Whether you want to try an ultra-traditional version or a speedy modern bake, these mince pie recipes are the ideal December cooking challenge.
Like cracker jokes and a trip to the pub on the evening of the 24th, mince pies are an integral part of a traditional British Christmas. Buttery pastry parcels packed with booze-soaked fruit, sugar and spice, they’re unavoidable at Christmas parties (and go surprisingly well with a cup of tea at 4pm). If you’ve got some time on your hands, making your own mince pies is also an extremely satisfying – and suitably festive – way to spend an afternoon.
First, a bit of history. Mince pies are thought to date back to medieval Britain, although their precise origins are murky. A recipe for a pie containing spices, meat and sugar appeared in the cookbook The Forme of Cury in 1390, and it’s believed that wealthy Tudors would make pies containing dried fruit, meat and spices. The rectangular or oval shapes of these pies supposedly represented Jesus’s manger, while the lids would sometimes feature the addition of a pastry baby Jesus.
Because ingredients such as figs, dates, saffron, ginger and sugar were expensive until relatively recently in British history, spiced sweet pies were only enjoyed by the wealthy and eaten on special occasions – which may be why they became associated with feast days such as Christmas, according to historian Katherine Clements. The festive connection was certainly present by the mid-17th century. Samuel Pepys wrote about enjoying mince pies at Christmas in his diaries, although it seems they were considered all-purpose celebration food rather than specifically associated with yuletide: he also mentions eating them at a friend’s anniversary party in January 1661.
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It wasn’t until the mid-18th century that meat began to fall out of fashion in mince pies, and by the Victorian era the dessert was solidly linked to Christmas. In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, they’re mentioned in the idealised feast scene that the Ghost of Christmas Present shows to Scrooge, alongside “turkeys, geese, game… great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages… plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth cakes, and seething bowls of punch”.
Fancy making your own mince pies this Christmas? Read on for three very different recipes. Regula Ysewijn’s mince pies are straight out of the Victorian era, with a filling of currants, raisins, apple, candied orange peel and lemon that’s been soaked in spices, sugar and brandy overnight. Maxine Clark’s recipe is a speedier twist on the classic bake, allowing for shop-bought mincemeat and featuring a swirl of melt-in-the-mouth vanilla shortbread on top.
We’ve also got a thoroughly traditional mince pie recipe from James Lowe, chef and co-founder of acclaimed London restaurants Flor and Lyle’s. Lowe’s mince pies use beef and port – making them an intriguing gourmet challenge if you want to celebrate Christmas like they did in the 1800s.
Regula Ysewijn says: “During the Victorian period, mince pies were made with a base of shortcrust and a top of puff pastry. Today only one pastry is used at a time, either shortcrust (which has become traditional) or puff pastry (which is rarely seen).
“The combination of fruits and spices is often diverse, but raisins, currants and candied lemon, cedro and/or orange peel are standard. You can make the mincemeat in this large quantity and store it in the fridge for up to six months in sterilised preserving jars. It’s best made a month in advance so that the flavours can mature.”
Makes 9 small tarts
For the fine shortcrust pastry:
- 180g plain flour
- 20g icing sugar
- pinch of sea salt
- 100g chilled butter, diced
- 1 tbsp cold water
- 1 egg yolk
- butter, for greasing
- flour, for dusting
- 1 egg yolk + 1 tbsp milk, for egg wash
For the filling:
- 200g mincemeat (see below)
For the mincemeat (makes 880g):
- 175g currants
- 175g large dark raisins
- 175g stewing apple, in small pieces
- 50g candied orange peel
- 50g prunes, pitted and chopped
- 115g shredded suet or butter, frozen and grated
- 115g soft brown sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground mace
- ½ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- pinch of sea salt
- ½ lemon or Seville orange, juice and zest
- 250ml brandy or rum (or half sherry, half rum)
You’ll also need
A tin with 6cm shallow mince pie moulds
Put all the ingredients for the mincemeat in a bowl and add the brandy or rum to cover the fruit. Stir well, then let it rest overnight. The next day, stir again and then divide among sterilised preserving jars.
To make the pastry, mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the mixture with your fingers until it is the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.
Add the water and egg yolk and knead until the mixture comes together into a smooth dough. Alternatively, use a food processor to make the pastry. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Preheat your oven to 180°C. Butter the tart moulds and cover the base of each with a small circle of baking paper. Dust with flour.
Briefly knead the pastry until smooth, then pat it into a rectangle and roll it out to a thickness of 3mm. Use a round cutter with a diameter of 7-8cm to cut out pastry circles. Gently push the pastry rounds into the tart moulds. Prick the base of each tart shell three times with a fork.
Knead the remaining dough back together and roll it out to cut out the lids – you can choose whichever shape you like, but stars are the most traditional.
Divide the filling among the tarts and press down gently. Place the lids on top and brush with the egg wash.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 20–25 minutes until golden brown.
Serve warm or cold.
From Oats In The North, Wheat From The South: The History Of British Baking by Regula Ysewijn (£25, Murdoch Books), out now
Mum’s mince pies
Maxine Clark says: “My mother has always made these for Christmas – they are my absolute favourite type of mince pie: pastry on the bottom, and a sort of melting piped shortbread on top of the mincemeat. She keeps them frozen, to pop into the oven at a moment’s notice, so that they are really fresh. They are filled with her own mincemeat of course, but you can buy excellent ready-made stuff now. This is about the only time I am forced to use a piping bag with any enthusiasm!”
