Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mince Pies That Will Make You Swoon

I know, you're skeptical already. But it's true. I just made them, and they are delicious. I've never actually eaten mince before--I have only once been confronted with one mincemeat pie in my life time, and I'm not going to lie...I steered clear. It was at the annual Nantucket Historical Association Christmas party, which is done potluck-style. One employee spouse brought a massive, lasagna-sized mince meat pie beautifully with pastry spelling "NHA" on top. Points for creativity, but I couldn't tell if it was the kind of mincemeat with actual meat, the idea of which kind of creeps me out, so I didn't eat it.

However, my attitude towards mince changed last Sunday morning when I was elliptical-ling away at the gym while watching Nigella's Christmas Kitchen. Honestly, that woman can make dirty socks sound appetizing, and soon I found myself drooling over these adorable mini mincepies that she was making. Plus, cooking shows make everything look so easy, so immediately I thought, "I can
do that!" The key to Nigella's mincepies is that she doesn't use meat. Her filling is fruity and boozy, and honestly, what better combination can you find? It's basically a glorified cranberry sauce spiked with port, brandy, and lots of spices and dried fruit. The crust, which was easy (and this is coming from a complete crust novice), is amazingly flaky, so these pies are in instant winner in my book. The only tricky part was tracking down the recipe online, and discovering that the whole thing is in ounces. F***ing ounces. Since Santa hasn't brought me a food scale yet (it's at the top of my list, though), I had to do a little bit of educated-guessing based on what I know from Cooking Light (which often gives weights & measurements for baked goods), and some internet conversions. However, internet conversions don't take food density into account, so I had to fudge things a little. But, given my delight with this recipe, I guess I didn't do too badly. I will give the BBC links for both recipes so that you readers who are food scale-equipped can just go to town, and I will also write out my measurement guesstimates. Prepare to be stunned by the deliciousness of these mincepies!

Nigella Lawson's Mincepies
Makes 36 pies


* Something just shy of 2 cups of all purpose flour (8 oz)
* 1/2 stick of unsalted butter (2 oz)
* 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening, aka Crisco, (2 oz)
* Juice of 1 orange (or some Tropicana...whatever ;) (about 1/4 cup)
* Pinch of salt

Special equipment:
* Mini muffin tins (About 1.75 inches in diameter and .75 inches deep)
* Fluted biscuit cutter 2.25 inches in diameter 
* Star cookie cutter 1.5 inches in diameter

1. Sift the flour into a shallow freezer-proof bowl.
2. Pinch off bits of vegetable shortening and add to the fl
our. Dice the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Toss to coat the fats.

3. Put flour mixture in freezer for 20 minutes.
4. Mix the OJ and salt in a measuring cup and place in the fridge.
5. After 20 minutes, place the chilled flour and fats into the bowl of a food processor. (If you only have a mini prep, like me, do this in 2 batches). Pulse a few times until the flour is in "porridge-like crumbs." Slowly dribble
in the oj/salt mixture, still pulsing, until the dough just starts to come together. This step may not need all the OJ. However, if you need more liquid, use ice water.
6. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Using your hands, bring the dough together. Divide into 3 equal pieces and wrap each one in saran wrap and place in fridge for 20 minutes.
7. Working with one piece at a time, roll out the dough on a floured surface and using a floured rolling pin. Roll the dough so that it is thin but still sturdy enough to hold the filling--let's call it about 1/8 of an inch thick. Using a fluted pastry cutter 2 1/4 inches in diameter
, cut out rounds of dough. Place rounds in mini muffin tins and gently press the dough into the cups, without stretching it.
8. Place about a teaspoon of mince mixture into the dough cups.
9. Roll out the dough scraps to a similar thickness and using a tiny star cookie cutter, cut out stars and place over the mince mixture.  (See the special equipment list for where to order the right size cookie cutters, if you can't find them locally)

10. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until crust starts to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on these, because they don't take long to cook.
11. Remove from pans immediately and let cool on a wire r
ack. Allow pans to cool completely before starting another batch.

12. Dust with confectioner's sugar & enjoy!

Mince Filling

* 2.5 oz dark brown sugar (a scant 1/3 cup)
* 2 fl oz ruby port (1/4 cup)
* 10.5 oz cranberries, fresh or frozen (about 2.5 cups)
* 1 tsp ground cinnamon
* 1 tsp ground ginger
* 1/2 tsp ground cloves
* 2.5 oz raisins (a scant 1/3 cup)
* 2.5 oz currants (a scant 1/3 cup)
* 1 oz dried cranberries (a scant 1/8 cup)
* the zest and juice of 1 clementine
* 1 fl oz brandy (2 TBS)
* a few drops of almond extract
* 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
* 2 TBS honey

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, dissolve the brown sugar in the ruby port.
2. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the cranberries, spices, raisins, currants, cranberries, and clementine juice and zest, and stir.
3. Bring the mixture to a simmer (medium-low heat) and cook about 20 minutes or until the cranberries are quite soft and the fruit has broken down and absorbed the liquid.
4. Allow mixture to cool slightly, and then stir in brandy, almond and vanilla extracts, and honey. Stir well with a wooden spoon to make a thick paste.
5. If you are not using the mince filling right away, put in sterilized jars and once cool, store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Obviously I made these before I got my hands on the right size cookie cutters, but still, if these things aren't the best little morsels you've ever tried, then all I can say is you're a Christmas Grinch!

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