The pastry is light and crumbly and is easy to work with. I always make my sweet shortcrust pastry with real butter because it really makes a difference in terms of the taste of the finished product and I urge you to do the same. I think we have the best tasting butter here in Ireland and I unashamedly use it all the time.
In the past pastry was used as a vehicle to encase various meats or fruits and was often discarded or left uneaten. These days pastry is an important edible element in the recipes in which it is used. Like so many recipes where very few ingredients are used, I believe that the quality of those ingredients is of critical importance so I use the best that I can afford.
I have also included a recipe for home-made mincemeat. This is another great preserve to make during the Autumn months in preparation for Christmas. It stores very well if spooned into sterilised jars and kept in a cool, dark cupboard. It is far easier to make than you might think. By all means use a quality, shop-bought mincemeat, but if you do I advise mixing a couple of spoons of brandy or a flavoured liqueur such as Amaretto or Cointreau through it, prior to using, to add a little extra taste of luxury to the finished pies.
Mince pies mean Christmas to me and they are a great treat to have stored in an airtight tin for when unexpected guests pop by. I should also mention that the uncooked, filled pies can be frozen and then cooked directly without thawing… just give them an extra 5-7 minutes in the oven.
450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped into smallish dice
225 shredded suet
225g candied peel
350g soft dark brown sugar
Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
Grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
2 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
4 tblsp brandy
2 tblsp CointreauSweet shortcrust pastry:
175g plain flour
50g icing sugar
100g butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
1. Combine all the ingredients except the brandy and Cointreau in a large ceramic or other oven-proof mixing bowl making sure to stir well so that everything is thoroughly mixed together.
Cover the bowl loosely with foil and leave the mixture in a cool place overnight, so that the flavours have a chance to develop.
2. Preheat the oven to 110C/Fan oven 90C/Gas Mark ¼. Place the foil covered bow in the oven for three hours. Remove from the oven. The mixture will look quite liquid at this stage but will thicken as it cools.
3. Stir from time-to-time as it cools. When it is completely cooled stir through the brandy and Cointreau. Pack into sterilised jars and store in a cool dark place until you wish to use it.
To Make the Mince Pies:
1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar together into a large bowl. Add the diced butter and using your fingertips rub into the flour and icing sugar until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add in the egg yolk and a tablespoon of water and mix to bring everything together to form a dough. Do not over-work the dough. Cover the dough with cling-film and allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 190C/Fan Oven 170C/Gas Mark 5. Thinly roll out the pastry on a lightly floured work-surface and using a 7cm round cookie cutter, stamp out rounds of the pastry and use to line individual patty tins. Put a generous teaspoon of mincemeat into each. Using a pastry brush, dampen the edge of each little pie with a little water or a beaten egg and place another round of pastry on top. Seal the pies by pressing the pastry tops and bottoms together with the tines of a fork.
3. Place in the preheated oven and cook for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow cool in the tins.
4. I love these served at room temperature with a little dusting of icing sugar. When completely cold they can be stored very successfully in an air-tight tin for up to 5 days, but they have never lasted that long in my household.