So…mince pies. I’m still pushing flamingo biscuits as THE festive foodstuff of 2009, but for those of you who prefer something more traditional, I have sought out a heavenly recipe. It comes to me courtesy of a very good friend, who gave the original author, Josceline Dimbleby, the following glowing recommendation when she passed it on to me:“She was the unsung heroine of my childhood was Josceline. She managed to persuade my mother to be an adventurous cook and her reassuring words gently coaxed and held my mother’s hands as she took tentative steps into new culinary domains. Almost everything I remember liking as a child came from one of the books she wrote, mainly for Sainsbury’s, including her Christmas Book from which these mince pies are taken. My copy of the book, which I stole from my mother years ago, is a faithful festive friend.”
The Josceline Dimbleby Christmas Book is now sadly out of print, however a quick search on amazon.co.uk at the time of writing unearthed a few secondhand copies. I imagine these will be snapped up quickly though, especially at this time of year.
There are two secrets that make these pies particularly special. Firstly, the orange pastry, subtle and fragrantly alluring, and secondly, the scrumptious cream cheese mixture that sits atop the mincemeat, ready to surprise and delight the lucky eater. I urge you to try them.
Mince Pies De Luxe, taken from The Josceline Dimbleby Christmas Book
500g plain flour
175g caster sugar or icing sugar
375g butter, cold from the fridge
finely grated rind and juice of one large orange
250g full fat cream cheese
50g caster sugar
approx 500g mincemeat
milk to glaze
icing sugar to decorate
Sift flour and sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and rub into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (this step could also be done in a food processor, but don’t let the blade heat up too much – use the ‘pulse’ button if your machine has one). Stir in the grated orange rind and then the juice, a little at a time, until it forms a dough. Make into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour. Put your feet up, wrap some Christmas presents, listen to some cheesy tunes, drink some mulled wine, kiss someone under the mistletoe…
Mix the cream cheese and sugar until smooth and set aside. Lightly grease mince pie tins. Preheat oven to 200°C.
On a lightly floured board, knead the pastry briefly and then roll out a little thicker than usual as it is quite crumbly. Keep the working area as cold as possible – shouldn’t be hard if you’re in England – to keep the pastry workable. Using a round 3 inch diameter cutter (or a suitable drinking glass or something else you have to hand) cut out 24 circles. Make the leftover pastry into a ball and return to the fridge.
Line your prepared tins with the circles. Spoon a teaspoon of mincemeat into each pastry case – it should fill them about halfway up – followed by half a teaspoon of the cream cheese mixture.
Retrieve the remaining pastry from the fridge, roll out, and cut out 24 circles using a 2 inch diameter cutter. Cover each pie with one of these lids and press gently to seal; you may want to moisten the edges of each one with water first to help the two parts to stick together. If you’re the creative type, and to be absolutely sure your pies won’t fall apart when cooked, you could make a nice pattern around the edges of the lids with the prongs of a fork.
Make a small slit in the top of each pie with a sharp knife to allow the air to escape during cooking, then brush the tops with milk and bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until beautifully golden (think a week in Mustique rather than a lifetime in Florida).
Since this pastry is so delectably crumbly when cooked, allow the pies to cool in the tin before removing them. On absolutely no account try nibbling one when fresh from the oven – you will blitz your tastebuds into oblivion and regret it until March.
Serve sprinkled with icing sugar. They can be warmed in the oven first.