I’ve always been mad about Christmas even though as a child, it was not something we celebrated. My cousins, who are half German always did Christmas in a big way. My aunt used to bake up a storm, fiercely guarding her recipes – I most remember the almond star cookies with the cinnamon meringue tops that she always made without fail. (Luckily, Ginger recently posted a traditional recipe for these so I can make them now!) And they always had a big, gaily decorated tree in their sitting room, which I couldn’t tear my eyes away from.
I begged and whined every year for a tree and one year, we finally got one BUT – it was unceremoniously parked outside the doors to the verandah at the rear of our house and we had no decorations – I improvised with colourful metallic sweetie wrappers which I twisted to look like bows and oh, how I loved that tree. I sound so deprived but I wasn’t really. We were living in Nairobi, engaging mainly with our huge and extended Muslim family and it just wasn’t the done thing to celebrate Christmas – we had Eid, of course.
Needless to say, my first Christmas on my own included the largest tree we could get into the flat, strung with so many lights that we probably caused a dent in the national grid every time they were turned on. It was so laden with ornaments that the branches were bowing under their weight.
Since then, I have refined my tree decorating and have strings and strings of soft white lights – no coloured lights and certainly no flashing in time to music – which are wired to the branches so that they sit perfectly without any visible wires. There is no tinsel, no garland just lots of pretty, sparkly red, silver and gold ornaments and baubles, which have been amassed (amassed, being the key word) over the years.
Jake used to have a little tree in his room, which I do understand may be thought of as a little excessive but I had lost time to make up for! This little tree had very colourful ornaments and baubles – a practice, I am so happy to hear, that has been taken up by a friend, for her twin boys. Anyway, the bottom line is that I am just crazy about Christmas as a tradition – the twinkly lights everywhere, the smell of pine needles, the lovely things in the shops, the carols, the festive food, meeting up with friends for a Christmas drink, the parties and the general feeling of good cheer – I just love it!
And of course, I love the baking. This is one of the best recipes I have ever used for mince pie pastry. It’s short, rich and buttery with a wonderful flavour from the flecks of orange zest. It is not too sweet which balances with the sweet mincemeat. And it is ever so forgiving. The trimmings come together like playdoh and can be re-rolled a number of times. The dough doesn’t have to be kneaded – just patted into a disc, chilled and then rolled out. It keeps for days in the fridge too.
I always use shop bought mincemeat which I ramp up with port soaked dried cranberries and golden sultanas and orange zest. I usually grate an apple into the mixture before I fill the pies but this year I didn’t. Honestly, jazzing up shop bought mincemeat like this makes it taste absolutely wonderful and I never think to make my own from scratch.
Most years, I make at least two batches of mince pies with this pastry, usually with a glass of port and Michael Bublé for company! For me, this is when I start to feel really festive.
I am taking these to share with the wonderful bloggers at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #47. Today we are being co-hosted by two charming ladies – Indu @Indu’s International Kitchen and Jhuls @The Not So Creative Cook Do take a moment to see what Angie, Indu and Jhuls have been up to!
Orange Mince Pie Pastry
Adapted from Sainsbury’s Christmas Book by Joycelyn Dimbleby
For the mincemeat
- 200g of dried cranberries. dried cherries and golden sultanas
- enough port to cover the dried fruit
- zest of 1 orange
- 500 g mincemeat
For the pastry
- 500g plain/AP flour
- 150 g caster sugar
- 375 g cold butter, cubed
- finely grated rind and juice of one orange
- 1 x 8cm/3in round cutter
- 1 x 5cm/2in round cutter
- 3 Tbsp flour in a bowl
- 2 Tbsp water in a small glass or bowl
- 1 Tbsp milk in a small glass or bowl
- icing sugar
- Place the flour, sugar and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a steel blade and pulse a few times to mix.
- Add the chilled butter cubes and process until the mixture looks like coarse damp sand. Scrape out into a bowl and break up any large lumps of butter or compacted mix.
- Using a table knife, stir in the orange juice until the pastry just starts to come together. You will think that this amount of liquid can’t possibly be enough, but it is.
- Gently, pat into a disk, wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 mins or overnight.
- Soak the dried fruit and zest in the port overnight (do not refrigerate).
- Stir in the mincemeat and set aside until needed.
- Pre-heat oven to 180C/350F.
- Butter/spray the tart tins.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge. Divide into two, one piece slightly larger than the other. Wrap the smaller one in the cling film and pop it back in the fridge.
- Cut the larger half of the disc in half again. I find it easier to roll out a smaller piece of dough. Lightly flour the worktop and the rolling pin. Roll out the pastry, which will be solid to begin with but soon softens up as the butter warms up, a little thicker than usual and stamp out 12 x 8cm/3in rounds. Dip the cutter into the flour from time to time. Re-roll the trimmings to achieve the 12 rounds. Line the tart tin and pop into the fridge to chill. Repeat with the other half of the pastry and refrigerate while you get the tops ready.
- Remove the second half of the pastry dough from the fridge. Cut in half and roll out. Stamp out 12 x 5cm/2in rounds, again re-rolling the trimmings to achieve 12 rounds for the tops. Repeat with the other half of the dough.
- Optional – gather all the trimmings, re-roll and stamp out stars, christmas trees, hearts etc.
- Remove the tart tins from the fridge and fill with the mincemeat – do not overfill.
- Dipping a finger into the water, moisten one side of the rounds and place on top of the filled pies. Press lightly to seal and make a small slit on top.
- Moisten one side of the star/heart/Christmas tree and place on top of each pie.
- Brush with a little milk and bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- The pastry is beautifully crumbly so it is best to let the mince pies cool for 10 minutes before easing them out of the tins (you may need to use a table knife to do this) and letting them cool on a wire rack.
- Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or cold.