“It’s comin’ on Christmas…”

Well that time of year has rolled around again. From the kitchen stream the dulcet tones of Joni pining to skate away from her uncomfortable familiarity with the festivities. But also coming from there is the heady, luxurious smell of maturing fruit cakes- rich, enrobing and comfortably nostalgic. This year has seen me churn out the grand total of 8 christmas cakes. Not bad going for someone who’s not exactly their no. 1 fan!
Making these it struck me again how much I had unwittingly absorbed in the kitchen as a child. From my mother’s hip I watched as she wove Yuletide magic steeping and stirring; trimming and tying. I loved being in the kitchen at Christmas time whilst growing up. It was one of best places to forget whatever trials and tribulations had occurred. Christmas was always peak season for arguments in our house (I dare say as probably in most). That mix of self-imposed stress and duty mixed with excitement was a delicate scales in which the looming frenzy of the Christmas day often tipped the balance.
It was in these time I could loose myself in my mother preparing and baking the festive season’s fare. From cakes to puddings; mince pies to brandy butter- they were all homemade weeks in advance. It’s somewhat sheepishly that I admit to having a bizarre fascination with the latter. I don’t just mean over-indulgence. I mean smearing it in everything from toast to biscuits- even eating it like yogurt from the reclaimed tubs. There was nothing quite like a spoonful of that sugary paste melting sublimely on my tongue. The things we do as children! In a rather paradoxical turn of events post-puberty I cannot stand the stuff. Eating it with pudding or cake is bad enough but to have it “raw” (as I used to think of it when younger) absolutely beggars belief for me! To quote my Scottish family it “gie’ me the boak”.
So parking the idea of brandy butter and the associated puddings this year I decided to have a go at making mince pies and mincemeat. Basing my only knowledge of these so far solely on childhood memories, I always thought of them as being too complicated and time consuming. All those ingredients together and THEN you have to bake them. Who on earth had the time to do that normally – let alone at this time of year? I also have to confess to not being a particular fan of mince pies (come to think of it dried-fruit bakes in general- horror I know!) However there’s usually one that will find it’s way on to my plate in flurry of “devil may care” festive abandonment. I prefer it unadorned- no cream; no custard; no brandy butter (!) In contrast to my husband, who will throw every diary-based condiment at a mince pie thus turning it into a festively Frankenstein Iles Flottantes, I prefer to let the sweet waftings the of cinnamon sugar dusting speak for itself.
And since it be the Season of Giving ….

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This is my first venture at making my own mincemeat and having passed the test with husband & children I’m mighty please with the results (even if info say so myself!) Wonderfully festive and lip-smackingly fruity it beats the shop-bought jars any day.
In this recipe the pastry is the one thing I will succumb to shop buying. It’s Christmas and who has all that time to stretch out yard upon yard of micro thin pastry! I use filo pastry as it allows the full, juicy flavour of the mincemeat comes through. There’s also something about the contrast between the crispy, flaky casing with the sweet, fragrant filling that just adds an extra “oomph!” to the pies.

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For the mincemeat
200g Sultanas
200g Currants
175g Dried Figs, chopped
100g mixed peel
75g stem ginger, chopped into small pieces
150g suet
1 large Branley Apple, chopped into small pieces
Zest and Juice of 2 Clementines
Juice of 1 Lemon
35g chopped almonds
35g pecans, toasted and chopped
4 tablespoons Dark Rum
5 tablespoons of Port
4 tablespoons Brandy
1 tablespoon Vanilla Extract
225g Dark Muscavado
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the poinsettias

12 sheets of Filo pastry
25g unsalted butter, melted
Cinnamon Icing sugar (for dusting)

  • Mix all the ingredients, except the alcohol, in a large saucepan until well combined. You want to make sure everything is covered in both sugar and spice. Heat over a gentle heat until suet has melted.
  • Remove from the heat, add in the alcohol and stir well.
  • Cover and leave to cool and infuse overnight (longer if possible) stirring occasionally.
  • Place into sterilised jars and store in a cool place. Once in jars the mincemeat will last for up to 6 months.
  • That’s it! This recipe will be good for 36 of the mince pies mentioned below.

For the mince poinsettia pies carry on to the next steps.

  • Preheat your oven to 180c/ 160fan. Spray a 12-hole muffin tin with cake release spray or oil.
  • Lay the sheets of filo pastry out on top of each other and cut them in half across the width. Then cut each half in half again to give four stacks, roughly square in shape. Using a pizza wheel-cutter makes this job a lot easier!
  • Line each hole of the muffin tin with a mini-sheet of filo. Brush with a little melted butter.
  • Repeat the above step until you have 3 sheets of filo in each hole. Rotate the sheets slightly so that the overlay each other staggered. Gently push the filo down into the hole so it takes the full shape of the tray. The edges of the sheets will drape over the holes giving the “poinsettia” effect. After repeating 3 times there will be 12 mini-sheets left, keep these under some damp kitchen paper for now.
  • Please the filo-lined trays in the over for about 5 mins, until pale golden.
  • Place 2 tablespoons of mincemeat into each pie case.
  • Using the remaining filo mini-sheets, scrunch one over each pie filling making a “cap” for the pie. You don’t need to be neat as the “scrunched up” / folded look adds to the effect.
  • Brush the new filo tip with the remaining melted butter.
  • Bake in the oven for 10mins until golden and crispy.
  • When ready remove the pies from the oven and place in a wire rack. If using, dust the hot pies with the cinnamon icing sugar and bask in the unmistakably festive fragrance!

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