Wednesday, December 29, 2010
I didn’t actually spend a Christmas in England until 2006, by which point the ambition had grown considerably, fuelled by eight years of eating mince pies bought and homemade, of varying levels of quality, yet never having any around for my own Christmas dinner. That year, I resolved I would do it myself. And yet somehow, between making sure all the presents were ordered and sent to the US and working and trying to find decorations and chasing a two-year-old around and preparing to entertain my visiting in-laws, it just didn’t happen. I admitted defeat a few days before Christmas and bought some very nice ones from the bakery in the Covered Market.
My Christmases have been largely bereft of mince pies since. We left England a week before Christmas 2007. In 2008, mince pies didn’t strike quite the right note in Canberra’s 85F/27C Christmas weather. And in 2009, I landed in Boston with a few days to spare and it was all I could do to organize a turkey.
But this year…this year we didn’t go anywhere. And I’ve acquired a few more multi-tasking skills, along with a (slightly) more manageable six-year-old. And when I decided to celebrate staying put with Eight Days of Christmas Baking, the third item on the list—after my grandmother’s Italian Christmas treats, which were non-negotiable requirements—was mince pies.
Yankeefied mince pies
I made some changes to the mincemeat filling, partly because I couldn’t find the original ingredients and partly because I wanted to give it an American twist. That way the tastes would be more familiar to the Americans to whom I offered this (to them) holiday novelty.
English mince pies are generally quite small, making them easy to eat out of hand. I found a mince pie baking pan in a British shop in Lawrence, KS, but I also experimented with using a regular muffin/cupcake pan, which worked almost as well. You will also need a 3 in/7 cm round cookie/biscuit cutter to cut out the mince pie bottoms, and either a small star cutter or a slightly smaller round cutter for the tops. Finally, you will need a sterilized jar to hold the mincemeat until you are ready to use it.
adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
The original recipe makes about 2 kg/4 lb, which I thought was a lot more than I would need for a first attempt, so I halved it, along with making the above-mentioned substitutions. This should be made at least a few days in advance of making the pies, and could be longer—one of my English friends already had her mincemeat made and marinating when I was in her kitchen in early November.
65 ml/2 oz apple juice
65 ml/2 oz prosecco
125 g/4 oz soft brown sugar
450 g/1 lb Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
large pinch each of cinnamon, cardamom, and ground ginger
125 g/4 oz dried cranberries
125 g/4 oz golden raisins
35 g/1 oz dried cherries
35 g/1 oz slivered almonds, finely chopped
zest and juice of ½ a lemon
45 ml/1.5 oz brandy
Put a medium saucepan on medium heat. Pour in the apple juice and prosecco, then add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add all the other ingredients except the brandy, stir to coat thoroughly with the sugar mixture, and leave to simmer for 20-30 minutes or until everything is looking softened and mixed together. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 15-20 minutes, then add the brandy and stir again thoroughly. Spoon into a sterilized jar, cover, and leave in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use.
1 recipe pâte brisée, made and rested in fridge for at least one hour.
Preheat oven to 180C/375F.
Roll pie crust out as you would for a regular pie, then cut out 12 circular bottoms and 12 stars or tops, making the cuts as close together as possible to avoid wastage and re-rolling.
Place all the bottoms into the pan openings, then fill each one with 1-2 small spoonfuls of mincemeat. Top each pie with a star or circle and put the filled pan in the oven. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned, rotating the pan’s position halfway through.
Makes at least 24 mini mince pies.