Here is a delicious recipe for stretching a small amount of mincemeat into 30+ rich and delicious seasonable bites.
It is adapted from a recipe by Eliza Acton, and I’ve taken the opportunity to pair it with another of her recipes which she refers to as “Superlative Mincemeat”. Taking as an example my adaptation of Hannah Glasse’s Lenten mincemeat, I decided to try making this recipe suet-free. Now I still absolutely love Hannah’s recipe, but I also love discovering new things as well.
The mincemeat recipe is a delight for anyone who loves citrus fruit. Its also a delight for anyone who loves a healthy slug of booze in their mincemeat. I’ve actually toned down the quantity of brandy because the alcoholic haze rising from the first test batch made my eyes water. Unusually, this mincemeat includes two boiled lemons, chopped finely, which add a real zing to the overall flavour. Once the lemons have been prepared, the method is very similar to the original Guilt-free mincemeat.
A portion of this mincemeat is then enriched and sweetened with sugar, fresh lemon, egg yolks and butter and used to fill pastry-lined mini tins. The pastry I’ve used is the sweet version of the cornflour shortcrust, flavoured with orange zest, and cut out using a flower cookie cutter (available as part of a set of 7 from The Range, price just £1.00 per set. Stars and Hearts also available) After an initial baking, the pies are topped with meringue and then baked for a further few minutes until nicely browned.
These little pies are extremely rich, which is why baking them in a mini muffin pan is ideal. The filling sets into a dense cross between Christmas pudding and Christmas cake and the crunchy meringue is a great contrast. This quantity makes about 30 mini pies, perfect as petites fours or to serve with coffee. You can keep them in a tin, but the meringues will go a little soft after 24 hours.
You can, of course, use any mincemeat and pastry you have to hand instead.
Makes about 1kg of mincemeat
2 small lemons (about 170g)
The weight of the lemons in raisins, currants and chopped dates
85g candied 0range peel, chopped small
85g candied citron peel, chopped small
30-50g caster sugar
60ml apple juice
1tsp grated nutmeg
0.5tsp ground mace
1tsp ground ginger
- Put the lemons into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Drain the water and scrub the sides of the pan to remove the bitter lemon oil.
- Rinse the lemons also.
- Repeat 3 times, until the lemons are tender and a clove can be pushed through the skin.
- Cut open the lemons and remove the pips.
- Dice the pulp and rind finely.
- Put the lemons and the rest of the ingredients into a small pan over a low heat.
- Cover and allow the fruit to plump up. Stir occasionally.
- If the fruit seems a little dry, add more liquid – your choice whether it’s alcoholic or not.
- If the mixture seems too wet, uncover and allow the excess to evaporate.
- Set aside to cool.
Orange Cornflour Pastry
225g plain flour
140g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 large egg
- Put everything except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Whisk the egg and, with the motor running, gradually add to the mixture until it comes together in a ball. You might not require all the egg, or you might need additional liquid if the mix looks a little dry. If you have extra egg-white, tat would be ideal, otherwise use water.
- Knead the pastry smooth and wrap in plastic.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until required.
Eliza Acton’s Mince Pies Royale
3 large eggs
30g clarified butter
juice and zest of 1 lemon
40g caster sugar
pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Separate the eggs.
- Mix together the mincemeat, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice and the sugar.
- Warm the butter until just melted and stir in.
- Grease a large (24 cup) mini muffin pan.
- Roll out the pastry very thinly. It is easier to work with either 1/3 or 1/2 of the pastry at a time.
- Cut out pastry and use it to line the mini muffin pan. For a lovely, neat edge to your pies, I recommend using a flower-shaped pastry cutter. The petals help to avoid the dreaded folds which can sometimes be an issue with the pastry for mini tarts.
- Add a teaspoon of the enriched mincemeat mixture to each tartlet.
- Bake for 7-8 minutes until the middle has set and the pastry is cooked.
- If you’ve got filling and pastry left over (and you probably will), use them up first by making a second batch of tartlets before making the meringue. Arrange the cooked tartlets on a baking sheet, ready for the meringue.
- While the tarts are baking, make the meringue.
