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Mince Pies


nakji
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I'd like to make some mince pies for a Christmas celebration I've got coming up with my British co-workers. I've never tasted one, though, so I don't know what I'm looking for when I evaluate recipes. Is homemade mincemeat necessary? Or can I get by on jarred? What kind of pastry is ideal? Help - I'd like to make something nice and traditional, since we're all away from home for the holidays.

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This is traditional in the sense that it's what I do, and what my mother did. I make a shortcrut pastry, using the Mastering the Art of French Cooking recipe, which has a high proportion of butter to flour. I don't make the sweet pastry, I don't think that's necessary. I use mincemeat from a jar (to be fair to her, my mother makes her own.) In my little 12-bun trays I use a circle of pastry for the bottom, fill with mincemeat, and then use a star shaped piece of pastry for the top, so that the filling shows through. Brush egg-yolk, bake until brown. No point in dusting with icing sugar if serving warm, it just disappears.

There are many, many other ways to make mice pies. I like these, though - the star shaped tops are pretty, and the whole thing has a bit more texture and interest than a solid pie. I don't think they could be achieved with puff pastry, too many corners where the puffing could go wrong.

Best of luck!

Catherine

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... Is homemade mincemeat necessary? Or can I get by on jarred?

Bought-in should be fine ... (but... !)

Mincemeat needs to be marinated for as long as possible, so the jar is an excellent shortcut - if its available to you.

BUT, that doesn't stop you from making your own additions ... whether that be extra spices, a bit of brandy (or rum or whisky or Grand Marnier, etc), extra candied citrus peel or whatever.

The result should be (in this order) sweet, sticky and gently aromatic with Christmassy spice notes (think ground allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves - mulled wine!). The spicing (and any booze) should be plainly detectable, but not aggressively 'up front'.

The pies should be served warm - but beware, that mincemeat filling can get dangerously hot in the oven (and hold that heat for surprisingly long). Hence baking blind, cold assembly and gently re-warming through for service does make sense.

You might lift the lids and add a drop of the booze just before they go into the oven to warm up to maximise the aroma of the booze.

What kind of pastry is ideal? ...
In Britain you'll find mince pies with either sweet shortcrust, or (heavy-ish) flaky pastry (rather like a slightly dark, low, wide vol-au-vent). Restaurants may play about with making filo pies, but that's not what most people would visualise when you say 'mince pie'. Its a riff on the idea.

If serving as finger food, a light but not-too-brittle sweet shortcrust pastry is probably where you should be aiming.

However, as a dessert course structural integrity becomes optional - and you can yourself riff on the make-a-dessert-course theme by perhaps putting a spot of whipped cream (maybe flavoured with yet more booze) under the lid of the pie seconds before service. Not traditional, but absolutely within the spirit.

I'd say its important that the size be at least two mouthfuls. You need to have it open to properly get those aromas. Its not like a 'pop-it-in-whole' canapé! The pastry dominates with smaller pies, and here, that's just wrong.

Lid decoration, as with a pastry star or leaf shape, or some such bit of fancy-ness, is fairly important.

Since the whole idea is excess, ideally it shouldn't look completely anonymously plain.

Hence I'd suggest that a light dusting with a snow of icing (powdered) sugar would be a minimum for presentation.

Its a lovely considerate Christmas thought, and I hope its appreciated.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I would recommend Crosse and Blackwell mincemeat. Taste it and then add spirits, chopped apple or pear or nothing depending on what you think. I my largish family only a small percentage of us like it and we love it! Have fun. Woods

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Excellent, excellent suggestions all. I had definitely planned on decorative tops, since all the pictures I've seen of them seem to feature that heavily. I'm not sure if I can get my hands on powdered sugar, but I think the "snow" effect is charming. Shortcrust seems to be the most manageable kind of pastry for me to make, so I'll no doubt go that route. As for the filling, Dougal, your description is just what I needed. Glace peel and the like are very thin on the ground here in China, but spices (of course) are accessible. I haven't seen a jar of Crosse & Blackwell yet, but I grew up eating their tinned cakes, so I would opt for that if I can find some. What's likely, though, is that I might find a jar at Marks and Spencer. I won't know until I go into Shanghai the weekend before Christmas, though - so I need a back-up plan. What's the most minimal mincemeat I can make from scratch?

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I would second or third the advice to use a bottled mincemeat. I made it once from scratch, using a Nick Malgieri recipe and it turned out nothing like the versions everyone was used to and flopped as a result.

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... I need a back-up plan. What's the most minimal mincemeat I can make from scratch?

You'll get the basic idea from http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1157/boozy-mincemeat

but don't get too hung up on exact proportions.

