There are things I really don't like about this time of year: the shortening days, the chilly weather, closing my windows, wearing layers, to name a few. Mince pies are one of the things that make this time of year okay. The buttery, flaky crust. The sweet, spicy, fruity, gooey filling. The port you have alongside. If the tomatoes of summer need long, hot days, the mince pies of winter need cold, dark weather to be fully enjoyed.
It is a bit early yet to be handing out mince pies, but it is most certainly not too early to put a jar of mincemeat in the fridge. Get it done now (it'll keep, the brandy takes care of that) so you don't have to worry about it later. The recipe I use makes a little over a quart, which is enough for maybe 30 pies. Don't feel you have to follow it to a T. You don't like almonds? Use walnuts or pecans. I cobbled together a batch a couple weeks ago with dates, dried apricots, raisins, currants, figs, walnuts, sugar, spices, the zest and juice of an orange and a little brandy, leaving out the candied citrus peel and suet 'cause I didn't have any. Not a big deal and just as tasty. So put in what you like and don't fret--there's plenty of stress to go around this time of year as it is.
for about 15 pies
- Have ready your full reserve of patience, muffin tins, one large and one smaller (the same diameter as the top of a muffin) cookie cutter, a small dish of water, a petal tip from your cake decorating kit and/or a shaped cookie cutter for the tops, a milk or egg wash, a pastry brush, and some coarse sugar. Oh, and your mincemeat and pie dough.
- Remove dough from fridge, cut in half, and put the half you're not working with back in the fridge. Roll out the other half and, using the large round cookie cutter, cut out six circles. Ideally, the circles will fit into the muffin tin with enough sticking out the top to fold over the top. If not (mine didn't) you will have to roll the circles a little bigger until they do. Line muffin tin with dough.
- Fill shells with mincemeat, pressing it in gently yet firmly so the pie will take on the shape of the muffin tin. If you left the suet out of the mincemeat, put a knob of butter on top of the mincemeat before covering it.
- Cut out six smaller circles. While these are still on the work surface, use the petal tip to cut out vent holes in a nice pattern. Cover your pies with their tops and either crimp the top and bottom crusts together as you would for a full-size pie or simply fold the bottom crust over the top, using a little water to seal them. Either way, make sure your pies are well sealed so any bubbling happens through the vent holes and not the sides.
- If you are using a cut out shape for the tops, trim the bottom crust so it has an even edge. Fold the edge of the bottom crust about a cm over the mincemeat then put the shape on top.
- Repeat with remaining dough. Also feel free to gather the scraps, reroll them and make more pies.
- Brush tops with the wash of your choice right before they go in the oven and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you're so inclined. Bake at 375°F for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.
Serve at room temp, preferably with a delicious beverage (wine, port, scotch, tea, coffee, milk).
This might help clarify the process.
You will undoubtedly have mincemeat left over if you make only one recipe of pie crust, but by then you will have run out of patience anyway, so save the mincemeat for another day. The holiday season is long enough that by the time you want to make mince pies again you'll have forgotten what a pain they are to put together. But they're worth it. They're delicious and such fun to give away, particularly here because they're still somewhat of a novelty (that is if you live in the back of beyond, as I do).