Mince Pies and other Festive (sort of) Bakes

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As my housemates and I are all heading home to our families when our university term finishes this Friday, we decided to have our own ‘Christmas Day’ on Sunday, where we swapped Secret Santa presents, watched cheesy festive films like The Holiday, and of course cooked a Christmas Dinner together. It came off really well and was such a lovely way to get even more into the Christmas spirit! It is now only a week away, after all – how does the 25th creep up on us so fast?! With decorations from Poundland adorning the kitchen/lounge, I took advantage of the quiet of the day before the festivities to make these puddings.

You absolutely have to have Mince Pies at Christmas; I think they’re delicious and don’t let myself buy them before the 1st December so I can eat one for every day of Advent in preparation for the strains Christmas Dinner inevitably puts on my poor little stomach. Home-made ones really are far superior to shop-bought (yep, even Mr Kipling!) and are SO easy to make! Unless you make your own mincemeat I suppose – I haven’t before, but if you have spare time and fancy trying your hand at it, the comments on this nice simple recipe suggest that its well worth the effort! http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/13377/traditional-mincemeat When I have my own kitchen…. *sigh* Disclaimer: I love sharing a house with my coursemates – I’ll miss it so much after this year! – but like some people might envisage their dream house, dream car or dream wedding, I cannot wait to have my own dream kitchen in the hopefully not too distant future!

By mutual agreement, we also decided to have cheesecake for dessert, Lemon and Ginger Cheesecake to be precise. I have a small confession to make; I did experiment with recipes a bit for the cheesecake pictured here, and though it tasted delicious…it didn’t set. It was in the fridge for at least 7 or 8 hours and ended up like a Masterchef ‘Deconstructed Cheesecake’ on the plate when I served it. So, in light of that, though it tasted nice, I will give you links to the recipes I mixed and matched (not a great idea, as it turns out, but quite fun anyway) and you can pick and choose your favourite. Definitely decorate it with raspberries though. No exceptions.

***A few notes on Mince Pies: I don’t normally say this, but for the pastry, real butter is the only way to go! Spreads and margarine just melt too quickly and don’t give the pastry any structure, which would be bad news as this pastry is quite crumbly anyway. Normal caster or granulated sugar work fine here though, and the egg, by the way, is for glazing – don’t get confused and throw it in with the pastry as well. This pastry seems like it will never come together to form a dough – persevere, it will do, you just have to keep kneading. Don’t go mad though; pastry doesn’t like being overworked and toughens up if you do that. Though this version is very forgiving as they go. Okay, last thing – I had a block of puff pastry in the freezer which needed using up, so half the batch were shortcrust and half were puff pastry. I like both, but which one’s best? There’s only one way to find out…BAKEEEEE!

Mince Pies – Ingredients

  • 225g cold butter, diced
  • 350g plain flour
  • 100g golden caster sugar (normal caster or granulated sugar also work fine)
  • 1 small egg
  • 280g (approx) mincemeat – jarred or homemade, see above for recipe link

Method

Step 1. Make the shortcrust pastry. Rub the cold butter into the flour to a breadcrumb consistency, then mix in the sugar. Add a pinch of salt if your butter is unsalted. Combine the pastry into a ball – remember my note earlier – and knead. Don’t add any liquid, or if you absolutely must, just wet your hands under the cold tap briefly and continue kneading. The pastry can now be chilled and kept for later if you need it to be.

Step 2. Line the tart tin with about two thirds of your pastry. Press walnut-sized balls of pastry into each hole with your thumb (tip: cutting your nails short makes this a lot easier!). Try and line the base and sides evenly, and not too thickly or the pastry won’t be crisp.

Step 3. Dollop teaspoons of mincemeat into each pie case. Not too much or they overflow and get very sticky and messy in the oven. Now use the remaining third of the pastry to make little lids for the pies. At home my mum has a mini star cutter which looks fab, but here I had to go with my bare hands to press out circular lids. If your lids cover the whole pie and seal the sides, cut a small slit in the middle of the pastry lid to allow steam to escape.

Step 4. Eggwash the pies (beaten egg, brushed on with a pastry brush or your finger) to give them their lovely golden glaze, then pop them in the oven for 20 minutes at 200C/Gas Mark 6. When they’re done, cool them in the tins for 5 minutes before moving them to a wire rack to cool completely before storing. Serve with brandy butter (something else I only ever have at Christmas time and look forward to greatly!) if you like, and dusted with icing sugar.

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All this blogging about mince pies has stirred a craving for one in me (happens at least 5 times a week in December)…off downstairs to nab a leftover pie from the tin!

Okay: cheesecake ideas. Do try lemon and ginger – the lemon juice goes in the topping, zest in the base which is made of crushed gingernut biscuits – its a brilliant combination, and actually quite refreshing after an enormous roast dinner. Especially served and decorated with fresh raspberries; almost a healthy end to the indulgence!

This is Mary Berry’s recipe, from which I plagiarised the idea of lemon curd in the topping: http://www.bakingmad.com/lemon-cheesecake-on-a-ginger-crust-recipe/

This Classic cheesecake recipe is a great staple and probably the least, and quickest, work of any I’ve seen: http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/514277

Mine included icing sugar, lemon curd, lemon juice, double cream and, obviously, cream cheese. The biscuit base was a definite success, actually, that’s just melted butter, lemon zest and crushed ginger biscuits pressed into the dish and chilled. Experimentation is fun and educational, but you have to be prepared to get back up on the horse if things don’t go to plan!