- You won’t need to use all of the egg white, so I suggest using just half.
- Put a bowl onto your scales and set them to zero.
- Pour in the amount of egg-white you will be using and make a note of the weight.
- Measure out an equivalent amount of caster sugar.
- Whisk the egg-whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks.
- Whisk in the sugar, a spoonful at a time until the meringue is firm and glossy.
- Spoon the meringue into a piping bag. You choose what style of nozzle to fit.
- When all the tarts are baked and arranged on a baking sheet, pipe the meringue on top. Make sure the meringue covers all of the filling and goes right to the edge of the pastry.
- Return the tarts to the oven for 5-7 minutes until the meringue is nicely browned.
- Cool the tartlets on a wire rack.
Here’s a wonderfully aromatic and delicious dessert that I have adapted from a recipe that appears in Hannah Glasse’s “The art of cookery, made plain and easy”. It must have been popular, because Hannah gives no fewer than four recipes for Orange Pudding, each slightly different. Copyright infringement back then being rife, it is highly likely that Hannah is not the original author of this recipe, but I have yet to find an older version with these particular ingredients.
Hannah calls this a pudding – and indeed it is certainly something that you might eat after lunch or dinner, but it is in fact what we would term a tart, and I can honestly say it is unlike any tart I’ve ever tasted before, for the very best of reasons.
The most striking aspect is the flavour – a mixture of Seville orange, orange flower water, rosewater and white wine. Rather surprisingly, the word that popped into my head when breathing in its aroma was ice-cream – and that was before it was cooked! Once cooked and chilled, the flavours mingle together and taste extraordinary – the only way I can think to describe it is like plunging your face into a bunch of fresh flowers – but in a good way! This isn’t soapy/perfumed – it’s light and fresh and rounded. None of the flavours overpower, it’s just fantastically floral.
One of the challenges when adapting old recipes, is that specific quantities are sometimes a bit of a challenge. This recipe is a good example, because amongst other things it calls for “the crumb of a halfpenny loaf”. Although food prices were relatively stable before the industrial revolution, wheat, and by extension bread, was especially subject to price fluctuations due to harvest yield. So much so, specific laws were created concerning the manufacture and sale of the various types of bread (The Assize of Bread) and books of tables drawn up specifying the size of loaves depending on the cost of wheat.
Even with the Assize of Bread tables to hand, it’s still not clear which loaf the crumb should come from: white, wheaten or household. Household bread was the coarsest, and therefore unlikely, I reasoned, to have been used for such a delicate dessert. That left either white or wheaten and at just over 6oz and 9oz for a penny loaf, the difference in the quantity of crumb was going to be significant. The only solution was to make two tarts, and try each to see if one quantity was more suited than the other.
The photograph at the top shows the result. The slice on the left was cut from a tart made with 150g fresh white breadcrumbs. The slice on the right from a tart made with just 100g. Personally, I prefer the one on the left – the texture is like baked cheesecake, but not heavy and cloying. The slice on the right has a much softer consistency – if you’re a fan of baked custards, then this is the one for you. For an even more delicate texture, you could even try with just 50g of breadcrumbs – do let me know if you try this!
This is a wonderful springtime tart and I really hope you’ll give it a try.
Orange Blossom Tart
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
225g plain flour
85g caster sugar
1 large egg
grated zest of 1 lemon
ice cold water
egg-white for glazing
- Put all the ingredients except the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- If the mixture is too dry, add some ice cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the pastry forms a ball.
- Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
- Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Grease a 22cm fluted, deep, loose-bottom tart tin – a lemon meringue tin if you have one, is ideal.
- Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and place on a floured surface.
- Roll out thinly (7-8mm) and line the prepared tin, gently easing the pastry into the sides.
- Let the excess pastry hang over the sides of the tin for now.
- Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork and put the lined tin back into the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the tart from the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Don’t remove too much – allow 3-4cm to overhand the side of the tin – this keeps the pastry from shrinking back into the tin and can be trimmed after cooking.
- Line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with baking beads/beans/rice.
- Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the parchment and beads and bake for another 5-6 minutes until the pastry is cooked through.
