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The world’s best home made mince pies

Summer Christmas for us in New Zealand! The weather has been lovely, although a summer Christmas still seems SO wrong. However, I’m not going to allow the thermometer to dictate my festive foods. My brother has come out for a visit with his family, so we have a great reason to cook up a storm. They’ve been here two days and so far we’ve baked Gingerbread Christmas stars for the kids to decorate, easy banana muffins, eaten a lot of my traditional Christmas cake and some mince pies. Actually, rather a lot of mince pies. And they are amazing! This is not an exaggeration. My brother, who is a mince pie connoisseur, has rated these as the best ever. Considering he’s had our Gran’s incredibly yummy ones, and some also seriously posh British ones (from whence these originate), he is well placed to judge.

Some people like flaky mince pie pastry cases (eeurgh) and the people with really good taste prefer a good, short, crumbly sweet shortcrust. I’m sure you can tell which camp I fall into.

The filling I made using a recipe, highly recommended by a friend, from stuff.co.nz and includes figs, ginger and chocolate. Good mix. Great mix actually. I’m never making plain sultana mince ever again. Ideally you want to make this a couple of months before making the mince pies. For the pastry I combined a couple of recipes to make a short sweet pastry that I liked. I baked mine in small catering foil pastry cases because they help my pastry cases get nice and crisp. However, you can use a muffin tin for small muffins, simply don’t use the full height of the muffin holes. Christmas Mince Pies

The Fig, Ginger and Chocolate Mince Filling

Ingredients:

3 cups packed dried figs
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup crystallised ginger
150g dark chocolate
1 apple, peeled and grated
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup brandy

Method:

Chuck everything apart from the brandy and sugar into your food processor and roughly chop. Mix through the sugar and brandy.

Cover and leave in a cool place for two days, stirring occasionally.

Pack into two large sterilised jars and seal well. Leave to mature for at least 1 month before using.

Sweet shortcrust pastry (for approx 36 pies)

Ingredients:

450g cold butter cut into cubes
700g plain flour
200g golden caster sugar
1 jar of your mince meat
2 small eggs
around 4 tablespoons of cold water

Method:

Cut the butter into the flour. Try and use a pastry cutter if you can to keep the butter from melting. If you don’t have one, use a sturdy fork, or rub it in with your hands. Once the butter and flour mix resembles fine bread crumbs, stir in the sugar. Using a spoon, quickly stir through the eggs, and use a teeny amount of water to bind the pastry dough together. You are looking for a fairly dry and crumbly mix that only just holds itself together. I used 4 tablespoons of water today, but this can vary. Add a tablespoon at a time and see how you go. If you add too much, the dough will get sticky and be useless.

Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (fan). Roll the pastry out to approximately 3mm thickness. You want the pastry to be quite thin if you can manage it. Cut rounds slightly bigger than your  muffin tin openings so that you can form the base and sides of the pastry bases. Fill these 2/3rds full with your mincemeat. Cut a smaller round or a shape to top off the pie. If you use a solid circle for the topping, don’t forget to poke a cross with a knife to let the steam out. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Once cooled on a cooling rack, top with sprinkled icing sugar.

If you want to freeze these, do so before baking them.

 

 


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Most Amazing Traditional Christmas Cake (The second best one ever)

I’m a little late this year with getting the Christmas Cake in the oven! Christmas Cake in October you ask!?! Well, this Christmas cake requires a few months brewing in brandy to get the full, decadent, rich, Christmassy flavour. In an ideal world, I have this behemoth all baked and wrapped in mid September so that it can enjoy several alcoholic binges before getting consumed. I make a big cake, because A) I ADORE Christmas Cake and B) My friends all adore it too, so this is a fab cake for slicing into mini slabs and gifting.

