(Image by Tracie Heaseman)
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my Grandmother’s kitchen, from polishing the silver to putting on elaborate tea parties. My Grandmother, or Mumma as we called her, was a great cook and at Christmas time she came into her own. Preparations for Christmas would start in July and most of December was a flurry of activity as she created wonderful edible gifts for friends and family. Anyone who stopped by in December was sure to leave with a jar of sugared peanuts or a box of spiced biscuits. But if you were truley priviledged you would receive a dozen of her mince pies.
I have to admit I am a HUGE snob when it comes to Christmas mince pies. In fact I have never tasted one that I like except Mumma’s. The mince is rich but not too sweet and the pastry is light and buttery. Although a little fiddly and time consuming, they are always worth the effort. I remember a couple of Christmases where there were 3 or 4 of us crammed in my Grandmother’s kitchen working like a production line just to get enough made for those expectant family and friends. You can imagine the chaos of a bunch of very opinionated, loud women all in one kitchen. Yet it is these moments I miss now that Mumma is gone. I am just so thankful for the times we did have and the amazing tips she passed on. So here is her recipe;
For the mince
In a non-metallic bowl mix together;
2 cups sultanas
2 cups mixed fruit
2 or 3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and roughly chopped
Juice and rind of 1 orange & 1 lemon
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
½ cup brandy
Cover and leave in the fridge overnight (or longer). Then in batches mince up in your kitchen whizz.
The mince will last ages! In fact it improves with age. Simply store in airtight jars in the fridge. This recipe does make quite a lot so you can use the mince in all sorts of other things like muffins, stir through stewed apple before making an apple pie with a difference or stir through softened vanilla ice cream before re-freezing.
250g softened butter
1 cup sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
In your whiz blend the butter, sugar and eggs. I now add a ½ tspn of vanilla paste in at this point too. Once combined add the flour and baking powder. Now at this point you need to forget everything you know about pastry and that it should be handled as little as possible. This pastry loves to be played with. Turn the whizz on and let it go until it forms a ball. You may need to add more flour depending on how big your eggs were. When it comes to a ball tip out onto a well floured bench and knead. The pastry will soak up the flour on your bench. What you are looking for is a smooth pasrty with no visible sugar granuals. It should also be pliable but not sticky. Form into 2 balls and wrap in Glad Wrap to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
To assemble the pies, pre-heat your oven to 180°C and grease some muffin tins. Flour your bench and roll the pastry out to about 2mm thickness. As you roll turn the pastry often. It should stay together in one peice this way. If not, simply knead together and start again.
Cut out rounds to fit into your muffin tins. The pastry should come about halfway up the tin. Then fill each case with just under a teaspoon of mince and top with a star of the pastry, or you can cover the top completely with pastry. This is always a huge debate in the family as to which is better, so I will leave that up to you.
Then bake in the oven for about 10 minutes. You need to keep a good eye on them as they burn very quickly! You don’t want them to be brown, they simply need to have a little blush of colour. When cool store them in an airtight container. They freeze well too.