Monday 11 January 2010

The Perfect Mince Pie

Perfect mince pieI've always enjoyed cooking and especially baking. But in recent years the relentless treadmill of work means there's been little time to do much more than throw together dinner at the end of the day. My decision to become a freelancer, and specifically my decision to take more time off to try and achieve some kind of work/life balance, has changed all of that. Now I'm constantly looking for excuses to cook. Visiting a friend for tea? Quick make some cupcakes. Sister coming over for the day? Get that breadmaker fired up. Upcoming dinner party? Trial some recipes. Well, you can imagine that hosting Christmas gave me the perfect excuse to spend some time in the kitchen.

In mid-December I realised with some surprise that I had never actually made mince pies. Deciding it couldn't be too much of a challenge I got to it. I made it even easier on myself by buying some good quality, ready-made mincemeat and just concentrated on getting the pastry right. You may think this is cheating, but with lots of other things to cook (including my Christmas cupcakes); shopping to do; and the general stress that that time of year brings, I was prepared to cut myself some slack.

Shortcrust pastry mince piesThe first recipe I tried was from the BBC Good Food magazine. It was actually designed for baking with children so I reasoned that it couldn't be too difficult. It was most definitely a "getting your hands dirty" kind of recipe. You make a very buttery pastry and instead of rolling and cutting you simply ball it up and press it into the bun tin. Despite having greased the tins I found them very difficult to get out and as a consequence they ended up looking really messy. The mince pies were a big success with everyone that tried them but they weren't quite what I was looking for. The pastry was verging on shortbread which although really tasty just wasn't the beautiful, traditional kind of mince pie I was looking for.

So just before Christmas I had another go. The Guardian featured various chefs talking about their ultimate Christmas recipes and Nigel Slater had one for his favourite mince pies. I was heartened to see that he recommended using shop bought mincemeat - hurrah, I wasn't excessively lazy! But frankly, they were a bit of a disaster. The dough was incredibly dry and difficult to work with, and the resulting pie was just not crunchy or sweet enough for my liking. The family polished all of them off and said they liked them but I was incredibly disappointed. My attempt to be the perfect Christmas hostess hadn't gone to plan at all. But I was determined not to be beaten.

Short mince pies with orangeSadly, by the time I returned from my Berlin trip last week, my family had gone home and the Christmas decorations had come down. But I still had two large jars of mincemeat in the cupboard I and was determined to make a really good mince pie. This time I turned to the blogosphere. I have recently started following a number of really good cooking blogs and one of them had a recipe for mince pies. The writer made her own mincemeat but I just took the pastry recipe and used one of my jars.

And finally, here in early January, I had found it: my perfect mince pie. It was the pastry I had been dreaming of ever since I was a child and my friend's mum made some delicious, slightly orangey mince pies - and these were them! They are really delicious and the brilliant news is that I have another jar of mincemeat to use up so I'll just have to make some more. They are absolutely perfect with a cup of black tea - I particularly like them with my Assam-Ceylon blend - so much so that I'm actually wishing I'd bought more of the mincemeat whilst it was still in the shops. Because now that I've found this recipe, as far as I'm concerned, a mince pie is for life, not just for Christmas.


  1. Thanks for the comment on my blog and the link. So glad you liked the mince pies! :)

  2. Wonderful looking mince pies. I agree that the secret to the best mince pie is to make sure the pastry is spot on ;0)

  3. Yes, pastry is very important for a mince pie. I have to say that your mince pies look so sweet! Commercially produced mince pies can't even begin to compare to a good home-made mince pie (or even an average home-made mince pie).

  4. Thanks JD. They were pretty delicious - even if I do say so myself!

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog and introducing me to yours. I have only recently been making pastry "properly" i.e. 50/50 split butter and veg fat or lard and letting it rest in the fridge before rolling out. It makes a heck of a difference. Shop bought mince pies taste horrid when you've got used to home made.

    If you've got any more mince meat to use up you could do worse than to make ice cream with it (my blog earlier this month) or if you are very adventurous SAUSAGES - see Around Britain With A Paunch blog earlier this week!

  6. Hi Sarah. It's weird you should say that because I just made some Christmas pudding ice cream. The sausages are out though as I'm veggie!

    You're right - I can't see me going back to shop-bought mince pies now.

  7. Lovely blog and mince pie suggestions! I'm not a huge fan coming from US/france but I am trying to open up to them:) great start with your blog! x LZ

  8. Well done on your third attempt - I'm well impressed you kept trying. I'm hopeless at making pastry, so gave up years ago - but maybe I should try again with this one!

  9. Emily, if you want to develop a love of mince pies, give this recipe a go!

    Choclette - I only kept trying because of a stubborn refusal to be beaten! I'm only glad it only took three attempts and not twenty to get it right. Definitely give it a go and let me know how you get on.

  10. where is the recipe for mince pies then please

    1. The link is in the penultimate paragraph anon. Happy baking!