Makes 12 mince pies
For the rich shortcrust pastry:
- 250g plain flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 125g unsalted butter, chilled and diced
- 2 egg yolks
- 2-3 tablespoons ice-cold water
For the Viennese paste topping:
- 225g unsalted butter, soft
- 50g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 225g plain flour
For the filling:
- 250–300g luxury mincemeat
You’ll also need
- a 7.5cm fluted pastry cutter
- a 12-hole bun pan
- a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle/tip
To make the shortcrust pastry, sift the flour and salt together into a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter.
Mix the egg yolks with the water and add to the bowl, stirring to bind to a firm but malleable dough.
On a lightly floured surface, knead lightly until smooth, then shape into a flattened ball.
Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes before rolling out thinly on a lightly floured surface. Cut out 12 rounds using the pastry cutter. Line the bun pan with the pastry, pressing the rounds into the holes. Prick the bases and chill or freeze for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the Viennese paste. In a large mixing bowl and using an electric hand-whisk, cream the butter with the icing sugar and vanilla. It must be very, very pale, soft and light or it will not pipe. Gradually work in the flour, a tablespoon at a time, beating well between each addition. Spoon into the piping bag. (Keep this at warm room temperature or it will not pipe.)
Fill the tartlets with the mincemeat, then pipe a swirl of Viennese paste on top of each pie. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas 4.
Bake the pies in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until a pale golden brown. Let cool in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack and dust with icing sugar to serve. Serve warm or at room temperature – never cold!
From Pies, Glorious Pies: Mouth-Watering Recipes For Delicious Pies by Maxine Clark (£14.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Lyle’s mince pies
James Lowe, chef and co-founder of Lyle’s and Flor, says: “We always have mince pies on at Lyle’s in December. We sell them at the Lyle’s coffee bar and from Flor in Borough Market in the mornings. In the evening we make mini puff pastry mince pies as the last course to the dinner menu as well. This year we’re also selling mince pie kits made with the meat and fat from a retired Jersey dairy cow, both online and from the restaurants.
“We have always included beef in our mince pies as a nod to the original mince pies served before high quantities of fruit and sugar took over. The flavour and richness from the aged meat and fat is incredibly important and makes ours stand out from the crowd! We’d recommend you get in touch with Nathan at The Butchery by Spa Terminus for finding the best minced beef and beef fat.
“Use a good old school apple, pick a tart variety like russet or cox, which you can get from the Chegworth Valley farm shop in Borough Market.”
Makes 20 mince pies
For the mincemeat:
- 300g chopped apples
- 350g sultanas
- 350g currants
- 250 soft dark brown sugar
- 400g minced beef (best if from aged meat)
- 300g suet
- 2 oranges (zest and juice)
- 2 lemons (zest and juice)
- 125ml brandy
- 125ml rum
- 50ml port
- Ground nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice – to taste
For the mince pie rough pastry:
- 400g flour
- 300g very cold diced butter
- 100g ice cold water
- 5g fine salt
- pinch of demerara sugar for sprinkling
You’ll also need
A muffin tin or individual mince pie tins
To make the pastry, roughly break the butter in small ½ cm chunks and rub in loosely with the flour and salt. You don’t want to work the butter too much, so make sure you can still see the pieces (this is what will make the pastry puff).
Add the ice cold water and mix until the dough has come together.
Rest the dough in the fridge for an hour.
While the dough is resting, roast or fry the beef mince until browned and smelling of roast beef.
Combine all mincemeat ingredients in a couple of deep roasting trays. Add the beef mince.
Place in a 180°C oven for 30 mins and then turn down the heat to 120°C and cook for two hours, stirring every 20 minutes.
Once the dough has been in the fridge for an hour, roll it out into a long rectangle roughly 15cm x 40cm. Sprinkle the dough with demerara sugar and lightly roll your rolling pin over to press the sugar in.
Fold the dough into thirds like a letter.
Chill and rest the dough for 30 minutes to one hour.
Roll out the dough to form a rectangle again, sprinkle with sugar and repeat the letter fold.
Rest the dough again for 30 minutes to one hour and repeat the rolling, sugar and fold one more time.
To assemble the mince pies, roll the pastry to a thickness of 3mm and cut out large circles to line the bases of a muffin tin or individual mince pie tins. Make sure you leave a 10mm rim around the top of the pie base.
Fill to the rim with the mincemeat and press down, leaving the lip of the pastry exposed.
Cut a smaller circle, egg wash the underside and seal the top of the pie by pressing the overlapping pastry together.
Crimp the overlapping pieces of pastry in any pattern (we do a six-point star).
Egg wash the top of the pie and sprinkle with more demerara sugar and a little Maldon salt.
Cut a small hole in the top of the pie and bake at 180°C for 20 minutes until the pastry lid is golden brown.
Lyle’s mince pie kits are available to buy at lylesprovisions.com
Photography: Regula Ysewijn; Steve Painter © Ryland Peters & Small