Seasons greetings all! The festive period is approaching. Some may say it’s already here. If you’re a home baker then it’s definitely time to be thinking about what you are going to bake this Christmas. Hurray! Maybe you’ve already started.
Mince pies are a traditional choice, dating back hundreds of years, and there are many possibilities to try for the pastry, the filling and the topping. They haven’t always been sweet though and were once filled with meat and suet along with fruits, spices and alcohol. Here’s a few traditions, apparently, which I read about on the internet so they must be true:
- Only stir the mincemeat mixture clockwise because stirring it counterclockwise is bad luck for the upcoming year.
- While eating the first mince pie of the season, it’s traditional to make a wish.
- Always eat mince pies in silence.
- Eating a mince pie each day of the 12 days of Christmas is good luck for the upcoming year.
Not sure about eating them in silence, but that last one sounds pretty good to me.
The internet also provided me with many options for mince pie recipes and I’ve mixed a couple together for these particular pies.
This isn’t the quickest recipe, but it doesn’t take too long and the results are definitely worth it. The cranberries and brandy in the mincemeat, the orange zest in the pastry, and the sweet and creamy vanilla almond topping make these mince pies extra special. Here’s how to bake them (approx 24):
Ingredients for the pastry (Yes, I did make my own pastry. Smug. I did use a food processor though. Is that cheating?)
- 200g very cold butter, cubed
- 400g plain flour
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g golden caster sugar
- zest 2 small oranges
- 2 tbsp milk
Ingredients for the filling
- Approximately 400g mincemeat
- Approximately 85g cranberries (I used frozen ones)
- 100ml brandy
Ingredients for the vanilla almond topping
- 125g salted butter, slightly softened
- 125g icing sugar plus extra for dusting
- 25g plain flour
- 125g ground almonds
- 1/2 vanilla pod, split down the centre and seeds scraped out
- 2 eggs
- Pastry – Whizz the butter, flour and ground almonds in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. Pulse in the sugar and half the orange zest. Add the milk and keep whizzing until a rough dough comes together. (Mine sort of came together, but I had to take it out of the processor and knead it for a bit.) To make by hand – rub the butter and flour together with your fingertips until they look like breadcrumbs; stir in the almonds, sugar and orange zest; then stir in the milk and bring it all together in a dough.
- Tip onto the work surface, press together and shape into a smooth disc, kneading once or twice if you need to. Chill for 15 minutes. This can be made up to 3 days ahead and chilled, or frozen for up to 1 month.
- Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
- Prepare the filling – While the pastry is chilling, mix the mincemeat, cranberries and brandy together to soak.
- Make the topping – Use an electric beater to whisk the butter and icing sugar together for a few minutes. Stir in the flour, ground almonds and vanilla seeds. Beat in the eggs gently, then continue to whisk for 4 or 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy again. (Mine didn’t go light and fluffy again and was a bit runny, but it still worked.)
- Prepare the cases – On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to about the thickness of a £1 coin, (some of mine were a little thicker as I didn’t want to keep rolling the pastry in case it broke apart!). Using an 8cm cutter (I used a glass), stamp out 24 circles and use to line the holes of a bun tray. (To avoid the pastry breaking push it down gently into the tin.)
- Assemble the pies – Spoon the filling into the cases (I poured the filling through a sieve first to drain off the excess juice to avoid a soggy bottom!). Then place a dollop of almond topping on each one. Not too much as it spreads when cooking, but try to cover the top of the mincemeat.
- Bake the pies for 18 to 20 minutes until golden.
Make a wish (if it’s your first mince pie of the season) and enjoy. For extra decadence, serve with ice-cream, double cream or vanilla custard. Maybe even all three. Well, it is Christmas.