Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Mince(meat) Pies, Two Ways

It's Christmas Eve, and I can bet no one is looking for one more thing to bake and do. But I wanted to offer something, some hope for next year, a claim on continuation, a sweet little something that tips its hat (once again) to the dark and light of December. These mince pies have been on my on my brain all month. They are the sort of Christmas treat that make me kick myself for not trying sooner. So I offer them, to save you from soreness. I'm toting them along to the party tonight where we will eat minestrone soup and all manner of wee sweet, sing carols to my sister's piano playing, pin the carrot on the snowman (an early gift), and roll dice like our lives depended on it. It's my favorite part.

Mincemeat conjures for me images of Medieval great hall feasts, with crust sculptures of swans, and whole pigs roasted on a spit and served sprawled out lengthwise on the main table. It makes me think of jugglers, and scary knives, and huge dogs lying on rugs before an open hearth. And stone. Lots of stone. But these are only kind of traditional. One of the recipes has the meat, and it is eveything my history-loving, romantic self wants. But the other is wholly other, a seedy, nutty version a world apart. It satisfies the part of me that still wants the mince without the meat. It is all texture. And a vegetarian bonus: I made both versions with butter, not suet. And it worked.

These tarts were actually the last sweet I served Helene. She never was much into food herself, but these last couple of years she let loose her sweet tooth. Who would have known? She often, after dinner, asked if there was dessert. So the night before her fall when we were over for dinner, I made these mince pies. And she liked them a lot, and accepted more. And so did I.

So. Merry Christmas, friends. Make the mincemeat now. Plan for later. Eat well and love hard and be brazen in the face of this New Year. I know I will.

Mincemeat Pies, Two Ways 

Things you need to know: Mincemeat comes into its own after a minimum of a week, after the flavors have had a time to whirl around each other a bit. But the filling is utterly palatable and delighted in after a night's rest. This recipe makes enough to make and eat some now, and taste and savor the maturation later, too. Later, meaning, the mincemeat can be kept for up to two years (from what I hear) without the meat. With the meat, I've not gotten a straight answer. No one likes to claim aging meat unprocessed. My suggestion: Don't add the meat until a couple days or weeks before you will serve it. Or, add a couple more tablespoons of brandy to the mix. Or, freeze any meaty leftovers. This time I made half the batch with nuts and half with meat. We've liked the variety. 

General Mincemeat Recipe:

2 cups thick applesauce
1 # unsalted butter (or suet), grated
1 # raisins
1/2 # currants or unsulphered apricots
4 ounces candied peel (I used a mixture of home-candied lemon, yuzu, and orange rind)
juice and rind of 2 lemons
1/2-1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon mace
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 ounces whiskey, rum, or brandy
2 tablespoons marmalade

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl. As is, you can pack into sterilized jars and keep for up to two years (!), but I recommend up to one year. When the month comes for you to bake, stir in:

1 # cooked beef, shredded and minced*


2 # nuts and seeds (This is the chockablock version, a mincemeat jam-packed with nuts and seeds. Textural bliss.)
I used:
1 # walnuts, broken
8 ounces flaked (sliced) almonds
4 ounces chopped pistachio
4 ounces sesame seeds


Split the batch in half or quarters, do the math, and add bits of this and that accordingly.

Makes about 8 cups.

*I used my mother-in-law's (very dry, very good) home-canned beef, which happens to have salt, onions, and garlic in it. So feel free to braise some beef for dinner and take some for your pies. It was perfect. Just taste for seasoning before you add the salt to the filling. I cut back to half the salt with the pre-salted beef.

My favorite pie crust recipe for mincemeat (a variation on this one):

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup unsalted, European-style butter, cut into small cubes and kept very cold
1 egg
ice water to fill to 1/4-1/2 cup

Keep everything cold. In a bowl or food processor, measure out the flour, salt, and sugar. Mix well. If using a food processor, add in half the cubed butter and pulse until the butter is broken into bits about the size of a small pea. If by hand, add all the butter at once and do the same. In a glass measure, whisk the egg with a fork, then add water to the 1/4 line. Add the rest of the butter to the processor, and, using the pulse, add the water/egg mixture in little splashes until the dough holds together when pressed. If you are mixing by hand, add the egg and water mixture in one pour, then fluff to distribute with your fingers or a fork. In both instances, the pastry should neither be crumbly nor sticky.

Press into two disks and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least a half an hour and up to a few days.

To form the pies: 

For individual or cookie-sized pies, roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch thickness. For larger, family-sized pies, roll out to 1/4-inch. The photograph above shows some very shallow mince pies. For those, which I used special shallow tart tins to form them, I found only 1-1 1/2 teaspoons of filling was enough. And it was important for the lid to either be just a star or a lid with a large hole. Otherwise there was too much crust. In fact, I found I liked the size of standard muffin tin pies best. 

For muffin tin: A wide-mouthed mason jar is the perfect size to cut out the bases. Press the pastry into the bottom of the tin and fill with a generous tablespoon of filling. Refrigerate while you cut out the lids. And let the lids have holes, too. I like star cutouts.

Pull the bases out of the refrigerator and brush the rims with water, brush the underside of the lid edges with water, too, and press to match on the pie bottoms. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes or so before baking.

Brush the tops with beaten egg and then slide the muffin tin into a preheated oven set at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbly.

Let cool in the tin at least ten minutes, then dust with powdered sugar. I've heard these are great with a whiskey buttercream to dollop on top, but I haven't tried it (yet!). These are best slightly warm, but just fine at room temperature. However you eat them, enjoy!


  1. "Eat well and love hard and be brazen in the face of this New Year"-- what a beautifully articulated sentiment. It is one we have done this holiday season and looking forward into the year to come. I also love your description of the great halls conjured up in the idea of making mincemeat pies. I've bookmarked this recipe on pinterest for next Christmas.

    1. Thanks Annelies. Then may the sentiment continue, and the pin become a reality! Happy New Year.

  2. I love your perspective on Christmas time as an interplay of light and dark - I feel the same way. And I hope that when I'm very old I just give full throttle to my sweet tooth. "When I am old I shall wear purple" etc. You're fantastic, Amanda. I love it.

    1. I hope the sweet tooth for you, too, Emily. And my hope for all of us all over: that same release.