Mince pies are the epitome of Christmas, but the process begins much sooner.
A warm September day was when I first started making the mincemeat for these little babies. They’re soaked up to the eyeballs in booze and drowned in festive spices.
I would be lying if I said they are anything short of spectacular. Forget the dried out, tasteless and frankly awful shop bought varieties you might have been acquainted with in the past and give these a go. They have converted even the most adamant mince pie phobics.
The classic accompaniment for these sweet little pies is a glass of mulled wine, eaten by the roaring open fire or out in the cold as a warming treat.
I always like to try out new combinations though, and whilst I will probably be downing many a pie with mulled wine over the next few weeks, for a change I decided to plump for Port.
The Warres Colheita 1999 that I chose is a special type of vintage port. It comes from a single year, but it’s made in a very different way and is aged for years in oak barrels like a tawny port. This gives it that lovely toffee-ish hue.
It’s bursting full of flavours of sweet spice, dried fruits, caramel and nuts. So you can see why it works so well with these tarts.
Everyone has their own take on the mince pie, but if you fancy giving something else a spin then here’s how I make mine.
- 1.5kg luxury dried mixed fruit (either a premixed bag, or you can mix yourself)
- 500g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped fairly small
- 2x250g boxes shredded veg suet
- 100g whole blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
- 350g natural demerara sugar
- 100g dark muscovado sugar
- 1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 rounded tsp ground mixed spice
- 1 large, juicy lemon
- 250g whole mixed peel, chopped into small dice
- 125ml dark rum
- 125ml Disaronno Originale liqueur Disaronno
- 175ml French brandy
- 150g unsalted butter
- 300g plain flour
- 1 egg yolk
- a little cold water
- 375g good-quality mincemeat
- icing sugar for dusting
- Wash the dried fruit thoroughly in a colander under the cold tap (you may find it easier to do this in batches).
- Tip the fruit on to clean tea towels and dry by patting in the cloths.
- Put the dried fruit in a very large bowl with the apples, suet, almonds, sugars and spices. Grate the zest of the lemon into the bowl, then squeeze in the juice. Tip in the peel and the alcohol.
- Mix all the ingredients very thoroughly - it's easiest to do this with your (very clean) hands.
- Cover and leave to stand for 24 hours, asking the family to stop and give it a good stir with a spoon when they pass by.
- Pack the mincemeat into sterilised or dishwasher-clean jars (Kilner jars are ideal) and top with greaseproof paper jam covers. Seal the jars tightly and store in a cool place. The mincemeat will last from one year to the next, but best used within 6 months.
- You will also need a 12-hole tartlet tin, each hole measuring 6cm x 2cm deep. It is best to bake the pies in one batch of 12, then a second one of six.
- Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until you have what looks like coarse, fresh breadcrumbs. If you do this in the food processor it will take a matter of seconds. Add the egg yolk, then mix briefly with just enough water to bring to a smooth dough. You will probably need just 1 or 2 tablespoons. Bring the dough together into a firm ball, then knead it gently on a floured board for a couple of minutes until it softens. Reserve half of the dough, then roll the remainder out thinly. Set the oven at 200°C/gas mark 6.
- Using cookie cutters or the top of an espresso cup, cut out 18 discs of pastry. (There may be a tiny bit left over.) Place 12 discs of the pastry in the tartlet tins, smoothing them up the sides so the edges stand very slightly proud of the tin. Fill each one with a dollop of mincemeat. A level tablespoon is probably all you will get into them, unless you have especially deep tins. Be generous. Roll out the remaining pastry and make a further 18 discs of pastry, reserving 6 of them for the second batch. Slightly dampen each of these round the edge with cold water then lay them over each tart and press firmly to seal the edges. I often use star cutouts for the tops instead for a nice touch.
- Bake for 20 minutes till golden. Let them calm down for a few minutes, then slide them out of their tins with a palette knife and serve warm, dusted with icing sugar. Repeat with the remaining pastry and mincemeat.