Tag Archives: Christmas

Mince Pies: The Taste of Christmas

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Mince pies are among my favourite Christmas treats. When I first came across mince pies, shortly after moving here from France, I was intrigued by the name: did these crazy Brits really eat sweetened meat? A quick Google search reassured me that this wasn’t the case anymore, and only the suet remained from what was originally a meat-based dish. Vegetable suet can of course be substituted if you prefer.

Baking mince pies has to be the best way to spend a cold December afternoon; it is a real joy to bring the lovely, golden pies out of the oven and it makes the whole house smell of Christmas!
This recipe makes more mincemeat than you need. Store the remainder in sterilized jars and keep for another baking session; or decorate the jars with pretty labels to make a lovely home-made gift!

You will need (for 24 mince pies) :

For the mincemeat:

250g Bramley apples, peeled and grated
100g sultanas
60g currants
70g dried cranberries
180g raisins
110g chopped mixed peel
30g chopped almonds (optional)
4tbsp brandy
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
170g dark muscovado sugar
120g shredded vegetable suet

For the pastry:

450g plain flour
230g cold butter, diced
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1 beaten egg
Icing sugar

Method:

Make the mincemeat:

In a large saucepan, combine the apple, dried fruit, peel, almonds, alcohol, zest, juices, and spices. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the mix is fairly dry and the dried fruit has plumped up (this should take 45 min to 1h).

Leave to cool, then mix in the suet and muscovado sugar.

Make the pastry:

To make by hand, rub the flour into the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, add the zest and juice and bring together into a ball ( add a bit of iced water if necessary).
Alternatively use a food processor: mix the flour and butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then add the zest and juice and mix again until it comes together, adding a bit of iced water if necessary. Knead lightly a couple of times.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 to 20 min.

Assemble the mince pies:

PrehEeat the oven to 190*C/ fan 170*C/ Gas 5. Cut the pastry into 2 pieces, about one third to two thirds.
Roll out the larger piece (leave the other piece in the fridge) on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 3 mm. With an 8 cm round fluted cutter, stamp out 24 bases and use them to line 2 12-hole mince pie tins, or patty tins ( you will need to re-roll the trimmings).
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Fill each pastry case with about 1 tbsp mincemeat.
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Roll out the rest of the pastry as before, and cut out 24 lids with a 7 cm cutter.
Brush the edges of the pastry cases with water, then press a lid down on each base, sealing well.
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Make 3 slits in each pie top with a sharp knife, then brush with some beaten egg and bake for about 20 min or until nice and golden.
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Cool for 10 min in the tins, then remove to a wire rack and dredge with icing sugar.

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Filed under Bakes, Cakes, Christmas, Desserts, Pastry, Pies, Sweet Tarts

The Post I Never Thought I Would Write: Christmas Pudding

Having grown up in France, Christmas pudding was an alien concept to me until a few years ago. I had heard tales of steamed puddings made months in advance, and containing some sort of animal fat, but I  just assumed it was one of those popular stories that have very little to do with reality. After all, us Frenchies are always ready to believe that our British friends would eat all sorts of weird concoctions… (Which is a bit ironic when you consider that we eat snails and frogs’ legs).

As it turns out though, the legend was true. I started coming across Christmas pudding recipes in all the food magazines I was buying during the run-up to my first Christmas in England. And there it was, among the numerous ingredients listed: shredded beef suet.  I won’t lie to you: my first reaction was made up of equal parts of disbelief and disgust. There was no way I was ever eating that!

hen one day, someone offered me a mince pie (another recipe I had never heard of before, more on this in a future post). I ate it, liked it, then discovered I had just consumed suet. And I had enjoyed it. This was when I decided that I would give Christmas pudding a go. But I wasn’t going to buy it; oh no, not I! I was going to make it. So off I went to the shops, I purchased a pudding basin, the dreaded shredded suet, and some brandy and set to work.

