Mince pies and all things Christmas

Okay, I have to let you into a bit of a secret.  Last year when I was working at Lynwood & Co I was responsible for making the mince pies at Christmas.  As you will know from my posts at the time these went down very well, especially with the gentleman (and photographer) who lives in the flat above the Coln Community Stores.  What I didn’t mention at the time was that while the mince pies were indeed delicious, they were made with ready-made puff pastry and mincemeat.   I was just responsible for cutting the pastry to shape (the bases and stars); filling the pastry shells; baking them (of course to perfection – tongue firmly in cheek) and dusting them with a light dusting of icing sugar.  As we had to make a lot of them at Lynwood & Co, it would not have been commercially viable to make the mincemeat or the pastry from scratch on a regular basis.

However, chatting to one of the regular customers at the Coln Community Stores recently, she mentioned that she enjoyed almond pastry mince pies.  Intrigued by her suggestion and also feeling that I should at least make mincemeat from scratch once in my life, I set about finding a recipe for almond mince pies.  It didn’t take long to find a recipe on the Delicious magazine website.

The first step was to make the mincemeat.  I didn’t realise that making mincemeat was such a prolonged process (okay, I exaggerate, but it did take longer than I thought it would).  The first thing I needed to do was leave all of the mixed, mincemeat ingredients overnight to macerate.  The following day the mincemeat was cooked out at a low temperature for a couple of hours before placing it in steralised jars.  I left my mincemeat to ‘mature’ for a couple of days (not much time to mature, I know, but I was keen to try out the mince pies).  I then set about making the almond shortcrust pastry, which was relatively straight forward, albeit a bit more fragile than normal shortcrust pastry.  I chose to make mince pies topped with almond pastry stars rather than ‘lids’.  After 20 minutes in the oven, the pastry stars were still looking a bit anaemic so I left my pies in the oven for another 5 minutes.  In retrospect I should have only cooked them for a couple more minutes instead of 5 minutes as although not a mitigated disaster the pastry was still a bit over-baked.  That being said, overall, I think the pies tasted relatively good.  I took a couple to my Mum’s house and as my greatest critic, she was quick to point out that although she liked the pies, she felt that the mincemeat could have matured more before using.  She was correct of course (although don’t tell her), as the alcohol was still quite strong.

With my Mum’s voice ringing in my ears, I left my mincemeat to mature for about 10 days before I incorporated it into another bake.  This time a Christmas cake, which just happened to be another recipe from Delicious magazine; a recipe for spiced rum butter mincemeat cake.  As I already had my own mincemeat, I used this instead of the rum butter mincemeat suggested in the recipe.

I have to say that despite being on this planet for over half a century, this was the first Christmas cake that I have ever made. I have made many a fruit loaf or malted fruit loaf but never a Christmas cake.  What I found interesting about the bake, was that I had to line the tin with two layers of baking paper on the inside and newspaper on the the outside, as well as a wadge of newspaper underneath.  On top of all this protection from the heat and drying out during a two hour bake, I then had to cover the cake with a double layer of baking paper with a small hole cut out in the centre.  After two hours, the cake was looking well baked, albeit slightly under-coloured on top.  I took the decision to cook the cake for a little longer without the baking paper on top to get it a little more coloured.  While I don’t think this was entirely the wrong decision, I think I should have possibly left it as the recipe said – a two hour bake.

No sooner had I baked and cooled the cake, and before I had time to wrap it and feed it alcohol for Christmas, my husband suggested that the cake would not last until Christmas.  He was right.  When I came home from work the next day, half the cake had disappeared.  My husband had taken it with him on a business trip to Holland, where he proceeded to eat most of it for breakfast on the few days that he was away.  As the cake was half eaten, I felt that there was no point trying to save the other half until Christmas so I have had a few pieces since then.  It is a lovely flavoursome cake with a boozy kick.  The only thing I would change if I made the cake again (as I suggested earlier) is reduce the baking time slightly as the cake is slightly crumbly – possibly the result of being slightly over-baked or otherwise being so jam-packed with fruit.

As I was finishing my blog post, one of my neighbours knocked on the door and asked whether I would make 48 mince pies for the Coln Community Stores volunteers’ Christmas party.  Although I enjoyed the almond mince pies, I am not sure whether the almond pastry is my favourite, so I think I may need to experiment a bit before the 10 December.  I will keep you posted.  In the meantime, I will leave you with the mincemeat recipe that I used in my almond pastry mince pies and Christmas cake, as this is definitely a winner.

Mince meat

Ingredients

  • 340g sultanas
  • 250g raisins
  • 140g currants
  • 50g dried cranberries, finely chopped
  • 250g Pink Lady apples, peeled and cubed
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 2 oranges, juice of 3
  • 50g candied orange peel
  • 300g dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 ball stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 ½ tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp all spice
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 90g shredded vegetarian suet
  • 90g unsalted butter, melted
  • 150g flaked almonds, toasted
  • 160ml Grand Marnier, or ordinary cognac

Method

  • Stir the dried fruit together in a large bowl.  Dice the apples and add them to the bowl, grate over the lemon zest; squeeze in the juice and stir to coat the fruit.  Next add the orange zest and juice, sugar, spices, peel, salt and fat then stir until everything is evenly coated. If using ordinary cognac, add the zest of the 3rd orange.  Carefully fold through the almonds. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave in a warm spot overnight, stirring occasionally to agitate the flavours.
  • Preheat oven to 90°C fan.   Place the mincemeat to a baking tray, cover the top with foil and bake for 2 hours.  Set aside to cool slightly, and then stir in the alcohol.   Transfer to sealable sterilised jars.

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