It’s 2:42am on December 25th, 2012: officially Christmas day. You’re probably wondering why I’m up so early. Well… it’s not because I’m excited about raiding Christmas stockings or unwrapping illusive presents. It’s more to do with the fact that I haven’t yet been to bed, and I need to stay awake to let my volleyball-playing husband through our apartment block’s security gate. Sigh. One of the hazards of letting your husband put his keys into your handbag is that sometimes he (or you) forgets to take them out. In this case, though, it was my fault. I forgot to leave them on our friend’s kitchen counter when leaving a Christmas eve party in a post-jovial state of fatigue.
So, now you know why I’m sleepily writing a recipe for mince pies after 2 o’clock on Christmas morning. In all honesty, it’s rather nice… the air outside is cool, still and permeated by the sound of chirping crickets. Very occasionally, a car drives down the highway, leaving a hum in it’s wake. Yep, I like the night hours. Even though I know I’ll be sleepy the next day.
Anyway, back to the mince pies. I’m actually eating one as I type, the evidence of which is a buttery crumb that’s embedded itself in my keyboard. I’m eating more for analytical value than out of hunger, and consequentially, each ‘chew’ is quite contemplative. First you get the crisp crunch of buttery pastry, followed by the sweet plumpness of whisky-infused apricots, the chew of raisins and some soft notes of spice and ginger. Delicious, at any time of the day or night.
Growing up, I was exposed to many Christmas traditions, both in the northern and southern hemispheres. It was one of the benefits of being a diasporic child with scattered family and friends; in fact, I probably spent more childhood Christmases in the United Kingdom than in my ‘official’ home of Australia. Understandably, this fragmented upbringing has led to an eclectic range of Christmas associations that are embedded deep within my psyche. These range from the gentle drone of a fan in the deep, dark of night to the experience of waking up by a frozen window, wearing woolen socks and flannelette pyjamas. But despite the differences in climate, cuisine and culture, there is one Christmas treat that I remember eating, no matter where I was.
Can you guess? If you said the ‘fruit mince pie’, you’d be correct. If you didn’t, you’ve obviously not been following the theme in this early morning assembly of words and… I guess I don’t blame you. Or me, as I’m writing this in a sleep-deprived state.
When I was a child, our family’s mince pie of choice was Mr Kipling, the quintessentially English treat that came in a shiny red-and-white box with embossed lettering. I loved them, and often kept the shiny foil cases after I’d polished off every morsel. I still have a soft spot for Mr Kipling whenever I see the festive displays in supermarkets; however, in recent years I’ve been making an effort to increase both the health value and the ethical quality of the food I eat, even during the indulgent Christmas season.
So, by means of a (final) introduction to the following recipe, I just want to say that the humble mince pie is a wonderful thing. Eaten hot or cold, in a bowl or in your hands, they’re highly adaptable and can easily morph from a snack to dessert à la mode in a matter of minutes. The recipe I’ve included has been influenced by a number of sources, both from the internet and from various baking cookbooks I’ve collected over the years. It’s predominantly wholemeal, suet-free, and as organic as I could make it.
Personally, I feel that the added booze adds a beautiful depth and complexity to the fruit mince, however if you’d prefer to omit it for personal (or parenting) reasons I’d replace it with the same quantity of apple juice, orange juice or water. It’ll be beautiful either way.
So, Merry Christmas everyone. May your day be merry, bright and delicious, even if (like me) it’s going to be dry, hot and brown rather than frosty white.
Wholemeal Mince Pies with Spiced Whisky Fruits
- 225g cold organic butter, diced
- 200g wholemeal plain flour
- 150g white plain flour
- 100g raw caster sugar
- 280g fruit mince (recipe to follow)
- 1 egg white
- icing sugar, to dust
For this recipe, you will need a 20 x 5cm hole patty tin or mini-muffin tray. Make sure that each hole is greased well with butter before you start.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Measure both your flours into a medium-sized bowl. Add in your cold butter, then rub together with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add in the sugar and a pinch of crushed sea salt. Combine into a ball, then knead slightly. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then place into the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill.
