zest and comes from English chef, Ainsley Harriott. The dough can be made with regular All Purpose (Plain) flour or a good quality gluten free flour. The pies can be frozen once baked and gently reheated before eating. Make plenty to have on hand for guests and remember to leave some out for Santa.
140g/5oz cold butter, diced
225g/8oz plain flour
50g/2oz ground almonds
50g/2oz golden caster sugar
1 orange, zest only
pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1-2 tsp cold water
280g/10oz good quality mincemeat (see notes below)
1 egg, beaten
icing sugar for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
2. Rub the butter into the flour and add the almonds, caster sugar, orange rind and salt until the mixture is a bit crumbly.
3. Combine mixture with the egg yolk and 1-2 teaspoons of water until it forms soft dough, then put it into a plastic bag and chill for 20 – 30 minutes or overnight if you want to plan ahead. I have also successfully frozen the dough; divide it in half and flatten into disk shapes, cover well with plastic wrap and placed in a freezer safe plastic bag.
4. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 1/8 inch and cut out about 18 rounds measuring (3in) with a pastry cutter. Place in lightly greased patty tins and spoon the mincemeat evenly into the pies.
A note on Mincemeat: There are many brands of commercial mincement available. Higher priced brands may contain Brandy or Port and higher proportions of fruit whereas the lower priced ones don’t usually contain alcohol. Unless I’m making my own Mincemeat (see separate post with recipe), to each jar of store brand, I pimp it up by adding a finely chopped Granny Smith (or cooking) apple, or a couple of peeled and chopped clementines or satsumas along with 2 tablespoons of Brandy. Mix everything together and fill the pies.
5. Re-roll the leftover pastry and cut out round lids, stars or other festive shapes to fit on top of the mincemeat.
6. Lightly brush the pastry tops with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and leave for a few minutes before removing from tins and cooling on a wire rack.
7. Dust with icing sugar before serving.