Traditional Homemade Mince Pies (and mincemeat)

December is here, so time to legitimately eat our own bodyweight in mince pies! I’ve been thinking about making mince pies for a long time – my gran used to do so, as did my mother but over time that changed. Home made mincemeat was replaced with shop bought, and ultimately my mum started buying her mince pies rather than buying them.

I wanted to have a go at making my own, but my mum was unable to track down my gran’s recipe for mincemeat. I was then going to have a go at making Nigella’s cranberry and port mincemeat but couldn’t find any fresh cranberries, so I decided to have a go at making up my own recipe! Fortunately, it was a success.

There are a lot of recipes out there for mincemeat, but they vary widely. Many use suet, although Mary Berry prefers the taste of butter. There’s usually cinnamon, but after that the spices vary from recipe to recipe. There’s usually some nutmeg and either some allspice or some mixed spice. After a bit of thought and indecision I came up with the following recipe, which makes enough to fill two jam jars with mincemeat, or 24 mince pies:

  • 75g of unsalted butter
  • 125g of soft brown sugar
  • Zest and juice of a clementine
  • 75g dried cranberries
  • 400g seedless raisins
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • About 1/2 of a nutmeg, grated
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons of port
  • 1 tablespoon of brandy

The method is really simple. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan over a low heat. When they’re well mixed, add the spices and the dried fruit and stir well – I cooked this for about 10 or 15 minutes. Finally, add the alcohol and mix in. If it seems a little too wet, you can always leave the heat on for a little longer – but as the butter cools the mixture will thicken up.

I then made a batch of sweet shortcrust pastry (125g unsalted butter, 50g caster sugar, 1 large egg, 200g plain flour, 2g salt) which was enough for 18 small mince pies using half the mincemeat, and 12 slightly larger pies using the other half.

Delicious! I definitely recommend making your own mincemeat – it’s surprisingly easy and the above recipe seems to work really well!

Maguro no sutēki (tuna steak with butter soy)

We’re reminiscing about our summer holiday to Tokyo with this quick and easy recipe which we found in Kimiko Barber’s Cook Japanese at Home.

http://instagram.com/p/BMw6sRvBqOi/

There’s not much to this recipe. You fry the slices of garlic in oil first to flavour the oil, and then set them to one side once they’re crispy. Pan fry the tuna and then set it aside to keep warm. Finally, melt the butter and add some sake and soy sauce and reduce the whole thing down.

http://instagram.com/p/BMw7EKIh9uY/

Kimiko recommends sugar snap peas and baby corn on the side – we just used a packet of supermarket vegetables which included these and a few other things, and I did some sushi rice on the side. It’s a simple meal and tastes OK, but I can’t say it really seemed authentically Japanese to me… but that could be because my time in Japan was spent slurping ramen and scoffing sashimi!

Double Apple Pie

With autumn here, it seems an appropriate time to make an apple pie so we dug out our copy of How to be a Domestic Goddess and got cracking. The recipe is a bit unusual, in that it includes a special recipe for pastry which includes cheese! I can understand the logic here – cheese can go well with apple, but I can’t say I fancied the idea for this pie, and Mark isn’t a big fan of cheese either, so instead we went with the tried and tested sweet shortcrust recipe which I got from John Whaite’s Kitchen.

http://instagram.com/p/BMMkEhihGHL/

There are two types of apple used here – Bramley and Coxes. The Bramley apples are diced and fried in butter until they start to turn to mush. This is then blitzed in a food processor along with some spices, egg and sugar.

The coxes are cooked in a similar way – fried in butter – but are kept in larger chunks. The pastry is then used to line a springform cake tin and the Bramley mush is added first, followed by the Cox chunks which get “pushed” into it. The whole thing is topped with pastry and then put in the oven.

The recipe makes a really big, really satisfying pie – and regular sweet shortcrust pastry works really well. If I were to make it again though, I’d swap the spices – Nigella calls for ground cloves and grated nutmeg; I’d probably go with a more traditional cinnamon next time.

Bitter Orange Tart

This recipe is something of a mash up.

The original recipe for bitter orange tart can be found in Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat. In that version, it’s a tart with a pastry base and quite a lot of sugar (a mix of muscovado and caster).

