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!

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.

Chicken, Leek and Cider Pie

You may have noticed that we’ve been enjoying a few pies of late, and when our love of pastry called this time we turned to John Whaite’s Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients. It’s been a while since we cooked anything from this one, but this recipe was a perfect one to get us back on track.

This recipe takes quite a while though, and that’s even with shop bought puff pastry! First you have to cook the chunks of chicken, then set them to one side. Next you cook the leeks slowly in butter (about 20 minutes), and then return the chicken to the pan and add the cider which then simmers for about 40 minutes… a bit less for us though because I left the heat too high!

Next you have to let the filling cool a little before mixing in some creme fraiche and assembling your pie. John goes for individual pies with pastry lids – we just made a single giant pie and, as ever, made sure the pastry was all the way around and not just on top. A pastry lid alone is not enough!

The end result was utterly delicious. There’s a nice combination of sweet (from the caramelised leeks and cider) and tart/savoury (from the creme fraiche).

Whilst I probably prefer Diana Henry’s bird pie, this is much easier because it doesn’t require you to roast a chicken in advance. It’s not a quick recipe, but it requires a lot less forward planning… especially because the ingredient list is so straightforward.

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.

Tomato and Bacon Quiche

I’d love to post the recipe for this, but it mostly comes from one of those recipe cards you can pick up in supermarkets (it was Waitress for this one).

The recipe calls for a pack of shortcrust pastry, but we followed the techniques picked up from John Whaite and made our own.

The filling was chopped cherry tomatoes and some slivers of streaky bacon which had been fried. Once the pastry had been blind baked, these were added to the tart case. I then mixed 4 large eggs, 150ml of double cream and about 100ml of milk and poured this into the tart case over the other ingredients.

Into the oven at 190ºC for about 35 minutes and it came out looking beautifully brown on top with a little bit of a wobble. We had to hefty slices for dinner and there’s more left over to reheat tomorrow.

Years ago, before I really started cooking, supermarket bought quiche was my go to “I can’t think of anything to make” dinner. Not any more!

Bird Pie

We had enjoyed a roast chicken at the weekend and were left with a mountain of cooked chicken which needed to be put to good use. Following on from the strawberry tart, pastry was looking popular this week so we turned to Diana Henry’s A Bird in the Hand for a recipe for chicken pie.

Firstly I’ll confess – I was going to make some rough puff pastry, but couldn’t be bothered in the end. We had some frozen shortcrust in the freezer so I ended up using that instead – but it’s OK because Diana herself confessed on Instagram that she uses shop-bought too!

You make a sauce from butter and flour to begin, then add some capers, parsley and mustard (supposedly Dijon but we used wholegrain because that was what we had in). Separately you saute some leeks and add them, along with the chicken, some lemon juice and creme fraiche and heat the whole thing through.

Then it’s just a matter of assembly. Diana just did a pastry top, but Mark was hungry so we did a pastry base as well – no blind baking, just rolled it out into the pie tin and then added the filling followed by a lid (make sure to cut slits in the lid for steam to escape). Before popping it in the oven, I painted a bit of milk over the top.

This pie was, frankly, amazing. The flavour was out of this world; easily one of the best chicken pies I have ever eaten. This recipe is HUGELY recommended. 10/10. Five stars.

Strawberry Tart

I’m going to take credit for this recipe and claim it as my own, but the truth is that it’s simply cobbled together from a few other bits and pieces. Firstly there’s the pastry, which is just sweet shortcrust pastry. You could buy this from a shop, but I used the technique which John Whaite teaches at his cookery school. I made the pastry, chilled it, rolled it out, put it into the tin and then chilled it some more. I then blind baked it using baking beans to prevent it from puffing up.

The second part is creme pattisiere – there are lots of recipes for this out there, and again I used the technique I picked up from John Whaite but his recipe is very similar to the one you’ll find in Nigella’s books. The creme pat was made whilst the pastry chilled and was then left to cool. Put it on a plate covered with cling film to avoid a skin forming.

Once chilled, the creme pat was transferred to the pastry and filled it. Then I added the sliced strawberries and glazed the whole thing with a little bit of apricot jam and water which I’d mixed and heated on the hob. The resulting tart just sits in the fridge. It’s both fresh and light, but also satisfying because of the creaminess of the filling.