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November 30, 2011

Mince Pies

The magic number for today is 24. Asking why? No, don't worry, this IS a foodblog, no oracle or something :D The number reffers to the days left to Christmas. I think you all have to be bored by my constant talking about it but I simply love Christmas time. And I want to share my Christmas mood with you :) Here you have my first official Christmas cookie recipe (at least in this year and only when you don't count blondies as a Christmas cookie alternative) but these are not cookies in fact...

I'll start pretty much at the beginning. Mince pies are typical Christmas pastries in Great Britain and its former colonies. A mince pie originated in the 13th century when returning European crusaders brought with them Middle Eastern recipes containing meats, fruits and spices. The early mince pie was known by several names, including mutton pie, shrid pie and Christmas pie. Typically its ingredients were a mixture of minced meat, suet, a range of fruits, and spices. Served around Christmas, the pie was associated with supposed Catholic "idolatry" and during the English Civil War was banned by the Puritan authorities. Nevertheless, the tradition of eating mince pies in December continued through to the Victorian era. During those years, they changed their size and became sweeter.

The (sometimes a bit scary) ingredients in the filling differed quite a lot during the long time - especially when it comes to meat: beef, veal or mutton, goose, neat's tongue, beef suet and this all was accompanied by some alcoholic beverages (brandy or distilled liquor) and dried fruit (and sometimes even various types of sugar and syrup). I think I can say the pies were more than diverse :)

Mince pies as we know them nowadays started to develop in the Victorian era when people started to prepare the filling as a preserve so that it'd be available any time during the whole year. As the time went on, the meat slowly disappeared and now only suet can be found in the filling. Even though they are a very popular and traditional Christmas treat they no longer consist of exactly 13 ingredients which symbolized Jesus and twelve Apostles.

To summarize it a bit: there are two parts in mince pies - shortcrust pastry (made only from butter) and filling called mincemeat. When it comes to mincemeat, you can either be scared or remain calm. You won't find any meat in the mincemeat but you will find suet. The rest consists of nicer ingredients such as currants, apples, raisins, sugar, alcoholic beverages and various spices.

Suet is supposed to conserve the fruit and make the filling "finer" in your mouth. It is comes from cows where it's "stored" around kidneys. People also used it because it was the cheapest fat available. Maybe you feel sick a little right now but when you think it over it's almost the same as lard but suet is flavourless and should not have any aroma/odor. Now I'd like to share with you my (un)happy story.

In my opinion, we should try to do anything that's possible in our life so when I decided to make mince pies I had to try using suet. I went to visited four butchers asking for suet. One of them told me he didn't sell meat (yes, he really said that!), another one brought some awful green mass saying it didn't have to be fresh (yuck!) and the other didn't have any suet at all. A few days later, I went shopping for clothes and discovered another butcher's. And here I finally bought nice fresh suet. It was almost for free - extremely cheap. I felt so happy. As soon as I arrived home I wanted to separate the fat from the membrane that holds it loosely together. However, something was wrong with my suet - it was impossible to separate it so I tried to slowly heat it over a low flame to melt it.What a mistake! What a horrible mistake! Two minutes later, my flat was full of absolutely disgusting smell and in that particular moment I felt like vomiting. I felt soo sick. The smell was terrible, the worst I have ever smelt in my whole life. Yuck! I immediately turned off the heat and through away that smelly suet. This led into desperate search for suet substitute...

What's the right substitute for suet? I searched the net and found out it's vegetable suet. Vegetable suet is made from palm oil and tiny addtion of rice flour but you can easily use any type of solid white vegetable fat (not margarine). Although I am strictly against using these types of fat in my kitchen I didn't want to let the suet win over me :D So in this recipe I'm using vegetable fat (since I don't live in the USA it's hard for me to say which type of fat would be the best but I think that Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening should work, in Britain there you can buy fat that is called vegetable suet).

Let's move forward. First of all, you have to make the mincemeat approx. one or two days ahead and then you can assembly the pies. The British usually prepare their mincemeat as a preserve so that they can use it any time during the year(s) or they simply buy canned mincemeat (though they admitt that homemade is the best). It doeasn't matter that much wheter you use brandy or distilled liquor because every recipe uses different alcoholic beverage. For example I used our homemade slivovice (in English known as slivovitz or plum brandy) - it's a distilled liquor from plums. This year we have homemade apricot brandy so I plan to use this one (if I'm lucky enough and my parents won't drink it up till Christmas :D).

