So it’s here. The official beginning of the lead up to Christmas. Possibly better than the day itself, yes I think so.
Filled with mince pies (never enough of them), carols, alcohol (too much of that), chocolate (too much of that too), Christmas markets and twinkly lights.
So this time last year I was in Mumbai, living there for three months, up until December the 20th. In a majoritively (Urban dictionary definition: ‘A word used by stupid people to seem smart instead of mostly or mainly’) Hindu city, who obviously don’t celebrate Christmas as we Brits do, I was feeling pretty low to say the least about missing out on the festive run up. However I was so pleasantly surprised to see brightly rainbow coloured decorations decking the stalls along the roads and Christmas carols in the cafes, it managed to fill that void in my heart.
But still no advent calendar, or mince pies (I really do love them and have created so many variations, brownie mince pies being the latest), and living with a Russian who also doesn’t celebrate Christmas in a similar fashion, it just wasn’t the same.
When I finally arrived home, (YES FINALLY) Christmas dinner was one of my first proper meals, hot warmth swimming in gravy not a bowl of salady crunch.
BUT minus the sprouts. I KNOW. It was indeed a travesty. So this year I am making up for it going through at least a packet a week and giving the little cabbages the love they require.
So it’s a big deal this year to celebrate Christmas properly, I’m making up for the lack of festivities last year. Is it possible that I started my Christmas planning in September/October. Why of course? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Christmas chutney jarred up and ready for for its party outfit packaging, mincemeat made twice because I’ve nearly used up the first batch, Christmas cards made and decorations being crocheted as we speak.
I really am that girl (or should I say granny?)
Speaking of mincemeat, there’s two types that I like to make. First a traditional one. I used both of these recipes this year from the queen Mary Bezza herself and Barney Desmazery from the Good Food team. The former is almost all used up and the latter is steeping in its brandy bath for a couple of weeks before the lids are popped open. I do reduce the sugar by around a third in the traditional recipes-considering the sheer amount of dried fruit it can stand a little less teeth-aching sweetness. The second is a mincemeat aimed towards me, using completely wholefoods, no suet, no candied peel (that stuff is of the devil), and absolutely no added sugar.
I found the recipe from the Hemsley sisters, make up a batch or even double and store in the fridge as there’s no sugar to act as the preservative. It’s brilliant stuff, and of course it finds its way into my porridge annually as a Christmas eve festive brekky.
Now onto the casing, the pastry. I have been playing around with pastry recipes for a good while, never quite happy. Sometimes too bland, others too sweet, too hard and not crumbly and short enough. I like to bite into a mince pie (preferably still warm from the oven) and it disintegrates into a dreamy roof-of-the-mouth scorching buttery loveliness. YA FEEL ME?!?
To add to my Christmas collection and slumping shelf of cookbooks, I bought the new offering from Gizzi Erskine, Gizzi’s Season’s Eatings. Not just Christmas recipes, full of new and inspiring ideas for Halloween all the way through to NYE and what to do with those pesky leftovers as SOMEBODY bought too large a turkey and no one can ever cook it properly (Brine it people!!).
So flicking through, a recipe for mince pies obviously caught my eye. New flavour combinations always cry out for a test run but these will be on repeat. I always make my pastry with white spelt flour rather than plain flour. 1. Its saves me time from making two different pastries because nobody has time for that, and 2. spelt has a much lower gluten content than wheat therefore no chance of overworking and hello short crumbliness.
So get making a batch of this pastry, maybe two to keep one in the freezer for a later date, and then get those mince pies in the oven. Of course a mince pie should be a treat but as we only eat them for one month of the year I think a couple more is allowed. Still warm out the oven and doused in some cold cream, it’s Christmas for gods sake.
Mince pies with an earl grey and orange pastry
I’ve reduced the sugar by quite a mile in these mince pies, and by making everything from scratch you can alter it to your own tastes. As I’ve said already it is Christmas so allow yourself a break and enjoy the festivities, a little too much sugar won’t do you any harm at all. Compared to the shop bought mince pies these have more of an adult flavour letting the dried fruits shine through and of course the brandy. And if there’s not enough tummy warming liquor in the pies, have a little tipple on the side. Sherry is my choice, Harvey’s Bristol Cream, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
Adapted from Hemsley and Hemsley
- 2 eating apples
- 160g dried fruit, I like a combination of raisins, sultanas, cranberries, apricots, prunes (whatever you have in your cupboards)
- Zest and juice of 1/2 an orange
- Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 25g butter or coconut oil
- pinch of salt
- 2 1/2 – 5 tbsp brandy
Earl grey and orange pastry
- 3 tbsp boiling water
- 1/2 tsp loose earl grey tea
- 2 tbsp orange juice (I use the orange that I’ve zested)
- 1 free range egg
- 225g white spelt flour
- a pinch of salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 125g fridge-cold unsalted butter, cubed
- Coconut sugar (or caster sugar) for sprinkling
First make the mincemeat
- Leaving the skin on the apples finely chop them so they are the same size as the raisins.
- Place the apples in a large pan and cook on a medium heat with the lid on until they start to soften slightly.
- Add all the other mincemeat ingredients except the brandy and cook with the lid on for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When the apples are soft, and the dried fruit plump, take the pan off the heat and leave to cool.
- When cool add the brandy, depending on your taste. I like to add more because I like the boozy flavour.
- Spoon into sterilised jars and store in the fridge.
Second make the pastry
- Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and leave to infuse until cool, then store in the fridge.
- Beat the orange juice with egg and set aside.
- Put the flour, salt and orange zest in a food processor and whizz for a few seconds. Then tip in the butter and whizz to form a breadcrumb-like consistency.
- Add 1 tbsp of the egg mixture and all of the cold tea, and pulse until the pastry is forming large clumps. You may need up to 3 tbsp of the egg, but it should feel like it is on the drier side and needs slightly more liquid, when the texture is right.
- Tip onto a floured side and bind into a ball, being careful not to knead it.
- Squish into a flat round, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Will keep in the fridge for around 5 days, also can be frozen to be used another time.
The mince pies
- Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan
- Roll the pastry on a floured surface to around 3mm thick. Using an 8cm fluted cutter, cut around 12 circles and place them in a bun tin.
- Put around 1 tbsp of mincemeat in the pastry cases, try to get in as much filling as possible without mince pie eruptions.
- Then using a 6.5cm round cutter, or a star cutter, cut 12 tops out the rest of the pastry. If you run out, roll up the scraps and re-roll to finish cutting out the lids.
- Brush the edges of the tarts with the remaining egg and orange mixture, then top with the lids. If you have a full lid, squeeze the rims together and cut a little hole in the middle to let out the steam.
- Brush with more orange and egg mixture and sprinkle with a little coconut sugar.
- Place the tin in the oven for around 15 minutes, or until they are bubbling and golden brown.
- Leave to cool if you can resist, if you can’t and you burn your mouth, don’t blame me!
- Eat with gusto, a sherry in one hand, mince pie in the other. Aaaand repeat!
Merry Christmas my loves