Mince Pies

Mince Pies are sweet, spiced and boozy fruit pies of English origin, and are traditionally eaten throughout the Christmas period.

Preparation time: 90 minutesSoaking time: At least 4 hours
Cooking time: 20 minutesServes: 12
Difficulty: Moderate

Ingredients

For the mincemeat:

  • 250g/9 oz/1⅔ cups of raisins
  • 375g/13 oz/2 cups of currants
  • 100ml/1dl/⅕ pt/just under ½ cup of brandy (see tips)
  • Grated zest and juice of a lemon
  • Grated zest and chopped segments of a satsuma
  • 250g/9 oz/2 cups of shredded suet
  • 300g/10½ oz/1½ cups of dark brown sugar
  • 100g/3½ oz/1⅓ cups of chopped mixed peel
  • 1 teaspoon of mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
  • 2 cooking apples, cored and chopped (they don’t need to be peeled)
  • 60g/2 oz/½ cup of blanched almonds, chopped

For the pastry:

  • 225g/8 oz/1 cup of cold butter, diced
  • 350g/12 oz/just under 3 cups of plain flour
  • 100g/3½ oz/½ cup of golden caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Extra caster sugar, for dusting

Make it vegan: use vegetable suet instead of regular suet. Alternatively, freeze an equivalent amount of vegan butter for a few hours before shredding it into the mincemeat with a grater. Use vegan butter instead of butter in the pastry, and replace the egg with a flax egg.

Special Equipment

  • Two large mixing bowls
  • A 12 hole muffin tin
  • 10cm and 7cm round cookie cutters
  • A rolling pin
  • A food processer (optional)

Method

  1. Add the currants, raisins and brandy to a large mixing bowl, mix together until well combined, and cover the bowl. Allow the fruits to soak up the brandy for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
  2. Stir the lemon and satsuma zest, lemon juice, satsuma segments, candied peel, suet, sugar, spices, apple and almonds into the currants. Ensure that everything is thoroughly mixed together and cover the bowl again. Leave covered until needed.
  3. In a separate large mixing bowl, rub the flour and butter together until they resemble fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar, salt and egg. (If desired combine them together in a food processor instead of by hand.)
  4. Continue kneading the pastry until it’s smooth, then roll it into a ball and pop it in the fridge. Chill for at least half an hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.
  6. Briefly knead the dough and roll it out on a floured surface until it’s just under half a centimetre thick. If it’s too crumbly, add a little water, and if it’s too wet, add a little flour.
  7. Use the 10cm cookie cutter to cut out 12 10cm circles of pastry, and press them into the muffin tray hollows. Dollop some mincemeat into each.
  8. Collect up the remaining pastry and reroll it. Use the 7cm cookie cutter to cut out pastry lids for the pies. Brush the edge of each pie with some beaten egg and press the lids onto each one so they are sealed. Make a small incision in each lid.
  9. Glaze the pies with a little more egg and sprinkle them with caster sugar.
  10. Bake the pies for 15-20 minutes, until golden, making sure to rotate them in the oven if needed. Allow them to cool slightly before removing them from the muffin trays with a knife- they should come away quite easily. Dust them with a little extra sugar. They can be eaten hot or cold.
  11. Bon Appetit!

Tips

  • Although you can use the mincemeat the day you make it, it will actually taste better if left for at least a week before it’s used.
  • The boozier the pies, the better they taste- so feel free to double the amount of brandy in the filling if you can. For a modern twist, try replacing it with dark rum.

Background

Pronunciation: (MintSs Piys)
Home: England
Relatives: Christmas Pudding, Apple Pie

History

Mince pies have been eaten for centuries but were very different in mediaeval times. Like many very old foods which are now sweet, they were initially much more savoury, with the ‘mincemeat’ in the pie containing actual meat. According to Gervase Markham’s 1615 recipe in The English Huswife, the filling should consist of a good quality leg of mutton (or beef or veal, if no mutton was available) along with meat suet, spices and raisins- but no sugar or sweetener.

Mediaeval pie crusts were known as ‘coffins’, as their function was often to provide a simple, edible base on which fruit or meat fillings were cooked, with the ‘pastry’ often thrown away afterwards. As such the pastry for Mince Pies would have been a single large, plain, unsweetened base for one pie and not a buttery, sugary base for multiple small pies. The strange combination of meat, spices and dried fruits- and indeed the inclusion of spices in itself- is believed to derive from Levantine cuisine, which was introduced to Europe by crusaders returning from the Holy Land.

Mince Pies’ association with Christmas perhaps began because dried fruit was a valued ingredient in midwinter- when fresh fruit was unavailable- or because the cost of the ingredients was such that Mince Pies were only made for feast days like Christmas. Because of this association, they were at one point more commonly known as ‘Christmas Pies’, and they were sometimes shaped into rectangular mangers, with effigies of baby Jesus placed on top. As a result, Mince Pies were- along with many other Christmas traditions- discouraged by Puritans during the Interregnum period (1649-1660.) They made a comeback after the Restoration, though their design was simplified.

By the Victorian era, the inclusion of meat was dying out: Mrs Beeston’s 1861 Household Management included two recipes, one with meat and one without. By the end of the 20th century, Mince Pies with meat was essentially unheard of, with only the inclusion of suet to remind us meat was ever included.

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