- Brush the inside of the pastry with lightly beaten egg-white and return to the oven for 5 minutes. This seems like a faff, but it will ensure you pastry is both cooked AND resistant to the wetness of the filling until it is cooked. *lying* I deliberately undercooked the pastry on the left in the photo to demonstrate.
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
250ml double cream
75g caster sugar
5 large egg yolks
60ml white wine 
1 tablespoon orange flower water 
1 teaspoon rose water 
zest and juice of a Seville orange 
70g clarified butter – melted
- Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and set aside to let the flavours mingle. It will have the consistency of porridge.
- When the pastry base is finally cooked, turn the oven down to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
- Cover the top edges of the pastry with tin foil, to prevent them from burning.
- Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling is set. There should be a slight joggle to the middle of the tart, but nothing too fluid.
- Set aside to cool for at least 1 hour.
- When cold, trim off the excess pastry, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.
- Eat slightly warm or at room temperature. Alternatively (and my own personal preference) chill thoroughly in the fridge for at least 5 hours.
 The original recipe called for sack, a fortified wine similar to sweet sherry. You could use sherry, madeira even marsala if you like. Whilst I love the flavours of all three, I thought them a little rich for this recipe, so I chose a regular white wine. A sweet and aromatic dessert wine would also be delightful.
Both of these fragrances are available in the baking aisle at the supermarket. They also tend to vary greatly in strength and aroma according to which brand you use. The original recipe called for equal quantities of both, but the rosewater I use is rather strong. In contrast, the orange flower water that I use is rather lightly perfumed, so I used slightly more. if you use different brands, my advice is to use just 1 teaspoon at a time and taste as you go until you’re happy with the flavourings.
 If, like me, you made Seville orange ice cubes with the zest and juice back in January, then all you need is one cube. If not, then use the zest only of a sweet orange, together with the zest of either a lemon or lime for added sharpness.
I decided to treat you all to an extra post this week and so today we’re going back to basics with that classic dessert – Banoffi Pie.
Yes, Banoffi. Not Banoffee.
That’s just one of my little niggles regarding this dessert that have ultimately led to this post.
Done properly, to the original recipe, it is a classic, sophisticated and delicious dessert, worthy of a dinner party.
But it rarely IS done properly and, over the years, I’ve seen it churned out on television in worse and worse variations, until this past week when I saw an absolute shocker and so I was propelled into making this post just to set the record straight if nothing else.
I’m convinced that the fatty, over-sweetened mess that Banoffi Pie has evolved into, puts off a lot of people, which is a shame. Hopefully, if they can be persuaded to try it as it was originally conceived, they might just become fans.
Even though I am a fan of the original recipe, I’m going to change it a little.
I know, I know……I realise I’ve just spent three paragraphs banging on about people changing recipes, but in my head this is ALLOWED – because in the past I have actually eaten original recipe Banoffi Pie. Over the years I’ve developed a personal rule of first trying a recipe in it’s original form, out of respect to the original author. That done, you can tweak it how you like, but make it their way first. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results.
Once you’ve tried the original recipe too, you can pop back and we’ll carry on.
Back already? Excellent.
Before we begin, lets just have a quick whizz around the components, which gives me the opportunity to bang on about those too:
Pastry Base: Yes, contrary to popular belief, the original recipe called for a sweet, shortcrust pastry, which is actually ideal for this dessert. We’re going to draw a discrete veil over the crushed biscuit-and-butter and (my personal bête-noir) chocolate-biscuit-and-melted-chocolate bases, which push this dessert into being sickly. The filling is so rich and sweet, having the dry, crumbly pastry is a perfect foil. I actually have a copy of the original recipe published in the second book of recipes from the restaurant where it originated ( “The Deeper Secrets of The Hungry Monk” ) which just specified ‘shortcrust pastry’. This I interpreted as carte blanche to use whatever recipe I liked. What I have for you here is the original sweet cornflour pastry which I adapted to a savoury version for the Cheese and Potato Pies. It has that extra crispness that a regular all-butter pastry lacks.
