Monday, 10 December 2012

Recipe: Christmas mince pies

Mince pies, as baked by EJ
I used to think I hated mince pies - my childhood Christmasses were filled with uninspiring supermarket variations. I always liked the idea of mince pies, but somehow the processed single-colour spiced filling was always a bit of an anti-climax. But one Christmas I learnt the truth about mince pies. When you make them yourself, you make them better. 

Alas, this year I am without a kitchen of my own - so this is the first year for almost a decade in which I haven't made mince pies! But it won't stop me from sharing my recipe with you.

Being vegetarian I never use suet in cooking (especially as vegetarian suet is pretty much just made of evil hydrogenated trans-fats - no thanks!), so eight years ago, I investigated vegetarian mince pie recipes and have adapted the mincemeat below from a recipe by the goddess of retro vegetarian cooking, Rose Elliott. I pair this with my recipe for the perfect short crust pastry, which is developed, tweaked and perfected further every Christmas. Reader, this recipe is truly a labour of love - and I am pleased to share it with you.

Some advice before you get started.....

ALWAYS make your own mince meat

Whatever people may say about making your own pastry (and believe me, it is important), when it comes to mince pies, it's the filling that counts. So please don't cop out and use store bought mincemeat - you will regret it. Have some self-respect, pick up your wooden spoon and spend a day filling your home with the beautiful cinnamonny alcoholic spices of Christmas.

Don't try this one hungover

Seriously, one year when I was at uni I had a whole day planned to make mincemeat and ruined it by having a heavy night the evening before (I'm not even a big drinker, I have no idea what I was thinking). Being me, I stubbornly forced myself to make the mincemeat the next day with a pretty bad hangover. Just. Don't. Do. It. I turned what should have been a day of joy and Christmassy goodness into an agonisingly conflicted day in which I knew I was surrounded by the sweet aromas of festivity but really just felt like I wanted to chuck the bottle of brandy out of the window. (FYI - that was the year that I was accused by a very dear friend and critic of not putting enough brandy into the mincemeat, just sayin').

You don't have to sweeten your pastry

I often make this recipe un-sweetened, this is an especially good idea if you're planning to pair the mince pies with ice cream to make them into more of a dessert. I also think that sometimes we get used to sickly sweet processed versions of foods, where sugar is used as a substitute for flavour. The dried fruit in the mincemeat contains plenty of sugar which sweetens into delicious syrups as it bakes. Try these with unsweetened shortcrust pastry and they may surprise you.

I have a (not so) secret ingredient in my pastry

It's vodka. If you substitute half the water for vodka, you'll end up with a pastry containing enough moisture to hold together and work beautifully, which then bakes into a lovely light shortcrust with just the right amount of crumble. Apparently the vodka evaporates as the pastry bakes. I heard this trick anecdotally years ago and thought I'd give it a try - I've never looked back.

Use your pastry efficiently

When mixing your pastry, don't overwork the dough. It's not bread, so it doesn't need to be kneaded, just combined and even. Plan to roll out your pastry as few times as possible, the more you work pastry the less structurally sound it will become - and the less aesthetic your bake.

For the mincemeat: (enough for a whole tonne of mince pies)

225g chopped dried pears
200g sultanas
100g glace cherries, chopped
100g finely chopped mixed peel
100g chopped dates
100g chopped apricots
50g chopped prunes
100g flaked almonds
100ml brandy
100ml orange juice
1.5tsp cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp mixed spice

For the shortcrust pastry (enough for 12 small / medium mince pies)

140g plain flour
90g butter (chopped but chilled)
1 egg yolk
1/2 tbsp water
1/2 tbsp vodka
1/2 tbsp icing sugar (if sweet)

To make the mincemeat:

(if you keep the finished mincemeat in a sterilised jar, you can prepare this a few months in advance and save until Christmas)

Combine all of the chopped dried fruit and flaked almonds, add the spices, brandy and orange juice and stir through. Cover and leave for 30 minutes for the fruit to absorb the liquid, stir through and leave standing again for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 180C. Transfer the mincemeat into a pyrex dish with a glass lid and bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour.

Allow the mincemeat to cool and then transfer into sterilised glass jars, seal and keep until you're ready to make your mince pies.

Mincemeat is ace

To make the pastry:
(This is also good made in advance and frozen - just make sure you wrap it tightly in cling film and remove the cling film when you defrost to avoid the transmission of condensation to the dough)

Sift the flour and icing sugar (if using) into a bowl. Add the chopped butter and rub in with your fingers until combined. Add the egg yolk and gradually pour in the vodka and water and work gently into a medium-soft dough. Do not over-work.

Wrap the dough in cling film and pop it in the fridge for an hour.

To assemble the pies:

Pre-heat the oven to 200C

Lightly oil or grease your tins.

Flour a clean work surface and a rolling pin, roll out the chilled dough until it's 3-4mm thick, cut out pastry discs using a fluted cutter the correct size for your tin.

Place a pastry disc in each tin and push gently to the sides, place a spoonful of mincemeat into each pastry disc and top with a pastry lid (I usually go for stars or snowflakes, if you go for discs, be sure to prick the tops to allow air to escape). Be careful not to overfill - as the filling can bubble out as the pies bake.

Bake on the middle shelf for 10-12 minutes or until just golden, always keep an eye on the first batch to work out the optimum baking time for your oven.

If you have too much mince meat don't worry - it keeps for ages and is great served warm with ice cream, equally good eaten straight from the jar.

I decorated my finished mince pies with a little icing snowflake (you know how much I love a plunger cutter and some ready-to-roll icing) and a silver ball. Perfecto.


  1. I was always worried that Suet-less mincemeat wouldn't last, glad to hear it does. I need to make my second batch of mincemeat so I'll be making this one!

  2. Suet-less mince meat is the best! I think the naturally high sugar content of the fruit and alcohol help to keep everything nicely preserved :) Rose Elliott says that suet is a hangover from when mince pies contained actual meat, so isn't necessary. I hope you enjoy making your mince pies!