These little things are ubiquitous during the festive season. The constant eating of mince pies is often more to do with comforting seasonal ritual rather than how it actually tastes. With powdery pastry enclosing a strange, musty goo, the standard Christmas mince pie is at best unexciting.
But I think this baked treat deserves better than to be merely tolerated when it comes round once a year, like that tiresome but otherwise inoffensive relative that you can’t quite find the heart to dismiss from your dinner table.
This recipe, adapted from Nigella Lawson, is one I’ve been making for the past few years. The fresh cranberry mincemeat is vegetarian and alcohol-free, which sounds like the exact opposite of what goes into a mince pie you’d actually want to eat, but it’s good. The pastry is light while the mincemeat is densely fragrant, deep with sweet, rich red fruit and just mildly tart. That’s what you want in a mince pie. (If you still can’t be persuaded, the original recipe contains booze. Try Pedro Ximénez sherry.)
The ground almond pastry is easy to work with if you keep both the dough and your hands cool, and you can use whatever shape cutters you like for decorating the tops of the pies. The pastry can be kept in the fridge for a few days or frozen for up to a month, and defrosted in the fridge the day before you want to use it.
Makes just enough mincemeat and pastry for 12 – 18 mince pies, depending on size. It’s a good idea to make both in advance so all you have to do is defrost, assemble, bake and eat.
- . 75g soft dark brown sugar
- . 4 tablespoons red grape juice (this provides the best sweetness and colour, but use any other juice you like)
- . 150g fresh cranberries
- . ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- . 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- . 2 packed tablespoons raisins, sultanas, or currants
- . 2 packed tablespoons dried cranberries
- . Zest and juice of 1 clementine
- . ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- . 1 – 2 tablespoons honey
- . 125g plain flour
- . 1 tablespoon ground almonds
- . Good pinch of salt
- . 75g very cold butter, cut into cubes
- . Cold orange juice or water, about 50 – 75 ml
- To make the mincemeat: In a small saucepan over a medium heat, dissolve the brown sugar into the grape juice. Add the fresh cranberries, cinnamon, mixed spice, all of the dried fruits, and the zest and juice of the clementine.
- Bring to a moderate simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring and pressing until the fresh cranberries have burst and the mixture is a fragrant, thick paste with only a little liquid left.
- Off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract. Taste the mincemeat; if it's not sweet enough, mix in honey by the spoonful to taste. Store in a very clean jar or use right away once cooled.
- For the pastry: mix the plain flour, ground almonds, and salt. Working quickly with either cool hands or a pastry blender, add the cold butter to the flour and combine, rubbing or cutting until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. If anything feels sticky or warm, rinse your hands in cold water and stick the pastry bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes before continuing.
- Bind the pastry using either orange juice or water, gradually sprinkling it over 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing very well with a round-bladed knife until it all just clumps together. Press together into a ball, wrap and chill for at least 1 hour before using.
- Assemble the mince pies: you will need a rolling pin, star-shaped and round cutter, and a tart tin.
- Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
- Let pastry sit at room temperature for about 5 minutes to take off the chill. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to about 4mm thick. Using a round cutter (flute-edged if liked) that's a bit wider than the diameter of each tart hole, cut out rounds and line each hole.
- Gather scraps into dough and re-dust work surface. Re-roll pastry and cut out stars. Put a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat into each pie and put a star on top.
- Bake for about 10 – 12 minutes. The mince pies should be light gold. Immediately turn out and let the tin cool before continuing with the next batch, re-rolling pastry as needed.