Easy Recipe: "Modern" Christmas Mince Pies

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Modern Christmas mince pie recipe

Back when I was studying in England, there were quite a few English foods that I just didn't understand. Spotted dick pudding was one (I gave it a shot). Black pudding was another (also tried it). Mince pies were another.

There's that running joke about how everyone gifts fruitcake, but no one really wants it. That's sort of how I viewed mince pies. During the Christmas season in England, I approached packaged mince pies on more than one occasion, jarred mincemeat on another, and turned away each time. That brown, fibrous paste looked -- as you might imagine -- less than appetizing. And even knowing that it was a relatively harmless medley of dried fruits and not minced beef did nothing to propel me to take that last step towards the register.

Fast forward a handful of years to the advent of YouTube celebrities and this newfangled thing called "Vlogmas" (a video blog a day between December 1st and Christmas Day), and I've been reintroduced to the mince pie. And people -- young people -- baking and eating it with a straight face. Surely, it mustn't be that bad. My interest was again piqued.

So I went down a bit of a different route with the traditional mince pie recipe. I know I don't like purple raisins all that much, so I substituted with Golden Berry Blend, a dried fruit medley I found at Trader Joe's, containing dried fruits I do like -- cranberries, golden raisins and blueberries. This is my modified version of Nigella Lawson's recipe.

"Modern" Christmas Mince Pies
Yields about 12 cupcake-sized pies

For the pastry:
1 cup of flour
3 tablespoons of cold butter
3 tablespoons of vegetable shortening
the juice of a small orange
1 1/2 cups of mincemeat (see recipe below)
a pinch of salt

For the mincemeat:
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 cup of dried stone fruit (traditional mincemeat includes raisins, currants, sultanas)
the juice and finely grated zest of a clementine
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 1/2 tablespoons of honey
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1/3 teaspoon of ground cloves
8 teaspoons of brandy (or 5 teaspoons of ruby port and 3 teaspoons of brandy)

For the pastry
Pour the flour into a shallow bowl and dollop teaspoonfuls of vegetable shortening into the bowl, add the butter, diced small, shake to cover it, then put in the freezer for 20 minutes. Mix together the orange juice and salt in a separate bowl, cover and leave in the fridge to chill.

After 20 minutes, empty the flour into food processor and blitz until you’ve got a pale pile of porridge-like crumbs. Pour the salted juice down the funnel, pulsing until it looks as if the dough is about to cohere; you want to stop just before it does (even if some orange juice is left). If all your juice is used up and you need more liquid, add some iced water.

Turn the mixture onto a work surface and combine to a dough. Form into 3 discs and wrap each disc in clingwrap and put in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

For the mincemeat
In a large pan, dissolve the sugar in the ruby port over a gentle heat. Add the cinnamon, ginger and cloves, dried fruits, zest and juice of the clementine. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the fruit has broken down and has absorbed most of the liquid in the pan. Remove from heat and allow to cool a little.

Add the brandy, vanilla extract and honey and stir with a wooden spoon to mash the mixture down into a paste. Once cool, you can store the mincemeat in the fridge for up to two weeks.

For the pies
Roll out the refrigerated discs, one at a time, as thin as possible for it to hold the mincemeat. Out of each rolled-out disc, cut out circles a little wider than the indentations in the cupcake tins. Spray your tins with a little cooking spray. Press the pastry circles gently into the tins and dollop in mincemeat. Then cut out stars with a little star cutter, re-rolling the pastry as necessary – and place the tops lightly on the mincemeat.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and firm.

To serve, sift confectioners' sugar over the tops, or with warm brandy butter.

Modern Christmas mince pie recipe
Modern Christmas mince pie recipe
Modern Christmas mince pie recipe
Modern Christmas mince pie recipe
Modern Christmas mince pie recipe
Modern Christmas mince pie recipe

You know what? I liked them. I liked the fruity-spicy combo, and the way my house smelled while I was baking these. I found the mincemeat a little intense in a sweet-tart way, but the intensity simmered down as the pies cooled. These were easy enough to make, though I'm not sure I'd make them again. They're still not my idea of a delicious Christmas treat -- there are too many cookies, gingerbreads and cakes out there that are more suited to my taste. But for the traditionalist, these ain't half bad.

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