My absolute favourite Christmas cake ever was made by my Nana. I’ve never had anything quite as fabulous as hers, not even a Michelin Chef’s version. Sadly she died before I discovered my love for baking and the recipe has gone with her. The closest one I’ve found is made by Delia (The ORIGINAL Domestic Goddess I must add!!!) although her recipe has way too many raisins, currents and sultanas for my taste and far too few of the good things. I usually do her scaled up version, and this year I’ve substituted a load of the fruit of grape origin with extra whole cherries, dried cranberries and crystallised ginger. I’ve also substituted in whole Macadamia nuts instead of almonds, because that’s how my Nana made hers. We won’t know how it turns out till the Yuletide season, but here, in the interim, is the recipe to get you started on your own boozy behemoth. Be warned, this will probably trash your Kitchen Aid and is, in any case, too big for the bowl. Do it in batches with the final mixing by hand. This is where husbands are useful.

Ingredients:

1.8kg of mixed dried fruit of your choice.

I used 1kg of mixed dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, current and mixed peel), 200g of crystallised ginger, 200g of dried cranberries and 400g of whole glacé cherries.

6 tablespoons of Brandy

450g plain flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon mixed spice

120g whole macadamia nuts

450g soft brown sugar

1 and 1/2 Tablespoons of black treacle

450g butter

8 eggs!!!!!!

grated rind of 2 lemons

grated rind of 2 oranges

Method:

The night before, soak all your fruit in the brandy in a large mixing bowl with cling film or a lid to keep in the booze. I strongly recommend thoroughly washing out a clean bucket or washing up bowl because even my massive Mason Cash mixing bowl isn’t big enough to mix this beast. A small trowel might also be useful. Last year we broke four wooden spoons. They were all admittedly flimsy IKEA ones.

The morning of, take out your butter, cut it into chunks in an enormous mixing bowl and leave on the counter, covered, to come to room temperature. Get those eggs out onto the counter too, so that they’re also at room temperature.

Grease and line your 25cm square cake tin. It needs to be a good 8cm deep.  Tie a collar of a double layer of brown or greaseproof paper round the outside of your cake.

Preheat the oven to 140 degrees C (275F). I only do this once I’ve creamed the butter and sugar to avoid it being at temperature for an hour and empty.

Put the treacle in the warming drawer.

Sieve the flour, salt and spices.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Your stand mixer or hand beater will really help here, but I managed to do this by hand last year. Spouse’s arms were spaghetti afterwards hehehe.

Beat up your eggs and add them incrementally to the creamed butter mixture. Literally, a tablespoon at a time. If you can’t stop the curdling, add a little of the flour, but it won’t cause your cake to be a failure I promise. Mine curdled after the first spoon of egg last year, I couldn’t save it with flour and the cake was still fabulous.

Once the egg is all added, gently fold in the flour and spices. The folding is really important to retain all that airy fluffiness in your creamed butter and eggs, although I still haven’t figured out how to gently fold over 4+ kg of cake mix.

Stir in the soaked fruit, the nuts, the treacle and your grated lemon and orange rind.

Spoon the whole lot into your cake tin and spread it out evenly. I dropped some whole almonds on top of mine. Cover the top with a double layer of paper with a hole cut roughly 2cm in diameter in the middle.

Bake for 5 and 1/2 hours on the bottom rack of your oven. After 4 hours you can have a peek and rotate the tin.

Once its done, cool for roughly an hour in the tin and finish off on a wire rack. Once cooled, wrap it up well in a double layer of grease proof paper, a layer or two of foil and store in a nice airtight Tupperware or cake tin. Feed weekly with brandy. Pricking the surface with a toothpick helps the cake to suck up the Brandy like a thirst starved desert wanderer encountering a fresh water spring for the first time in days. I’m admittedly a little generous with the brandy. Technically you only need a few table spoons of feeding, but I slosh on a good few tots.

The cake will be fabulously matured in 2-3 months! Enjoy it with a slice of lovely, moist, mature cheddar cheese!!!! You may think I’m crazy but you have to try it, it is amazing!!!! If you’re generous enough, you can slice this baby into 6 mini cakes and gift them.

If you like your marzipan and royal icing, there are a load of fabulous tutorials out there for icing Christmas cakes, I prefer mine plain. An alternative is to cover the top with nuts and glacé fruits and glaze!