Mince Pies

I had my first mince pie in December 1996. I was staying at a pub, in the wider Manchester area, and they had this resident chef - or should I say this resident prick, he was sooo the rudest person working at that place, so full of himself! But he could cook one mean meal! - who was always experimenting and playing with food ideas. One afternoon, as I was sitting at one of the pub tables, a pen and a note book in front of me (laptops weren't widely available, back then) trying to jot down the begginings of my first vampire novel, but being distracted from said chore by two members of the band that was supposed to play that evening who had just begun to do their soundchek - not that I minded, one of them was rather cute and funny, and some flirting may or may not have been going around! - this chef came up to me, with this big platter full of tiny cake like thingees and placed it at the table saying "Do try one, I'm testing recipes and need some feedback."

I remember looking suspiciously at the platter. He told me those were mince pies, and that was the first time I was seeing one. It was just past lunch time, and I was really not in the mood to gobble down some savoury nibbles, but I also did not want to seem rude or stuckup. So I picked one, still very suspicious. It was covered in icing sugar, and I could not for the life of me fathom why someone would consider pairing mince meat with sugar - I put it down to being a chef-y thing - and it was with a heavy heart that I bit into it. Turned out it wasn't savoury after all, and there was no mince meat to be seen for miles and miles. What I was biting into was this heavenly concotion of sandy, crumbly, sweet pastry filled with a generous portion of some red compote that was tart but sugary at the same time. I was hooked. I gobbled the first one, then the second, an a third for good measure. I was in my twenties and thin as a whistle, and they were really small, those mince pies. Or so I remember them. They were really good. I asked him what it was and he explained the story of the mince pie a little, then proceed to tell me he had made the compote with red berries only, and that was why it looked so red. I prayed he would leave the platter on the table, so I could keep munching away, and he did, but I was prevented from really going into it by the two band lads with a very healthy appetite who proceeded to stuff their faces with the pies as soon as the chef told them to go ahead and try. Everyone was hooked, and he had a winning recipe there. While I stayed at that pub, he made a second batch of which I partook as well, but after I moved on to another village, I still had some more mince pies all over the festive season, but none that good.

So many years have passed, since that first mince pie, and every Christmas I find myself thinking back with nostalgia on that first bite. But I was always afraid of tackling the mince pie monster, if there is one thing I fear in the kitchen, it has been the mince pie. I wouldn't even talk about it, lest my husband suggested we did have to make a batch. Cue in last Christmas, and an overwhelming desire to have at least one mince pie. First I considered blackmailing my sister, who lives in London, into sending me a packet of mince pies over the post, but they would only get lost or destroyed. Then I started scouring the web for recipes, and reading them, studying them, mulling over them. It didn't seem hard. It didn't sound complicated. It felt quite achievable. So I started working on my husband for us to do a batch of them that Christmas, as we were having family over and it would be a nice idea to introduce something from another culture at the table. Turning to our Nigella Lawson's Domestic Goddess book, we went through her mince pies recipes and came up with our own.

I wanted our pies to have red berries in them, and you have to bare in mind that we came across a very lucky fluke, as we were out shopping for the dried fruits and nuts to go into them. We layed our eyes, quite accidentally on a packet that contained dried plums, dried strawberries dried cranberries, dried blueberries, glazed cherries amidst the regular currants and raisins. It was score, and we brought that pack home, along with flaked almonds. So if you to do consider making this recipe, know that you can use the raisins, sultanas and glacée cherries alone, but if you have the possibilty of adding dried cranberries, blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries and plums, please do. Really. It will be that much better. So for the compote you'll be needing:
  • 250 gr sugar (dark will be better)
  • 1 kg apples, deseed, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice (use nutmeg, cloves, star aniseed or do as I did, crushed a few fennel seeds with some allspice)
  • 500 gr of mixed dried fruits such as currants, raisins, plums, cranberries, you get it.
  • 75 gr glacé cherries, chopped
  • 75 gr finely flaked almonds
  • rind and juice of one mandarin (you can use half an orange or half a lemon instead)
  • 90 ml of rum
  • 250 ml red berries liqueur or cider (if you're using liqueur and it is a very sweet one, take 50 gr off your sugar)
In a large saucepan dissolve the sugar with the liqueur over a gentle heat. Add the apples, roughly chopped and let them coat with the mix. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the rum, and let it simmer aways for 30 minutes, or until it all looks pulpy like. At this point, take it ff the heat and stirr in the rum after you've allowed the mix to cool for a while. This will make about 2 kg of compote, so feel free to pair down the quantities to make half the amount. Store in sterilized jars and use as needed.

As for the pastry. We did go for Nigella Lawson's pastry recipe, as it sounded quite celestial, tweaking it here and there as we needed or prefered. So this pastry recipe is largely Nigella's and not ours, but it is a safe one, and one that with us works all the time.
  • 240 gr flour
  • 60 gr vegetable fat
  • 60 gr cold unsalted butter
  • juice of one orange (we opted for the juice of one large mandarin)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten, for glazing, which is quite optional
  • about 200 gr, 250 gr of the mince meat for the filling
Sift flour into a larg bowl and add the fat and the butter in by small amounts, diced. Combine with your hands (and if you're like me, ask someone else to do this part) and deep freeze it for 20 minutes. Mix the mandarin or orange juice with the salt and place in the fridge. After the 20 minutes bring out the combined flour and fat and place it in the food processor, blitzing until you have a plie of crumbs that resemble porridge. Add the sakted juice little by little, pulsing in between. As soon as you notice the pastry is about to cohere, stop, even if there's any leftover juice. Roll it out of the processor and using your hands, combine into a dough. Form two discs, one will be for the casings, and you can just roll this one over a muffin tin, pressing it down into each hole and then cutting off the excess, or you can cut individual disks that you line the holes with one by one, which one works best for you should be the method you use. For the second disk, just roll it out into a rectangle and cut as many starts as the pies you're making. Put the tray with the pastry in the fridge for 20m and turn on the oven to 200º C. Once the 20m have passed, bring the tin out and fill the moulds with about two scant teaspoons of mincemeat each, pacing the stars over the filling. If you want to, glaze the stars with the beaten egg now, adding a little water to make it runnier. Bake in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes, but keep a close eye on them as they really don't take long. Once they're goldenish, take them off, let them cool slightly and then prize them out. Once they're cool, just dust with icing sugar and serve. You'll thank me. Or Nigella.


  1. Oh They look great! I remember as a kid the next door neighbor was a pie guy. Mean too and I was quite afraid of him but he made all sorts of pies. Funny to see such a burly gruff man lay out the dough and concoct such desserts. He made a mince pie that my father would crave each December. I haven't had one since but the flavors are so unique I can still taste it in my memories. Cool story about the writing and eating. ;-)

  2. Não tenho jeito nenhum pra fazer a massa das tartes, ficam sempre horríveis nhec :\ estas estão tão amorosas ai!

    1. eu as massas deixo ao meu marido para fazer, isto cá em casa é trabalho de equipa loooool

  3. oh que lindas! mesmo! muito!!! devem ter ficado tão apetitosas a julgar só pelo bom aspeto!


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