December 31, 2010
There are certain things in life that evoke memories from your childhood. The smell of your mother's perfume as she tends to your scraped knee, the taste of holiday treats that were baked, unfailingly, each year until it turned into a tradition, and watching those old movies that you can remember from when they first came out. For me, Christmas memories are filled with the smell of cinnamon and spice drifting through the house, and the sounds of "Oh Holy Night" and other Christmas hymns as the music softly strains through a winter evening. I almost forgot. It also, absolutely, without fail, includes the rich taste of Mince Pies.
These little pies are a Christmas & New Years staple in Wales, where I grew up amid rolling, patchwork hills dotted with woolly sheep, and winding roads lined with brick row houses and the occasional thatched roof cottage. While my mother continued to cook mainly American cuisine at home, she threw in the occasional British treat that we had grown to love. Every Christmas she would go to a little bakery that sold the best mince pies, and the box she brought home would be received by us all in a hushed silence. As the lid to this box full of treasure was lifted, you could almost see the lights from heaven shining down on this glorious concoction:) And if you listened really close, you might even hear the "Hallelujah Chorus" being sung. O.K...I may be exaggerating just a little, but they were really that good.
These pies are a traditional British sweet pastry, that is usually eaten during Christmas and New Years. They can have a pastry top, or my favorite is a mince tart. The mincemeat filling is made from apple, raisins, sultanas, candied peel, spices and either suet or vegetable shortening. Mincemeat originally did contain meat in addition to the fruit, as the fruit, spices, and alcohol provided a means to preserve the meat. But nowadays the meat is usually left out. There are some that still make it with meat, but I prefer not to include it.
This year, I had a craving for these little pies that I couldn't get rid of. So I determined I would make my own - because really, where was I going to find Mince Pies in my little Missouri town? Well, my hopes of making some from scratch were dashed, since I couldn't find half of the ingredients I needed, so I settled for a jar of mincemeat filling that I found. After tasting the filling from the jar, I realized it needed some doctoring. So I added a little orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon and rum flavoring, and pronounced it decent enough. The Brandy Glaze was an experiment of random ingredients, but the end result was very tasty. The ingredients for the glaze are a rough estimate, but it should be fairly close.
Mince Pies with Brandy Glaze
1 jar mincemeat filling (or whatever homemade mincemeat filling you like)
1 orange, zested and juiced
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp rum flavoring
1 1/2 cups + scant 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
7 Tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 Tbsp ice water
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp Brandy
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the shortcrust pastry:
Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the flour. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour, lifting the mixture up and dropping it back into the bowl – you want to keep the mixture light and airy. Keep mixing until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the ice water into the bowl, a little at a time, and mix through with a fork. Use your fingers to bring the pastry together; it’s ready when and the sides of the bowl are clean and it’s formed a solid ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the pastry to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
For the mince pies
Heat oven to 400F. In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix your jar of mincemeat together with the orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon and rum flavoring. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Lightly grease your tart pans
Flour your work surface and roll out the pastry as thinly as possible (about 1/8 inch). Cut out approximately 12 rounds with a pastry cutter, and place them in the base of your mini tart pans. Prick all the pie bases with a fork to stop them rising. Fill each case with about 3 tablespoons of the mincemeat mix – don’t overfill your cases or the mixture will leak through the pastry when cooking. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet, and bake for approx 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.
For the glaze:
In a small microwavable bowl, combine the powdered sugar, brandy, butter, vanilla, and enough milk to reach your desired consistency. Microwave in 10 second intervals until the alcohol has cooked off, but the brandy flavor remains. Drizzle the brandy glaze over the tart filling. Store in the refrigerator and serve cold, with a dollop of whipped cream if desired.
If you want to make mini pies instead of tarts. Brush the edges of the bottom pastry with a little milk. Cut out another 12 rounds for the tops, and place over the filling. Pinch the pie edges together to seal. Brush over with egg wash and pierce the tops with a fork. Bake in the oven for approx 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 1 minute before placing on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle the pastry tops with powdered sugar and serve warm or cold.
I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and have a Happy New Years!