In this article we tackle the all-important issue of how to make the perfect mince pie – it’s that time of the year again soon, folks!
The question of what makes the perfect mince pie has been fiercely contested for centuries. In Medieval times, when mince pies were largely a preserve of the rich and included actual meat, the debate centred on whether mutton, beef, goose or a combination of the three should make up the mix. Thankfully, modern mince pies contain nothing of the sort but questions still linger: What kind of pastry is best? How should they be served? Is homemade mincemeat always superior?
Supermarkets offer a world of choice but in our experience nothing beats the satisfaction of making mince pies at home. So dust off your apron and whip up your own this Christmas, using our expert advice to solve those all important questions.
Let’s start with perhaps the toughest question: puff pastry or shortcrust? The former offers a rich, buttery goodness and makes the perfect foil to the mellow boozy flavour of the filling; the latter is easier to make and allows for a more toothsome crumbly texture. Tricky, eh? Personal preference should probably dictate which one you plump for but also bear in mind the labour involved with each. For frequent bakers, shortcrust is easy enough to make but does involve a bit of preparation time and faff. Puff, on the other hand, is a lot more daunting to prepare - which is why it is readily available in its pre-made form in supermarkets. Of course, you won’t get the same sense of satisfaction by using it.
Opt for shortcrust to maintain that homemade feel without the ardour of book-turns and the like, but make sure your pastry is nice and short to ensure the finished mince pie melts in your mouth. Keep some puff pastry in reserve for when the in-laws show up unexpectedly…
We have already answered this question in terms of pastry but what about mincemeat? Is making your own essential? Most seasoned cooks agree that it is advisable but probably not essential. Let’s be clear, making mincemeat is a bit of a drag: it requires a lot of tricky-to-get-hold-of ingredients and needs to be made well ahead of time. But if you love mince pies more than Christmas itself then why not? A DIY approach is always the best way in the kitchen and will allow you to produce a mix ideally suited to your personal preferences.
There is a happy medium here. Unless you are really dedicated, buy pre-made mincemeat and spruce it up using your favourite ingredients, such as prunes, clementine zest or a dollop of treacle, perhaps.
As with any popular culinary creation, chefs and cooks have endlessly tweaked the mince pie formula over the years to try and put their own stamp on this festive staple. And we should thank our lucky stars they did or we might still be finding bits of gristle and bone in them! When it comes to your own mince pie-making, though, remember that a little creativity can yield great results and give you kudos among friends and family, but it’s probably best not to mess with the winning combination too much. Experiment subtly and introduce alternative flavours with caution.
There is always going to be one scrooge who moans about non-traditional mince pies but this shouldn’t stop you experimenting. Cooking is meant to be fun and creative. How about a dainty lattice top or a layer of frangipane to mix things up? Or you could be extra swish by blitzing crushed cranberries with sugar to make a compound sugar to dust the cooked mince pies with.
Again, personal preference is key here, but consider what you would like to serve with your mince pies to inform your decision. If you favour brandy butter, ice cream or custard then a hot mince pie will work well. Room temperature mince pies are better for serving as a quick snack with a dollop of regular cream or on their own.
Straight out of the oven when their festive aroma hangs thick in the air.
Fancy trying your own hand at cooking up these festive treats? Our popular three-course Christmas Menu is complete with an optional mince pie or gingerbread class. Or for something a little more challenging, how about cooking your own Christmas meal with our own Perfect Christmas Cookery Class or our Christmas Mystery Box Challenge?
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