Festive Mince Pies
Also known as mincemeat tarts, mince pies are sweet little pies filled with mincemeat. In England, mincemeat is a mixture of dried fruits, aromatic warm spices, citrus, cognac and sugar, although recipes vary. You can either make your own or check for it in the international aisle of the supermarket if you are not in the UK. We are making homemade pastry for our mince pies. They are simple to assemble, and you can bake them in the oven until they are golden brown. Mince pies are a real staple in England in December and the closer Christmas gets, the more unusual it becomes not to serve these to every visitor!
The traditional way to serve them is to pop the lid up, add a spoonful of clotted cream (or the thickest cream you can get), then close them. Let people add their own cream just before eating. Mince pie ingredients can be traced back to the 13th century when returning European crusaders brought back Middle Eastern recipes with fruits and spices. Early mince pies contained meat, suet, fruits and spices. Suet is the hard white fat on cattle or sheep kidneys and loins.
Mince pies, which used to be known as ‘savoury Christmas pies’ were negatively associated with Catholic idolatry by Puritan authorities during the English Civil War, although they stayed popular in their original form (they were larger then, not individual) until the Victorian times, when they become smaller and sweeter, like they are today. You can buy them readymade from the supermarket or give our recipe a try and make your own.
- 12½ oz (350g) all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- 8 oz (225g) diced cold butter
- 3½ oz (100g) golden caster sugar or white sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 10 oz (280g) mincemeat
- 1 small egg
- Powdered sugar (icing sugar), as needed
- Rub the butter into the flour, then mix in the sugar and salt.
- Mould the pastry into a ball then knead for 30 seconds.
- If you are not proceeding with the recipe now, you can chill the dough in the refrigerator and let it come back to room temperature when you are ready.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) and line 18 holes of a pair of 12-hole muffin tins.
- Press small balls (about walnut-sized) of dough into each hole and press them out.
- Divide the mincemeat between the dough crusts.
- Press out more pastry between your hands to shape rustic lids.
- Alternatively roll the dough out between 2 sheets of plastic wrap (Clingfilm) and use a cookie cutter to cut even shapes.
- You could even make some dough leaves and press those on top if you want to make them really decorative.
- Now you can press the lids on to the crust and pinch to seal.
- You will not need to brush any egg or milk on, because they seal easily enough.
- You can now freeze them for up to a month or proceed with the recipe.
- Beat the egg and brush it over the pie tops, then bake for 20 minutes or until done.
- Let the mince pies cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then let them cool completely on wire racks.
- Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
- These will keep for 3 or 4 days in an airtight container and they are nice served with some clotted cream (or thick cream) between the lid and the crust.
Christmas would not be Christmas without mince pies, at least if you are in the UK that is. These delicious little treats are made by enclosing an aromatic mincemeat mixture (candied fruits) in homemade pastry. You can make these rustic by shaping the crusts with your hands or use a cookie cutter to cut out the tops like in the photo, adding the decorative leaves too if you wish. Mince pies are nice served with cream and a cup of tea or coffee, or ever something stronger in the spirit of the season!
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