She then revisits the same recipe in Simply Nigella, replacing the pastry base with one made from crushed ginger nut biscuits. The muscovado sugar gets dropped as well.

Our version uses the Simply Nigella filling (less sweet), but with a How to Eat inspired pastry base. And, because it works every time, I used my John Whaite sweet shortcrust pastry method.

Since it’s not the season for Seville oranges, and I’m not sure where I’d buy them even if it was, I used regular oranges with some lime juice. I made my pastry case and blind baked it, then added the filling and chilled. The resulting tart isn’t at all heavy, and although it’s bitter you could quite happily eat this on its own. As the picture reveals though, we found it went wonderfully with chocolate ice cream.

It kept well in the fridge (covered with cling film) for about 4 days, but by the end of the pastry had lost its edge.

Pasta with chicken, pancetta and peas

We had roast chicken recently (no photos, sorry!) which once again left us with some cooked chicken leftovers. As ever, we turned to the fabulous book A Bird in the Hand by Diana Henry. We’ve cooked quite a few of her leftover recipes and they’ve always served us well (I’ll never forget that bird pie – awesome!).

This recipe really couldn’t be much easier. We’re cooking pancetta, onion and peas, then adding some chicken, lemon zest and double cream. Some chopped mint goes in near the end to flavour the cream, and then it gets served up with some pasta (we used fusilli – nothing fancy).

You can’t really go wrong here. It’s a winning mix of ingredients, and cooked chicken always tastes better the next day. We scoffed the lot and sat feeling very contented with ourselves afterwards.

Lemon and Thyme Bundt Cake

We keep going back to bundt cakes ever sine we got a tin and this week is no exception. Fortunately Simply Nigella contains quite a number of these, and we seem to be working our way through them with this lemon and thyme bundt cake. If you want to find a copy of this recipe online, you can find it at Chatelaine.

The cake is pretty easy to make – basically bung it all together and stick it in the tin (or at least that’s my recollection!). It rises enormously though – this was by far our biggest bundt do far! We topped it off with some lemon icing (badly) and sugar stars. It looked pretty enough and the slices were huge!

http://instagram.com/p/BLEwrOAhCWg/

It was a hugely substantial and hugely satisfying cake, but the flavour wasn’t quite as strong as we were expecting. This is possibly because I didn’t put enough thyme it, and possibly also because I forgot to add the juice of one of the lemons (I just added the zest). The result was more like a Madeira cake with a hint of lemon – but that’s certainly no bad thing and we demolished the lot!

Maple & Pecan Bundt Cake

Mark’s been hankering for a bundt tin for quite some time but we never seem to see many of them in the stores here in the UK (or at least, not attractive ones… most seem pretty plain, and surely the whole point of a bundt tin is that it should be highly decorative?).

Mark’s done plenty of research in the meantime and come to the conclusions that a) Nordic Ware bundt tins seem to get the best reviews and b) they’re more expensive than most others. So we would often hunt through stores like HomeSense in the hope that they may have some in stock – they never did, until this weekend! Suddenly we were spoilt for choice and came home with a new cake tin to use! I can’t find the exact one on Amazon, but this one is pretty similar.

The first recipe book I had to hand was good old Nigella Kitchen, and it has a recipe for a maple and pecan bundt. They’re basically two of my favourite things so it seemed a no brainer to make this one!

The ingredient list isn’t too exotic – creme fraiche, pecans and maple syrup were the only things we didn’t already have in the cupboard or fridge. The method is a bit fiddly though – basically you need three bowls on the go.

In the first you mix butter and flour with a fork to create a kind of crumble. To this you add chopped pecans, a teaspoon of cinnamon and some maple syrup, then mix it all together with a fork to create the most amazing smelling mixture – this is your filling.

Next mix the flour, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in a second bowl.

In a third bowl, cream butter and caster sugar together. Add a tablespoon of the flour mixture to this and beat in, followed by an egg, then another tablespoon of flour, and then another egg. Beat it together after each addition, and then add the rest of the flour. The resulting mixture is pretty stiff so you may get tired when doing this! Finally, the creme fraiche gets added to this.

