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Christmas recipes: mincemeat with a twist, and light mince pies

Forget stodgy, overspiced, shop-bought mince pies; treat yourself to this lighter version instead

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jason Joseph Bonello / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

I first tasted mince pies only after I had moved to Hong Kong - they weren't something I ate while growing up in California, in the United States. I think of them as a very English thing, to be eaten with mulled wine while singing Christmas carols. I have never been impressed by commercial mince pies - they always seem too heavy and overspiced, so I was determined to make a version I liked.

Mincemeat

Traditionalists might not like this version of mincemeat, which is based on a recipe in the book Elizabeth David's Christmas. I changed it to suit my own tastes, adding ingredients I like, such as dried cranberries, dried apricots and candied yuzu zest. I don't feel guilty about messing with tradition because as I researched recipes the only thing they all seemed to have in common were dried fruit, spices and alcohol - they didn't always agree on the types of ingredient, or the amounts. Some recipes used suet, others didn't (I leave it out, making for lighter pies); some recipes had just a scant amount of alcohol, others were drenched in it.

It's best to make this at least a week in advance, so the flavours have time to blend. And feel free to adapt the recipe to suit your own tastes; add suet, if you like (beef butchers sell it very cheaply), use different types of dried fruit, or replace the brandy with rum. Precision is not critical - it's fine if your apples weigh more or less than 750 grams; if the packet of sultanas or cranberries weighs more than 250 grams, just add the excess to the mix; and if you like a stronger flavour, add more spices.

750 grams Granny Smith apples
250 grams unsulphured apricots
80 grams candied yuzu zest
180 grams candied orange zest
250 grams sultanas
350 grams dried currants
250 grams dried cranberries
275 grams sugar (I use half dark muscovado and half granulated)

1¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
The finely grated zest of one lemon
The finely grated zest of one orange
60ml fresh lemon juice
60ml fresh orange juice
120ml brandy

Peel and core the apples and trim off and discard any bruised spots. Cut the apples into fine cubes (about 3mm) and put them in a large bowl. Finely chop the apricots and candied zests and put them into a bowl. Add the remaining dried fruit and stir well to combine. In another bowl, thoroughly combine the sugar, spices and lemon and orange zest.

Add the spices to the fruit mixture and mix thoroughly, then stir in the lemon and orange juices and brandy. Pack the mincemeat into a sterilised container, cover with the lid and leave for a week or longer, stirring occasionally.

Sweetened shortcrust pastry
This recipe is adapted from one in the book La Patisserie de Pierre Hermé. I use a food processor but you can also use an electric mixer.

300 grams unsalted butter, slightly softened
190 grams icing sugar, sieved
1 gram salt
60 grams almond powder
2 large eggs, chilled
1 tsp vanilla extract
500 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for rolling the dough

Beat the butter until soft, then stir in the sugar and salt. Mix in the almond powder. Whisk the eggs with the vanilla extract and stir this into the butter mixture. Add the flour to the bowl and stir briefly, then finish mixing the ingredients by hand until the dough is a cohesive mass. Divide the dough into three portions and shape them into discs. Wrap the dough in a double layer of cling-film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Mince pies

1 large egg
Icing sugar, for dusting

If the dough is very firm, leave it at room temperature until it softens slightly, then knead it briefly to make it malleable. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface, dusting it with flour as needed. Roll the dough until it's about 2mm thick. Use a fluted cutter to cut out circles of the dough that are slightly larger than your individual pie moulds (mine are about 5cm in diameter). Gently fit the dough circles into the pie moulds. Press the scraps of dough together and roll them out on a lightly floured work surface. Use star cutters to cut out the tops for the pies. Refrigerate the pie shells and tops for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Whisk the egg with 15ml of warm water.

Fill the pie shells with the mincemeat, packing it in slightly and smoothing the surfaces. Brush the stars with the beaten egg, and put one on each pie.

Bake the pies for about 15 minutes, or until the pastry is pale golden. Cool them slightly, then remove from the moulds. Dust the pies with icing sugar just before serving.

 

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