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!

Blakean Fish Pie

Tucked away in the Dinner chapter of Nigella’s How to Eat you’ll find this recipe.

Most of the recipes in this part of the book are for large groups of people and consist of suggestions for several courses, but right at the end of the chapter there are some ideas for quick suppers, of which this is one. Apparently the term “Blakean” is referring to the colour of the dish which is rather yellow. Nigella gets this using powdered saffron but we just used some saffron from the cupboard and mixed it in – we got a yellow colour but perhaps not as vibrant as the powdered version would have offered.

This isn’t a complicated recipe – it’s a pretty standard fish pie with the added excitement of the colouring. Ours could have done with a little longer in the oven (the potato topping could have been crispier), and I had a bit of trouble with quantities which made the whole thing a bit more liquid than desirable, but it was a tasty and comforting dinner which really hit the spot.

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.

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.

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 Pie

Who doesn’t love a pie? After roasting a chicken on Sunday I was left with a sizeable portion of cooked chicken left over and a pie seemed like a good way of putting it to use. I’d also spotted that there was a chicken pie recipe tucked away in the pages of How To Eat, but not where you might expect it – it’s in the section of recipes for babies and children!

Maybe Mark and I have immature tastes, but a closer inspection reveals that this chapter of the book includes quite a number of nice looking recipes, but today we’re focussing on this pie. I took the easy option of using shop bought pastry – not because I can’t or am opposed to the effort which goes into making regular pastry, it’s just a case of laziness and trying to minimise the amount of washing up which is created.

So to make this one, melt a knob of butter and half a chicken stock cube in a saucepan. Add a tablespoon of flour (probably plain is best, but we were out and I used self raising which although an odd choice didn’t seem to have any adverse effect) and then 300ml of full fat milk before cooking for about 10 minutes. In another pan cook 120g of sweetcorn or peas or both (we went with sweetcorn), then add the drained vegetables to the sauce along with 200g of cooked chicken (we used 300g simply because that was what we had left over from Sunday). We also added a pinch of salt, a grind of black pepper and about half a nutmeg, grated.

This was all then dished up into a cake tin (because that was what came to hand and was about the right size!) and topped with a pastry lid which was finally brushed with milk. You may also spot that I had a bit of fun making a “2HB” logo for the lid! It took about 25 minutes in the oven at 190ºC, but I then covered it with tin foil and cooked for another 20 minutes or so whilst I cooked up some new potatoes and broccoli. I was going to serve this with peas, but it turned out we’d run out.

End result? Bloody marvellous. Creamy sauce, tasty chicken and hugely, hugely satisfying. The recipe is for 4 – 6 children, but it seemed perfect for two hungry adults!

Onion Tart

I’ve been enjoying finding recipes in How To Eat and this one for onion tart had caught my eye. It takes a little while to make, but I figured that by using ready made shortcrust pastry that would save me a little bit of time.

The longest part of the process is caramelising the onions. Unfortunately mine did catch a little bit on the pan, but not enough to cause problems. The bigger issue was that my pastry shrunk a little bit, which combined with the fact that our supermarket delivery had dropped off extra large instead of just large eggs meant that we couldn’t accommodate all of the custard (eggs, egg yolk, creme fraiche).

But it didn’t really matter in the end – it tasted great!

Fish and Porcini Pie

We’ve had a lot of recipes from Simply Nigella recently, but today we went all the way back to her very first book – How To Eat. I love this book but it’s much harder to find recipes from it because of the way it lacks pictures. That said, every time we’ve chosen a recipe from here it’s been a winner.

In keeping with some other recipes from the book, it’s not the simplest of recipes – several pans and pots were involved, plus jugs and bowls and the whole kitchen felt like it needed demolishing and rebuilding at the end. The other issue with this book is that a lot of the recipes are for 4+ people, but this one scaled quite neatly for two.

End result was a complete winner – thick and creamy sauce, beautiful fish a crispy crust on top of fluffy mashed potatoes. It would probably work better for a larger quantity (our fish was spread thin and I struggled to get full coverage with the potato topping) but this is a rustic looking dish which doesn’t matter if it’s not the most beautiful looking dish.

Lamb Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

Since Mark’s been having so much success with recipes he’s found online with the BBC Good Food website, I decided to see what I could find online and I wound up with this Nigel Slater recipe which was published in The Guardian. It’s not a quick recipe, but it’s not too tricky. Fiddly, more than anything.

Bake a sweet potato in the oven. As it’s cooking, fry some lamb mince, then some onion, a chopped red chilli and some garlic. We threw in some spices too – cumin, coriander and nutmeg as suggested. Then put this in a mixing bowl and spoon the (now cooked) sweet potato out of its skin and into the bowl. Mix it all up, then add the mixture back into the potato skin and bake for another 15 – 20 minutes.

We dished it up with some peas (and a glass of wine for company). It’s fiddly handling the hot potatoes, and all too easy to tear the potato skins, but you can’t really go wrong with lamb and sweet potatoes. Even if it looks messy, it tastes good.

Chicken Biryani

We got very excited today because – briefly – our Instagram account hit 100 followers for the first time. Perhaps not a big milestone in the grand scheme of things, but we were very pleased! It’s fallen back down to 98 at the time of writing… but we’re not too upset because we’ve just eaten some lovely Chicken Biryani! This recipe comes from Nigel Slater’s ever reliable The 30-Minute Cook.

He’d be the first to tell you that this isn’t an authentic recipe, but it’s really easy to make and produces a hearty and satisfying meal. You need to make sure your store-cupboard is well stocked with all the required spices (ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, chilli and nutmeg) but the end result is worth it.

Gingerbread Bites

A few days back I made Stir Fried Chicken with Basil which only used part of a can of coconut milk, and the rest of it had been sat in a tupperware tub in the fridge calling out for us to use it. I’d originally thought of making Nigella’s Spinach and Coconut Soup but my sweet tooth got the better of me.

This recipe comes from the Thug Kitchen website. I’d not heard of them until a recent trip to Saltaire where I saw their cookery book. Not the biggest fan of their style of writing, but this recipe really hit the spot.

Again it was a bit of a mess of conversion as I tried to turn US cup measurements into grams (especially when my digital scales kept getting stuck on fluid ounces…). Also, to my horror, halfway through baking I realised that “blackstrap molasses” are not the same as the granulated molasses I had in the cupboard, but I made a guess and the end result wasn’t bad at all.

Oh yes, and we had no mixed spice either so I had to improvise with some nutmeg and cloves. Mark’s not been complaining about the end product though.