wholemeal mince pies with spiced whisky fruits

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Wholemeal Mince Pies with Spiced Whisky Fruits

Shortcrust Pastry:

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Notes:

  • 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.

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chilli bacon jam

Bacon is a funny thing. To the untrained eye, it’s a pretty ugly piece of meat. Streaked with ribbons of fat, it’s commonly cut from the sides, back or belly of a pig before being cured with copious amounts of sodium chloride (salt) or ‘brine’ (a mixture of salt, sodium ascorbate and potassium nitrate amongst other things). The meat is then air dried, boiled or smoked to in pieces before being sliced and sold in rashers or strips. The end product, as you’d well know, looks like this:


So why is bacon, of all things, loved to the point of absolute fanaticism? The term ‘bacon mania‘ has even been coined to describe the ever-increasing fervency of bacon enthusiasts around the world, particularly in the United States, Canada and other western countries. There are bacon products ranging from painted bacon coffins to an award-winning smoky Bakon Vodka alongside another product appropriately named baconlube (which pushes the boundaries of it’s maker J&D’s tagline, ‘Everything should taste like bacon’). But, ahem… moving on.

According to scientists, the explanation mostly centres around a Japanese term devised in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Tokyo chemist and university professor. Ikeda’s work isolated a separate taste substance from the four commonly accepted ‘tastes’ of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. He called this new taste ‘umami’, a combination of the Japanese words for ‘delicious’ (umai うまい) and ‘taste’ (mi).

So what’s this got to do with bacon? Well, to throw more science at you, the taste profile of umami comes from the tongue’s detection of an amino acid named L-glutamate. You can read more about the process here, but for the purposes of this blog post all you need to know is that umami basically makes everything taste good. That’s why Ikeda later went on to create and patent a chemical version of umami called monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common additive in Chinese takeaway. But, well… let’s just say the world is slowly rediscovering that natural is better.

Foods rich in umami include most meats, anchovies, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce, shellfish, seaweed and vegetable extracts (Vegemite and Marmite). The good news is bacon has six different types of umami in it. No wonder it tastes so darn good.

Okay. Now that you’ve learnt why you want to eat bacon, I’m going to tell you how you can eat bacon, with a spoon, straight out of a jar. Sound weird? Yep, I thought so too, but after reading this recipe by Martha Stewart I was keen to experiment.

So, fast forward to time spent at a friend’s house drinking mint tea whilst avoiding the nose of a curious Weimaraner. Over the course of an afternoon, we caught up on four weeks worth of conversation whilst chopping bacon, eventually producing a pot full of caramelised boozy relish that, despite initial doubts, was… well, umami in a jar.

Comparing my revised recipe to the original from Martha Stewart, you’ll see that I’ve added a range of aromatics whilst slightly reducing the sugar content. The finished product has lingering chilli heat and the bitterness of coffee whilst also being mellowed by sweet caramelised shallots, earthy maple syrup and brown sugar. It’s perfect straight from the jar, but if you feel like branching out it also partners beautifully with scrambled eggs, soft goat’s cheese, burgers, fresh rocket and crusty sourdough.

To conclude: bacon in a jar? It works. Try it, I’m pretty confident that you’ll be glad you did.

Chilli Bacon Jam
Makes 2 cups

  • 600g good quality smoked rasher bacon
  • 4 eschallots (brown shallots), thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3/4 cup (180ml/6 fl oz) whisky (substitute with brandy, or just water if preferred)
  • 2/3 cup (160ml/7 fl oz) strong brewed coffee
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Cut your bacon rashers into one inch pieces, then fry them in a large pot with a splash of oil until the meat is crisped and the fat has rendered out. Remove with a slotted spoon, then drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of bacon fat from the pot. Add in your shallots and garlic over medium heat, and cook until the shallots are translucent. Add in the spices, brown sugar, chosen alcohol (if using) and a pinch of salt, cook for 3-4 minutes before adding in your other liquid ingredients: vinegar, coffee and maple syrup. Bring to the boil, then allow the liquid to reduce slightly for about five minutes.

