I grew up in England, where Christmas equals mince pies. A sweet pastry dessert that dates back to the 13th century, mince pies are a staple of many British households for the festive season. Though the recipe has changed significantly over the years (for one thing, it is rare to still have actual meat in them), you can usually expect to taste raisins, currants, nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice.
Normally I spend Christmas in England, where I eat a combination of store-bought and Grandma’s mince pies. But last year I was stuck in the U.S., unemployed and homesick, because I was waiting on my green card (and not permitted to work, drive or leave the country). I decided that baking my own mince pies would cheer me up.
There are a lot of mince pie recipes out there, but I had the extra challenge of using whatever ingredients I could find locally in South Carolina. What was at first a frustrating endeavor became one of my greatest baking successes: The end result combined the traditional British style of a mince pie with popular fall flavors of the South. And, of course, there was bourbon involved.
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup currants (If you can’t find them, replace with more raisins)
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup dried cherries
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 small green apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
- 1 stick of butter
- Zest and juice of 1 orange
- ½ TSP each of allspice, nutmeg
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Pinch of ginger
- ¼ cup of bourbon or whisk(e)y (I’m partial to Maker’s Mark.)
Put all ingredients together in a large pot and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Leave to cool then remove cinnamon sticks and stir in bourbon. Have yourself a celebratory julep.
Mincemeat can be stored in jars and refrigerated or frozen if you’re not using it right away.
This pastry recipe is from the BBC. The original is in metric but I’ve transcribed it here in cups for any confused Americans!
NOTE: Some mince pies are decorated with cut-outs of stars etc., but this pastry is not firm enough to be cut into shapes. It’s still my favorite pastry to use for mince pies because it’s so easy, but it tastes so delicate, almost like shortbread.
- 1 cup cold butter, diced
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (Note: In the U.K. we have caster sugar, which is slightly more refined, but regular granulated works fine as well.)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 egg, whisked
Rub butter and flour together with your fingers until you have crumbs.
Add sugar and salt. Stir to combine.
Knead into a ball. (If you have any trouble combining the dough, put a little warm water on your hands.)
The dough will be ready right away, but if you’re in a hot climate like me, you may want to wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes or so.
Preheat oven to 200C/gas mark 6/400F. (Exception: If your kitchen tends to get very hot when the oven is on, it will make life more difficult for you when it comes to handling the pastry. I have a tiny kitchen, so I personally like to wait until I’ve got most of the pies in pans before I turn on the oven.)
Line cupcake pans with cake wrappers. Press walnut-sized pieces of dough inside each wrapper and flatten. Add a TSP of mincemeat to each (or a little more if you like them deep-filled), and cover with smaller, flat pieces of pastry. Press the edges together and use a pastry brush (or a clean finger) to glaze the tops of the pies with the whisked egg. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar, being careful not to get much on the edges as this will make them brown too quickly.
Bake for 20 minutes. After pies are done, leave in the pan for 5-10 minutes then remove and cool on a wire rack. Pies can be kept frozen or in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Enjoy at room temperature, or heated and topped with heavy cream.
I’ve personally forced mince pies on many Americans. I love watching them take a tentative bite, expecting to taste meat — no matter how much I reassure them otherwise — and being pleasantly surprised by the mingling of spiced dried fruit with moist pastry.
I’m making an even bigger batch this year because so many people loved them.
Have you made mince pies this year? Tweet us your photos @LitDarling!
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