What I produced looked and smelt ok, but I had to wait a few weeks for Christmas to come round before I could taste it. In the meantime, I dutifully “fed” my pudding with more brandy at regular intervals, reasoning that even if it turned out to be revolting, it might at least get me a little bit tipsy…

The long-awaited day finally arrived, I reheated my pudding, and served it (not flambé, as I couldn’t find any matches). I took my first bite, and was instantly hooked. It was warm, rich, moist, had a lovely flavour, and yes, you could definitely taste the brandy. I did not tire of the leftovers either, in fact I was rather disappointed when we eventually finished it. Which is why I would encourage anyone to have a go at making this, especially if like me, you have a pre-conceived idea that it will be revolting.

 This is a James Martin recipe which I copied out from somewhere a few years ago (very, very vague credits, but credits nonetheless); I like it because of the ginger, which gives it a lovely, warm flavour. Enjoy!

Post-Christmas edit: I just thought I would let you all know that my family loved this pudding. Even my very sceptical Dad grudgingly admitted that it was “rather nice”. Not bad…

You will need (for 1×1.5l pudding):

175 g sultanas
175 g currants
70 g dried figs, chopped
50 g mixed peel
45 g glacé cherries, halved
50 g dried apricots, chopped
100 ml brandy
50 g stem ginger, chopped + 2 tbsp of their syrup
1 apple, grated
Juice + zest 1 orange
3 large eggs, beaten
125 g shredded suet
125 g fresh, white breadcrumbs
175 g light muscovado sugar
90 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Butter, for greasing

Method:

In a bowl, soak the sultanas, currants, figs, mixed peel, cherries and apricots with the brandy overnight.image

The following day, mix in a large bowl the ginger, syrup, apple, orange juice and zest, eggs, suet, breadcrumbs, sugar, flour and mixed spice. Mix in the soaked fruit.

Butter the pudding basin, fill with the mixture. Smooth the top and cover with a circle of greaseproof paper. Cover with a sheet of foil with a folded pleat down the centre, and secure it by tying it tightly with some string. Tie a loop of string on either side of the basin to act as handles.
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Stand the basin on top of an upturned saucer placed in a deep, large pan. Pour boiling water in the pan so it comes about a 1/3 of the way up. Cover and steam over a gentle heat for 5h, topping up with more water if necessary.

Cool the pudding in the pan, then remove foil and paper. Cover with cling film and store in a cool, dry place. Every so often, prick the surface with a skewer and drizzle a bit more brandy.

To reheat, steam for an hour or so.

To serve, heat up about 50 ml of brandy, pour over the pudding and light straight away with a match. Let the flames die down, then serve.

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Filed under Cakes, Christmas, Desserts

Seriously Addictive Coconut Christmas Biscuits

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This is a traditional recipe from Lorraine, where I come from. A lot of people make these in the run-up to Christmas, and there are as many different recipes as there are families.

These biscuits are seriously addictive; I brought a tin-full to work, and they disappeared in about 5 minutes flat. In fact I barely had a chance to eat some myself!

Traditionally, the dough isn’t rolled out and stamped out with cutters. Instead, it is pushed through a meat mincer with a special attachment fitted, and comes out looking like this:
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Photo Credit

As I haven’t got the right equipment (yet), I had to get creative and decided to use cutters instead.

This is a rather coarse dough, so for best results stick to simple shapes when choosing which cutters to use. I used a heart-shaped one and a circle, and they turned out great, but fiddly snowflakes or animal shapes would come out with ragged edges.

You will need (for about 80 biscuits):

400 g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
250 g butter, very soft
2 eggs
250 g caster sugar
200 g dessicated coconut

Method:

In a large bowl, rub the flour, baking powder and butter together until you get a breadcrumb-like consistency. Mix in the coconut.

In a smaller bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together, then add them to the flour and butter mix. Mix thoroughly using a large wooden spoon.

Let the preparation rest somewhere cool for 2 to 3 hours, covering the bowl with a tea towel (not in the fridge, you want cool not cold).

Preheat your oven to 200C/ fan 190C /Gas 6.

Roll out the dough in small sections to the thickness of a pound coin, and stamp out the shapes of your choice. Re-roll the trimmings and repeat.

Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and bake for 10 to 15 min or until nice and golden.

Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight tin for up to 2 weeks.

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Filed under Bakes, Biscuits, Christmas