This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend’s house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se’nnight.”
– Janet Austen, Emma
Today is Jane Austen’s birthday, and if you’re as big a fan as I am, you’ll be drawn to this recipe for mince pies. They are a quintessentially English treat, as popular as Christmas cookies here in the US, and ubiquitous in the UK. I wanted to love mince pies, until I learned that traditional mincemeat contains suet, and sometimes beef or venison, which does not sound like an appetizing combination to me. But no worries – you can substitute frozen unsalted butter for the suet, to give the mincemeat the same rich taste, and forego the meat entirely. (Maybe this recipe should be called vegetarian mincemeat!) It’s also less sweet than traditional mincemeat, and I did that by using fewer of the very sweet dried fruit (like raisins), and more of the tart dried fruit (like cherries).
If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, these mince pies should please the Mr. Darcy in your life.
Serves: 2 dozen mincemeat tartlets or one 9-inch pie
Prep time: 45 minutes
For the filling:
- 2 tart apples, peeled and chopped into small pieces
- 4 ounces dried cherries
- 5 ounces golden raisins
- 6 ounces dried figs, finely chopped
- 2 ounces crystallized ginger, finely chopped
- ½ cup brandy
- 5 tablespoons butter
- zest and juice of a lemon
- zest and juice of an orange
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
For the crust:
I like former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier’s pie dough the best. If you don’t want to make the dough from scratch, you can buy premade piecrust dough in your dairy case.
- 3 ½ cups cake flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- a pinch of salt
- ½ cup water
- 1 ½ cups solid vegetable shortening
- 1 egg mixed with 2 tablespoons of water for egg wash
- Powdered sugar for garnish
- Combine flour, sugar, salt, water and shortening in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
- Mix on low speed until ingredients are well combined and dough is smooth.
- Divide the dough into 2 pieces.
- Press each piece out to form a 6-inch disk and wrap them in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour or for up to 1 week.
- Pie dough may be frozen, wrapped in plastic and then in aluminum foil for up to 3 months.
- Defrost in refrigerator before rolling out.
- Combine mincemeat ingredients in a food processor and pulse until ingredients are well mixed.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Roll our piecrust dough on parchment paper or floured board to 1/8 inch thick.
- Cut rounds of dough to fit your tart or pie pan.
- If making tarts, spoon the mincemeat into the center of each round, keeping it level with the top of the tart pan.
- Cover top of tart with a round of dough or a piece of dough cut into a festive shape and place on top of mincemeat.
- Brush the pastry with a light egg wash.
- Bake in oven for 12 minutes or until golden brown.
- For a 9-inch pie, bake for 30 minutes.
- Sprinkle with a very light dusting of powdered sugar as garnish.