Mince pies, tangerine & spiced frangipane tartlets

 

IN THE 10 YEARS I’ve been running my catering business, I have found that when it comes to catering for a crowd, clients are often willing to prepare the main course themselves, but may shy away from attempting starters, finger food or desserts in bulk. In the case of the latter, there is no need to fear baking for larger numbers – like everything else in the kitchen, much of the work can be done well in advance and the overwhelming appreciation from the sweet-toothed among your guests will make it worthwhile.

A few readers have mentioned that the mixed peel recipe published in October didn’t work for them. This may be because the citrus fruit they used was very heavily waxed. In that case, the peel may not absorb the syrup, so it might be best to use the deliciously flavoured syrup in desserts and discard the peel. It’s always best to give waxed fruit a good scrub before use.

Mince pies, tangerine tartlets, spiced frangipane tartlets – one base, three tops

The size of the tartlets you make depends on the occasion, whether it’s a large Sunday lunch where a tartlet accompanied by a dollop of cream is the finale, or perhaps you are hosting a fork supper for 50 where a variety of bite-size tartlets would be an easier option for mingling guests. I have based the following recipes on using shallow tartlet trays, 12 holes in each, the holes six and a half centimetres wide by two centimetres deep. If you would like to make tiny tartlets, using a mini muffin tray, make sure your pastry is thin; you want to leave room for the filling.

When making tarts, the quality of the pastry is of paramount importance. The good news is that if you respect the pastry-making process and stick to a few cardinal rules, you can achieve amazing results. Pastry can be made a day or two in advance, all the tins can be lined and stacked in the fridge, and the tartlets can be finished off on the day they are required.

A good pastry should be short (crumbly) and melt-in-the-mouth. When I’m making pastry, I make sure that I will have no distractions, that I have good space cleared in the kitchen, and that both my mental state and my ingredients are cool and collected.

Tart pastry

This recipe will line two 12-hole tartlet trays. I use icing sugar as its fine starchiness makes for a smooth and more manageable pastry. The pastry can be made a few days in advance and stored until needed in the fridge.

200g flour

50g icing sugar

125g very cold butter, cubed

1 egg yolk

I tbsp ice-cold water

½ tbsp lemon juice

Sieve the flour and icing sugar together. Put the flour and sugar in a food processor and aerate it with a couple of quick on/off pulses. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs. Add the yolk and lemon juice and water if necessary and process until the pastry just comes together. Turn the pastry on a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly to form a flat round. Wrap it in cling film and chill it for 20 minutes in the fridge.

If you don’t have a food processor work as lightly as possible using your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour. When you add the liquid, pinch the whole thing to make it come together into a dough.

Roll it out thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry into rounds with a scone cutter a little larger than the cases. Line the tin with the pastry and refrigerate until needed.

Mince pies

A 320g jar of mince meat should make a dozen mince pies. When making the pies, proceed with the pastry as described above, reserving a quarter of the pastry for the tops. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut with a star-shaped cutter to fit the tops.

Put a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat into the pastry case, pop the pastry star on top, and bake at 160 degrees/gas 3, for 15-20 minutes. When they are cooked, allow them to cool on a wire rack. Serve warm, with a dollop of cream.

Mandarin meringue tartlets

This recipe has three different elements, pastry, curd and meringue. Each is made separately and assembled before serving. They can also be assembled a few hours before hand.

For the pastry

Make the pastry as before and bake the tart shells in the oven for 10-15 minutes at 160 degrees/gas 3, until golden. Allow to cool, then gently remove the shells from the tins and store in an airtight container until needed.

For the mandarin orange curd

This curd can be made a week or so in advance and kept in the fridge.

Juice of 5 mandarin oranges

Juice and zest of a lemon

225g of caster sugar

125g butter

3 egg yolks, beaten

Place all the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over a gentle heat, and stir frequently for about 20 minutes until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon – do not allow it to boil as the mixture will split. Allow it to cool and pour into a jar or plastic container and store in the fridge until needed. It will thicken up more as it cools. This can be kept for two to three weeks.

For the meringue

These little meringues are known as kisses. I always have a stock of them at hand – they’re delicious sandwiched together with Nutella.

1 egg white

120g of caster sugar

Line a baking tray with parchment. Beat the egg white until stiff, then whisk in the sugar until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Spoon into a piping bag and pipe 24 small swirls of meringue, about the size of a one-euro coin.

Bake in the oven at 180 degrees/gas 4 for five minutes to crisp up the outside, then reduce the temperature to 120 degrees/gas 1, for a further 40 minutes. These can be stored in an airtight container for a week or so.

To assemble

Spoon a teaspoon of curd into each tartlet and pop a meringue on top.

Spiced frangipane tartlets

This recipe makes enough filling for 24 tartlets

75g unsalted butter, softened

75g icing sugar

3 small eggs, beaten

75g ground almonds

1 heaped tbsp plain flour

2 tsp brandy

1 tbsp mixed peel

I tbsp chopped walnuts

Pinch of mixed spice

In a mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter with the icing sugar until thoroughly mixed. Gradually add the beaten egg, mixing well between each addition. Stir the flour and ground almonds into the butter mixture, mixing well, then stir in the brandy, chopped walnuts, mixed spice and peel. Fill the pastry cases with the mixture and bake at 160 degrees/gas 3, for 20 minutes, or until golden.

Christmas buns

All the scents and flavours of Christmas in one bun. Over the years, I have shared this recipe with people who have come to some of my cookery demonstrations and, without fail, everybody rates them as a huge success. I think it might have something to do with the speed at which they are made, and consumed. This makes two dozen buns in muffin trays.

225g butter, at room temperature

225g dark brown sugar

4 free range eggs

225g self-raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

225g sultanas, soaked overnight in half a glass of whiskey or brandy

125 glacé cherries, halved

Preheat an oven to 170 degrees/gas 3.Cream the butter and sugar. Sieve the flour and mixed spice. Add the eggs, one at a time, and add a tablespoon of flour after each egg. Add the fruit and mix well. Put mixture in bun cases and bake for 20 minutes.Sieve icing sugar over the warm buns.