Mince pies & mincemeat

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    9

    small tarts

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Mince pies are very medieval in their nature. These rich tarts, filled with dried fruits and spices soaked in alcohol, were a status symbol as only the rich could afford these delicacies. Mince pies are filled with mincemeat – minced meat – and that immediately gives us an insight into the history of this tart. There used to be meat in Mince pies, but nowadays only the suet or kidney fat reminds us of the ‘meaty’ history of this pie. Beef was used in the filling, but also veal or ox tongue and mutton. The latter is, in my opinion, the best combination, although lamb also works well in combination with the spices and fruits and for most people it’s much easier to obtain than mutton.

The first cookbook in the English language, The Forme Of Cury from around 1390, contains various recipes for similar tarts, some even with white fish or salmon instead of meat. The Tarte Of Fleshe in The Forme Of Cury is most similar to the Mince pie. Gervase Markham used a whole leg of mutton in his mince pies in 1615.

Minc’t Pie

Take a Legge of Mutton, and cut the best of the flesh from the bone, and parboyl it well then put to it three pound of the best Mutton suet & shred it very small; then spread it abroad, and fashion it with Salt Cloves and Mace: then put in good store of Currants, great Raisins and Prunes clean washed and picked a few Dates sliced, and some Orenge-pils sliced; then being all well mixt together, put it into a coffin, or divers coffins, and so bake them and when they are served up, open the lids and strow store of Sugar on the top of the meat and upon the lid. And in this sort you may also bake Beef or Veal, onely the Beef would not be parboyld, and the Veal will ask a double quantity of Suet.

Gervase Markham, The English Huswife, 1615

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Mince pies became much smaller and were made in various shapes and then placed together on a serving dish so that all shapes formed a whole, as if they were different parts of a decorative puzzle.

Although Mince pies made their appearance on every major festive occasion, they have been connected to Christmas since the 19th century. During the Victorian period, Mince pies were made with a base of shortcrust and a top of puff pastry. Only since the 20th century has the meat finally disappeared from the Mince pie recipes in cookbooks. Today only one pastry is used at a time, either shortcrust (which has become traditional) or puff pastry (which is rarely seen).

The combination of fruits and spices is often diverse, but raisins, currants and candied lemon, cedro and/or orange peel are standard. Some old recipes also contain prunes, dates, figs or candied ginger. Spices are usually cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg. There is always grated apple or pear and sometimes also lemon or orange juice – mostly from Seville oranges (these are very acidic and also the basis for English marmalade).

You can make the mincemeat in this large quantity and store it in the fridge for up to 6 months in sterilised preserving jars. It’s best made a month in advance so that the flavours can mature. You can use it for different recipes in this book, such as the Cumberland rum nicky and the Eccles cakes.

These tarts are made with a finer shortcrust pastry than the other tarts in this book.

Ingredients

For the fine shortcrust pastry

  • 180 g (6 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 20 g (¾ oz) icing (confectioners’) sugar
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 100 g ( oz) chilled butter, diced
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • butter, for greasing
  • flour, for dusting
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash

For the filling

For the mincemeat (880 g/1 lb 15 oz)

  • 175 g (6 oz) currants
  • 175 g (6 oz) large dark raisins
  • 175 g (6 oz) stewing apple, in small pieces
  • 50 g ( oz) candied orange peel
  • 50 g ( oz) prunes, pitted and chopped
  • 115 g (4 oz) shredded suet or butter, frozen and grated
  • 115 g (4 oz) soft brown sugar
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground mace
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • pinch of sea salt
  • ½ lemon or Seville orange, juice and zest
  • 250 ml (9 fl oz) brandy or rum (or half sherry, half rum)

Method

For a tin with 6 cm (2½ inch) shallow mince pie moulds

Put all the ingredients for the mincemeat in a bowl and add the brandy or rum to cover the fruit. Stir well, then let it rest overnight. The next day, stir again and then divide among sterilised preserving jars.

To make the pastry, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it is the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Add the water and egg yolk and knead until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough. Alternatively, use a food processor to make the pastry. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F). Butter the tart moulds and cover the base of each with a small circle of baking paper. Dust with flour.

Briefly knead the pastry until smooth, then pat it into a rectangle and roll it out to a thickness of 3 mm ( inch). Use a round cutter with a diameter of 7-8 cm (2¾-3 ¼ inches) to cut out pastry circles. Gently push the pastry rounds into the tart moulds. Prick the base of each tart shell three times with a fork.

Knead the remaining dough back together and roll it out to cut out the lids – you can choose whichever shape you like, but stars are the most traditional.

Divide the filling among the tarts and press down gently. Place the lids on top and brush with the egg wash.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

Serve warm or cold.