What's for Dinner?: Mince Pies

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Mince Pies

For me, mince pies are the quintessential seasonal treat, but for a lot of Americans, the mere suggestion of them raises an eyebrow.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting a mince pie yet, here’s a quick description: buttery pastry filled with sweet dried fruit and spices. Delicious. The taste of Christmas.

They are a festive fixture back in Britain and their origins go back to the European Crusaders returning from the Holy Land with new herbs and spices among their booty.

Originally they were a much larger pie that contained meat, fruit and spices. By the Victorian age they had evolved to a smaller pie and the meat had been replaced by suet. Nowadays mince meat does not even include suet so it is vegetarian-friendly.  The ‘mincemeat’ filling is actually a mixture of apples, raisins, sultanas, orange zest, lemon zest and spices. You’ll find mention of it in Dickens’ work and its importance was such that the Victorians would prepare the fruit and spice mixture months in advance and store in jars to be used at Christmas.

As it takes two weeks to let the fruit macerate for mincemeat—and because Christmas is less than two weeks away—I used a pre-made mincemeat that I tarted up with various extras: brandy, nuts and some fresh apple and clementine. Robertson’s make a good pre-made mincemeat that you can find at the Pie Store in Montclair (where else?), Whole Foods Market and Fairways.

Your house will smell like Christmas while these beautiful little crusts of goodness bake in your oven. They freeze well and are perfect for reheating when guests pop in – a quick blast in the microwave or oven will do the trick. For a total old-school Christmas immersion, enjoy with a dollop of brandy butter on them—yes that is what it sounds like: butter with brandy—and a glass of sherry.

Mince Pies
Ingredients – makes 12

For the Pastry

  • 13oz all-purpose flour
  • 9oz butter, softened
  • 4oz superfine sugar
  • 1 medium egg, lightly beaten
  • Iced water

For the Filling

  • Approx 12 oz premade Mincement
  • 1 tablespoon of nuts, chopped small – blanched almonds or walnuts
  • 1-2 tablespoons of brandy
  • 1/2 apple finely chopped or grated
  • 1 clementine, peeled and finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400°F then grease a 12-cup muffin pan with a little butter or vegetable spray.

Make the sweet pastry by putting the flour, butter and sugar in a bowl and rubbing it in using your thumb and fingers until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Then add the egg with a splash of the iced water mix so that it comes together as a dough. Form into a disc shape and  wrap the pastry in cling film and put in the fridge.

Mix the mince meat with the nuts, brandy and fresh fruit.

Roll out the pastry onto a lightly floured surface until the pastry is 1/8″ thick. Use a round pastry cutter that is slightly bigger than the muffin cup to cut out 12 circles. Push each one into the muffin cup. Then roll our the reminder of the pastry and use a cutter to make 12 stars.

Mince PiesFill the pastry case so that it is about 2/3 full of the mincemeat mixture. Then put a star on top of each one, pressing it on gently.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the muffin pan and let cool a few minutes before removing from the pan. They are best eaten warm, so reheat if you are making for another time. If you want to try without committing to a dozen both The Pie Store and The Little Daisy Bake Shop in Montclair sell them and they are both quite delicious.

We always make extra as tradition dictates that we leave a couple by the chimney on Christmas Eve for Santa, along with a nice glass of Scotch. Who knew that wily old North Poler had such peculiarly British tastes?

Merry Christmas (raises glass of sherry!)

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