I do believe, there is nothing more wonderful at Christmas than hurrying home to the family, into a kitchen hopefully bestrewed with fairy lights and glittery decorations galore and being offered a freshly baked and still warm mince pie. A blob of brandy butter if I’m not the designated driver for me please! Each year, magazines do round ups of which shop is selling the best mince pie but honestly, once you crack your own, you will never be able to have the boxed versions without feeling disappointed. I’ve tried many a version over the years, looking for my idea of the perfect pie and now I think – enough tinkering! It’s time to share my Mince Pies with Cream Cheese Pastry.
Rather than being a bit cynical about people trying to reinvent the wheel, I think of the 1.5 million hits you get from Googling “mince pie recipe” as a sign of enthusiasm for this traditional festive treat and rejoice in there being a perfect recipe out there for us all. My idea of perfection starts with the ratio of filling to pastry – I like the mincemeat to be a flavouring for the pastry, rather than the pastry being a carry case for a ton of spiced and boozy fruits. This year, I treated myself to some round bottomed mince pie tins which are super cheap (so definitely buy two!), give the cute and delicate rounded shape to my pies plus are small enough to fit two trays into a domestic oven side by side so you can make all 24 in one go.
The pastry I use is something which is much more popular over in America from the food blogs and cook books I’ve read but really, us Brits need to start making much more of it! It’s a sweet shortcrust pastry with some full fat cream cheese worked right in. If you have struggled with getting your shortcrust tender and flaky enough, then this is pastry for you. Yes it’s rich but it’s Christmas! Eat your pie, enjoy yourself! Honestly, I’ve turned so many “mince pie haters” with my pies and I think the pastry is what clinches the deal. Just make sure you do not over bake it – these pies are meant to be pale – an overcooked mince pie is so disappointing. No less because it makes them harder to reheat if they aren’t all eaten soon after baking.
As for the mincemeat, again, it’s taken years to settle on the perfect recipe and I really believe that Hettie’s Suet Free Mincemeat from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is spot on. My friend Nicola encouraged me to try it years ago and I’ve never looked back since. It’s rich and boozy but has a wonderfully soft texture – that being one of the failings of the store bought versions, jaggedly sharp and dried up fruit. This is all luxury and it tastes superb. I have made minor adjustments over the years to the recipe, but they are genuinely really small tweaks as it’s so good as it stands. I do grind my own Mixed Spice but lately, I’ve been using my own home ground Pumpkin Pie Spice in it’s place for my Christmas Cake and Christmas Puddings and I love it. Adding a little extra booze is no bad idea if you plan on making a big batch of mincemeat and storing some, even for next year as it mellows a lot as it matures. To finish my mince pies, I like to brush half with milk and sprinkle with a generous amount of caster sugar before baking and the other half, I sprinkle with a heavy but freshly fallen cloud of icing sugar just as they are served. How would you have yours?
- 250g soft dark sugar
- 250ml cider
- 1kg Bramley apples, peeled and chopped roughly
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 575g mixed dried fruits of your choice (e.g. sultanas, raisins, cherries, cranberries, candied peel etc)
- Zest and juice of a small lemon
- 90ml rum or brandy
- Heat the sugar and cider in a medium sized saucepan until the sugar has dissolved then stir in everything else bar the 90ml rum or brandy.
- Cook for 30 minutes stirring regularly to encourage the apples to break down and the mincemeat become soft and pulpy.
- Stir in the reserved alcohol then ladle into your sterilised jars. As I say in the intro, I add a little more alcohol to the top of jars which I think I wont be using immediately to help with preserving it as long as possible. Don't forget to date them and store opened jars in the fridge.
- 300g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 75g caster sugar
- 100g soft butter
- 100g full fat cream cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1 small jar of mincemeat
- Milk to brush
- Caster or icing sugar to sprinkle
- A 12-hole tart tin/bun tray with round bottoms*
- A small star shaped cookie cutter or plunger cutter (optional)
- I make my pastry in the food mixer by pulsing together the flour, baking powder, sugar, butter and cream cheese until it forms a crumbly texture then I add in the egg and pulse again until it comes together in a ball. Scoop onto some clingfilm and chill for a minimum of an hour before using.
- If making by hand, rub the butter into the flour then stir in the baking powder and sugar. Use a dinner knife to cut in the cream cheese and then bring together using the egg. Whichever way you go, don't over handle the pastry and stop just before it comes together.
- Preheat oven to 180˚C.
- Work with half the pastry at a time, keeping one half in the fridge. Roll out to approximately 2-3mm thick and stamp out circles of pastry big enough to line your tart tin* and press into the tin. Add a spoonful of mincemeat (don't over fill) then stamp out circles of pastry just big enough to cover each tart and cut out a star with your small cutter before placing on top of the tart and pressing lightly to seal. Brush with milk and sprinkle generously with extra caster sugar.
- Bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is dry to the touch but at most, pale golden brown - these little pies aren't meant to be very brown when baked.
- Cool on a rack for 10 minutes to allow them to firm up and then pop each one out onto a rack to finish cooling. If you have only one tin, make the second batch in the same way.
- If you prefer, you don't need to sprinkle with caster sugar before baking and instead, can dust liberally with icing sugar to serve.
- *= I use an old fashioned tart tin which gives small round bottomed tarts. A fairy cake tin is a very similar size but if you use a muffin tin, they will be almost twice as big and will require up to an extra 10 minutes cooking time plus you should expect to only get 12 out of the stated quantities.
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