Filling: I’ve seen some people get very precious about the caramel “I make it all by hand!” they cry, ladling in the butter and cream. However, these caramels tend to be rather runny, and to be blunt, the filling can be doing without all that fat. The original is much simpler and is obtained by simmering unopened tins of sweetened, condensed milk for an extended length of time. This can be done in a variety of ways, but my method of choice is in the slow cooker because you can leave it unattended, and it won’t boil dry. Cover the tins with water, set it on Low and leave it for 8 hours. You can simmer them longer, up to 12 hours, and the caramel will gradually become darker the longer it is left in the water. The caramel in the picture was taken out of the slow cooker after 8 hours. In the UK, the most well-known producer of milk products (Carnation) have recently started selling tins of caramel. These are great if you need a dessert at short notice, but I find the caramel isn’t quite as firm as when you make it yourself, as well as being, to my taste at least, a great deal sweeter. If convenience is what you’re after, I suggest simmering more than one tin at a time and keeping the home-made spares in the cupboard.
Banana: This addition/improvement transformed Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie into Banoffi Pie. The banana is laid on top of the caramel and underneath the cream, NOT on the pastry base. This would make spreading the caramel very difficult, as the sliced banana would stick to the caramel and slide about. And no, they don’t go on top of the cream either, because they’ll just turn brown and become very off-putting. And if you DO put them on top of the cream and then throw chocolate on top to disguise the browning, you’re fooling no-one. One variation that meets with Ian Dowding’s approval is to replace the banana with a thickened apple puree, making an Appleoffi Pie. Made with sharp, cooking apples such as Bramleys, I can just imagine the delicious contrast in both flavour and texture, although I’d probably leave out the coffee from the whipped cream for this version.
Coffee Cream: Yes, coffee cream – whipped cream flavoured with coffee. So often this is replaced with plain whipped cream, or even vanilla flavoured cream, to the dessert’s great detriment. And, contrary to Mr Dowding’s original, in my opinion the coffee cream should be unsweetened and strong to the point of bitterness. Using espresso coffee powder turns it into a fantastic counterpoint to all the sweetness in the caramel and bananas, as well as lifting the dessert into dinner-party status. Coffee can do that. It’s almost as if it’s status as a grown-up flavour, confers adult status on everything it touches.
Chocolate for sprinkling/garnish: Whoa, whoa, whoa there, Nellie!? Whaddya doin’? You can’t go introducing a new flavour and shoving it on top of the pie just because you feel like it! Coffee, banana and caramel flavours are plenty busy enough, thankyousoverymuch! If you must sprinkle anything, a light dusting of espresso coffee powder is all the garnish it needs.
Baking Tin: You can make this dessert in any size and shape tin you like. A 20cm round tin, preferably with a loose bottom to help ease out the cooked pastry case, is traditional, but this time I used my loose-bottom rectangular flan tin (13cm x 35cm), which means the finished dessert can be neatly cut straight across in elegant, finger slices and the different layers are clean and clearly visible.
The Original(ish) Banoffi Pie
225g plain flour
1 large egg
85g icing sugar
- Put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Gradually add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Knead smooth, then roll out thinly.
- Line your chosen tart tin, easing the pastry into the corners/sides.
- Leave the excess pastry overhanging the sides and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the tin from the fridge and, now that the pastry has relaxed, trim the excess from the sides.
- Prick the bottom of the tart tin with a fork.
- Line the tin with baking parchment and weigh it down with baking beads/rice.
- Bake for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven and take out the parchment and beans.
- If the edges are already brown, cover them closely with foil and return the tart to the oven until fully baked (10-15 minutes).
- Set aside to cool.
1 tin sweetened condensed milk turned to caramel, cooled
Unless you’re making a huge (30cm+) tart, then one tin is all you’ll need. Warmed carefully, it’ll spread a long way and a 1-2cm layer is rich enough for a treat without becoming sickly.
- Open the cooled tin and tip into a small saucepan.
- Warm the caramel gently until it becomes smooth and pourable.
- Pour the warm caramel into the cooked pastry tart shell and spread it evenly over the base.
- Lightly grease some clingfilm with butter and lay it closely over the caramel.
- Chill until required.
300ml double cream
1tsp instant espresso powder + extra to sprinkle
- Whisk the cream and coffee powder together until firm peaks.
