Mince Pies

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So, I’ve made 2 1/2 giant jars of mincemeat… so that will keep me baking mince pies all December!

Mince pies are one of those classic Christmas traditions. Our mince pies have medieval origins, most likely from the crusades where meat and spices were brought back from abroad. The reason mincemeat is called meat is because that’s exactly what it used to be: most often mutton, but also beef, rabbit, pork or game. Mince pies were first served in the early middle ages as quite big, filled with a mixture of finely minced meat, chopped up fruit and a preserving liquid. Mincemeat originally came about as a good way of preserving meat, without salting, curing, smoking or drying it. Pie crusts were known as coffins, and used as a vessel to cook delicate foods or pre-boiled meat fillings. Pastry was little more than flour mixed with water to form a mouldable dough. It was designed to be discarded once the contents of the pie had been eaten, although perhaps the poor may have eaten the cast offs. Many medieval recipes combine sweet and savoury ingredients. Sweetness came in the form of honey or dried fruits as sugar was not widely available. Along with spices such as saffron and ginger, dried fruits such as figs and dates were the preserve of the wealthy as they had to be imported into the country. During the Stuart and Georgian times, mince pies were a status symbol at Christmas as the very rich liked to show off at their Christmas parties by having pies made is different shapes, like stars, crescents, hearts and flowers. Liberally using spices in your food was one way to show your peers just how much money you had. Due to the costly nature of the ingredients, spiced pies were served on important feast days such as Easter or Christmas. As the pies were often baked in a rectangular shape, people began to associate them with the manger Jesus had laid in. Soon dough effigies of the baby Jesus were placed on top of the pies to reinforce the religious connection. The trio of spices used, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, is said to be symbolic of the gifts given to the Baby Jesus by the three wise men in Bethlehem. But due to 17th century Puritans, the pies were criticised as being idolatries and they became run shapes by the end of the century. Meat began to vanish from the recipe around the Victorian era although some recipes from as late as 1850-60 still include meat.

Nowadays, we all recognise the fruity little pie from the shops – but did you know how easy it is to make it yourself? It is a shame that after such a long time this food item that was so popular and made by everyone across Britain for centuries that hardly anyone makes their own and chooses to buy them from the supermarket. It is about time that these traditional recipes are reintroduced into the home.

 

Mince Pies

(Makes 12)

-165g plain flour -25g ground almonds -125g salted butter -55g granulated/caster sugar -1 egg –Mincemeat -1 beaten egg -Pinch of salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a 12-hole baking tray with butter.
  2. In a bowl, rub the flour and ground almonds with the butter using your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
  3. Mix in the sugar and then the egg. Form a ball of dough.
  4. Tip the dough out onto a clean, floured surface. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll it out until it is about 2mm thick. Using a stamper that is slightly bigger than the muffin holes in the tray, stamp out the bases for the mince pies. Gently remove them from the rest of the dough and place one per greased hole.
  5. Using a dessert spoon, ladle out one spoonful of mincemeat per pie in the middle of the pastry.
  6. Using a stamper the size of the holes in the tray, stamp out the tops of the pies. Place the eaten egg in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Using a pastry brush, paint the beaten egg around the edge of the lid. Put the lid egg-washed face down on top of the mince pie. Press the edges together. Brush a little more of the egg-wash over the top and using a sharp knife, slit two small holes in the top of the pie to allow hot air to escape during the cooking process.
  7. Repeat for all of the mince pies. Keep squishing the pastry dough back together and rolling it out again until you have used it all up.
  8. Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the mincemeat is hot and bubbling. Remove from the oven and leave the tin on a wire rack to cool before using a knife to slide down the side of each mince pie to leaver them out. Serve with mulled wine if you are an adult with one of those Christmas headaches, or hot milk if you are a minor, or feeling like Santa Clause.

 


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