I know that it’s January and that a post on mince pies is maybe not encouraging for people who’ve embarked on a ‘New Year, New Me’ health kick. However, these are good and I am proud of them so here they are, later than is probably useful but at least next Christmas, I can point you to this post!
Mince pies are a proper British tradition, you could quite happily spend from September to December eating mince pies, they are everywhere. A long time ago, mince pies actually contained meat as well as dried fruit and very little sugar. Nowadays, the only savoury thing about them is the use of suet in the mincemeat and their name.
Most people buy mince pies but I’m not keen on the shop bought ones, there’s too much mincemeat and the pastry is an unappealing mixture of crumbly, soggy and far too sweet. Home-made mince pies, are smaller and nicer, so of course at some point I was going to have a bash at making my own. However, if I was going to make my own, everything in them had to be as home-made as possible and so I decided to make the mincemeat too! I’ve been doing this for about 4 years and I can’t imagine Christmas without making them and giving them away.
Making your own mincemeat sounds labour intensive and scary, but it isn’t. It really is a case of assemble the ingredients, bake for a bit and stick in jars. In fact, the cheat’s ‘take a jar of shop bought mincemeat and pimp it with extra brandy and fruit’ is, I feel, more of a faff than making it from first principles. I didn’t make mincemeat this year, I had a couple of jars in the cupboard from last year and they tasted better this year. So please don’t feel that this is something you have to fit in December, you can do it about the time you start a Christmas cake, or any time at all. In fact so inspired am I about how good the ‘matured’ version of this was, I’m probably going to make mine in January and feel like a domestic god for the rest of the year! If you are going to store it for any length of time, it’s important to make sure that the suet melts slowly and covers all the fruit, this is what preserves it. I’ve never had the problem, but I’m pretty sure that slowly fermenting (and rotting fruit) is not fun! So do make sure that you use the suet and properly sterilise the jars. This isn’t difficult, just wash them in really hot, soapy water, dry with a clean tea towel (or put them through the dishwasher) and put them in the oven, gas mark 4, 350F, 180C, for 5 minutes. Remember not to touch the insides with your fingers!
When I first started making these, I turned to Delia for the recipe and then made it even less complicated and left out the nuts. I generally use ordinary suet but vegetarian suet also works well if you want to make the vegetarian. For pastry, I generally use this recipe, but any good pastry recipe will do, puff pastry works well. The only rule, I have is that the pastry should not be sweet, the mincemeat is sweet enough and you don’t want to guild the lily!
Mincemeat (adapted from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course).
Makes 6lbs. You will need enough jars for this amount!
1lb / 450g bramley apples chopped small
8oz / 225g shredded suet
2lb 4oz / 1.25kg luxury mixed fruit
12oz / 250g soft dark brown sugar
zest and juice of 2 oranges
zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 level teaspoons mixed spice
1/2 level teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 level teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
6 tablespoons brandy (optional)
1) Combine everything apart from the brandy in a large roasting tin. Stir and mix together well.
2) Cover the tin with a clean tea towel and leave in a cool place for at least 12 hours.
3) Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1/4, 225°F (120°C). Cover the roasting tin loosely with foil and place it in the oven for 3 hours.
4) It will not look pretty, there will be lots of melted fat. Don’t worry, it’s supposed to look like that!
5) Leave to cool, stirring it every now and again.
6) Once the mincemeat is completely cold, mix thoroughly again and add the brandy if using.
7) Put in sterilised jars and seal. Store in a cool, dark cupboard.
Once you have the mincemeat and are ready to go. Roll out the pastry and cut into circles and fill a bun tin (the kind you use for fairy cakes and jam tarts!). Fill the pastry with 1 to 2 teaspoons of mincemeat and roll out the pastry again and cut out shapes to go on the top. Stars are traditional but you could completely cover them or use a different shape! Brush the tops with milk and bake in a medium oven for 15 to 20 minutes.