Mince pies. The pinnacle of my Christmas baking this year and also the most controversial (I never realised so many people hated them!).
I have never attempted to make mince pies before, but it was time to try as I was sick of seeing them in the stores and being unable to eat them (due to the wheat-factor). When I was doing some recipe reconnaissance, Kate from Eating Melbourne recommended Nigella’s recipe for star topped mince pies (yet another Nigella recipe!). Kate said that the use of orange juice in the pastry helped give the pies a lovely flakiness.
Nigella extolled the virtues of making your own mincemeat and so I was duly convinced. In her book How to be a domestic goddess, Nigella includes a few recipes for mincemeat, including “Hettie Potter’s suet-free mincemeat”. She had me at suet-free, after Saskia’s horrible suet encounter last year.
I made the mincemeat a couple of weeks ahead of making the pies, to allow the flavours to develop. This also made the eventual pie making a little simpler. If you can’t be bothered to make your mincemeat you can easily buy some, and frankly, I urge you to do that if you are planning to make these in the dwindling days before Christmas.
The pastry was very forgiving and was pretty easy to work with, even though I made it with spelt flour rather than regular flour. These pies are really delicious when they are still warm from the oven and they were absolutely decadent topped with some whipped brandy butter.
The pies will keep for a week in an airtight container. Pop them in a moderate oven for about 4 minutes to warm them through before serving. Mmmm.
Nigella’s star topped mince pies
The original mincemeat recipe stated that it made about 2kg, so I halved the recipe. I ended up with about 700g of mincemeat. Note that I also swapped dried cranberries for the cherries, as I am not a fan of glace cherries. The cranberries were a delicious addition.
For the mincemeat
125g soft dark brown sugar
125ml medium dry cider
500g cooking apples
1/4 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
40g dried cranberries
40g blanched almonds
finely chopped rind and juice of 1/4 lemon
3 tablespoons brandy or rum
For the pastry
240g plain flour (or 290g of spelt flour)
60g vegetable shortening (I used Copha)
60g cold butter
juice of 1 orange
pinch of salt
mincemeat from recipe above, or buy some!
1 egg (for an egg-wash, optional)
icing sugar for dusting
- If you are making your own mincemeat it is best to make a couple of weeks before Christmas to allow the flavours to develop. Even a couple of days ahead really enhances the flavour.
- Roughly chop the cranberries, chop the almonds and peel, core and quarter the apples.
- In a large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the cider over a gentle heat.
- Add the apples, dried fruits and almonds to the saucepan and simmer until everything has a pulpy consistency. Nigella suggested this should take about 30 minutes but ours took a while longer, probably close to 50 minutes.
- Take the mixture off the heat and when it has cooled slightly stir in the brandy.
- Store in sterilised jars with tightly fitting lids.
- Measure the flour into a shallow bowl. Add small diced pieces of shortening and butter, shake to cover and place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
- In a separate, small bowl, mix together the orange juice and salt. Cover and place in the fridge to chill.
- After the 20 minutes, empty the flour mixture your food processor and blitz until you’ve got a pale pile of crumbs.
- Pour the salted juice down the funnel, pulsing until it looks as if the dough is about to come together. If you need extra liquid (which I did), add some iced water.
- Turn the mixture out of the processor onto the bench and bring the mixture together to make a dough. Form the dough into 3 flat discs, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C/430°F.
- After 20 minutes, roll out the discs one at a time. You want the pastry to be pretty thin but it has to be able to support the mince.
- Use a fluted cookie cutter to cut rounds to put into your tart tins. Nigella suggests that the pastry should be a little wider than the tart tins, but my largest cookie cutter was not quite big enough. Mine are just a little uneven as a result!
- Place a teaspoon or so of mincemeat in each tart, then top with stars (use a star cutter) and place on top.
- If you want your pies to be shiny, lightly beat an egg and use a pastry brush to coat the pastry in the eggwash. I didn’t do this with mine.
- Put in the oven and bake for 10–15 minutes, until golden brown. I baked mine on the top shelf and due to my idiosyncratic oven, they took about 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and quickly use a knife to prise the tarts out of the tin. Place them on a wire rack to cool and allow the tin to cool before you start putting the next batch of pastry in.
- These are best served warm and dusted in a little icing sugar. Enjoy!