Add in your reserved bacon, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes before stirring and allowing the mixture to evaporate. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the mixture is darkened, syrupy and fragrant.

Once at the desired consistency, allow the mixture to cool. Skim any oil off the surface with a spoon, and discard it alongside the bay leaves.

Transfer your cooled mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process until it reaches the consistency of a chunky jam; you should still be able to see crunchy, crisp little bits of bacon amongst the syrupy, boozy spiced shallots. Taste, and add extra salt or pepper as required.

This mixture is delicious warm, eaten in it’s purest form on a slice of freshly toasted baguette. If you’d rather resist it’s syrupy deliciousness, it will keep well in the fridge (stored in sterilised jars or an airtight container) for up to four weeks. Read on for more tips and serving suggestions.

Notes:

  • This jam is not suitable for canning or longer-term preservation, unless you’re following the strict method of ‘pressure canning‘ to minimise risks of spoilage. Meat is a low acid food (with a pH <4.6) so it’s an optimum breeding ground for bacteria if stored over a long period of time. Read more about the risks here.
  • A preferable method for storing the jam for up to three months would be to freeze it in an airtight container. Though if I were you, I’d just get on with eating it as quickly as possible. Then I’d make another batch.
  • If you’re caffeine intolerant or just not into coffee, there’s no harm in removing it from the recipe. Just substitute with the same quantity of water. When added, the coffee contributes a richness, depth of flavour and slight bitterness to counteract the sweet stickiness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. An actual ‘coffee’ flavour is not really detectable. However, if you’re omitting it, just make sure that you taste your mixture for balance. Add extra salt or another splash of raw vinegar if necessary.
  • As per the coffee, there is no need to add alcohol if you don’t like it. Just add in an appropriate amount of water, or even orange juice if desired. If you are into alcohol and want to diverge from the whisky pathway, as mentioned above I’d substitute some good-quality brandy (Cognac, Armagnac).
  • If you really like chilli, you can substitute the dried chilli flakes (or add to them!) with 2 fresh jalapenos (finely chopped), a dollop of Sriracha or chipotles in adobe sauce (2 chillies, finely chopped). I’d also imagine that an injection of fresh orange rind during the cooking process would add another beautiful layer of complimentary flavour. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This jam tastes good on pretty much everything. My serving suggestions include:

  • slathering it onto a burger bun then topping it with a juicy beef patty, sliced tomatoes and arugula (rocket)
  • eating it thickly spread on crisp crostini with a cloud of soft goat’s cheese (or blue cheese, if you’re brave) and watercress
  • spooning it onto a pile of soft, creamy scrambled eggs then devouring the lot with some thick-sliced, charred sourdough bread or potato rosti
  • spreading it onto one half of a soft white roll, then topping it with piles of fragrant, tender pulled pork (try this amazing recipe for pulled pork by Stephanie Le). Double pork + sticky, boozy chilli sauce = heaven.
  • stuffing it into a chicken breast with soft, mild goat’s cheese or brie, frying the skin til crisp then sticking the lot on a lined baking tray into a preheated oven (180 degrees C / 350 f) for about 20 minutes (or until cooked through). It’d be amazing with a rocket and vine-ripened tomato salad, dressed with aged balsamic, lemon and olive oil.
  • I imagine it’d even taste good in a great big spoonful atop creamy porridge oats, with a crumble of walnuts, though I haven’t ventured that far yet. Most of it’s gone straight into my mouth, from the jar, with a spoon…

Oh, just in case you’re curious, here’s a picture of that beautiful Weimaraner puppy I mentioned earlier in the post. His name’s Royce, and yep, being a puppy he pees everywhere. But he’s still ridiculously cute:

Naw! If I didn’t live in a shoebox I’d take him home…

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