‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE NIGELLA
Holy sweet jingle balls it’s bloody December! Is it just me or has 2017 disappeared faster than a packet of chocolate biscuits left at eye level in the pantry? Terrifying. But also, fantastic. Because December is not just the month of festive hats, novelty cards and Michael Bublé (all wonderful things) – but we can now OFFICIALLY BAKE CHRISTMAS FOOD.
Mince pies, gingerbread houses, chocolate fir trees, marzipan muffins, pfeffernüsse, shortbread, mini Christmas puds, trifle – they’re ALL up for GRABS (I’m very sorry, expect a lot of capitalisation in this post – Christmas makes me VERY EXCITED). Christmas food is definitely a little bit magic. It just tastes… festive.
One of my favourite childhood Christmas traditions was the Advent Tree. Not satisfied with the usual pop-a-choccy-out-a-day advent calendar, my brothers and I got to experience the most wonderful twenty-four-day-long treasure hunt every year. My grandpa built a beautiful wooden mini Christmas tree, from which my mum would hang clues, and we would have to hunt for our treats every morning. Chocolate elves, Santas, stars, baubles would be waiting for us in all different corners of the house. It was utterly delightful. As we got older, the clues got harder. On Christmas Eve my dad would take over the clue writing and we would have an epic all-day treasure hunt where we would have to do things like translate clues out of Russian, solve homemade logic puzzles (which were generally very illogical) and reenact the Nativity blindfolded (this last one was a terrible idea and did not go well). Anyway, the point of this long and self-indulgent reminiscing is that Christmas chocolate tastes different to any other kind of chocolate. It just does. Don’t fight me on this.
I’m afraid to admit (in case you haven’t already worked it out) that I am one of those insufferable people who just LOVE CHRISTMAS. My extraordinary enthusiasm for all things festive knows no bounds (with one exception: reindeer antlers for cars. They look very, very stupid. The proportions don’t work. Stop it). Everything sparkles and the music is perfect for singing along to and decorating trees is so much fun and there are costumes and presents and cards and feasts and yes, I am just a child pretending to be a grown up but I’m not even a little bit sorry. As such, this will not be the last Christmas-themed post – I have a whole lot of Gingerbread House wisdom to share with you in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!
Today’s recipe: mince pies. I adore them, and for those who don’t, I beg you to give them another shot with this recipe. They are approximately forty-nine thousand times more delicious than store-bought mince pies. First of all, some mince pie FAQS:
Q: Do mince pies contain meat?
A: NO. No, no, no, no, no. They are FRUIT mince pies. In ye olden days they definitely contained meat and suet and whatever else mediaeval peasants could find to shove in there (I dread to think) but nowadays they just contain a scrumptious mix of fruit, spices, vegetable shortening or butter and traditionally, brandy.
Q: Are mince pies tricky to make?
Really, really not. Especially not if you cheat like me and use fruit mince from a jar. Robertson’s is my favourite – I even like it better than a super expensive handmade one I once bought at the CWA shop. Confession: I have never attempted my own fruit mince. I know. Shameful. But my hero/ultimate bae Nigella has a recipe I will try out when I have some extra time up my sleeve (ie: when I’m retired).
Q: Does it really make a difference if I make the pastry from scratch?
A: Dear GOD yes. Pls. Just do it. It’s really easy. I’ll talk you through the whole thing. We’re in this together. You’ve got this.
So without further ado, let’s get merry!
MINCE PIES, THE TASTE OF CHRISTMAS
500g plain flour
250g cold butter
1 x tbsp caster sugar
1 x egg yolk
2-3 x tbsp icy cold water
1 x jar fruit mince (Robertson’s!!) (or mad props to you if it’s homemade)
icing sugar for dusting
- Firstly, select your playlist. It is a proven fact that mince pies taste better when made to Christmas music. Proven by me. I can recommend Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby or for something new, Sia’s Every Day Is Christmas. I also have a soft spot for Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe STOP JUDGING ME PLEASE.
- Now, there are two ways to make shortcrust pastry. The quick and dirty twenty-first century way, or the wholesome and more effortful old-fashioned way. For the latter, skip to step 3. If you’re opting for a quickie, put the flour, sugar and cubed butter into a food processor and whiz til it looks like damp sand. Add the egg yolk and dribble the icy water in while pulsing until the whole thing naturally forms a ball. Wham bam thank you ma’am. Skip to step 4.
- If you’re taking the longer (and I find, more satisfying) way round, use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour and sugar. This is literally a “show me the money” type action, rubbing the butter and flour in your hands. After about five to eight minutes of this, you’ll get that damp sand look that the food processor gives you in twenty seconds. But you’ll have a much more sensuous and loving experience, so your choice. Pop the egg yolk and 2 tbsp of icy water into the bowl and use a knife to cut together until you think you can use your hands to bring it together into a ball. It’s a sensuous experience.
- Ok, regardless of how you brought your little bundle of joy into the world, turn it onto a floured surface (the kitchen bench, not the floor. Be sensible). DON’T KNEAD IT. Overworked pastry gets tough and gross when cooked. Using a rolling pin, or if you can’t find one, a wine bottle (we’ve all been there), roll the pastry to about 0.8cm thick or thereabouts. You want it thin enough that it will cook properly, but not so thin it falls to pieces.
- You’re going to need a shallow tartlet tin, the kind you might use to make mini-quiches or similar (it probably has a special name. Anyone?). Grease it well, then use a cutter or glass to cut circles that fit into the tin. In a pinch, you can use an ordinary muffin tin and cut pastry circles so that they only come halfway up the sides.
- Pop a teaspoon of mince in each pastry case. One jar of mince should just stretch to 24 pies.
- Cut shapes out of the leftover pastry to pop on top. My favourites are hearts, stars and trees. You can do you though! Holly, angels, bells, Michael Buble’s face – whatever says “Christmas” to you.
- Bake the pies for 8-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden at the edges. Let cool in the tins for a bit then put them on a rack and dust with icing sugar, to represent the snow that Australians do not ever see at Christmas time.
- Enjoy! With a cup of tea, glass of milk, or my personal favourite, some Four Pillars Christmas gin and soda.
Embrace the magic of December and I’ll be back soon with bells on (literally) xoxoxox