The year is coming to a close, Council is shutting up shop until the end of January, the Waiheke Local Board can’t cause too much more damage to the local economy and an easterly wind continues to sound like an on-coming train as it blasts its way through Putiki valley. Putting together these events tells me its time to get on and make some Christmas mince pies.
This is one of my favourite Christmas rituals. Not only are these treats delicious to eat but they are also therapeutic to make. With the best will in the world the shop bought ones don’t come near real thing made with your own pastry and homemade fruit mince.
Some planning ahead is required. My mixture of dried fruits, candied peel, and spices has been macerating in an alcoholic haze for a few weeks. This allows the dried fruit to plump up as it absorbs the alcohol and take on the flavour of rum and brandy that I’ve used in this year’s brew. They are my favourite poisons although I have used whiskey in the past but it doesn’t meld as well with the spices. The wonderful thing about making your own fruit mince is you can vary the recipe with ease to suit your own taste.
This year I’ve stuck to a mix of raisins, currants, sultanas, candies peel, brown sugar, grated apple, finely grated skin of orange and lemon, with some of their juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and some butter. Traditionally the recipe calls for shredded suet but I find butter works as well and is much easier to come by. A couple of years ago I added some dark chocolate to the mix but in the end I think it detracted from the expectation of a flavour learned from childhood so now I stick with tradition. I turn the mixture each day so all the fruit gets a chance to enjoy a tipple.
I will be baking nearly 200 pies this year so I’ve been making and freezing the pasty whenever I’ve had time. I could do as most recipes say and whiz the mixture of butter and flour together in a blender and I’m sure I’d get the same result but that would take away the greatest pleasure in the making of these little gems, getting my hands dirty. Well, perhaps not dirty but certainly a bit messy. My mother was no great shakes as a cook but she made gorgeous pastry. She used to let me help her by getting my hands into the mix of butter and flour and taught me how to rub in the butter with my fingertips while lifting the flour, a therapeutic process that is somehow comforting. This aerates the mixture as it starts to resemble fine breadcrumb making it lighter when baked.
Sweet shortcrust pastry is best. The Edmonds Cookbook recipe comes up trumps every time. The trick is to make the pastry on a cold day using cold utensils and cold water in just the right quantity, so no problem this Summer. Butter, free range eggs supplied by your friendly neighbour with their own chickens, and sugar make up the list of ingredients. Combine the ingredients into a stiff dough, knead until all the dough has come together and freeze or use, not quite, straight away.
The pasty should be cool when rolled out so half an hour in the fridge will suffice to make sure the butter doesn’t ooze. Work quickly to roll it out to around 2mm thick. Keep your surface well floured and have your pie tins ready buttered and floured to take the pastry. Pastry cutters come in all shapes and sizes but in the end I think the best pies are fully enclosed rather than have fancy shaped toppings.
Mind you, finding just the right sized pie tin is very tricky. The shops are full of muffin and cake tins but few pie tins of the right shape. Fortunately our recycle economy on the island means people are always taking their old tins to the New Hope shop and I’ve been lucky enough to accumulate a collection during the year so I can bake 48 at a time. The ideal pie is 6cm wide and about 15mm deep. This gives a pie that contains about a tablespoon of fruit mince and can be eaten in two or three bites.
Once you’ve cut out all your pastry put on the oven at 190C. I use fan bake. By the time you’ve filled all your pies, brushed the sides with beaten egg so the tops attach well, put on the tops and pressed them onto the base, put two holes in the top to let out any steam and brushed the tops with beaten egg, the oven will be warm enough to start baking.
Fifteen minutes later you should be removing perfect golden pies from the oven. Let them cool for five minutes in the tin and finish the cooling by lifting them onto wire racks. Just before they are served give them a dusting of icing sugar and hey presto a perfect morsel for your guests, or you.
Why not try making your own this year. There’s nothing better than serving friends and family with a delicious treat made with your own hands. It is, I think, the very essence of Christmas.
- Make your own fruit mince
- Douse it in alcohol
- Make your own pastry
- Make the pastry on a cold day
- Find the right sized pie tins
- Use the right amount for fruit mince
- Let them cool before eating