The mince pie is as emblematic of the British culinary Christmas as a turkey roast, but like the ‘traditional’ festive dinner, it’s a relatively recent invention – in its modern incarnation, at least. In the 13th century, fresh from their adventures in the Holy Land, the crusaders returned to Britain with a taste for the spice-fruit-and-meat kitchen combos of the Middle East. Throw in a sprinkle of Catholic symbolism, and you have the ancestor of the mince pie – a savoury-sweet jumble of minced meats and dried fruits, baked in a pastry ‘coffin’.
But at some point in the Victorian era, the meat fell out, and the mince pie ditched all pretensions of savouriness and came down firmly on the side of sweet, bite-size seasonal treat. Over at the Cookery School at Little Portland Street, they’ve been baking their socks off in the run-up to Santa season, and one of the star features (literally) of their Christmas classes is this recipe for mini mince pies with a sweet shortcrust pastry – just the thing to pile on a platter for a festive shindig.
You can use bought mincemeat in the pies – but do feel free to jazz it up with a slug of brandy and some seasonal spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg are all recommended) to give them a bolder flavour.
- 450g plain flour
85g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
250g unsalted butter
4 or 5 egg yolks
A large jar of mincemeat (use as much as required)
1. Place the flour, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
2. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
3. Add 4 egg yolks and work together thoroughly to form a smooth dough. If the mixture seems too dry to come together, add another yolk. Chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and press out small balls of pastry into mince pie tins, keeping the pastry as thin as possible.
5. Using an appropriate-sized cutter, cut out tops to fit the pies. These can be small and decorative, or larger to cover the entire top of each mince pie.
6. Drop a spoonful of mincemeat into each pastry base, taking care not to overfill.
7. Place a pastry lid on each pie. These can be forked in place if they cover the entire mince pie top. Prick gently to release steam when baking. Alternatively, simply pop a shaped piece of pastry (such as a star) over the mince pie.
9. Chill again for at least 30 minutes before baking
10. Preheat your oven to 400ºC/ 200ºF/gas mark 6.
11. Bake the pies in the hot oven until golden brown – about 15 minutes.
12. Sift a little icing sugar over the top of the pies and serve with brandy butter.