- Slice the bananas and lay a thin layer over the caramel.
- Cover the bananas with the coffee cream. I like to just spoon it over, and keep it light and billowy, but if you prefer something more formal, you can pipe it. What you must do, is ensure that all the banana slices are completely covered. Just like the meringue on a lemon meringue pie, make sure the cream goes right to the edge of the tart, touching the edge of the pastry. Any banana left uncovered with start to discolour very quickly, but covered with the cream they remain delicately pale.
- Dust the top lightly with espresso powder and chill until required.
There’s been a lot of traffic to the blog lately for Apple Rose Tarts – not sure whether it’s been the return to our screens of The Great British Bake Off or what, but it just goes to show that people like pretty things to bake.
So that got me thinking about how I could put a twist on the prettiness of the tarts but in another form
and shamelessly cash in on their popularity.
I’m a big fan of buns – buns don’t get half as much press as they should, in my opinion: more robust than a cupcake, less sugary sweet and much more satisfying. However, they can all too easily tip over into heavy, claggy lumps of stodge, thick with stickiness – which becomes a logistical nightmare to try and eat.
Playing with food is always fun – partly, I’m convinced, because it is so frowned upon. Diving into Pullapart Loaves, Bubble Bread, Monkey Bread, Tear and Share, Cinnamon Buns or Chelsea Buns – to name but a few – and pulling out a handful of warm, pillowy dough is not only delicious fun, but carries that little frisson of excitement of doing something a little bit NORTY. Still not too pretty a sight, though.
Here, then, is my solution – buns with all the fun of a pullapart, but still delicate and pretty. Soft petals of sweet bun dough gently folded around each other, interleaved with a sprinkling of tangy, lemony sugar and butter.
If you’re prone to the Homer Simpson drools when it comes to fresh-baked carbohydrates, you can, of course, stuff them in your mouth whole. And with buns still warm from the oven this certainly would have strong ‘mitigating circumstances’.
However, today we’re going for – or at least TRYING for – delicate, so picture yourself peeling off each delicious petal one by one and maybe dipping it into a little pot of creamy cream cheese lemon topping for a moment of decadent indulgence.
OK, before we start, there are a couple of Top Tips I’d like to bring up.
Top Tip 1: Using milk either wholly or in part, to mix your dough will make the resulting buns/rolls softer. The downside is that it also reduces their keeping qualities to a couple of days. Then again, who has home-made buns lying around after 2 days anyway?
Top Tip 2: To get even more of that pillowy softness, brush the hot just-baked buns/rolls with milk as soon as they come out of the oven and then cover with a clean cloth. The heat of the dough will turn the milk into steam and the cloth with keep the steam close, softening the rolls as they cool.
Top Tip 3: Dissolving sugar into warmed milk will give you a bun glaze that will dry with a nice sheen. NB The more sugar you add, the shinier (and therefore stickier) the finished effect will be.
Sweet Rose Buns – makes 12
250g strong white bread flour
1 sachet fast acting easy blend yeast
25g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 lemon
4tbs caster sugar
- Put the flour, yeast, sugar, butter, salt and egg into a food processor and blitz until well mixed. The mixture will resemble fine breadcrumbs.
- Tip the mixture into a bowl and make a well in the middle. If you have a stand mixer and a dough hook, then use that.
- Warm the milk.
- Add in the water and the vanilla to cool it to blood temperature. To test: stick your finger in it – if you can’t feel it, then it’s at the correct temperature.
- Add the liquid to the dry mix and bring together into a dough.NB It will be rather moist and soft, so if you’re kneading by hand, use a scraper on the surface to help you lift the dough as you knead it.
- Knead the dough for 10 minutes, then set aside, covered, until doubled in size (about 45 minutes-1 hour).
- Grease a 12 hole bun/cupcake tin.
- Melt the butter. Have a pastry brush ready.
- Grate the lemon zest.
- Mix the lemon zest and sugar together.
- Tip out the risen dough onto a floured surface and pat down to press out the air.
- With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until very thin – just under 5mm. NB You will need to work quickly for the next part, because as soon as you stop rolling, the dough will start to rise again.
- Brush the sheet of dough with melted butter.
