Starry-eyed Mince Pies
Growing up, one of my family's Christmas traditions was making sausage rolls and mince pies every Christmas Eve. It was really the one and only time I ever saw my mum do any baking, and truth be told, she hated it. My nan was the real baker in our house, but on Christmas Eve my mum would put her foot down and would have her time in the kitchen. In a way, it enhanced her feeling of martyrdom, as she would often be up until the wee small hours, making just one more batch of mince pies. I would have been in bed ages before, trying to sleep but starry-eyed with excitement as this ritual of baking truly marked that it was Christmas Eve, and I knew it would not be long before Santa was on on his way.
As I grew older, I was able to join in, and so with two of us in the kitchen, the ritual was completed by a respectable time. You could almost hear my mum's sigh of relief. Gradually, each year, I got to take on more and more of the process. Until eventually, around the age of 14, they were my responsibility alone.
I used to love making and rolling out the pastry. My mum's recipe was always the same. Half fat to flour, and the fat was half Stork block margarine and half lard. A little water and an egg yolk to bind for the mince pies, with a sprinkle of sugar over the pie top. A little water and some salt for the sausage rolls. That was the difference between sweet and savoury pastry.
Then, one year in my twenties, when I wasn't baking all that often, it all went wrong. I lost my pastry mojo. It was tough and horrible. A few attempts later and nothing seemed to go right. I lost my confidence. Suddenly, insetad, Mr Kipling became a regular Christmas Eve visitor.
With each passing year, we came to rely on shop bought mince pies. They have got better and better as supermarkets have cottoned on to giving people what they want. Which is, ironically, the true taste of home made. Just without the effort.
With my mum now in her eighties, she sadly is on the slope of dementia. Although we are lucky that she is still with us, in reality, there is less and less of 'her' there. One of the things that she still loves though, are her sweet treats. So a couple of years ago, as I'd got back into baking and with my confidence restored, I began making mince pies again. I enjoy it, and my mum certainly enjoys the results, but it brings home to me that this is something I will never do again with my mum. It makes me determined to create and enjoy my own festive traditions with my boys (and we have - through sausage rolls my way, to gingerbread, brownies and chocolate chip cookies).
So I still make the odd batch of mince pies each year, but I like to try different recipes. I saw one in Woman & Home's Christmas 'Feel Good Food' (the recipe is on line and can be found here) and thought I would give it a go, albeit adapting it slightly. It's an intriguing method to the pastry, and one I hadn't tried before, as you process butter and icing sugar first before adding egg yolks and vanilla (and this means it's almost a paste by the time you add the flour). The resulting pastry isn't too sweet, but it is delicate and crumbly. Just how I like them.
Starry-eyed Mince Pies
Ingredients (makes 12 - at least)
225g unsalted butter, diced and slightly softened
100g icing sugar
2 large egg yolk, plus 1 for an egg wash
2 drops vanilla extract
275g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
400g mincemeat (I used Robinsons juzzed up with a tablespoon of calvados)
To make the pastry, pulse the butter and icing sugar in a processor until mixed. Add the 2 egg yolks and vanilla and pulse until mixed. Add the flour and pulse again until the pastry comes together in large clumps. Tip out onto a work surface and bring together into a dough. Divide into two, and then flatten each half into a disc. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes. This makes the pastry workable.
Lightly grease a 12 cup bun tray.
Dust the work surface with flour, and roll out the pastry to a depth of a £1 coin. Using a 2 and a half inch round cutter, cut out the bases for the pies, and gently press into the tin.
Fill each pie with about one tbspn of mincemeat.
Using a star cutter that is slightly smaller than the round one, cut out the tops of the pies. Press onto the pastry edges lightly to stick. Chill in the fridge for 30 mins.
Preheat the oven to 180 Fan / 200 Conventional / 400F / Gas 6. Glaze the pies with the egg yolk and bake for 15 minutes or so until the pastry is golden. Allow to cool in the tin slightly before turning out onto a wire rack.
As the pastry is quite fragile, and it seemed to stick slightly to the tin even though it had been greased, I found it easiest to gently hold the rim of the pies and move them by turning them in the tin first. This seemed to break the 'seal' so that they were then easy to lift out. If I didn't do this, I found that the edges of the pies just stuck and then crumbled as I tried to lift them out.
I slightly over baked mine, so that they were a shade darker than I really would have liked. But they still tasted really yummy. For me, they are a sign that Christmas is definitely on its way.
Do you have any Christmas Eve baking traditions?