The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and I am basking in its full, cosy glory. I was lucky enough to spend this cold, rainy day at home in a hand-knitted jumper (thanks Granny!), drinking cups of chai tea from a big pot on the stove. I had to stay at home, you see, because I had something crucial to attend to; I spent the day baking Christmas cookies to bag up and give to my friends. Batch-cookie baking can be repetitive but with some vintage Christmas tunes in the background and a friend to quietly chit chat with, this undertaking has bestowed a glowing, festive sense of joy within me.
I also, finally, had the pleasure of cracking open the jars of my homemade mince pie filling that has been quietly steeping since November. I was apprehensive about the final result but I am so enthused by the texture and flavour of my filling. The key scents are there; spices, fruits, citrus and the deep, treacly notes of alcohol-soused brown sugar. But the slivered almonds and dried cherries create texture and the cherry liquor hints at marzipan tones just as I had hoped.
Making the pies put a soft smile on my face as made the pastry and spooned the mixture into the awaiting cases (my favourite childhood task). I made a simple, unsweetened shortcrust pastry and baked the pies in a well-greased muffin tin to ensure deep edges. I can’t abide a shallow pie. I cannot emphasise enough the need to make shortcrust pastry by hand; I’m an avid believer that the very act of rubbing the cold butter cubes into the flour with your warm fingertips is the key to creating melt-in-the-mouth pastry. The fats from the butter coat the gluten in the flour and reduce its effect, making the pastry flaky and light rather than doughy. Work it very lightly, you must resist the urge to knead the pastry.
They came sizzling from the oven and, after 30 minutes or so, were cool enough to be piled onto a plate and dusted with snowy icing sugar. These are the deep-filled, fruity, flaky mince pies of my dreams. My Grandmother will be proud!
Sentient Baker Mince Pies
1 x jar of Sentient Baker homemade Mince Pie Filling (1/2 the amount made in the recipe)
230g plain flour
100g butter (cold and cubed)
2-3 tablespoons water
- Preheat oven to 180°C/ 160°C Fan/ 350°F/Gas Mark 4 and grease a 12-cup muffin tin with a little butter.
- Add the butter to the flour and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
- Add enough water to form a crumbly dough. Don’t over work it at this point, just ensure it comes together enough to form a rough ball of dough that you can roll out.
- Place the dough onto a well-floured surface and roll it out to 0.5cm thick. Use more flour as needed to prevent it sticking.
- Use a large, fluted round cutter to cut out discs from the dough. Leave enough dough to cut out lids.
- Tuck the dough discs into the muffin tray.
- Add a heaped teaspoonful of the mince pie filling to each case.
- Use a smaller fluted, round cutter or a star cookies cutter to make lids.
- Press the lids lightly on top of each pie.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the dough is dry to touch and doesn’t feel ‘doughy’ when lightly pressed. This dough won’t colour much so will look pale even when cooked.
- Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
- Once completely cool dust with icing sugar and serve. They should keep for a 3-5 days in a cake tin.