mince pies . . .
So today is Saturday and on a lighter note than in the past few posts, I’m going to describe the very cute mince pies that I made tonight. About a year ago, I was looking at the Williams Sonoma catalog which shows up pretty often. I usually avoid buying anything because the wares seem overpriced or meant for kitchens much more elaborate than mine. On that particular day though, I was taken by an appliance called the Breville pie maker. I had fantasies of making miniature chicken pot pies from leftovers, quick little apple pies for dessert from leftover fruit in the fridge.
I played around with it when it first arrived and then I put it on the back shelf in the pantry. I felt guilty about it a little bit but it wasn’t hundreds of dollars and I forgot about it. Over Thanksgiving, G. went to his favorite bakery as it was closing at 6 p.m. the night of Thanksgiving eve and came home with a medium-sized mince pie. Now, I don’t think I can remember ever having tasted or eaten mince pie because I equated it in my mind with fruitcake, or at least, jokes about fruitcake. If you must know, I don’t really care for fruitcake.
This mince pie though, was amazingly tasty, autumn feeling, celebratory somehow. One of my daughters, C., remembered when she was getting her Masters degree at Cambridge University, England, eating tiny mince pies at Christmastime and describing how delicious and “English-ey” it was.
That still wasn’t enough to get me to make mince pie myself until I happened to be in our local run-down fruit market the other day and saw a display of Robertson mince pie filling. The jars were oversized and beautifully labeled amidst lettuce for $1.29 instead of $1.79 at the local grocery stores. Between my first visit when I saw the mincemeat and the second visit, I read online that Robertson’s mincemeat was really fine as long as you bought the jars that originated from the U.K.–the flavors were more authentic and less sweet and runny than those manufactured in the U.S. When I read the label closely, it said these Robertson jars were made in the U.K.! I promptly bought three jars for a third of the price than anywhere else to try out holiday gift-baking ideas.
After an intense week of being on a jury for a high profile criminal case (saw in the paper today he was sentenced to 9-10 years with 3 years probation), speaking at the Planning Board on Wednesday and other house preparations for the holidays, my thoughts turned to cooking today. I remembered my little pie maker machine. I was smitten by the large jars of mincemeat. So tonight, after dinner, I started experimenting with making miniature mince pies. The fragrance of the baking pies filled our home with a heavenly Christmas-ey aroma. G. was ready to eat a pie while it was still bubbly hot but I made him wait until they cooled off. He brought one down to our med student tenant downstairs who is studying for final exams.
If you look closely at the photo, you might notice which ones were the first batch of pies: they didn’t have enough filling in them to puff them up so that the top crusts would cook in the middle. I took them out because I didn’t want the edges to burn and popped them under the broiler until the pastry cooked, albeit a little flat on the top. I sprinkled them with a little sugar. Then I cooked the next one by itself: it stayed in too long and while puffed up and baked through, was slightly overcooked, okay, slightly burned. The final one became the prototype for when I make them again tomorrow: enough filling to nicely shape the top; not leaving it in the cooker as long as the last one–rewarded with the final mince pie, puffed, golden brown and not burned.
By the way, these little babies are heavy to hold because of the weight of the mincemeat filling. We haven’t tasted one yet but I’m wondering if the Pillsbury store bought pastry will be too dry and thick. The one place for improvement now that I’ve got the proportions and cooking time down would be to make my own pastry–light with butter or lard/shortening. The cooking time would be different, I think, probably shorter to account for a lighter more tender crust.
(an hour later): Well, we finally gave in and split one mince pie to taste. I was wrong about them: no improvement needed by making my own pastry crust–this was already thin, flaky and tasty. The filling itself was delicious, seemed more dense with goodies than the one we got from the bakery at Thanksgiving.
In fact the only thing needed was not to sprinkle sugar on the crust because it was too sweet. We scraped it off and ate our half in a thrice. We looked at each other and I asked G. if he wanted to split another one. He said yes, but we probably should wait awhile.
Postscript: I put one of the mince pies into a festive cellophane wrapper with white dots on it, tied it up with a moss green silk ribbon. Then another. Will make a second batch tomorrow, ready for G. to write a message on a Christmas card and deliver to members of his family and neighbors as a holiday treat.