- Sprinkle the sugar/lemon mix evenly over the butter.
- Using a 5cm plain round cutter, cut out rounds of dough.
- Lay the dough out in rows of 7 circles, each circle of dough overlapping the previous one by half (see diagram).
- Using a pizza wheel cutter or sharp knife, cut along the mid-line of each row of dough as indicated. This will give you two sets of dough pieces, to make two rose shapes.
- Roll up from the left hand side and drop into one of the holes in the bun tin.
- Brush the finished rolls with beaten egg-white.
- Cover and set to rise for 15-20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
- Mix the bun wash by mixing 2tbs caster sugar with 4tbs milk. Make sure the sugar is fully dissolved in the milk, otherwise your glaze will be grainy.
- Bake the risen buns for 15 minutes, turning the tin 180° after 10 minutes, to help get an even colour.
- Brush the hot buns with the bun wash and cool on a wire rack, covered with a clean cloth.
Lemon Cream Cheese Dip
100g cream cheese
Juice of 1 lemon – use the one from the recipe
40g icing sugar
1 tbs milk – Optional
- Beat the cream cheese until smooth.
- Sift in the icing sugar and beat to combine.
- Add the lemon juice and beat again until smooth.
- If the mixture seems a little stiff, add in 1tbs milk to loosen it.
Bonus Post – Flower Tarts
As you know, I’m not great with decorating with fondant or sugar paste or anything like that. I don’t have the steady hands for delicate piping or the patience for sugar-work. I actually much prefer the dish itself to be its own decoration. So these little tarts are right up my street – especially as they require practically no skill whatsoever – Bonus for me!
I’m not including a recipe, because the picture pretty much speaks for itself – this is more of a decoration suggestion.
I blind baked some pastry cases in a mini muffin tin  – filled them with a vanilla creme patissiere (thick custard is fine) and topped them with a single, perfect berry.
The surrounding petals are made out of two rings of sliced almonds poked into the custard – how simple is that? *she says, channelling Ina*
Anyhoo – thought you might enjoy – so enjoy! 😀
 I highly recommend getting a pizza wheel if you haven’t already got one – even if you don’t eat pizza! They’re extremely useful for cutting cleanly without dragging/tearing – perfect for this recipe.
 Top Tip 4 To blind bake the mini pastry cases, use mini muffin cases to line your pastry cases and fill them with rice. So much easier than trying to get parchment or foil in there.
Very belatedly is one of my Bake Off recipes that didn’t get much screen time, compared to the Apple Rose Tarts – but it might actually edge ahead of them in the taste stakes. This post is for my beautiful and talented sister Georgina, who’s been waiting patiently for this recipe ever since Tart Week. Go follow her on Twitter ( @Georns ) – she says/tweets cool stuff!
When the Bake Off began airing, I was interviewed by the local BBC radio station, and was asked what my favourite food from childhood was. My answer was the Butterscotch Tart we had for school dinners. (I should point out at this stage that my mother was Kitchen Supervisor at the central kitchens that supplied the meals for all the schools in the local area – a fact which earned me by turns admiration and resentment at school, depending on the menu of the day – and occasionally both at once when the menu was particularly divisive.) I also had a great fondness for Butterscotch Angel Delight, although its appearance on the dinner-table was rare, because it was everything our regular puddings at home weren’t. Packed to the gunnels with flavourings, colourings and preservatives and – most deliciously decadent – it came out of a packet! Such a NORTY pudding! *sighs wistfully*
ANYHOO – These tarts are very simple – a pastry shell filled with a flavoured custard. For the Bake Off, however, I jazzed it up a little by adding pecans to the pastry, and just a drop of scotch to the filling, which really turns this nursery pudding into something altogether more grown up. As a final flourish, I decided to brulee the tops to add some crackly crunch. Now bruléeing caster sugar with a blowtorch can be tricky – it only takes a second to go from caramelised to burnt, so I was really pleased to discover ‘Brulée Sugar’. It sounds really fancy, but it’s easy enough to make yourself. and involves the alchemy of sugarwork!
