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The best mince pies ever!

Mince pies are a peculiarly British thing. Traditionally (and by that I mean literally hundreds of years ago) they included meat along with the dried fruit and spices. Post-reformation they were associated with idolatry and Catholicism and fell massively out of favour with the authorities who seemed to think that a humble pie would corrupt the very souls of those who ate them. By Victorian times they were back on the plate, this time without the meat for the most part, and baked as individual pies instead of the larger pie of earlier times. Now they are an integral part of Christmas fare and shops start selling them months before December.

I confess I am not a fan of commercial mince pies on the whole. This year I did buy a box of the Marks and Spencer ‘superior’ ones which were more than acceptable. Others in my family were partial to the Wenzels ones, which were ok but not great in my opinion. But homemade mince pies are another matter.

I didn’t get round to making any until Boxing Day (another British thing – 26th Dec). I usually use a recipe from a 1992 Sainsbury’s cookbook Traditional Christmas Cooking by Glynn Christian. According to this Amazon link it’s worth almost £100! What?! I couldn’t find my copy at the weekend – it is quite a thin book and had got squashed on the bookshelf and I only just found it. Anyway. Faced with no recipe, social media and google are your friends folks (of course by no recipe I don’t actually mean no recipe because I have a lot of cook books…). On Instagram I happened to see a post of some yummy looking mince pies which the author said were from a recipe by Josceline Dimbleby – also in a Sainsbury’s cook book. A few minutes of thorough searching and I found the recipe written on this website/blog. Hurray!

Don’t roll the pastry too thin or it will just shatter and crumble as you get the pies out of the tins

The pastry is made with orange zest and orange juice, and loads of butter, and is really delicious. The addition of a blob of cream cheese on top of the mincemeat is inspired. I didn’t add any more sugar to it, there is plenty already in the pastry and the mincemeat if you ask me. I also found that for my oven 17 minutes at Gas Mark 6 was perfect for a fully baked pie with a nice dark golden colour.

These mince pies went down very well with all who tasted them, and will be definitely added to my Christmas repertoire. In fact I might just have to make some more today as they’ve all gone now.

Just out of the tins
Ready to go!

Recipe for 24 pies. Thanks to Josceline Dimbleby! And also to Antonia for writing it out on her blog.

You will need 1 or 2 shallow 12 hole tart tins, a 3″ (or 8 cm) cutter and a 2″ or (5cm) cutter.

When you start rolling the pastry heat the oven to Mark 6; 400 F or 200 C.

For orange pastry –
500g plain flour
175g icing or caster sugar (I used icing sugar – I think it contributes to a beautiful texture, but maybe that’s in my imagination).
375g butter or equivalent weight of butter and lard or white vegetable fat if you prefer – but make sure that most of it is butter!
finely grated rind and juice of one large orange

For filling –
250g full fat cream cheese
50g caster sugar – I skipped this
500-625g mincemeat
milk, to glaze

And caster sugar or icing sugar to finish

1. Sift flour and sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub these into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

2. Stir in the grated orange rind and finally the juice, a little at a time, until the mixture sticks together and you can form a ball.

3. Divide into 2, and pat into a flattish discs, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes. It’s much easier to handle half the quantity at a time.

4. Mix together cream cheese and sugar. (I didn’t bother with the sugar). Set to one side.

5. On a lightly floured surface, and roll out to about 3-5mm.

6. Cut out rounds with a 3 inch pastry cutter and line greased mince pie tins with these discs.

7. Fill to half depth with mincemeat and then top with a teaspoonful of cream cheese.

8. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out tops with a 2-inch cutter. Moisten the edges with water and place on top of filled bases, pressing lightly to seal.

9. Brush tops with milk and bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.

10. As the pastry is so crumbly, allow these to cool in the tin before very gently easing from the tin with a rounded knife.

11. Serve warmed in the oven and sprinkled with icing sugar.

And for more inspiration for mince pies take a look at Stuart Heritage’s article about modern takes on the traditional mince pie.