Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Christmas Mince Tarts

I was walking through the supermarket the other day and noticed the Christmas decorations on the shelves already;  a quick count up of weeks and I realised it is a month until Christmas – less by the time you are reading this. Who can I call about slowing down time?

One of the best things about Christmas for our family is the food. In New Zealand we are lucky to have a good mix of seasonal summer dishes here and some traditional Northern Hemisphere Christmas foods, too; fruit mince is one of those.

A Northern Hemisphere mince pie is a small British fruit-based mincemeat sweet pie traditionally served around Christmas. Its ingredients are traceable to the 13th century, when returning crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices.

The early mince pie was known by several names, including mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie. Traditionally its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet (the hard, white fat found around and kidneys and loins of farmed herbivores), a range of fruits, and spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

As Great Britain entered the Victorian age, the addition of meat had, for many, become an afterthought (although the use of suet remains today for some cooks). Over time, people began to prepare the fruit and spice filling months before it was required, storing it in jars, allowing the flavours to fully develop. The taste of fruit mince pre-Victorian age was similar to how we experience today, although some purists believe that without meat, the modern product lacks depth of flavour. I have had it both ways and have a preference for the inclusion of real meat (but I would happily eat meat for three meals a day).

I have included a recipe for pastry with this recipe. It is the same short, sweet pastry I have shared lots of times – it is so versatile and easy to make. If you know someone who is gluten intolerant, you can use spelt flour for this recipe. If you have a celiac in your life, Edmonds have a new gluten-free flour in their range that does an ok job of pastry.

Over the next couple of weeks I will share some more recipes for Christmas treats for sharing with others this season of giving.

Kia makona, Mawera Karetai x

-Sweet Short pastry
175g cold butter, cubed
120g icing sugar
1 cold egg
1 tsp lemon juice
300g standard or plain flour
Fruit Mince (best made at least a week ahead)

2 cups dried mixed fruit
1 cup, firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup slivered almonds, finely chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, quartered, cored, coarsely grated
40g butter, melted
2 tablespoons brandy, rum or whisky
3 teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1 egg, lightly whisked

Finely chop half the mixed fruit. Place in a large bowl. Add the brown sugar, almond, apple, butter, brandy (or other alcohol), lemon rind, lemon juice, cinnamon, mixed spice, nutmeg and the remaining mixed fruit. Stir until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside overnight, stirring occasionally, to macerate.

The next day, transfer the fruit mixture to a sieve over a bowl and stir to remove excess liquid. You can reserve the liquid to use as a drizzle if you are serving your pies afternoon tea.

To make the pastry, place the flour, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and lemon juice, and process until the mixture just starts to come together. Turn onto a clean work surface. Shape into a disc. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest.

Preheat oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick. Use an 8.5cm-diameter round pastry cutter to cut 20 discs from the pastry. Use a 5cm-diameter star-shaped pastry cutter to cut 20 stars from the remaining pastry, or if you like fiddly things, you can cut a complete top and seal the pie. I have used a fondant cutter to mark the tops of my pies.

Line twenty 80ml (1/3-cup) capacity muffin pans with pastry discs. Divide the fruit mince among the pastry cases. Top with pastry stars. Brush the stars lightly with the egg and sprinkle with white sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until light golden. Set aside in the pans for 5 minutes to cool before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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