As aged and commensurately cynical as I am, I do love a spot of Christmas. But preferably not starting until about, oh, Christmas Eve.
However, there is one festive frippery I'll happily indulge in before the Christmas holiday period, and that's mince pies. Mmmmm, mince pies. There's something so very right about them at this time of year.
I've never really been one to make my own, not least because when I lived in London, our nearest deli - all of 30 yards down the road - supplied some exceedingly good ones from 1 December through to the end of January. By which time, I was pretty much mince-pied out for another season.
And... *whispers this quietly* .... I was also partial to the odd Crimble Crumble from a well-known takeout store.
But now, living out in the rural wilds of Kent as I have done for the past few months, the above options are, sadly, no longer open to me.
What to do?
Embracing the spirit of self-sufficiency (the damson voddie is rather nice, thank you), I've taken it upon myself this year to make my own mincemeat thingies. And, since tasting the results, I'm confident in declaring that I'll be doing so from hereon in for a very long time to come. They are, if I may say so, rather wonderful. And I can say that, because the recipe's not mine.
Really, they're dead quick and easy to make (oh, and cheap - about £3 max), and a fantastic alternative to mince pies and those Pret versions... They're also utterly addictive, so don't bake them unless you have company.
And, because it's Christmas, they're obviously best served with a glass of something appropriately boozy. Failing that, a good ol' cuppa.
The recipe is taken from the excellent Joy of Baking, and is very slightly edited/adapted here.
260 g plain flour
20 g corn flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
225 g unsalted butter, room temperature
70 g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
400 g good quality mincemeat
Preheat oven to 375F/190 C and place the wire oven rack in the centre of the oven.
Grease a 20 cm x 20 cm square baking tin.
In a separate bowl whisk the flour, cornflour, and the salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter until smooth (about 1 minute). Add the sugar and beat until smooth (about 2 minutes). Beat in the vanilla extract. Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.
Evenly press two-thirds of the shortbread into the bottom of the prepared pan. Then evenly spread the mincemeat over the shortbread base, leaving a 1/4 inch border.
With the remaining shortbread dough, using your fingers, crumble it over the top of the mincemeat. Then lightly press the dough into the mincemeat.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven, place on a wire rack, and while still hot, cut into 16 squares. Allow to cool completely in pan.
Makes about 16 bars.
- I mixed in the flour using my hands. I simply find it easier to make the dough come together that way.
- pastry and shortbread bakes better from cold. I therefore put the shortbread base in the freezer for 5 mins (once pressed into the baking tin), and put the remaining crumble mix in the fridge while I was waiting.
- I found the crumble mix just a little on the claggy side, so I added some icing sugar (about a tablespoon) to the mix to make it lighter and more crumbly.
- as you can see from the photos, I finished the squares with a light dusting of icing sugar, too. Well, it is Christmas.
- for my next batch, I'll be substituting some darker sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to the pastry.