Sunday 24 December 2017

Mince Pies

This morning, our family were doing their best to appear holy by attending our local Catholic mass. The children wriggled, the hymns were quietly sung off key, and as we finished, the priest issued welcomes to all the prodigal children come home, instructing them to come to teas, coffees, and cake after the service so that he could chat to them. This was met by whispering and huge gesticulations.
"Oh," he said as his face fell. "No coffee and cake?" He paused, looking around, his eyes pleading to be told otherwise. "Well, that's ruined my Sunday." He blessed us and we shuffled out into the cold December air.

It does seem odd, with Christmas being such a food centred holiday, that such an opportunity to issue baked goods to the masses was missed. The organisers assumed that the congregation would want to rush off to purchase pigs in blankets, to wrap their last few presents, rather than enjoy a few moments with each other on this holy weekend. The out of town relatives gathered outside for a brief moment, murmuring their disappointment, then vanished around the corner into their respective vehicles, a few declaring they would try the nearby coffee shop that had opened recently.

As we watched them disappear, we sighed. We are having a quiet Christmas this year, so I am not rushing about. There is no bedding to organise, no extra guests to cater for, no car to pack up. Just the five of us trying not to kill each other.

I say no extra guests to cater for, but there is one exception: Father Christmas. As a child, I usually left out a cookie or two for Santa, with milk to wash it down, plus a carrot and perhaps some nuts and raisins for Rudolph. Here, it appears that Father Christmas has somewhat more sophisticated tastes, preferring mince pies to cookies, and whisky or sherry to milk. Rudolph likes carrots the world round, it seems.

The end result
In the past, I have always been content to buy the pies, having never tasted a bad supermarket one. I mean, Mr Kipling does make exceedingly good cakes. But on Friday, when I asked the kids what they wanted to do THAT WAS FREE this Christmas holiday, Christopher piped up that we wanted to do some cooking. Plus, having been in on a mums Christmas conversation recently with a couple mothers who do ALL the things, I had a few tips on what to do to make mince pies tasty, namely scooping mincemeat from a shop-bought jar and adding a couple extra ingredients to pimp up your pies. So I figured, why not? This year, we would make Santa's snack from scratch. Sort of.

Mincemeat taken to the next level

So Lidl provided the jar of Brandy-laced mincemeat, into which I grated a wrinkly apple and to which I added the last few pistachios out of a packet, the zest of a clementine, the zest of half a lemon, and a handful of tired looking sultanas. "That looks disgusting!" my daughter exclaimed. I can't say I disagreed with her. I mean, look at it.

I made the pastry, and rolled it out, trying to keep the kids' fingers off of it. You know how occasionally, just occasionally, you go through your cupboards to clear out things you don't really need? Well, recently I did just that and looked critically at a range of circle cutters that I hadn't taken out in at least a year. I kept them in the end, and now I can fully justify retaining them in my kitchen cupboards of doom, because they were officially used for something culinary in 2017! An official stay of execution for these beasts.

Ok, so I should have used the crinkly side for both the bottom and the tops of the pies. And not let these two anywhere near:

Catherine loves the camera on her phone that doesn't work as a phone in this country.

Their presence is why I don't have any photos of the filling of the pies. No, they couldn't have taken photos, be quiet.

The jar stretched to 12 pies, the pastry covered them all quite happily with some scraps left in the fridge to be found months from now after they have been slowly edged to the back by other, more recently used items.

Into a hot oven they went for 17 minutes, and when they came out they were easily extracted from the muffin pan to cool on a rack where Robert stared at them suspiciously.

This was only the second time I'd ever made mince pies, and the last time I used puff pastry. I prefer shortcrust pastry fo sho. 

It quickly became apparent that none of my children wanted to actually eat any mince pies. Christopher had made mixed berry muffins this morning (under my supervision from across the room) which they all preferred to re-attack rather than sample any of my pastries.

Well, someone had to try them, and Michael was asleep.

None of the china matches, as I am really good at breaking stuff. Expert level.

It was most satisfactory.

So if you need a pie to leave out for Father Christmas, drop me a line. I've got 10 to spare. 

Hope you all have a Happy Christmas!


1 recipe shortcrust pastry (I use Joy of Cooking's recipe, but you could just buy some)
1 jar mincemeat
1 small apple
zest from 1 clementine
zest from 1 lemon
handful of shelled pistachios
handful of sultanas or raisins
Any other exciting ingredients that work in a mince pie.
Caster sugar

Preheat oven to 220C Roll out pastry, cut with circle cutter big enough to fill the middle and sides of a muffin tin. Fill a dozen wells, then pop the muffin tray in the fridge while you work on the mincemeat. Empty the jar into a bowl, then peel and grate the apple into it, and add the rest of the ingredients, giving it a quick stir. Take the muffin tray out, then fill them with even amounts of the mixture. Cut out circles, stars, whatever for tops of the pies. Listen to your daughter complain that they aren't pretty enough and don't have a fancy design. Mutter to yourself as you sprinkle sugar over the pies, then put in the oven for 15-20 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove from tin and put onto cooling rack, then make some tea and eat one. Keep one aside for Santa, and dispose of the rest however you see fit.

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