From the ingredients listing on the jar of Waitrose (nice UK supermarket) own-brand in the cupboard, it is (by weight) 50+% sugar, 25% apple, 25% raisins/sultanas/currents and just 3% (veggie) suet. IMHO, it could do with more of the vine fruits. I reckon they've stewed a lot of the apple with dark sugar (and spices) to make the required dark and sticky 'sauce'.

They've got some strange stuff in among the tiny quantities. Of those I didn't mention, orange oil, ginger and even the least of the ingredients, star anise, are fairly understandable, however even tiny quantities of acetic acid (vinegar!), coriander and dill are rather surprising to me.

But, as sold, it contains no alcohol. Unsurprising for cost engineering!

Absent the candied peel (6% in Waitrose's), you could perhaps very finely grate a bit of citrus zest (how about mandarin orange?), and add some more sugar or syrup! (You've just got to get the sugar to dissolve somehow - no gritty crystals!) Thinking on that, a drop of honey or invert sugar/syrup surely wouldn't do any harm.

Whatever bits (like the raw apple in that BBC recipe) you might care to add, they need to be cut to a size smaller than the currants/raisins/sultanas.

The impression should be of those vine fruits in the dark boozy syrupy sauce glue. Really, everything else is just a background/carrier for the fruit. I think the suet must be the last vestige of the actual minced meat (but a little very finely diced hard apple should counterfeit the appearance). BTW, I learned from the Waitrose label that the Veggie Suet is made of palm oil sunflower oil and rice flour!

As a quickie and for added opulence, I'd be pre-soaking/plumping the fruits in the booze before mixing them with anything else.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I'm all for adding a little extra fruit to the ready-made mix, pear and apple being first thoughts but at this moment in time, with excess poached quince in the fridge, I'm thinking the quince an excellent idea: it was poached with honey and a touch of cinnamon. Another reason to find some more quince!

Good ideas, gang. Happy Holiday baking to you all!

kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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I have just PM'd you a wonderful recipe for mincemeat that is loved by all who get the chance to eat it. You wont be disappointed and all those pats on the back from the Brits will make the wee bit of effort worth it. :biggrin:

Trust me. :smile:

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Last December I made so many mince pies that before the Christmas issue of Radio Times came out, none of my family would touch one. I was experimenting with pastries and different mince, from home made to jarred. I seem to remember that the all butter short crust tasted the best for me. However my mum always uses marg and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without her mince pies. This threw me completely. Your mothers cooking is always amazing. Wafts of childhood nostalgia with every mouthful.

So what do you prefer for your short crust pastry?

All butter?

Marg?

Half and half?

Lard?

Or do you have a secret ingredient you don't mind sharing?

Should mince be home made or is it better to have Robertsons jarred?

@lostinthelarder

Lost in the Larder - the life and times of an inquisitive appetite

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I've used a Jocelyn Dimblemby recipe for the pastry for years. All butter and including castor sugar. It also includes the zest of an orange and its juice as the liquid.

As for mincement, we came over all homely years ago when Delia first brought out her Christmas book. That was the one and only time we've made our own. Now I buy whatever the best Sainsburys has to offer - and add some booze (usually sherry but brandy this year).

They are baked and in the freezer - except for the tasting one. It was rather good, I'm pleased to say.

John Hartley

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I haven't made mince pie yet, but I'm tempted. Looking at some recipes, most call for apples. Having recently been experimenting with quince, and thinking that mince pie is a bit "old fashioned", I suspect that the hard-to-describe-but-apple-like flavor of quince would be a great addition.

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Quince sounds very interesting and apt, as does the orange zest. I think I may have used orange zest before actually. I may hunt some quince down for a batch of home made mince.

Harters - Sainsbury's has a buy one get one free offer on Duerr's luxury 1881 mincemeat at £1.99. Not tried it before but looks interesting. Will post results here soon.

@lostinthelarder

Lost in the Larder - the life and times of an inquisitive appetite

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  • 2 weeks later...

Luck was on my side, and Marks & Spencer had jar after jar of "luxury" mincemeat lined up in their seasonal display. I won't ask what makes it "luxury"; I don't want to contemplate the sorts of culinary sins that might be covered up with a brown sauce full of booze and spice that might make up non-"luxury" versions. 45 RMB a jar; I hope it's got bloody macadamia nuts and single-source heirloom cherries or some such in it. I'm going to tart it up with lemon and mandarin orange zest, spiced rum, and some Xinkiang raisins. As for pastry, I think I'll try Nigel Slater's version, since it calls for a minimum of ingredients, although I'll probably stretch it to larger-size pie tins. I'm working without a food processor, so I need the pastry to be fairly unfussy. Puff pastry is completely out of the question with my feeble skill set and lack of access to quality frozen product.

Do you think I ought to add some chopped apple to my jarred filling?

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  • 2 years later...
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