A friend of mine who works in a five-star hotel has just finished preparing 1,000 mince pies for its forthcoming annual Christmas fair. They are an integral piece of Christmas. My grandma made them every year and while she always made her own pastry by hand, she always bought a jar of mincemeat for the filling.
My mince pie making tradition began as a newlywed. My initiation into the fold was complete when I was assigned the task of making mince pies for Christmas by my in-laws. Now, I start to bake mince pies from the first week in December. While my kids love the taste of them, they love making them even more.
You may be surprised by how quick and easy it is to make your own mincemeat from scratch without slaving away for hours. I use a simple recipe and I find using “mixed spice” (a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and mace) avoids having to buy lots of individual spice jars. Going into scaled production at this time of year will yield a steady supply of delicious mince pies for visitors. Keep a tray in the freezer uncooked and bake them when you need them.
When made small and dainty, they make gorgeous presents, wrapped up in florist wrap and tied with a festive ribbon.
I find my muffin tins have the perfect size hollows for filling deep mince pies. If you have a shallow tin, don’t overfill them to the brim as the mincemeat filling will bubble up over the edges. For a touch of luxury, a dash of Cointreau, extra orange zest or adding chopped toasted almonds all give you the license to create a signature mincemeat exactly to your taste. For a little added tang, apple juice or lemon juice will provide a subtle hint of sharpness.
50g butter (plus extra for greasing)
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced small
125g dark muscovado sugar
Zest and juice of 1 large orange
1 tbsp mixed spice
Optional: brandy, Cointreau, apple or lemon juice
300g plain flour
50g icing sugar, sieved
150g cold butter, diced small
1 large egg (plus extra for glazing pastry)
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan. You will also need to grease a muffin tray (or other baking tray with hollows). You will need a round and star shaped cookie cutter.
To make the pastry, sieve the flour into a bowl. Add the diced butter and rub into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in icing sugar and salt. With a dinner knife, work in the egg yolk, then use your hands to bring it together to a firm dough (add a few drops of cold water if it appears very dry to help the mixture come together into a ball). Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 20 minutes.
For the mincemeat, weigh out all the ingredients and transfer to a medium heavy based saucepan. Heat over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally as the butter melts. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. The mixture will be dense. (If you are making a large batch, and it dries out, add in more orange juice.)
Divide the chilled pastry in half and roll the pastry out to 2mm thickness on a lightly floured work surface and use a 10cm cookie cutter to start stamping out pastry rounds pressing them gently into the greased muffin hollows, rolling out the second half of the pastry to fill all the hollows (and star lids).
Half-fill the pastry shells (1-2tsps of filling is plenty). Reroll the pastry and stamp out star shapes. Brush the pastry stars lightly with egg glaze, then place them on the top of the mincemeat in each pie.
Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until light golden in colour and remove from the oven once the mixture only just starts to bubble up around the edges (if they bubble for too long, the filling gives a chewy texture).
Serve slightly warm dusted with icing sugar.
Try making mince pies with puff pastry. Simply stamp out rounds, use the tip of a knife to score an inner circle, add mincemeat in the centre, brush the exposed pastry rim with egg glaze before baking.