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
- 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.
- 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.
- Meanwhile, sterilize the mason jars by washing them in hot water and drying them in the low oven.
- 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!)
- Divide the mixture between the warm jars and put the lids on. Leave them to cool. The lids should seal themselves.
- 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
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- Lightly prick the top of each pie with a fork three times. For a slightly more golden top, brush lightly with beaten egg.
- 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.
- 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!