Nigel Slater’s mince pies

Makes 18 small pies

These won’t collapse in the carol singer’s mittens

These won’t collapse in the carol singer’s mittens

Sat, Nov 25, 2017, 06:00

   
  • Makes: 18
  • Cooking Time: 20 mins
  • Course: Dessert
  • Cuisine: British

Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter – 75g
  • Lard – 75g
  • Plain flour – 150g
  • An egg yolk
  • A little cold water
  • Good-quality mincemeat – 375g
  • Icing sugar, for dusting

Method

Shortcrust, sweetcrust, rough puff or puff? There is no traditional answer, so it becomes a matter of choice. But let us go back a bit. The early pies were savoury, the pastry made with lard rather than butter. As someone who will take any opportunity to eat any part of the pig, I often swap some of the butter for lard.

Using a sweet paté brisée, the French sweet shortcrust, is surely pushing the sugar bag too far. Puff and rough puff doughs introduce a welcome lightness and is what I would use if my handiwork is to be eaten the day it is made. Neither keeps well. Even stored in a biscuit tin, the crust tends to toughen up overnight. Rolled thinly and eaten no more than an hour or two after baking, a puff pastry mince pie can be exquisite, warm and crisp and buttery and as fragile as a butterfly.

My go-to crust is made with half butter and half lard, and no sugar. I roll the dough as thinly as I dare and ensure that the bottom is always slightly thicker than the top. As good as thin pastry is, we must never forget it also has a job to do. Many a mince pie is eaten without a plate.

A classic, simple mince pie, devoid of bells, whistles and creative meddling. The pastry is a rich but workable shortcrust. It won’t collapse in the carol singer’s mittens. The pies themselves will stand or fall by the quality of mincemeat. Go for broke, Christmas is not the time for parsimony. The little darlings are at their most delicious when eaten warm. Baked a day or more before, they reheat nicely.

You will also need a 12-hole tartlet tin, each hole measuring 6cm x 2cm deep.

It is best to bake the pies in a batch of 12, then a second of six.

Cut the butter and lard into small pieces and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until you have what looks like coarse, fresh breadcrumbs. If you do this in the food processor, it will take a matter of seconds. Add the egg yolk, then mix briefly with just enough water to bring to a smooth dough. You will probably need only one or two tablespoons. Bring the dough together into a firm ball, then knead it gently on a floured board for a couple of minutes until it softens. Reserve half of the dough, then roll the remainder out thinly. Set the oven at 200 degrees/Gas 6.

Using cookie cutters or the top of an espresso cup, cut out 18 discs of pastry (there may be a tiny bit left over). Place 12 discs of the pastry in the tartlet tins, reserving six for the second batch, smoothing them up the sides so the edges stand very slightly proud of the tin. Fill each one with a dollop of mincemeat. A level tablespoon is probably all you will get into them, unless you have especially deep tins. Be generous. Roll out the reserved pastry with any leftover trimmings and make a further 18 discs of pastry, reserving six again. Slightly dampen each of these round the edge with cold water, then lay them over each tart and press firmly to seal the edges.

Using the point of a small kitchen knife cut a small slit in the centre of each pie and bake for 20 minutes until golden. Let them cool for a few minutes, then slide them out of their tins with a palette knife and serve warm, dusted with icing sugar. Repeat with the remaining pastry discs and mincemeat.