It’s Christmas! Mince Pies! Indulgence! Glib broadsides about capitalism! Probably some other stuff!
Yeah. So, with food as with a lot of things, I’m a bit of a fan of anything that gently subverts the form. Crash that into the fact that it is actually Christmas time, and “proper” mince pies were basically inevitable. It’s like my grandmother always used to say: “You just can’t get too much postmodernism in your dinner.”
Actually, she’d probably have hated postmodernism on principle, in suspicion that it seemed a bit French. But I’m straying from the point.
If we’re going to believe Wikipedia, Mince pies actually started out a bit like this – a meat pie with fruit, spices, and middle eastern influences. Spoilers: the Victorians ruined it.
These ones aren’t so much middle eastern as cribbed from an empanada filling, but the core idea is there: meat, fruit, and sweet spices, but pulled back from being sickly-cloying. They’re made with a super rich flaky pastry, too, just for that seasonal “oh gods, this food is going to kill me” kick.
- Beef mince, 300g
- Onion, 1 large one
- Tomatoes, a tin
- Stock (vegetable or something light), 300ml
- Flaked almonds, 30g
- Raisins (or a raisin/sultana mix), 50g
- Dried ancho chili, 1 decent sized one
- Fresh oregano, a couple of teaspoons
- Allspice, 1/2 tsp
- Paprika, 1/2 tsp
- Cinnamon, 1/4 tsp
- Flour, 450g
- Butter, 300g
- Water, about 110ml, depending on texture
- Salt, 1tsp
- Cumin, 1/4 tsp
- An egg, for brushing
This makes enough filling for about 18-20 pies, depending on the size of the tins. The pastry should just cover that, but there won’t be much spare.
First, de-seed the ancho and tear it into chunks. Toast these into a hot pan until the flesh blisters a little and you just start to get wisps of smoke. Take it off the heat and put it in water or stock to rehydrate for at least 10 minutes.
Finely dice the onion. Put a heavy-ish pan on a high-ish heat, add some oil, and fry off the mince for a few minutes (~3) until it’s broken up and got some colour. Reduce the heat, and add the onion, cooking it off slowly for around ten minutes, until it softens.
Add the spices, and stir them through, letting them release their flavour and amalgamate for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes and stock. Stir well, making sure to get any tasty gunk off the bottom of the pan. Keep the heat low, and let it all simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Chop the rehydrated chili, and add this and its soaking liquid to the pan along with the fruit and nuts, and simmer for another 30 minutes.
At this point, it should be heavily reduced, and heading for rich and sticky. If it needs to be reduced further, crank up the heat, and stir it, watching it doesn’t catch. We’re shooting for something like a thick, sticky, very dry ragu.
Let it cool for a bit, and heat the oven to about 180c
For the pastry, cut the butter into little chunks, and rub it into the flour very roughly. We’re cribbing from rough puff here, so the idea is to have the fat not wholly amalgamated, so it forms tasty crumbly layers. This means we’ll cool it periodically, and use very cold water. The butter wants to be rubbed in to a coarse breadcrumb texture where you can still detect little bits of it.
Add the water and mix until it just forms a ball of dough, and put it in the fridge for a few minutes to cool and let the butter re-solidify – maybe 10 minutes.
Roll the dough out until it’s good and broad and reasonably thin. Try only to roll in one direction. The idea is to be able to see little marble-ish streaks of butter through it. Fold it over once or twice, and roll again, then put it back in the fridge for 10-15 mins to cool.
Divide the pastry, leaving a third in the fridge for the lids. Now you can roll it out however you like, getting it quite thin, and cutting out rounds to line the pie tins. Grease the tin, and beat the egg. Line the tin with pastry rounds, and roll out the remaining dough to make lids.
Fill each pie with a spoonful or two of cooled filling, brush the edges of the bases with egg wash, and press on the lids. Crimp if you’re feeling fancy, then brush the lot with egg wash and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until interestingly golden.
I like to serve them still warm but not hot, with lumps of roast garlic and hot sauce butter. That’s just what it sounds like – a bulb of garlic roasted and cooled, mixed with about 50g of butter and a good slug of chipotle cholula, the chilled again.
The pies are a bit on the sweet side, so you may want to correct the filling with salt, or use a chili-lime butter to cut through. But they’re rich and sticky and satisfying, and the pastry is crisp and crumbly. It makes a fun starter or christmas party finger food. Or just make a big one and, you know, eat the fucker.