This time last year, I was preparing for Christmas in London – buying sweaters, confirming the cat sitter, excavating the converter from the junk drawer, and dreaming of mince pies.
Christmas in London without mince pies is unthinkable. These little parcels of perfection are as ubiquitous during the London holidays as sugar cookies in the States. Love them or hate them, you can’t avoid them while the halls are decked with holly. I, personally, adore these pastry jewels and longingly anticipated eating my weight in pies of mince.
Mincemeat has a history dating back to the 16th century. Originally made with meat (hence the name), the pies were much larger and oblong in shape. The fruit and spices, rather than headliners, were there to flavor the meat. Modern versions are smaller and forgo the meat altogether, containing a decadent mixture of fruit, sugar and warming spices. Their size can range from a diminutive mini tartlet to something heftier approximating the size of a British pasty.
As I walked the cobbled streets of London, I sampled a dozen versions of these buttery beauties. My first, from St. John Bread and Wine, was a disappointment, filled with almost nothing but currants. Their Eccles cake, on the other hand, was heaven in puff pastry. I sampled posh pies at Ottolenghi and take-away pies from a small no-name shop at the Columbia Road Flower Market. I ate pies served from bags and pies served on china. Arteries be damned, I prescribed myself nothing less than a pie (or two) a day throughout my trip. Home again after eating my fill in London, I added mince pies to my ever-growing list of recipes to try.
A tumultuous year has passed and I had yet to try my own version. Surprisingly, while researching for my own recipe, I discovered that many versions – including ones from famous British chefs (I’m talking to you, Paul Hollywood) call for nothing more than opening a jar of mincemeat. Jarred? Oh the horror! Jarred may be fine in a pinch, but not for the pies of my London dreams. Next, you’ll be instructing me to unroll a frozen pie crust.
After some additional research, I settled on my existing Eccles cake filling (flashback to St. John), doubled it, and added grated apple. My final filling is packed with currants, home-made candied orange peel, brown sugar, warming spices and brandy. It’s the ideal jeweled filling to nestle in a buttery pastry crust. Maybe not entirely traditional, for me, it’s London Christmas in the US suburbs.
Holiday Mince Pies
Buttery, flaky pastry filled with a holiday mixture of fruit, warm spices, and a bit of brandy. You will need two 12-cup muffin tins for this recipe.
- Candied Orange Peel:
- Peels from 3 oranges
- 18 oz. water
- 6 oz. corn syrup
- 20 oz. sugar Mince Filling:
- 8 oz. currants
- ½ cup candied orange peel, chopped
- 1 apple, peeled and grated (I use Granny Smith)
- 1 stick (½cup) unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- Zest of ½ lemon
- Juice of an orange
- 2 Tablespoons brandy Short Crust Pastry:
- 2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 6 oz. unsalted butter cold and cubed
- ¼ cup Crisco, cold
- ⅛ teaspoon table salt
- 1 egg (beaten)
- Water (cold, as needed)
- Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
- Make Ahead – Make Candied Orange Peel:
- Place orange peels in a pot of cold water, bring to boil, and drain. Repeat this two more times.
- Combine water, corn syrup, and sugar in a pot. Bring to boil. Add drained peels, reduce to simmer and poach for 1 hour. Cool peels in syrup. Store in syrup in refrigerator until needed. Day Before – Make Mince Filling:
- Stir together all filling ingredients in a small bowl. Microwave for 1-2 minutes until butter is melted. Stir until well blended, cover and set aside for the flavors to meld and currants to soften, about an hour. Refrigerate. Once cold, the filling should bind together without extra liquid. Drain if necessary. Baking Day – Make Short Crust Pastry.
- In a food processor, pulse flour, butter, Crisco, and salt together until resembling course sand. Gently pulse egg and add water until mixture just comes together. Wrap into two disks and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350⁰ degrees. Roll dough to ⅛” thick and cut circles with a 3 ¼” – 3 ½” cutter to fit inside muffin tins. Cut smaller circles or stars to fit on top. Press dough into each muffin cup and fill ⅔ full with mince filling, decorate with smaller shapes on top and refrigerate until ready to bake.
- Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Bake for 22-28 minutes until tops are golden brown. Cool in tins for 15 minutes, remove from tins and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar (if using).
TIP: To ensure the flakiest of crusts, freeze butter and Crisco for 15 minutes before using so that it is cold as possible before mixing with the flour.