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Deceptively sturdy looking whilst still in its dish…

Enjoy all your Christmas baking; I should be posting again soon with (very last-minute I know) edible gift ideas for the holiday season 🙂

Peppermint Tea Cupcakes

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I don’t like to drink normal tea – by ‘normal’ I mean PG Tips, Tetleys, good ol’ Yorkshire, you get the picture – which is a fact my Yorkshire friends have never been able to comprehend. One of my flatmates got me into peppermint tea in my first year at uni though,  so I now have an alternative hot drink (aside from hot chocolate which gets pretty calorific if you try and keep up with the tea drinkers) for those awkward moments when someone goes “WHAT?? You don’t like TEA??” 

One particular afternoon earlier this week, I was relaxing on the sofa in our living room, eating a bowl of hot, fragrant casserole and reading my book. Ahhh. I am, however, currently wincing my way through Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho for my course, so it wasn’t all quite as cosy as it sounds. I had an sudden urge to bake – in reality probably just an excuse to put my book down, which is saying something for me – so I flicked through my ‘Cake Days’ book and came across a recipe for Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes, with a variation listed at the bottom… the Hummingbird Bakery had triumphed once again! Peppermint Tea Cupcakes were on the menu; the perfect combination of my taste in hot drinks and the available contents of my cupboard.

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Not exactly light bedtime reading…

This is a really easy recipe, but also something a bit different. The peppermint flavour is subtle; steep the teabags for as long as you want (30 minutes minimum) but obviously the longer the time the stronger the flavour. You could also experiment with frostings and drizzles. I’ve used a (completely improvised) mint chocolate sauce that sets to a fudgey consistency, but a peppermint or chocolate buttercream  would be really nice as well. Similarly, I’m all for tea diversity – go with the original recipe using Earl Grey, or try out fruit and other herbal teas. Make up a frosting to match; for example vanilla would be lovely with the earl grey cakes and decorate with corresponding petals/chocolates/sprigs..it’s all about the flavour-decoration coordination, guys.

Ingredients:

  • 3 peppermint teabags
  • 3tbsp just-boiled water
  • 80g butter (unsalted, softened)
  • 280g caster sugar
  • 240g plain flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder (yes, 1 tablespoon – I know its a lot!)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 200ml milk
  • 2 large eggs

 

Method:

Step 1. Put the teabags in a bowl and cover with the boiled water. Leave to brew for 30 minutes or longer.

Step 2. Mix the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt (all the dry ingredients) together until the mixture looks like fine sand, or breadcrumbs. This is easier with an electric whisk but persevere by hand; it looks like it won’t ever come together, but it will. Trust your ingredients.

Step 3. Measure out the milk into a jug, then whisk in the eggs. Squeeze all the liquid out of the teabags into the eggs and milk, including any liquid left in the bowl from the steeping. If the tea is strong the mixture goes a nice milky-coffee-beige colour. KEEP THE TEABAGS if you want to make the Hummingbird frosting, which I will write out the recipe for below.

Step 4. Add about two thirds of the milk-egg-tea liquid to the dry ingredients and combine carefully. Add a little more til the batter is smooth, then beat in the last bit to get a lump-free mixture. Hummingbird cake mixture is runnier than normal; don’t panic! They rise beautifully and stay very moist that way.

Step 5. Ladle even amounts of batter into cupcake cases lining a 12 hole muffin or cupcake tin. The mixture will make more than 12 cakes, so if you have two trays, use two, if not, bake them in batches.The cases should be about 2 thirds full before baking to allow the mixture to rise.

Step 6. Bake the cupcakes in the oven at 190C/Gas Mark 5 for 18-20 minutes. Don’t open the door before the first 18 minutes are up! It will more than likely deflate the cakes. They are ready when the tops are golden and springy to the touch. Take them out, leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then cool completely on a wire rack before decorating.

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Getting artistic (i.e. messy) with the chocolate sauce

 

So my ‘icing’ was something of an experiment – I didn’t have any icing sugar or butter left. Basically, I steeped the peppermint teabags used for the cake mixture in some milk (use fresh one if they split when you squeezed them out; I went through a complicated process of filtering through kitchen towel when this happened to me) for around half an hour again, then melted some dark chocolate, heated the minty milk and mixed the two together to make a glossy chocolate sauce. I’m afraid I have no idea of quantities; measure by eye based on what you think you’ll need. I always make too much icing, I find it goes further than you think. Don’t make the chocolate sauce too runny by adding lots and lots of milk – it won’t set as well. Drizzle over your cupcakes when the sauce is still warm and leave to go gooey. Pretty yummy for an experiment!

Alternatively, here is the recipe for the Hummingbird frosting for these cakes:

Ingredients:

  • 50ml milk
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 160g butter (unsalted)

 

Method:

Step 1. Put the peppermint teabags in a bowl with the milk and leave for half an hour to infuse. 

Step 2. Whisk the butter and icing sugar together – on a low speed if using an electric mixer – until no lumps of butter are left. Add the milk, again squeezing out all the liquid from the teabags, whilst mixing slowly, then whisk vigorously until the frosting is soft and fluffy. 

Step 3. Swirl onto the cupcakes with a palette knife or the back of a teaspoon. Enjoy!

Source: Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days Cookbook, ‘Earl Grey Tea Cupcakes’ (Variations). Thanks for reading 🙂