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 🙂

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