How to make perfect mince pies is a strange topic for me. I am not ashamed to admit that, experienced cook as I am, I avoid making pastry. Surely cooking is subjective so we cook what we like to eat – my favourite is innovative crazy vegetarian food but that´s another story for another blog. The fact that I am not a pie fan is probably the reason that I find pastry a terrible bore – messy, flour all over the kitchen, dirty surfaces, cloggy hands. You know what I mean.
But there is one exception and that is mincepies at Christmas time. Los Castaños pies are famous and this year, even though we will be celebrating with just the family for a change, I am still making them. Every year I take a dozen across to the town hall as a gesture of gratitude for their help all year. They say they are wonderful but maybe they are just being polite as the taste is totally different from anything in the Spanish culinary repertoire.
I make a paté sucrée but you can buy pastry ready made of course as I imagine most people do these days but I don´t believe it´s half as good as the pastry I will show you. And you could buy mince pies if you are in mince pie land which is I guess limited to UK.
First the mincemeat. This is a tried and tested year after year recipe that never goes wrong – how can it? It can be made as late as Christmas Eve as I had to one year. Or you can make it and keep it. It is just as good on the first day as six months later folded into a cake. Or so my daughter tells me. I don´t make cakes either. You will be beginning to wonder how I managed to get the coveted Best Inland Hotel award from the Academia Gastronomica Malagueña!
This recipe was discovered by my late aunt who abhorred fat of any kind and it was originally called Refrigerator Mincemeat which makes no sense as with the amount of booze I put in it, it doesn´t need to be refrigerated!
The Perfect Mincemeat
Mix together in a large bowl the following ingredients:
1 kg of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants, apricots, prunes etc)
1/2 kg cooking apples (none available in Spain so I use Granny Smith)
1/4 kg grapes without pips
1/2 kg brown sugar (original recipe says “soft light brown”
a handful almonds (original recipe says 2 oz)
2 lemons, juice (and zest if you like)
2 level teaspoons mixed spice (not available in Spain so I made my own of cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cloves)
4 tablespoons booze (rum, brandy, sherry, whatever takes your fancy)
As you can see it is all very variable and changeable accordingly to what you have available in your area. I put a lot more booze in than 4 tablespoons and leave the mixture out all night so the fruit can plump up in the booze. But go carefully, you don´t want a runny mixture just rather sloppy.
Then using whatever food processor you have, process the mixture – but not too much. It needs to still have a bite and a crunch. You can see the perfect texture at the end of this video.
The Perfect Pastry
This pastry is really well behaved and tastes divine.
250 gr butter
175 gr vanilla sugar (or vanilla essence)
2 eggs beaten
500 gr plain flour
Using an electric mixer beat butter and sugar till creamy but not fluffy. Add eggs slowly scraping down sides as necessary.
Sift the flour and add slowly to mixture.
When it comes together as a crumbly mixure remove and knead gently by hand.
Chill or freeze.
One recipe of mincemeat and 2 of pastry makes about 85 pies
This year as we are a smaller group I made a quarter recipe of mincemeat and 1 recipe of pastry and we have 36 mince pies and a few jam tarts.
The name is confusing. There is no meat in the fruity mixture. There used to be years ago and people still add suet which is the fat around the kidneys of a cow or a sheep. Yuk!! Others use other forms of fat in the mistaken belief that it is necessary. It is not. For historical info on the subject check out wikipedia.