There’s a theory out there *waves hand vaguely* that one of the characteristics of sugar is that it yearns to return to its previous form – which goes a long way to explaining why it is important to wash the sugar crystals off the side of your pan with a wet pastry brush when boiling sugar. It doesn’t take much for the whole lot to crystallise and then there’s no recovering – you just have to start again.
SO – going along with this theory, if the end result (brulée) is essentially melted sugar, then isn’t starting with sugar in crystals (granulated or caster) just making life difficult for yourself? If you started with a sugar that used to be melted, it would be so much easier to return it to that state, because that is the state it would ‘want’ to be in! It might sound bonkers (sentient sugar!?) but I was impressed with the speed at which it dissolved into golden caramel under the flame of the blowtorch. So here’s how we do it!
- Sprinkle some caster sugar into a heavy-bottomed pan – exact quantities aren’t important, what you’re aiming for is a thin, even layer.
- Heat gently until the sugar melts and turns a dark golden brown. NB It won’t melt evenly, so a certain degree of swirling is needed. DON’T STIR – or it’ll crystallise (see above)
- When all the sugar crystals have melted and you have just a clear caramel, pour it out onto parchment or silicone sheets and leave to cool and set.
- When completely cooled, break up into small pieces and either blitz in a spice grinder/food-processor or pound in a mortar. The texture doesn’t have to be completely smooth powder – a few chunks here and there add a nice texture to the finished brulée.
- Keep it in a small jar, making sure the lid is secured tightly – moisture will make it harden into a solid lump.
This is a great make-ahead dessert, because you can just assemble it all at the last minute: pour the custard into the cooked pastry shells, sprinkle with brulée sugar, apply flame and serve at once. However, if there’s going to be any length of time between making and serving, consider also chilling the custard-filled tarts in the fridge, uncovered. A slight skin will form on the custard, and this will form a barrier between the custard and the Brulée Sugar. I didn’t do this when making these tarts to photograph, and as you can see from the picture (if you look closely), I faffed about so much taking the pictures, the moisture from the custard is causing the sugar of the brulée to dissolve, and the custard is starting to show tiny cracks.
Butterscotch Brulée Tarts
215g plain flour, plus additional for work surface
50g finely ground pecans
3.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
190g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
- Combine flour, ground pecans, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Blitz briefly to mix.
- Add the butter and process until like breadcrumbs.
- Add water until the pastry comes together
- Knead gently into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
90g unsalted butter
100g dark Muscovado sugar
100g Demerera sugar
120ml double cream
- Place butter and brown sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
- Stir continuously over a medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved.
- Cook mixture to rolling boil only (about 5 minutes) 106°C
- Remove from heat and immediately stir in 120ml cream and set aside to cool.
50g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp flour
3 large egg yolks
1 tbs whisky (optional)
Extra thick double cream – although ordinary double cream is just fine, as is no cream at all – depends how firm you like the custard to be.
- Heat milk.
- Mix yolks with sugar and flour.
- When milk is hot, remove it from the heat and pour onto the egg/sugar mixture, whisking vigorously. NB A whisk really is the best utensil for this job – the wires agitate the mixture whilst the gaps allow it to move through the liquid without (too much) sloshing over the sides of the bowl.
- Pour the mixture back into the pan and continue to heat, whisking, until it thickens.
- Stir in 120ml butterscotch. Add 1 tbs scotch (whisky)
- Cover with plastic wrap. Cool
To serve, fold in cream if required.
- Make pastry and blind bake tart cases – 200°C, 180°C Fan. If you’re using muffin tins, then bake for 10 minutes with beans in (use plain white paper muffin cases to hold the beans – I used patterned cases once, and the colours on the outside of the cases bled into the insides of the pastry caes – Lawks!), then 5-10 minutes without. Larger shaped tarts will take slightly longer for each baking.
- Make butterscotch.
- Make custard filling.
- Fill tartlet cases, chill
- To Serve: sprinkle with brulee sugar and blowtorch until melted and caramelised.
 I use this mixture of sugars because I like the dark butterscotch taste it produces – which might not be to everyone’s taste. Think of it as the butterscotch equivalent to 70% cocoa chocolate and milk chocolate. If you think this might be too intense a flavour, use 200g (total) of Demerera sugar instead.