When your pastry is chilled but still workable, turn it out onto a floured surface. Divide it into two halves, then set one half aside (this will later form the tops of your mince pies). With a rolling pin, roll the other half of your pastry into a smooth disc around 0.5cm thick. Using a 6.5cm cutter, cut out approximately 18-20 rounds to form the pastry bases (re-roll any offcuts of pastry to the same thickness as required).
Insert your pastry discs into each hole, pressing well into the edges of the tin. You may find at this stage that your pastry starts to fall apart; this is entirely normal for a ‘short’ dough (as both the fat and the sugar in your mixture inhibit the gluten in the flour from binding together and becoming elastic). All you need to do is ensure that you press all the fragmented parts together thoroughly, so that they’ll adhere adequately when cooked.
When your pastry cases are complete, prick the bases with a fork to allow air to escape during the cooking process. Apply a little beaten egg white with a pastry brush to seal the surface, then add one heaped teaspoon of fruit mince into each case.
On a floured surface, roll out your reserved pastry (optional: keep a small baby-fist-sized portion aside for decorative purposes) to 0.5cm thick. Cut out 5cm rounds with a biscuit cutter or the inner lip of jam jar (as I did) then place them on top of your filled mince pies. Press around the edges lightly with your fingers to seal.
When all of your pies are completed, glaze them with a little more egg white. If desired, you can then decorate them with pastry shapes like the ‘leaf’ pattern I developed below. It’s ridiculously simple; just cut some diamond shapes from your leftover pastry, shape them into little ‘leaves’ with your hands and then press the edges lightly with the tines of a fork (see image below). Use a blunt knife to form a ‘vein’ down the middle of each leaf, then place them onto your pastry cases, pressing to aid adhesion. Brush each leaf with a little egg wash, then dust the whole lot with some raw caster sugar.
Place your finished mince pies in the oven, checking regularly, for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending upon the reliability of your oven). The pies will be done when the tops are light golden, you can smell the fragrant spices of the hot fruit mince and the pie surface is slightly firm and dry to the touch.
Leave your pies to cool in the tin on a wire rack. When sufficiently cooled, twist each pie slightly to release it from it’s mold, then lift it out carefully. Arrange on a serving platter and dust with icing sugar to serve.
Spiced Whisky Fruit Mince
- 1 small Granny Smith (green) apple; peeled, cored and grated
- 285g mixed dried fruit (I used chopped dried apricots, raisins and sultanas)
- 60g glace cherries
- 1/3 cup bitter marmalade
- 1/4 tsp mixed spice (I used Herbie’s Fragrant Sweet Spices)
- a couple of shakes of cinnamon, extra
- 1 good splash of Stone’s Ginger Wine
- 2 tbsp whisky
- 2 tbsp water
Combine all of the above in a medium sized bowl. Mix well, cover, then refrigerate overnight (or for at least 8 hours) for the liquid to absorb.
The next morning, stir your mixture well. Your fruit should be plump and fragrant, with a little thickened liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Use as per the recipe above; any leftover fruit mince can be kept refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen for up to three months.
- This recipe uses wholemeal shortcrust pastry, organic butter, organic, suet-free dried fruit filling and a touch of liquor. I’m not going to go as far as to call it ‘healthy’, but it’s definitely healthier than the shop-bought versions which contain vegetable shortening, refined sugar and lard.
- ‘Shortcrust’ pastry got it’s name from the fact that the protein strands are actually ‘shorter’ than in normal pastry, because each flour particle is coated in fat (in this case, butter) and sugar. This prohibits the development of elasticity and consequential chewiness.
- Flowing on from this, shortcrust is actually the most crumbly, delicious, melt-in-your-mouth pastry around. The normal ratio for flour to fat for this pastry is 1:1. However, the quantities above will still give you a beautifully tender, buttery result (whilst being a little better for the waistline).
- Any leftover fruit mince can easily be transformed into fruit pillow biscuits, these fruit mince scrolls or these deliciously fruity truffles. As above, you can also freeze it in an airtight container for a few months.