From the Stove #4: Christmas Mince Pies

From the Stove

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For a number of years now, each holiday season, my craving for British mince pies becomes insatiable, and I make it a point to go out and seek these delicious deserts in large quantities.  For the last couple of years I’ve managed to secure these mince pies at the A Touch of Britain store, but I have also been saying that I really need to learn to make my own batch, and that way I could have a never ending supply and I’d be saving money too, as they don’t come cheap.  2010 is the year I made this happen.

After doing a little research on a number of different recipes, I settled on this one from the Traditional British Recipes site.  As far as ingredients goes, it’s pretty simple stuff:

  • 12 oz/350g all purpose/plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8oz/ 225g butter, cubed or an equal mix of butter and lard
  • 1 beaten egg + 1 cold water as needed
  • 1 jar of mincemeat, shop bought or home made
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

The only thing that can be a little tricky to procure is the mincemeat, though I had no problems this time.  After discovering a number of British foods and candies now being carried by Safeway, I asked for help and was shown another seasonal British food section and right next to the Christmas pudding was a big jar of mincemeat.

Here are the directions:

Preparation:

Heat the oven to 400°F/205°C/Gas 6
Make the Pastry

  • Place the flour, butter and salt into a large clean bowl.
  • Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough becoming warm.
  • Add the egg to the mixture and using a cold knife stir, add cold water a teaspoon at a time until the mixture binds but don’t make it too wet that it is sticky.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes.

The dough can also be made in a food processor by mixing the flour, butter and salt in the bowl of the processor on a pulse setting. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, add the egg a slowly, through the funnel until the dough, then add water a tsp at a time until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill as above.

Assemble the Pies

  • Choose a muffin or bun tin for the size of the pie you want. Choose from a standard 12-cup muffin tin down to small canapé size. The number of pies will depend on the size of cup you choose.
  • Dust a work surface lightly with a little flour and roll out two-thirds of the pastry to 1/8″/3mm thick. Cut circles to line the cups of your tin, don’t worry if the pastry doesn’t come to the top.
  • Fill the pastry lined tins 2/3 full with mincemeat.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to the same thickness and cut smaller circles to fit as lids on the tarts or to be decorative, cut stars or other fancy shapes.
  • Dampen the edges of the tart bases with a little cold water and press the lids on. Make a small hole in the surface of each pie with a small sharp knife to allow the steam to escape (you can omit this if using star-shaped lids).
  • Bake in the preheated oven for 20 mins (15 mins if making canape size) or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the icing sugar.

I’ll be honest, the dough did take me some time to get right and required adding a little extra flour to not make it too sticky.  Then it was wrapped up in the fridge for half an hour and then began the rolling and adding of flour, then the re-rolling and adding of more flour, and a number of attempts later, I got the little pies in the tray or tin, and added the mincemeat.

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After that it was back to the dough board, to make the little tops or “hats” for the pies.  With each top I lightly touched around the edge with water to help it stick to the base of the pie.  At this point I used a recommendation from another recipe to add a golden topping to the pies, which involved beating an egg with a tablespoon of water and then brushing the tops of each of the pies, finally adding some sugar and then into the oven they went.

About twenty minutes later they came out looking golden brown, piping hot, and absolutely delicious.  After adding some powdered sugar for decoration (see top photo), they were done.  I must say the taste of the fresh, hot pastry with the mince makes it well worth all the work instead of the packaged, preserved variety.

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