Baking Your Own Mince Pies

After making your mince according to my earlier recipe, you’re undoubtedly raring to go in terms of making your own mince pies, right? Or maybe you skipped the mincemeat and simply bought some jars – no harm in that! I’d personally recommend the Co-operative’s brand, which is nicely warm in flavour but can be livened up with a bit of lemon juice as it does tend toward sweetness.

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Making shortcrust pastry is often a daunting prospect. Getting your pastry nice and crumbly, whilst also keeping it in one piece so you can help your pies stay together. But it’s a lot easier than you think it might be – whether you have a food processor or not!

First of all, get about two parts of flour per one part butter – so say 100 grams of butter to 200 grams of flour. Plain flour, I hasten to add. To this, add another 100 grams of sugar – I like caster, which blends in well, but you could use granulated if you don’t mind it being a bit grainier (or if that’s what you’re going for). You need your butter to be cold, for this. Don’t let it sit outside the fridge – it comes right from the refrigerator, cold and hard, and goes in. Cube it into little cubes, about a cubic half-inch or so, and then:

–         If you’re using a food processor, bung everything in and zap it until you get a breadcrumb consistency. You want to make sure you put a bit of a layer of flour and sugar – say about half – then add the butter, making sure it doesn’t all clump together. Then on top, add the other half of the dry ingredients. This will stop your food processor from clumping the butter into one corner and help it mix everything up.

–         If you don’t have a food processor, grab a knife. This is going to take some time, and what you want is to put all your ingredients in a big bowl and sit down on the sofa with the telly on. You want to zone out for some time. Now begin cutting each cube into two, then each smaller clump of butter, then the next step down… Just cut the butter into the flour whilst doing something else. You need to divert your attention so you won’t get impatient and bring the dough together before it’s ready. Again, you want the consistency of breadcrumbs.

The coldness of the butter keeps the flour from absorbing too much of it, but if you overwork the dough you will find that it becomes elastic and smooth, which basically means you’ve overworked the butter and stretched the gluten. At this stage, it is no longer shortcrust – the same issue is seen in shortbread – so avoid over-working it. Make the crumbs as small as you can before you bring your hands into it.

Now dip your hands into some cold water, making sure your hands are nice and cold and won’t over-warm the butter, before drying them off and using them to – quickly, concisely, and quite roughly – bring the dough together. If you think it’s too dry, chuck in a tablespoon’s worth of cold water, but try and avoid it. Your dough should be quite crumbly; wrap it in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for an hour or so.

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When you take out the dough, give it a very quick knead – and I mean literally, perhaps two or three minutes. Then roll it flat and cut out rounds that go into your muffin tin. Mini muffin tins allow you to make adorable bite-sized mince pies; ordinary ones allow for the more traditional ones. Spoon in a tablespoon’s worth of mince (for a regular-sized mince pie) or a teaspoon’s worth (for mini ones) and cover with another round, slightly smaller. Use a bit of cold water to seal the lid onto the base. If you want to be creative, get some Christmassy cookie cutters and make your lids a bit more seasonal! They don’t have to touch at all sides, or even at all – a lid floating serenely on a sea of mince can be delicious, too!

Now bake them in a moderate oven. The time depends on the size of your pies. You’ll want your shortcrust to be browning a little, but not too much. Dust with icing sugar, and you’re done. You’ll never know a more satisfying baking experience than homemade mince pies, so get stuck in!

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