Ahh! Nothing says Christmas like a mouthful of pie with minced beef mixed with sultanas, almonds, cinnamon and cloves… wait what?!
In spite of the pre-Raphaelite efforts to make Crusades seem like the epitome of chivalry, bravery and all things noble, the truth is that they were bloody and violent quests motivated by political and economic greed.
But we can’t deny that culinary speaking, the consequent trade from the crusaders revolutionised mediaeval cuisine, nuts, exotic spices and fruits made their way into the European pantries and turned their otherwise bland food into feasts of flavour, smells and textures.
Sweetmeats rose to fame during Tudor and Jacobean times, the quintessential sweet and savoury blends from the Middle East proved to be a success in England: adding prunes, raisins, zest and juice of lemons and oranges, almonds, pine nuts have been a traditional way to enrich and garnish minced meats and stews. To that, the addition of spices that brought al the flavours together in a tantalising and irresistible way.
But it was in England where the addition of pastry took place, first as a mere inedible vehicle to cook mincemeats but as French baking and patisserie influenced other cuisines, buttery and rich crusts became part of such baked delicacies.
The loss of meat and addition to fruits was a slow evolution, as seasonal fruits are cheaper than meat and the tendency to separate sweet from savoury dishes became a norm, mince pies shrank becoming finger food at the same tame they became be associated with Christmas around restoration times and again during the Victorian Era.
So if you haven’t done any Christmas baking –yet- why not trying this super easy mince pies to enjoy a mouthful of history on every bite!
To make a dozen you will need:
For the pastry
- 240 gr plain flour
- 60 gr shortening
- 60 gr cold butter
- Zest of 1 orange
- Pinch of salt
- 5 tbsp caster sugar
- Icing sugar
For the mincemeat
- 60ml Apple juice (you can also use sherry or brandy)
- 75g soft brown sugar
- 4 grated apples
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- Juice+ zest of 1 orange
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- 75g currants
- 75g raisins
- 30 grams dried cranberries
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp honey
In a large pan, dissolve the sugar in the juice and simmer for two minutes.
Add the grated apples and stir, slowly then each at the time: the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, currants, raisins, dried cranberries and the zest and juice of the orange.
Simmer for 20mins, or until the fruit has broken down and has absorbed most of the liquid.
Remove from the heat and cool. Add the vanilla extract & honey. Stir well using a spatula until you have a thick brown-ish paste and transfer into sterilized jars, leave them to cool for about an hour. Keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks.
You can use regular muffin/cupcake tray.
In a bowl, put the flour, sugar and add the shortening and butter gradually, you can use a spatula to mix them until you get a short crust-like texture. Then put in the freezer for 20’mins.
After the 20 minutes, mix the contents of the two bowls in a food processor, or use an electric mixer. Under no circumstance touch it with your hands or you’ll warm it up. Only if needed add cold water.
After, and only after the dough is coming together, transfer to a dusted surface and combine to a dough. But don’t knead it, you’re not making bread!
This recipe is supposed to produce 36 baby pies, in any case, think about the capacity your tray, and then calculate how many batches you will bake in total.
Then divide the dough into the number of batches you’ll need.
Wrap each portion with clingfilm and put in the fridge to rest for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220°C
Roll out the portions, one at a time, as thinly as you can manage, remember they’ll hold in the mincemeat so make sure you won’t end up with soggy bottoms.
Cut small circles for the crust, wider than the shape of the mould’s indentations. Press each circle gently into the mould and a teaspoon or small tablespoon of mincemeat.
To finish cut out the stars with a smaller cutter and place them gently on top of the mincemeat.
Bake for 10–15 minutes. They are supposed to be slightly pale, remember, the filling is really rich, so you don’t want a crust that’s too dry.
Remove them from the tray to let them cool on a rack and get on with the next batch until you’re done.
Once they’re totally cool, you can put them into Ziploc bags and keep them in the freezer for weeks.
Dust some icing sugar on them before serving.