Seriously, isn’t it really the most wonderful time of the year? We are starting to play plenty of festive songs, music is really the very best way to get one into the spirit of things, I mean when you listen to the words of Andy Williams’ song, can you not just hear yourself telling stories of Christmases past? Even in this hideously mixed up world, spending time with family and friends is where we can all find little peace I hope. France is seriously troubled at the moment as many of you will have seen or read, the riots continue in Paris, Brexit rages in the UK, but whilst we cannot ignore what is happening let’s not get into politics right now, let’s focus instead on good food and good cheer.
And for me the start of any Christmas season is always when one tastes that first mince pie. Now if you didn’t grow up in the British Isles or a British household the chances are you may not know of these delicious little sweet treats. No, they are not mince as in meat-based, (although they were originally back in the day, which is perhaps where the name originates from) they are instead a mass of dried fruits more often than not soaked in alcohol and cased in pastry. You can buy mince pies everywhere in the UK and now in many other countries, but making your own is the real deal, plus the aroma that will fill the kitchen is incomparable, this is the very scent of Christmas, the perfume of rich spices filling the air will bring everyone to investigate, even the dogs! The key most certainly is in the filling and it is worth taking a little time to get this just right.
Making mince pies in our family is as traditional as decorating the tree, it’s a family pastime we all get involved in, whether it be stirring, mixing or simply tasting. Take your time, make them in the evening accompanied by a glass of wine and some good music; you are almost guaranteed to feel cheerful and in a festive spirit at the end.
I have been making my own mincemeat for a long time now and every year I refine it a little. And the best bit: you really can adapt these to your own needs. My basic recipe includes sugar, actually very little, but still it is there. I personally just leave it out and instead I add half a teaspoon of honey. We also struggle to find currants here although sultanas and raisins are readily available. So I simply adjust the amounts adding more of what we have so that the end overall weight of dried fruit is the same. You see what I mean, you really can be flexible. Go with what you like.
As I said nowadays mincemeat is mainly made from just fruit, although some bought varieties (and many recipes) still use suet; happily I find the trend is turning slowly away from this altogether and I use butter.
Just before we get started you will also need a simple shortcrust pastry, if you haven’t the time to make it, a good organic store bought one will suffice, because at this time of year time always seems to be in short supply.
For 24 mince pies you will need :
20g finely sliced or chopped almonds
45g butter chopped
2 apples (cored and chopped into small pieces, but not peeled)
70g brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
The juice and grated rind of 2 large oranges
The juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of cognac (rum or brandy) (if you don’t want to add alcohol you can substitute orange juice)
Place all the ingredients except for the alcohol in a large heavy based saucepan and very gently bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Then turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer slowly for about 25 – 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it appears too dry add a little orange juice.
After the thirty minutes or so, take off the heat and allow to cool a little before adding the alcohol and mixing well.
You can either cook with this straight away or you can store in clean sterilised jars in the fridge for several weeks, just remember to bring to room temperature before you want to use it.
Roll the pastry out and cut into rounds and place inside greased cupcake tins.
Fill each uncooked pastry base with a good teaspoon of mincemeat, I like to cover these with a pastry star, but you can choose a complete covering hat if you prefer, or you can make a latticework out of strips of pastry, you see the choices are endless.
Bake at 180C/350F for about 20 – 25 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, sprinkle with a little icing sugar and try and restrain yourself from eating too many all in one go, they will keep in a tin for a couple of weeks, but ours never do, they seem to disappear almost as fast as we can churn them out! Still warm on the cooling rack is as good a place to start the taste testing as any!
I have to admit this morning, I was running out of the door, to take Millie to the finals of her team tennis tournament. She was playing number one slot, so an early start was required, and remember it is a Sunday! So with a banana in one hand and a mince pie in the other we set off. In the car Millie confessed she had a mince pie for breakfast too! You see they really are the thing to eat at this time of year!!