Christmas in the USA truly is the most wonderful time of the year—but for a born-and-raised Brit, there’s one missing element to the Stateside festive season that threatens to put a dampener on the whole caboodle. I’m talking about mince pies: or, rather, the lack thereof.
Mince pies are the most essential part of a festive feast back in my home country. These simple little pastries filled with sweet, spiced fruit are the cornerstone of Christmas foodstuffs. Once the supermarkets start stocking them, it’s officially Christmastime. They’re delicious as a dessert—warm and topped with a scoop of ice-cream—or delightful as a snack. Or a Christmas day breakfast. Or as an entire food group in their own right. And, of course, are the perfect handmade gift: present them in gift boxes and voila, a special little gift or party favor.
Mincemeat, confusingly enough, is the name given by Brits to both ground meat (typically shortened to “mince”), and this delectable festive pie filling. Mincemeat traditionally contained minced meat—hence the name!—but, over the years, typically just contained fruit, much like a spiced jam in taste and consistency. Quite often, recipes call for animal fat, but this can be easily substituted for vegetarian suet or shortening. A combination of dried fruit (sultanas, candied peel, currants), apples, orange zest, sugar and brandy, it’s a little bit sweet, a little bit tangy, a little bit spicy, and (quite often) rather boozy to taste. It basically tastes like Christmas in a jar.
So, naturally, since the local supermarkets in my small Virginia town didn’t stock mince pies (sacrilege!) I had to start making regular batches of them. Having very recently moved across country with my husband, we’re still lacking in the kitchen department, so I had to improvise with that we had. So please excuse my lack of fancy props (pictured left); please do embrace my ingenious repurposing of energy drink cans (the perfect weight for a rolling pin) and the bottom of a liquor bottles (the perfect size for cutting out pastry cups).
The degree to which you can cheat with this recipe is entirely up to you. Honestly, a packet of Jiffy pastry mix and a jar of mincemeat (which can be found online or in certain stores, including Walmart!) is all you really need. I decided to make my own pastry, because it’s a gorgeously buttery, slightly sweet crust which complements the mincemeat filling perfectly. Making mincemeat from scratch is easy as, well, pie … but ingredient-heavy and, therefore, not cheap. So yes, I used store-bought mincemeat for this recipe, but you can find a great, classic mincemeat recipe here.
Pro tips? If you have a small shaped cookie cutter, use shapes to top the pies. You can have all sorts of fun with creative lids for your festive fare. Here’s a gallery of personal favorite “designs” … and, of course, my own decidedly uglier little pies.*
*I was going for rustic charm!
- 225g or 1 cup cold butter, diced
- 350g or 2 1/4 cup plain flour
- 100g or 1/3 cup golden caster sugar
- 1 27 oz jar mincemeat
- 1 small egg
- confectioner’s sugar, to dust
For the pastry, rub the butter into the flour, then mix in the sugar and a dash of salt. Combine the pastry into a ball and knead it briefly. The dough will be fairly firm (and can be chilled for later, if that suits you!).
Preheat the oven to 400. Line 18 holes of two 12-hole muffin tins, by pressing small walnut-sized balls of pastry into each hole. Spoon mincemeat into the pies, enough to fill each pastry cup (pictured, right).
Take slightly smaller balls of pastry than before and pat them out between your hands to make round lids, big enough to cover the pies. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges gently together to seal—you don’t need to seal them with milk or egg as they will stick on their own. (The pies may now be frozen for up to 1 month).
Beat the egg and brush the tops of the pies. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. To serve, lightly dust with confectioner’s sugar. These are best served warm; they will keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container and can be reheated at your convenience!
What are your favorite festive recipes? Tweet us @litdarling!