The first mince pie of the year is a momentous occasion. I hope, for you, it happened some time ago, heralding the beginning of your Christmas approach, the culinary equivalent of the moment when you switch on the fairy lights. Somehow for me, mince pies almost passed me by this year. I was three weeks deep into December, and not a spot of mincemeat had crossed my lips. Needless to say, I’ve made up for lost time.
I think sometimes the humble mince pie gets unfairly overlooked in favour of fancier or flash-in-the-pan trendy Christmas bakes. Perhaps that’s because there is a surprising number of disappointing specimens around: dry and mealy, or gloopy and overly-sweet. And the less said about the standard of some of the pastry you find on mince pies, the better. But, really, a good mince pie is hard to beat: tender, buttery pastry – mine has a little orange zest running through it – that just holds its own weight, generously filled with rich, fragrant, luscious mincemeat.
Of course, you don’t need to make your own mincemeat. If you fancy it, my recipe for homemade mincemeat is here, but this mince pie recipe uses exactly a standard supermarket jar of mincemeat, and honestly, there are quite enough other things to do around Christmas without adding to your to-do list.
But if you’re going to go to the effort of making your own pies, you might as well zhuzh up the mincemeat you’re using, to make the finished bake as special as possible. Toast 50g of flaked almonds or chopped nuts in a pan until they start turning golden, and you can smell them – keep a close eye as nuts catch and burn very quickly – and then stir them through the mincemeat. A good glug of rum, brandy, sherry or amaretto will lift even the most basic of mincemeat, and if f you can get hold of morello glacé cherries which a lot of the supermarkets are now carrying, a handful of those, quartered are a dark, sticky joy in a mince pie.
I like my mince pies warm, with a slosh of cream or, if I’m feeling grown up, a spoonful of crème fraîche, but my husband insists on them cold: these pies are just as good however you prefer to eat them.
Takes: 30 minutes plus chilling
Bakes: 20 minutes
75g icing sugar
Half an orange, zested
300g plain flour
1 egg yolk
150g salted butter
Caster sugar, for sprinkling
- Rub the butter and flour together between your hands until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through the icing sugar and orange zest. Using first a knife, and then your hands, mix the egg yolk into the mixture. Squeeze the dough between your hands, adding a small splash of water if it won’t come together. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for half an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the chilled dough on a surface dustled lightly with flour, and roll out to the thickness of a pound coin. Stamp out twelve 10cm rounds using a biscuit cutter and place each into one of the holes in a muffin tin. Gently ease the pastry down into the bottom of the hole, so it sits flush against the tin, to ensure there’s space for a deep fill.
- Divide the mincemeat between the 12 pies. Stamp out 12 7cm circles or stars from the pastry, rerolling as needed, and top the pies, pressing at the edges to stick the tops to the bottoms. Use a fork to prick holes in the top of the pie to stop it overspilling too much.
- Bake the pies for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and, while still warm, scatter generously with caster sugar. Leave to cool before removing from the tin.