Get spicy with your lover at Christmas – a tradition from the ‘across the pond’.
Well, ‘Winter drawers on’ as we say here in Great Britain where I am spending Christmas this year. A comforting thought for lovers, as it means it’s time to cuddle up and keep warm in front of a hot blazing fire and to look forward to spicing up your indoor activities… baking minced pies?!?
Yes, we Brits have a passion for these succulent fragrant fruity tarts, but they do not seem to be available outside the UK. You find them popping up everywhere over here, from the middle of November through to New Year. Before the days of freezers and hypermarkets, folk would make a batch on Christmas eve to last them through the holiday festivities. The host was judged on the crumbliness of her crusts and the uniformity their design – but they can be the most annoying things to make. They go into the oven in identical perfection but come out lids asunder and fruit oozing out, some sunken, some risen. It’s all down to how evenly your mincemeat was mixed up and how hot your hands are massaging that pastry. Then there’s the problem of getting them off the tray – they have to cool enough for the pastry to hold together but not so much that the molten fruit that escaped from the lid has welded itself and the pie to the metal. However, I always find that a multitude of embarrassing mis-shapes are easily disguised with a dusting of ‘snow’ - i.e. icing sugar just before serving!
In the olden days, they were made from meat, suet, fruits and spices encased in pastry. Over the centuries the savoury element was dropped and they became a sweet treat – although the suet is still included. Mincemeat was prepared in the late summer as a way of preserving apples by chopping them up and cooking them with suet, dried fruits, spices and sometimes nuts – finished off with a dash of brandy. The mixture was sealed in a jar – like jam – to mature in time for Christmas. Most folk in Britain do not bother making their own mincemeat, it’s available in jars everywhere, we all have our favourite brands. With ever busy lives, even the pies are now bought ready-made – stores provide boxes and boxes of foil-clad clones to satisfy our seasonal lust for these individual treats.
I have to say though, the aroma of them baking is second to none for putting you in the mood for festive celebrations. It’s hard to resist a hot home-made minced pie served with a dollop of brandy butter or clotted cream – or both in our house!
So, I am going to share with you my foolproof secret minced pie recipe… well-behaved spicy pastry and homemade mincemeat from Delia Online (if you can’t get it in jars from your local supermarket.)
Emma Calin’s Festive Mince Pies
This makes a batch of about 16. You’ll need a pie/tart tray, I think in the USA you call them patty tins, or a 12 hole muffin tin would do. If you don’t have either of these, you could make a rectangular turnover-type pie, to be cut and served at the table (acceptable but I find it too much pastry to filling). Oven needs to be around 350F, 180C.
8 oz. plain flour
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp mixed spice (or pumpkin pie spice if you can’t find this in your shop)
1 ½ oz ground almonds
3 oz icing sugar
6 oz butter
1 medium egg yolk
Sieve the flour spices almonds and icing sugar into a bowl, rub in the butter, stir in the egg yolk and gently work to form a soft dough. Knead lightly and wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry with plenty of flour to stop it sticking to the surface and the rolling pin. For individual pies, use pastry cutters for the bases and lids to fit your tin – I have lost my original cutters and so use a tumbler for the bases and a smaller wine glass to cut the lids. I recently picked up some novelty cutters whilst visiting my sister in the USA – see the results above! Put the bases in the indents in the tin. Put a scant couple of teaspoons of mincemeat into each base – try and get a good mix of fruits – make sure that the filling does not come up too high, probably leave a gap of ½cm,(1/4 inch) to the top as this stuff EXPANDS! Moisten the edges of the bases and gently seal the lids to them by pressing the pastry together. Cover with film and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Finally, get a knife and cut a small steam escape hole in the centre of each lid.
[If you are making the mincemeat bar, roll your pastry into a square and spread a 2cm, 3/4inch layer of mincemeat over one half of the square, leaving a 2cm gap around the outer edges. Dampen these edges. Fold the loose side of pastry over to make a mincemeat pillow, and roll the pastry edges together and upwards slightly to seal the fruit inside. Carefully slide this onto a baking tray and bake for 250-30 minutes. Slice and serve whilst hot.]
For the individual pies, bake for 25 to 30 minutes until lightly golden. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the tin, then leave to cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container (or eat them whilst still warm).
They freeze really well and in snack-time emergencies can be defrosted in a microwave (about 30 seconds per pie ) – but be careful as that filling gets super-sugar hot!
Definitely best served hot with any number of toppings – brandy butter, cream, custard, ice cream. YUM!
Now some of you may have seen Janna’s showcase feature on my hot passionate romance Knockout! You may also have seen my interview here on Janna’s blog prior to this, so may know that I also enjoy writing gritty short stories. These are available for Kindle (and other devices now with the huge range of reader apps that are free from Amazon e.g. iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone, PC and Mac) and come with their own free MP3 audio track – so you can either read or listen and get a quick espresso-fix of fiction.
One of these short stories, ‘SUB-PRIME’, is set at Christmas – its original title was ‘A GIFT AT CHRISTMAS’. This short story has won many awards and has been a number 1 Kindle best seller on Amazon in the USA. Sub-Prime is not a tale of warm and cosy love and minced pies, but tells of a world that is the cold harsh reality for many people at this time of year. As an antidote to the minced pies and seasonal excesses of we lucky few, read it (or listen) if you dare…
Whatever your traditions at this time of year – my best wishes for a Christmas full of love, to you and your family during this season of goodwill to all, and for a healthy and peaceful 2013.
Drawers = panties
suet = dried beef fat
Mixed spice = cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ginger
Links to Emma’s other books
Thank you so much, Emma, for visiting with us today and sharing your delicious recipe and thoughts with us. We have enjoyed having you and hope you will visit again soon. Have a wonderful Christmas.