Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Oh, the Pie!

For about a week and a half at the end of every year I love mince pies. I start craving them around mid November, but I keep my greed in check until two or three days before Christmas. Shop bought mince pies are almost always disappointing: the pastry is flaccid and the filling is overly sweet. They never have enough booze in, either.

As with everything in the kitchen I've experimented with every aspect of the mince pie over the years. I've used just about every type of alcohol, all sorts of fruit mixtures, varied the size and tried every pastry recipe that's come my way. Today I tried almond pastry for the first time, and it was the best yet: friable, buttery, and crisp (for the recipe see Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, or How to Eat). For those of you who don't know what a mince pie is, here's the gist:

Into a saucepan I put about 1 cup each of currents, sultanas, raisins and dark muscovado sugar; a cinnamon stick, one star anise, a teaspoon of mixed spice, and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon for good measure;

add to that the juice of an orange and about 100ml of red wine. Bring it to the boil and simmer for about 10 minutes. Your house will smell like a morning stroll in Sienna. Leave to cool.

Tip into a bowl, add chopped candied peel (no quantities, I just put in as much as I can be bothered to chop), a handful or so of dried cranberries, a glug each of brandy and Amaretto and some (didn't bother to measure) suet. Stir it all together and fill your pastry cases.

I like to make marzipan stars to top the tarts as marzipan kind of melts a little into the fruit but goes nice and crisp on top, too.

Ready for the oven: gas mark 6, 15 minutes. Because these are best fresh I make only a few at a time, keeping the rest of the pastry and fruit mix in the fridge at the ready.

Result: three or four light, sticky, melty bites to each one.

Tomorrow: A pie eater's frock dilemma.


angryparsnip said...


I am drooling here, it all looks so good then you added the marzipan top and I turned to goo.
That looks so good that I might try to make some. I don't know about the suet ? will have to look hat up because I know I do not have that.

I love reading about your Christmas !

cheers, parsnip

debra said...

These look amazing, Eryl! This will be our 1st Christmas without my dear mother-in-law's mince pies. I looked but couldn't find the recipe. Now there is hope! Thanks

Linnhe Mara said...

Ooh! delicious.

nick said...

That sounds a delicious recipe. I must admit though I quite like commercial mince pies, perhaps because I was brought up on them! Jenny and I eat mince pies right through December and beyond, we can't get enough of them.

NanU said...

Now there's a post that just might get me eating (after making, of course) mince pie!
Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...


we have to order suet from yuppie suppliers..

the total opposite of the old fashioned ways, when

rabbits were poor mans food and we all kept dripping...

Carole said...

Looks delicious. We had mince meat pies as a kid and I ddin't like them at all. Maybe just mince would be better without the meat.

MJ said...

Flaccidity is always disappointing, isn't it?

Kim Ayres said...

Aaaaarrgglllee... slobber...

Eryl said...

Parsnip ~ lots of people make them without suet these days. There seems to be a slight loss of texture without but no loss of flavours as far as I can tell. You could use a little cold diced butter or shortening, I should think.

Debra ~ I hope, if you make these, they do taste like your mother-in-laws, she probably didn't use Ameretto. My mother used to use sherry.

Linnhe ~ so you're a mince pie kinda girl too, huh? Actually, I added red wine this year in hommage to your mulled wine pears, and it works really well, so thanks!

Nick ~ I have had some very good commercial ones in the past, and I certainly wouldn't say no to one that's offered. I think I probably just like baking and so need to justify the time it takes!

Nanu ~ ooh, do let me know if you make them and what you think. They're not that different, in flavour, to those dense, fruity confections the Italians are so good at.

Denise ~ really? Butchers sell it here, for pennies. As fewer people use it, though, for health reasons (misguided in my opinion, but that's another story) I can see it disappearing, and then reappearing as a retro treat!

Carole ~ originally they contained meat here too, but I've never had them and, quite frankly, think they sound horrid.

MJ ~ ain't that so!

Kim ~ I bet Maggie makes fabulous mince pies, as she does everything.

Rachel Fox said...

That's it! Next year we're coming to yours. I don't care that you don't know us at all!

red-handed said...

O yes.

The Pollinatrix said...

Flaccid pastry and no booze - how awful! (You are the Queen of Modifiers, I must say.)

My grandmother, who was English, used to make mince pies, and my mom did for a while too. Hers were always little squares, though, and nowhere near as beautiful and mouthwatering as yours.

Eryl said...

Rachel ~ aha! my evil plan is working you would be very welcome, X

Red ~ you like?

Polli ~ I've never seen square ones, did she make them in a tray and cut them?

The Pollinatrix said...

Yes, exactly - in a tray.

Khanh Ha said...

You're killing me!

Kim Ayres said...

You inspired Maggie with your post. I read it to her this morning and she had to make mince pies with marzipan tops. She said to thank you :)

Eryl said...

Polli ~ I meant to say before: I like being called The Queen of Modifiers, I might have to get a t-shirt printed.

Khanh ~ oh no!

Kim ~ She is more than welcome. The first time I made marzipan tops was because I'd run out of pastry, now it's my topping of choice.

Pat said...

MTL would drool but I'm immune.