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.
The 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.
Sadly, 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.