I love nothing more than pottering around my cosy Christmas kitchen during the countdown to advent. It keeps me busy and out of Mr C’s way; frankly at this time of year the workshop becomes a multi-tasking force to be reckoned with, but I still like to make myself useful.
Therefore, I find that the best way to get everyone prepped and cheery for the start of December is to bake batches of my Mini Gilded Apricot Mince Pies; they are such a joyous salve for any anti-social, pre-Christmas blues – trust me, some of the littlest ones can get a tad grumpy before Christmas Eve arrives. I remedy what I call ‘the Scrooge sickness’ with a plateful of these dainty golden pies, washed down with a steaming mug-full of my Perfect Hot Chocolate, my boozy Christmas Eggnog or a swig of my favourite tipple.
And because I like to share all my wisdom with you, my darlings, here is my recipe for my Gilded Apricot Mincemeat and my Mini Gilded Apricot Mince Pies.
Gilded Apricot Mincemeat
Makes 600ml (enough for roughly 60 mini mince pies)
300g cooking apples, when peeled, cored and finely sliced
60g dried apricots, finely chopped
40g dried pears, finely chopped
2 tbsp maple syrup
3 tbsp agave syrup
1 tbsp honey
½ tsp vanilla extract
75ml ruby port
2 tbsp apricot brandy
Zest of ½ an orange
Zest of ½ lemon
Juice of one navel orange
Juice of ½ lemon
For the Spice Mix:
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
4 cloves, crushed
In a small bowl mix the nutmeg, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and crushed cloves.
Pour the ruby port, honey, agave and maple syrups to a large pan and allow to dissolve over a gentle heat.
Add the apples, the zest and juice of the lemon and orange, 2 tsp of the cinnamon, ginger, clove and nutmeg spice mix to the pan and stir to combine.
Add the dried fruits; dried pears, sultanas, raisins, currants, and apricots.
Allow the mixture to simmer for 25 to 30 minutes or so, stirring often. The apple should be soft and squishy. Stir in the apricot brandy and vanilla extract and mush any larger apples into the mixture.
Spoon into a sterilized 600ml (1 pint) jar, seal and allow to cool. Store in the fridge or a cool, dry place.
This mincemeat will keep well for up to 2 months.
Mini Gilded Apricot Mince Pies
Makes enough for roughly 45 – 50 mini mince pies
For the Shortcrust Pastry:
350g plain flour
75g Trex or vegetable shortening, fridge cold
75g unsalted butter, fridge cold
75g Flora or margarine, fridge cold
½ tsp fine salt
Juice of 1 clementine, plus ice-cold water to make up 60ml (4 tbsp) of liquid
For the Filling:
550 gilded apricot mincemeat
1 egg, beaten (for an egg wash, if desired)
A few teaspoons of edible gold glitter or icing sugar, sifted (if desired)
To prepare the pastry, sift the flour into a metal mixing bowl from a good height to incorporate plenty of air into the flour.
Take the fats from the fridge one at a time, measure out the quantity of each and add to the bowl of flour in small cubes or dollops. I find it simplest to use a little teaspoon to add the Flora, and to use a knife to cube the butter and crumble in the vegetable shortening. Use a metal spoon to toss the cubed butter, vegetable shortening and flora into the flour, cover with cling and pop into the freezer for around twenty-five minutes.
Squeeze out the juice of the Clementine, removing any pips and pour into a measuring jug. Add ice-cold tap water to the Clementine juice to equal 60ml or 4 tbsp of liquid. Add the salt, stir vigorously, cover and refrigerate.
After twenty-five minutes, retrieve the flour and fat from the freezer and spoon into a food processor. Blitz for up to a minute till the cold fat and flour turns to a fine, sandy breadcrumb consistency.
Spoon the crumbs into a bowl and add a teaspoon at a time of the chilled Clementine and water mixture. I tend to add 6 teaspoons and mix it gently with a metal spoon. I then add another 4 and test the mixture. The mixture tends to take around 10 – 12 tsp of liquid. Quickly bring it together with your hands roughly, and empty the mound and remaining crumbs onto an un-floured work surface.
Use the heel of your hand to shape the mixture into pastry dough. Work it lightly folding over the sides of the dough as you go, gently rock it back and forth, turn and repeat on adjacent side. Do this only for a minute as you do not want the butter to melt.
Wrap in cling film to allow the pastry to rest in the refrigerator for thirty minutes. After that time, divide the pastry into three equal pieces. At this point you can either clingfilm all the pieces and pop into a sealable freezer bag to freeze for up to three months.
Alternatively, cling film two pieces and refrigerate whilst you start work on the first batch of mince pies. By all means if you wish to make one batch now and use the other two pieces of pastry at a later date you can freeze two and just use the one. One batch should make around 15 or 16 mini mince pies.
If using from frozen, defrost the pastry in the fridge for at least six hours. Once the pastry is defrosted and you are ready to make a batch or all three batches of the mince pies, remove the first pastry piece from the fridge and pre-heat the oven to 200°C depending upon the intensity of your oven.
Lightly dust a non-stick work surface with flour and roll the pastry out so it is roughly 0.5cm thick. The pastry should seem quite thin, but still be thick enough to hold the mincemeat. Use a mini pastry cutter to cut out circles slightly wider than the rims of the tart tray. Use the remaining pastry to cut out mini star or mini Christmas shapes to form the tops of the mince pies.
Line the tray with the pastry circles to form the base and the sides of the mince pies. Spoon a small teaspoon of mincemeat into each pie case and top with the mini Christmas shapes.
If so desired, beat one egg in a small bowl and use a pastry brush to daub a slight sweep of egg over the top of each mince pie, this will ensure the pies glisten and turn golden as they bake.
Place the baking tray in the pre-heated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, after which time they will be ready. Remove each pie carefully from the tray and allow to cool for a few minutes on a cooling rack. Once cool, dust with some edible gold glitter or icing sugar, as desired.
I love to serve these warm with a dollop of whipped cream and a tot of apricot brandy, for good measure.