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!

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A chance trip into Waitrose to pick up some milk saw me grabbing a copy of their free weekend magazine, and in amongst various articles and recipes I spotted this one for Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chunk cookies. Since we had some peanut butter left over from the recent chicken and peanut stew we made, this looked like a good opportunity to use up some left overs.

The ingredient list is actually really simple, and the only thing we needed to buy in was a bag of chocolate chips. The method is incredibly simple too – I won’t repeat it here, just follow the link above. The only thing that’s a little tricky is shaping the balls of mixture since it’s a little on the sticky side but it’s not too bad and certainly doesn’t make much mess. They also take no time at all to prepare and cook, so are perfect if you need to produce something at short notice.

I’ve never really had much luck with making cookies and biscuits (except for that shortbread!) but these worked out incredibly well. The resulting cookies have that perfect combination of firmness and softness, and the peanut butter and chocolate flavouring is wonderful. It required all our willpower not to eat these in one sitting!

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.

Bakewell Tart

Mark is from Derbyshire, home of the Bakewell tart – or should that be Bakewell pudding? Either way, he likes a Bakewell tart and it was one of the first things I ever baked. Mind you, back then I used to use packet pastry… given my recent trip to John Whaite’s Kitchen it seemed appropriate to try out my new skills for this. I also deviated from the recipe I used to use and instead went with the frangipane filling from the pear tart I made with John.

The pastry technique here is one I’d not seen before, creaming the butter and sugar together as if you were making a cake. It sounds odd, but it works! The recipe also calls for 2g of salt… we used sea salt flakes which means they don’t get evenly distributed throughout but does make for a nice salty hit on certain bites. Either sea salt flakes or regular table salt will work, but we like it with the flakes.

Pastry Ingredients

  • 125g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 200g plain flour
  • 2g sea salt flakes

Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, and then mix in the egg. Next add the flour and salt and bring the whole thing together in a small bowl using a dough scraper (although we used a spatula) until it comes together. Flour the counter well and turn the dough out and bring the pastry together with your hands. It shouldn’t take much work – then pat it out into a disc, wrap it in cling film and bung it in the fridge for an hour or so.

Whilst it’s chilling, make the frangipane filling…

Filling Ingredients

  • 120g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 160g ground almonds
  • 40g plain flour
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • Raspberry jam

Again, begin by creaming the butter and sugar, followed by the eggs. It can tend to look a bit curdled at this point but it’s nothing to worry about. Then add the almonds and plain flour… we were actually short of ground almonds and added about 120g and some extra flour… the end result was drier than expected so I recommend going with the full amount! Finally, mix the rum in.

Get the pastry from the oven and roll it out and line a 20cm cake tin or flan ring with it. Prick the base with a fork and then smear it with a layer of jam before pouring your filling on top. Then bake in the oven at 190C for about 40 – 50 minutes – keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn!

End result? Well it was very nice – especially the pastry. But the filling was a bit disappointing. This was possibly because of the late substitution of some ground almonds with some flour… I think this recipe needs revisiting with the same pastry but the old recipe I used to use for the filling.

Portuguese Custard Tarts (pastéis de nata)

This is one of the recipes which I learned at John Whaite’s Kitchen. A bank holiday Monday offered a prime opportunity to see if I could make it work away from his supervision.

The first step is to make the rough puff pastry.

  • 125g plain flour
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 75ml water
  • 1g salt, dissolved in the water

Cube the butter (~1cm), and rub half of it into the flour until it’s like breadcrumbs. Then add the remaining half, but only rub it in ever so slightly – one or two squeezes per cube. Add most of the water and bring the mixture together using a dough scraper, pressing it with the scraper rather than your hands. You may not need all the water.

The resulting mixture goes into the fridge for half an hour, and is then rolled out on a floured surface, folded, turned, rolled out again and folded again before going back into the fridge for another 20-30 minutes. You then repeat the folding and rolling process and chill it again for the same amount of time.

In the meantime, you make your creme patissiere.

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 500ml whole milk
  • 40g cornflour

Put the milk, vanilla and half the sugar in a big pan on the hob and heat until it just starts to boil. Meanwhile, whisk 6 egg yolks with the other half of the sugar until pale and aerated, then whisk in the cornflower. As the milk starts to boil, pour half of it into the egg mixture and whisk vigorously, then transfer the mixture back into the pan with the remaining milk, whisking all the time over a high heat. The mixture will thicken. Pour it onto a plate and cover with cling film to cool.

Meanwhile, roll out your puff pastry once more and roll tightly like a swiss roll. Cut it into 12 pieces, and then turn each one on its end so that as you look down onto it you can see the spiral of pastry layers. Roll each one out flat, dusting with icing sugar to stop them from sticking. Use the pieces to line a muffin tray, and then pipe your cooled creme patissiere into each one (although I just used a teaspoon!).

Bake in the oven – I was aiming for 25 minutes at 200C (fan oven), but found they were just starting to burn after 20 minutes so your mileage may vary.

The end result is, frankly, delicious. They look great and taste amazing.

Honey Pie

Nigella has a neat little description of this dish in Simply Nigella – it’s technically a tart, but since it’s American you can use their name and call it a pie… but in reality, it’s just impossible to miss out on the opportunity to have a dish called “honey pie”.

Quite a lot of ingredients go into this but it’s surprisingly easy to make. The pastry comes first and it’s a ridiculously easy recipe – making it with olive oil makes it very easy to mix. You then put the pastry into the pie dish and leave it in the freezer for at least an hour.

The next bit is easy too – melt the butter and mix the other items into one after another. Then, when the pastry is frozen pour the contents of the pan into the pastry dish and pop in the oven for a little under an hour, turning half way through.

I was a bit concerned that it wasn’t cooking properly so I left it in the oven for a bit longer than recommended. The end result was a very dark top, but it hasn’t harmed the flavour. The pie has a very caramel like flavour, which may be a result of this dark top?

At any rate, this pie is amazing. Rich and sweet, plus the salty pastry and salt scattered over the top makes a really nice contrast to the sweetness. This, without a doubt, is my favourite dish from Simply Nigella so far!

Nutella Brownies

Another recipe from Simply Nigella for dessert.

The recipe is stupidly simple. Nutella, eggs and a pinch of salt. It makes a brownie like mix which you bake in the oven and something comes out which looks very much like a brownie. As it cools it shrinks though, and the end result is… unusual.

If I had to describe it, it’s almost like a Nutella omelette. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not a brownie. We’re not huge fans of this… to be honest though, we’re happy with a jar of Nutella and a spoon. Each.


Bread. Plain and simple. Although we have books on baking bread, the recipe for this particular loaf comes from Nigel Slater’s Appetite. It’s a simple recipe, but not a quick one in that the bread has to rise twice.

It’s also not a recipe for a small loaf. With 1kg of flour, the resulting loaf is enormous. We also popped a tray of water in the over with it so that the steam would help make it really crusty (it did). Now we’re frantically trying to eat lots of bread and jam at every possible opportunity to get through this monster loaf!