To assemble, pour about 2/3 of the mixture into the bundt tin. It’s a thick mixture, so you can then make a bit of a “trough” into which you pour the nutty filling. The important thing is that the filling shouldn’t touch the sides of the tin – you want in encased within the cake. You use the rest of the mixture to cover it up, and then bake in the over for 30 – 40 minutes. Once it’s out and cooled you dust it with a bit of icing sugar. It looks so pretty, Nigella herself even retweeted our photo!

A tip from Nigella – she suggests oiling the inside of the bundt tin first and standing it upside down over some newspaper whilst you get on with the rest. This way it’s oiled, but not too oily (it seemed to work for us, the cake came out of the tin really easily).

The result cake is lovely – the sponge itself is fairly plain and light, but the sweet and nutty filling gives a great contrast. Delicious and beautiful!

Chorley Cakes (v0.1)

My home town of Chorley is known for a particular food dish called the Chorley Cake. It’s closely related to the better known Eccles Cake which is a mixture of dried fruit, butter and sugar in puff pastry (I actually learnt how to make these as John Whaite’s “Perfecting your Pastry” class).

The Chorley cake differs in that it uses shortcrust pastry, and isn’t as sweet. Since it’s my home town I decided to give them a go, but I found it really hard to find a recipe. There are plenty of recipes online, but they all have quite substantial differences of opinion. Do you use plain or self raising flour? Do you add baking powder? Do you put an egg in the filling? Or spices such as nutmeg or allspice?

So I decided to have my own attempt at making these. It was a success of sorts – the end result was a really nice, buttery, fruity treat. But on the other hand… it wasn’t a Chorley cake. I think I need to chop my sultanas so that they get better distributed throughout.

So watch this space… I’m going to have another go and once I’ve perfected the recipe I’ll be posting it here!

Steak Pie

Sometimes only a pie will do. After the success of chicken pie last week it seemed appropriate to give a steak pie a try, but a quick skim of our recipe books didn’t really turn up anything suitable. So this recipe is put together from two places. Firstly, it uses the “Steak & Kidney Pie” recipe from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, but because we were making it for two people we had to scale down the ingredients and as part of this we ditched the kidneys. But rather than making a pastry using self raising flour as Nigella does, we fell back on the good old reliable shortcrust recipe and technique we picked up from John Whaite.

It takes a while to make this one. You chop the celery, carrot, sage and onion finely and fry for a few minutes. Then the beef is tossed in flour, pepper and nutmeg and browned in a pan. The beef is then added to the vegetables along with some stout and beef stock in a casserole dish, then popped in the oven with a lid on at 150C for 2 hours.

In the meantime make and chill the pastry and line a dish (should be a pie dish but we used a cake tin!), then transfer the cooked steak into it, glaze the top with milk and bake in the oven at 190C for about half an hour.

The resulting pie looked spectacular and tasted great. The only grumble was that it was a bit bitter – I think this was because in scaling down the ingredients I’d not used as much beef stock as I should have and used too much stout. But this wasn’t enough to detract from what was a bloody marvellous pie!

Chicken, Leek and Cider Pie

Back to tried and trusted Diana Henry today. If you follow our blog you’ll have seen the amazing chicken pie we made from one of her other recipes, which was possible the best pie I’ve ever had. Like that one, this recipe comes from A Bird in the Hand and once again was an opportunity to use up some cooked chicken we had left over from a roast.

This recipe is a simpler one than the last, but follows some similar cues such as making a roux, although cider is then added to this to make the rest of the liquid. Diana actually makes this with a crumble topping which includes cheese, but instead I went and made a shortcrust pastry case using the recipe which I picked up at John Whaite’s Kitchen. One of our biggest annoyances is what we call “fake pies” – things that look like a pie but turn out just to have pastry on top. They leave us feeling cheated! So this pie was made with an all round case.

The biggest mistake here though was forgetting to glaze the top of the pie so it didn’t look as sleek and glossy as it could have done. It also broke up quite badly when serving, but frankly it didn’t matter because once again this was an utterly amazing pie. I still prefer the previous “bird pie” we made, but this was another cracker. We served it up with some mash (made using potatoes and carrots, since we have lots of carrots in the fridge to use up) and the last of some homemade coleslaw.