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.
As some of you may know, I made it into Series 2 of The Great British Bake Off. The show is currently being shown in the UK on BBC2 on Tuesdays at 8.00pm. Each episode has a baking theme, and this week it was tarts. For the final round, we bakers had to present 24 miniature sweet tarts, of two differing types – so two batches of twelve. My butterscotch brulée tarts in pecan pastry didn’t get any airtime (*sob*) – but my apple rose ones did, and so I thought I’d post about them.
There’s three separate elements to these – the pastry, the filling and the decoration. The pastry is a crisp sweet shortcrust, and the filling, a delicious apple custard, is based on several 18th and 19th century recipes I found. The crowning glory though, are the apple roses – slices of apple poached in apple juice and sugar and then rolled into a beautiful rose. I’ve included a little diagram I put together to help show how the roses are created.
When my daughter saw these cooling on a rack, she exclaimed “Oooh! Apple posies!” – which I am REALLY tempted to use as a name because they’re so cute!
A name for the tarts, that is – not as a name for me. I couldn’t pull off cute in a million years.
Anyhoo – on with the recipe!
Apple Rose Tarts
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
250 g plain flour
125 g butter, chilled and diced
75 g caster sugar
1/2 lemon, grated zest only
1 egg, beaten
- Blitz the first 4 ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
- With the motor running, pour in the beaten egg IN STAGES. This is important. Add about a tablespoon at a time and give the flour time to absorb the liquid. The mixture will comes together when sufficient liquid has been added.
- When the mixture has come together, tip it out of the processor and knead once or twice into a ball.
- Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
8 red-skinned eating apples – as red as you can find – I used Pink Lady
1 litre apple juice
500g caster sugar
- Stir the sugar and apple juice together in a large pan until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Cut apples in half vertically.
- Remove core and cut into thin (semi-circle) slices.
- Put the slices into the apple syrup and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until tender – You need the apples to be soft enough so that you can roll them, but not so soft as to fall apart. Depending on how thickly you sliced the apples, probably no more than 15 minutes. You’ll find that the colour from the skins leeches into the syrup, and turns the flesh of the apples a wonderful dusky pink.
- Lift the apple slices from the syrup with a slotted spoon and allow to drain/cool in a sieve.
- When cool enough to handle, lay out the apple slices as follows.
-  Place 1 slice of apple on the left-hand end of your chopping board, flat side towards you.
-  Lay the next slice so that it overlaps the first by half.
-  Continue in this manner until there are 12 slices laid into a single strip
- Lay out 12 strips, one for each tart. Cover with cling film until required.
Apple Custard Filling
3 Braeburn apples – or apple of your choice.
120ml extra thick double cream
1tbs lemon juice
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1-2 tbs cornflour
- Mix the sugar, cream, egg, yolks, lemon zest & juice.
- Peel, core and grate the apples finely over a sieve to drain off excess juice.
- Stir into the egg/cream mixture.
- Put the cornflour into a cup and add some of the apple custard mix to it. Stir until fully combined. Stir cornflour mix into the main mixture.
- Heat oven to 200ºC, 180ºC Fan
- Roll out the pastry thinly – about 3mm.
- Line the holes of the cupcake tin with pastry by whatever method you prefer – I quite like the gently folded creases created by using a round cutter and parchment, but for a neater finish you could use the template method suggested here.
- Spoon in filling, 1-2tbs per hole.
- Roll up the apple slices, starting from the left hand side of the board. The overlaps will help keep everything together. Drop the resulting roses gently into each cup.
- Cook for 10 minutes.
- Turn pan 180 degrees, then cook for another 10 minutes, until pastry is cooked and browned.
- While the tarts are cooking, simmer the apple/sugar mixture over a medium-high heat until thickened into a syrup.
- Remove tarts from the oven, leave for five minutes and then remove from the tins. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
- Brush tarts with the apple syrup and sprinkle with a light dusting of icing sugar to serve.
NB Make apple custard tarts with any leftover filling and pastry – 10-15 minutes in the same temperature oven, or until filling is set. If making tarts larger than cupcake size, blind bake for 10 minutes to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom, then just 10 minutes with the filling!