Wednesday, 1 December 2010

First mince pies....

Growing up, I hated mince pies. Every Christmas my mother would bake batch after batch of mince pies and although I loved the pastry, I couldn't bring my underdeveloped taste buds to appreciate the spicy taste of dried fruit, candied peel and spirit. My mother was kind enough to make miniature apple pies for me.

How my taste buds have matured. These days I look forward to a mince pie with a cup of coffee on a cold winter morning in the run up to Christmas. I also look forward to making my own and this week I made my first mince pies of the season.

Once upon a time BC (before children) I even made my own cranberry mincemeat. Alas, nowadays I am satisfied with simply baking the pastry and assembling the pies!! My favourite pastry recipe is from a baking supplement that was published with the Guardian newspaper in 2007 and gives an optional twist of adding ground almonds.

Shortcrust pastry has to be the easiest and tastiest kind out there. For this recipe, simply sift 250g of plain flour together with 50g of icing sugar and a pinch of salt. If you are adding ground almond too then this is the time to do it (75g). Rub 150g of butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Beat 2 egg yolks with 2 tbsp of cold water and stir this into the flour mixture to make a smooth dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Of course, traditionally mince pies are made from two circles of the rolled out pastry, one larger one to line a muffin tin and a smaller one on top (covering the filling) with a hole snipped into it to allow the steam to escape. I prefer to use a star on top. Its more seasonal and it means that mince pies are never confused for apple ones! This style tip isn't my own but adopted Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess.

Dab a drop of water on the tips of the stars so they stick to the bases and then brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake at 180 degrees C (fan assisted oven) for about 20-25 mins.

What could be easier? Well, if your experience of rolling shortcrust pastry has left you with a sticky worktop and pie bases that collapse when lifting them into a tin, then let me pass on a tip I saw when watching Raymond Blanc bake his Apple tart 'Maman Blanc'. When you take the pastry dough (wrapped in cling film) out of the fridge, roll it out between two sheets of cling film. The dough can be easily peeled off the cling film and it stops it from sticking to everything else!

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