By Alison Boyd
Mincemeat pie is not well-loved in the United States. Never the most popular dish on the thanksgiving dessert table, its reputation is hardly justified. For starters, it is much better served as an individual pie and in the best versions, both the filling and crust are homemade. As the holiday season approaches in the U.K., the store shelves are stacked high with these festive treats. If you visit a British household in December you will likely be offered a cup of tea, or something stronger, together with a mince pie or two.
Whether homemade, or store bought, the filling should be lightly spiced, fruity and not two sweet and encased in a tender crust. The ingredients must be of the highest quality and the pastry made with all butter. Once you have assembled all the ingredients, the mincemeat is a breeze to prepare.
With that in mind, as the season turns and the days shorten, I take myself off to Kalustyan on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan to purchase my dried fruit. Who could not love the prospect of black raisins from Uzbekistan, sour cherries from Turkey and candied orange peel from Seville. The store is a virtual Aladdin’s cave of foods from all over the world and you can purchase everything online at www.kalustyan.com. While I am there, I pick up rich dark muscovado sugar and superior spices to complete my recipe. Nothing says the holidays more than the wonderful smell of simmering fruit, brandy and spices on the, stove. I have been making them for friends and family for more than 30 years.
You know you are on to a winner when you start getting hints about them in November. Do yourself a favor; stir up a batch of mincemeat, bake it into pies, and you will not be short of invitations this holiday season.
Historical footnote: If the reference to meat is confusing you, mincemeat did contain real meat in earlier times. It was a method of preserving food before refrigeration. The alcohol or vinegar and quantity of spices would ensure the meat would last for the holiday season and beyond. It was still popular in Victorian times, but with the dawn of the 20th century, the meat was replaced with suet and now many versions do not contain any fat. There are still some diehards who make it the old-fashioned way, but I am firmly in the meatless camp.
1. The Mincemeat
For the best flavor balance, I use a blend of raisins, cherries, cranberries and currants. Avoid very sweet fruit such as dates and candied cherries. Throw out those dusty jars of cinnamon and ginger from the back of your pantry and splurge on fresh jars of spice. Strips of whole candied orange peel that you dice up yourself are available from gourmet stores or online. Use the best quality rum and brandy your budget will afford.
1 cup dark raisins
1 cup golden raisins
¾ cup dried cherries
¾ cup currants
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup finely diced candied orange peel
2 apples such as Jonagold or Granny Smith, peeled, cored and grated
Juice and finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (preferably muscovado)
1 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/3 cup rum
1/3 cup brandy
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
¼ tsp salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
Place the ingredients in a large heavy pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Simmer the mixture over low heat for about 30 minutes, continuing to stir. The mixture should thicken and most of the liquid should be absorbed, though it should not look dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter if using. Cool the mixture before covering and refrigerating. The mixture will keep for up to four weeks in the refrigerator. To keep it fresh you should stir in a tablespoon or two of rum or brandy every few days. This quantity should make about 4 dozen mince pies.
2. The Pastry
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 ¼ sticks unsalted butter chilled and diced
½ tsp salt
6 Tbsp. iced water
Place the flour in the bowl of a food processor with metal blade. Add the salt and pulse until well blended. Add chilled butter and pulse until butter is blended but there are still some pea-sized lumps remaining. With motor running, slowly drizzle the iced water into the mixture, stopping to scrape down the mixture to ensure it is evenly blended. Remove from bowl when the mixture clumps together. It is important not to over process the dough and If you need to add a little more water proceed with caution. Too much water creates a tough crust. Gently shape the dough to form a smooth disc. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This pastry should make about 2 ½ dozen mince pies.
2. Assembling the Pies
1 quantity pastry
3 cups mincemeat
½ large apple peeled and grated
Superfine sugar for dusting
Remove dough from refrigerator thirty minutes before using. Grease three twelve-count muffin pans with softened butter. Mix the grated apple in a bowl with the mincemeat and stir well. Cut the dough in half and place on well-floured surface and shape into a rectangle.
Roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4-inch metal cutter, cut out 2 dozen rounds and line the base of two of the muffin pans. Place a generous teaspoon of mincemeat in each. Do not overfill.
Using a 3-inch cutter cut out 2 dozen rounds of pastry. Lightly moisten the edge of each smaller round with cold water and place on pies, pressing to form a seal. Using a small sharp knife, cut a small slit in the top of each one.
Place both tins in the center of a 390-degree oven and bake for 20 minutes until tops are lightly colored. Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with a thin layer of superfine sugar. Set aside for 20 minutes before removing from pans. Run a knife around the edges of each pie and gently lift onto a wire cooling rack.
You should have enough dough leftover to assemble a further six or so mince pies while the first batch are cooking. Serve at room temperature on their own, or slightly warm with a dollop of whipped cream.
Alison Boyd-Savage worked in advertising before running a catering business in her native London. After moving to Long Island, she first settled in Bridgehampton, where she worked as a private chef. Five years later, the quiet beauty of the North Fork prompted a move to Southold. On weekends she loves to entertain, and can be found scouting the local farm stands for seasonal produce and visiting the markets for local fish, meat and eggs. Each month, she now shares some of these dishes on the back page of the East End Beacon.