le creuset wonders

I made good bread.  I mean, really good bread.  All thanks to my new baby: 


Cook's Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread is a variation on Jim Lehey's No-Knead version, which started a craze after it was published in the New York Times. It requires very little work, just a lot of time to rest and rise.  The crust is deliciously crispy, but not too thick, and the consistency of the bread is perfect.  If you try this, remember to replace the plastic knob of your le creuset dutch oven with a stainless steel one so it doesn't melt in in the hot oven.

homemade mince meat and mince pies


In December, frustrated by the expensive jars of mince meat I have to hunt out for Christmas in U.S. grocery stories, I decided to make my own.  Delia Smith told me it would be easy.  And the actual mince-meat-making wasn't too bad; it was the darn candied peel that made this recipe a week-long affair.  Apparently Americans have not yet discovered the wonder of candied peel.  Unable to find it at Whole Foods or Harris Teeter, I went to the web and found recipes to make my own.  

After a few days of waiting for my peel to dry, I stocked up on raisins, sultanas ("golden raisins" in the States), currants, and apples, and got chopping.  I combined Delia Smith's recipe with this recipe from BBC Good Foods because I was not excited about using, or waiting another few days to order, shredded suet (another very un-American ingredient).

The smell of this stuff is incredible as it slowly warms in the oven.  A sealed jar will last a good few months; I still have one in the pantry.  And they make great gifts. I even (somewhat ironically) took one back to England for Christmas.

homemade mince meat


  • 2 1/2 - 3 apples, cored and finely chopped
  • 500g mixture of raisins, sultanas (golden raisins), and currants
  • 100g candied citrus peel, finely chopped (or ready-chopped mixed peel)
  • 50g blanched almonds, chopped
  • 175g light muscovado or soft dark brown sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice (This is also a British invention. It's a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, coriander, ginger, and cloves.)
  • .5 tsp ground cinnamon
  • nutmeg for grating
  • 5 tbsp brandy (plus a bit extra to add later)
  • 150g unsalted butter


  1. Put all the ingredients, except the butter, in a bowl.  Stir well. Cover and refrigerate overnight (aim for 12 hours) so all the juices mingle.
  2. The next day, put the fruit mixture in a large baking dish or roasting tin, cover it with foil, and warm it in a low-heat oven (225°F / 120°C) for 30 minutes or so.  
  3. Meanwhile, sterilize the mason jars by washing them in hot water and drying them in the low oven.
  4. Melt the butter and stir it through the warmed fruit.  At this point I popped it back in the oven for another 10 minutes and added a little more brandy (I like a drunken mince pie!)
  5. Divide the mixture between the warm jars and put the lids on.  Leave them to cool.  The lids should seal themselves.
  6. These will keep for up to 6 months in a cool, dark place.  

mum's mince pies


These are the best I've ever tasted.  And I've tasted a LOT of mince pies.  You can make the pastry by hand or using a food processor (I like the feel of the breadcrumbs forming under my fingers).

shortcrust pastry ingredients

  • 8 oz plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 5-6 oz unsalted butter (cold)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3-4 tbsp cold water


  1. Sift flour with a pinch of salt into mixing bowl.  Cut 5oz of the butter into the flour with a knife and, as soon as the pieces are well-coated with flour, rub in with fingers until the mixture looks and feels like fine breadcrumbs.  Add more butter if necessary.  (This part works well in the food processor.)
  2. Make a well in the centre, add the egg-yolk and a little water, and mix.  Make a dough with your fingers, adding extra water if needed to make it firm.
  3. Turn onto a floured surface, knead slightly, roll out as thinly as possible and cut with mince pie cutters (about 3 inches; I use a slightly smaller one on the top than on the bottom).  
  4. Lightly grease a muffin pan with butter and add the bottoms of the mince pies.  Place a small spoonful of mince meat in each pie, making sure not to overfill (or it will leak in the oven).
  5. Take each top and lightly dab cold water just inside the rim on one side.  Place each top  on the filled pie, watered-side down, and press slightly to seal.  The water helps the top stick to the bottom.
  6. Lightly prick the top of each pie with a fork three times.  For a slightly more golden top, brush lightly with beaten egg.
  7. Place them in a preheated oven at 375°F / 190°C for 20-minutes or so until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and cool on a rack.  
  8. As they cool, liberally sprinkle the tops with caster sugar.  This is a super superfine sugar sold in Britain, but you can find it on the shelves here in Durham at Whole Foods and Harris Teeter.  It's a bit pricey, though, so you can use superfine sugar, or even confectioner's sugar (although I'm not really a fan of the latter on mince pies).  

In proper British tradition, serve with a cup of tea, and be sure to make a wish when you bite into your first mince pie of the season!