I just learned from the Asheville Chamber of Commerce that my recipe for Holiday Mince Pies is going to be featured on their Holiday Pinterest Board. And this morning there was a professional food photographer in my kitchen at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast making my humble little Mince Pies the center of attention. I was sort of hoping she would use one of those tricks I’ve heard photographers use, like spraying them with hair spray to make them shine, but she said they were fine as they were. Nevertheless, it took almost two hours to get the shot!
Mince pies are a British tradition and while they are found in some areas of the United States and Canada they are not ubiquitous here they way they are in the UK. There the groceries store and bakeries start to sell them in mid-November and for many people in England the Christmas season has not started until they have munched on their first mince pie. What are they? They are boozey little tarts made of dried fruits, apples and brandy. In spite of its name, mincemeat no longer contains any meat although I do remember that one year my mother made some from a very old recipe just to see what it was like. I don’t remember the outcome but she never did it again so it can’t have been worth the work. Here at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast we make our mincemeat from scratch, aging it for four to six weeks before baking it in a pie, but you can get by very well with a good commercial brand, especially if you add a little fresh orange peel and a drop of orange liqueur to brighten it up.
The Chamber is going to put the recipe up with the photo but I thought I would show you how to make them in a little more detail because, tell the truth, the only thing stopping you from making this is fear of pastry, right? Well, there is a very good pastry known in France as Pate Brisee which I use for these pies which is forgiving and easy to make. Once you have this down you will be making tarts like crazy!
You will need a food processor. (If you don’t have one, give me a call at our Asheville Bed & Breakfast and I will walk you through how to do it with a couple of sharp knives). Put the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of the processor and give it a quick whirl to mix it up. Then cut COLD butter (right out of the refrigerator cold) into chunks and put it in the processor, like this:
Pulse the processor until the mixture resembles what the food industry calls “coarse meal”. It should look like crumbs smaller than peas but not overly fine. Like this:
Now turn the processor on and with it running slowly dribble in 1/4 to 1/2 cup of ICE COLD water until it starts to comes together in a ball. Like this:
Take it out of the processor, form a ball, flatten it then wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I usually make mine the day before.
The next day, preheat the oven to 425 degrees and get out your tart tray. You can use a mini-muffin pan if you don’t have a proper mini-tart tray (which you probably don’t. I got mine in England but I did see some on Amazon.) Put the pie filling in a bowl, adjust the flavouring and give it a stir to break up any lumps of fruit. Then take half of the pastry out of the fridge and roll it as you would any pie crust. Use a circular cookie cutter to cut the pie tops and bottoms. (If you don’t have a cookie cutter of the right size you can use a glass).
Fill the tarts with about 1 tablespoon of mincemeat. This is the only part that is tricky. Too much filling and it will leak out and make your pies stick, too little filling and it won’t taste like much. You may need to experiment.
Cover the pies with tops, using a little milk and a pastry brush to seal them and poking a little airhole in the top. If you have a small Christmas cookie cutter you can cut a star or tree to put on top but it isn’t necessary. Brush the tops all over with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar.
Bake fifteen to twenty minutes until browned and bubbling. Let them rest in the tins for a little before removing them. Enjoy!
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 sticks of cold butter (1 cup), cut into 1″ chunks
1/4 to 1/2 cup of ice water
Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Pulse the dry ingredients together in a food processor.
Add the butter, pulse once or twice until it resembles a coarse meal.
Slowly add water until pastry just comes together.
Form into a ball and refrigerate for at least one hour.
Makes enough for 24 small pies or one tart.