If you could capture the flavors of Christmas in one little morsel of joy, it would be the mince pie. Redolent with warm spices and sweet fruit, these little bite-sized pies fill your mouth with an addictive mix of spices and sweet. But the history of the mince pie is far more complicated than that its size may suggest. Like anything that has survived decades of revolutions and fashions, it has gathered some strange legends around itself. From representing Jesus’s manger to being branded ‘frivolous’ by the Puritans, this pie has seen many a story swirled around its buttery flakiness. It was once even rumored to be banned in the early 17th century.
It is not just the stories that have changed, the pie itself has changed in character. Few people have eaten or would even want to eat the original pie. The original has very little similarity with the fruity, boozy modern avatar. The original mince pie, perhaps not unsurprisingly, was made of minced meat. The pastry itself was seen more as a means of preserving the meat, rather than the flaky buttery crust we so love. The filling was minced beef, pork, or lamb. By the mid-18th-century, the filling had started to sweeten as fruits and spices started taking the place of meat. In Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, written in 1747 the mince pie recipe contains dried fruit and spices soaked in brandy.
The modern mince pie has traveled far. From its stodgy meat-filled version, it is today a sweet and boozy version, filled in a light flaky pie crust. Whether you make the typical English bite-sized pie or an American plate-sized version, it’s the perfect holiday season treat.
How to Make a Mince Pie?
To make the perfect mince pie, there are two main things you have to consider, the filling and the pastry. The best pastry, in this case, is the shortcrust pastry with its perfect balance of buttery goodness. The filling should be a perfect balance of sweetness and warm Christmassy spices. A note here about the pie filling: don’t be stingy when filling your pie. Make sure you can put in as much as you can. There could be nothing worse than a stingy dry pie.
Traditional Mince Pie
For the mincemeat filling
For the pastry
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 2/3 cup cold butter cubed
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/4 cup chilled water
- Icing sugar for dusting
Preparing the mince
- Mix all the ingredients except for the brandy in a large baking bowl. Let it sit overnight in a refrigerator.
- The next day, heat the oven to 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the mince from the fridge, cover the bowl with a foil, and pop it into the warm oven for around 2 1/2 hours. The suet will melt during this time.
- At the end of the cooking time, take the mince out of the oven and give it a mix as it cools down. This is important to ensure that the mix is homogenous.
- Add the brandy and give the mix another stir to ensure that the brandy is mixed through. You can now let the fruits soak into the brandy for as long as you want. The alcohol and the suet will help to preserve the fruit. You can bottle up the mince and store it in a cool dry place.
For the pie
- For the pastry dough, cut the butter into the flour and then rub it in using just the tips of your finger till the mix looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Now bring it together using one teaspoon water at a time. Do not work it too much. You want the butter to stay as cold as possible. Once you have brought it together, just wrap it up in a cling sheet and keep in the fridge for half an hour.
- Prepare a 12 hole-tartlet tin by greasing it. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Divide the flour into two parts. Roll out one part on a lightly floured surface. Using a cookie cutter or a jar lid, cut out circles. Use these cutouts to line the tartlets. Now spoon in the mince into the tartlets.
- Roll out the other part and use a cookie cutter to cut out various shapes. Stars and circles make for great patterns. Slightly dampen the edges and put the cut-outs on top of the tartlets, pressing lightly and sealing the edges.
- Make a small slit on top of each tartlet and bake for about 20 minutes. The tops should look golden. Sprinkle the pies with icing sugar when serving.
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