Just to complete the hat-trick, now that you’ve made your Candied Peel and used it to rustle up some Guilt-Free Mincemeat, it’s time to bake some Mince Pies! Of course, you can use a jar of your favourite brand too – it’s all good – just don’t BUY mince pies! They’re never as good as home made.
Now to my mind, mince pies come in two sizes. There’s the small, Christmas party/buffet size – gone in a couple of bites, no need for a plate, more of an appetiser/nibble. One of the down-sides of this size of mince pie, however, is the danger of not rolling the pastry thin enough, resulting in thick, claggy pastry forming the greater part of the pie. Due in part to the difficulty in making such small pies and also to eliminate the danger of the filling bursting out, there’s a tendency to err too much on the side of caution, and consequently they frequently contain just a miniscule amount of mincemeat inside.
Then there’s the mince pie made in a bun tin, which is much more my kind of pie – larger, more substantial, easier to shape, fill and decorate. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really have a sweet tooth – but Christmas isn’t Christmas without a mince pie, so I like to eat just one, but make it an extra special one.
Many moons ago, I found a recipe by Jocelyn Dimbleby for Deluxe Mince Pies – it was in a little paperback book entitled Cooking For Christmas that I borrowed from a friend. This decadent confection had a short, orange-flavoured pastry and topped the mincemeat with a tiny amount of sweetened cream cheese – so that when the pie was cooked ( or indeed warmed just prior to serving), the cheese-cake-like mixture melted and mingled with the rich mincemeat to make a very indulgent mouthful. I thought they were amazing.
I’ve since managed to track down a copy for myself *vaguely scans the bookshelves* – OK, so I’m not 100% sure where exactly my copy IS at the moment, but I do have a copy somewhere! It must be popular, because it’s also ‘out there’ on various web pages if you search.
ANYHOO – I was eager to see how the Guilt-Free Mincemeat performed in my favourite mince pie recipe, so I rustled up some test pies with great anticipation. Alas, I was disappointed. The pastry was frustratingly difficult to work with, and when cooked, was overly sweet, too greasy and very fragile – too fragile to hold the shape of the pies.
Maybe it’s my own tastes that have changed, but I was still convinced that the mince pies could be amazing if only the pastry could be improved. So I headed to the kitchen to experiment and finally came up with the recipe below. You might think it a bit of a faff to bother tweaking pastry, but I really wanted the WHOLE mince pie to be delicious to eat, and not just the filling. The bonus is that, now I have a great sweet shortcrust variation, I shall be using this pastry again in other sweet bakes. For those interested in the reasoning behind the ingredient choices I made:
Butter: For flavour – 50% of the fat content. All-butter pastry tastes great, but it is extremely rich and very delicate once cooked.
Lard: 50% of the fat content. All-lard pastry is very hard and crusty and sometimes has something of an aftertaste, but tempered with the butter, makes for a deliciously crisp crust that holds its shape well.
Another reason for using the pure fats listed above, is ease of removal from the tins. I’ve used pastry made with hydrogenated oils and blended fats and been plagued with having bakes stick to the tins. They never have when I’ve used ‘pure’ fats. Just sayin’……
Sugar: For sweetness – although it’s a good deal less than in traditional sweet shortcrust.
Almonds: For crunch and crispness. They lighten the pastry and help keep it crisp.
Orange zest and juice: Makes for a lovely orange flavour to the pastry that really compliments the citrus in the mincemeat. I’ve opted to use orange juice as the sole liquid to bring the pastry together.
I also reduced the amount of sugar and added lemon juice to the cream cheese mixture to bring out the flavour of the mincemeat. It’s amazing how a little bit of lemon can lift the flavour of a whole dish. Feel free to omit the cream cheese topping – the mince pies will still be awesome!
Luxury Mince Pies
Makes 12 deep and decadent mince pies (plus 3-4 small ‘cooks perks’ pies)
Orange and Almond Shortcrust pastry
200g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds 
juice and zest of 1-2 oranges 
500g of mincemeat (or 1 batch of Guilt-Free Mincemeat)
Cream Cheese Luxury Topping (optional)
200g cream cheese
zest and juice of 1 lemon
milk & caster sugar to glaze
- Put the flour into a food processor fitted with a blade.
- Cut the fats into 1cm cubes and add to the food processor.
- Blitz until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar and ground almonds and pulse a couple of times to mix.
- Add the zest of both oranges and the juice of one and run the mixer to combine. I the mixture doesn’t come together into a ball by itself, squeeze the juice from the second orange and add gradually, pausing between each addition, until the mix comes together.
- Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the cream cheese topping (if using)
- Beat the cream cheese in a bowl or using a mixer until smooth.
- Add the zest of the lemon.
- Add half the lemon juice and mix until combined. You don’t want the mix to get either too sharp or too runny.
- Sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Don’t add too much – 2-3 heaped tablespoons is plenty. Just enough to take the edge off the lemon flavour without making it too sweet.
- When the pastry is suitably chilled, remove from the fridge, cut it in two and return half to the fridge. Why? It’s much easier to work with a smaller piece of pastry than a larger. You want to be able to roll this pastry nice and thin, but if you’re flinging around a huge sheet of the stuff, there’s going to be tears (and you can read that two ways!).
- Roll the pastry thinly (3mm-ish) and cut out the bases of your pies. Make the circles of pastry large enough to fill the whole base of the tin and overlap the rim by about 1cm. Make sure your tin is well greased and lay in the pastry circles. NB Be careful not to accidentally push holes in the pastry when you’re easing it into the tins. Re-roll the trimmings if required.
- Put 1tbs of mincemeat filling into each pie and pressdown.
- Spoon 1tsp cream cheese topping onto the mincemeat.
- Put the tray of pies into the fridge while you roll out the rest of the pastry and cut the lids. Make sure the lids are large enough to overlap the holes by about 1cm.
- Wet the edges of the lids and press them onto the pies. Make sure the edges are well sealed by pressing firmly. You can make pretty crimping patterns by using the tines of a fork, but I like to make a nice, neat plain edge by using a plain, round cutter once the lids are on and in the tin (which is why the bases and lids need to be cut on the large side). As well as making the pies nice and neat, it seals the lids onto the pastry bases and helps prevent the filling from oozing out.
- Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. The milk will brown the pastry and the sugar will melt and form a lovely crunchy top layer.
- Cut a small slit in the top to let out steam.
- Bake in a hot oven – 200°C, 180°C Fan – for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
- Gently tip out of the tin and set to cool on a wire rack.
- Best served warm.
Cost: Pastry only £1.50 (using ground almonds & 2 oranges, December 2011)
 If you want to make this pastry nut-free, then just omit the ground almonds. It’ll not have the same crunch, but still be an improvement on plain shortcrust.
 This vagueness is due to the juiciness of the oranges and the water content of the flour – two oranges should definitely be juicy enough though.