Currants are also a part of mincemeat. I've mentioned them here with Hot Cross Buns. They are a special type of grapes planted in Greece and they may not be available everywhere (for example here in the Czech Republic). If you live in a country where dried currants aren't available, here's my tip. I use dried red currant instead of the currants - it's similar in size and color though red currant is a bit more on the tart side. How to make your own dried red currant? Just bake aprox. 300g of fresh red currant on very low heat (100-150C) for about 1-3 hours until dry. You'll get aprox. 60g of dried red currants which is enough for this recipe. And if even this is impossible, simply use two different kinds of raisins which are available in your local store :) One last note: cooled mincemeat doesn't look very tasty (it's fruit swimming in pieces of fat) but it smells wonderful so don't let this stop you (and don't try to taste it - it's not very good on its own, it becomes divine when baked in the pastry).

Wheter you use suet or vegetable fat, that's up to you. I recommend using vegetable fat since suet can be rather disgusting but if you have a source of good suet then go for it! And now let's bake a cake pie :)

65g tart apples, peeled and grated
60g raisins
60g currants (or dried red currant)
45g sultanas
35g candied peels
60g brown sugar
50g white vegetable fat (or suet)
fresh lemon juice from 1/3 lemon
fresh orange juice from 1/3 orange
1/5 tsp ground cloves
1/5 tsp ground cinnamon
1/5 tsp grated nutmeg
1/5 tsp ground all-spice
15ml brady or distilled liquor
230g all-purpose flour
115g unsalted butter, cut into tiny lumps
a pinch of salt
1 glass of refrigerated water

Mincemeat: In a baking bowl combine all the ingredients, except for the brandy, stirring them thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a plastic foil and leave the mixture in a cool place (not in your fridge) overnight so the flavours can develop. The next day, bake covered with aluminium foil in preheated oven to 120C for about 1 hour. Stir a few times during baking. Remove from oven and let cool completely, stirring occasionally. Stir in the brandy and transfer into sterilised jars. Cover with waxed discs and seal. This way it can be stored for 1-2 years. If you want to use your mincemeat within 1-2 days, just keep it cover in the bowl (no need to transfer it into jars).
Pastry: RECIPE HERE (in this case the only fat used is butter - pies are more cookie-like).
Assembly: Roll out the cooled pastry on lightly floured surface into 3mm thin rectangle. Cut out rounds (7cm in diameter). Grease and flour your muffin pan. Place the rounds into the prepared muffin pan so that each round has  (approx. 1 cm high) edges which will hold the mincemeat. Fill each round with the mincemeat to the top. Cut out large stars from the leftover dough and cover the mincemeat with them. Refrigerate the pies for about 10 minutes. Bake in preheated oven to 200C for 12-15 minutes until lightly beige around edges (they should stay mostly pale). Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove each pie from the tin using the handle of a teaspoon. Either let cool completely or eat when still warm (thumbs up for this!). Anyway, don't forget to dust with icing sugar before serving.

  • The amount of pastry is exactly for 16 rounds and 16 stars and so is the mincemeat (at least I had no leftover). If you want to make more pies, simply double the amount of ingredients.
  • The mincemeat itself doesn't look very tasty, but baked in the pies it tastes great.
  • For 60g of dried red currants you need approx. 300g of fresh (or freezed) red currant. If you don't have it, use yet another type of raisins (e.g. jumbo raisins).
  • Use either suet or vegetable fat. Use neither butter nor margarine - these fats would be burned during baking.

Although it seemed to be quite scary at the beginning, I was pretty satisfied at the end. The very first warm pie was devoured by my sister (she had no idea what she's eating) and she immediately fell in love with it. The rest of the pies were placed into decorative muffin cups and served as a dessert after our traditional Christmas Eve dinner (fried carp, potato salad). everybody asked me what they were all about and I let them guess :D My mom was quite surprised that I used vegetable fat but everybody agreed that the pies were very tasty. The pies are not too sweet, they have a beautiful aroma and slightly sour flavour from red currant. The shortcrust pastry is wonderfully crispy and melt-in-your-mouth with strong butter flavour. I'd say it's a pretty good change after tons of super sweet Christmas cookies. Personally, I don't like candied peels but in these pies I didn't mind it at all. Red currant made the taste of mince meat quite strong, raisins provided perfect juiciness and plum brandy was somewhere in the background (however, its taste wasn't very strong). As for the fat, nobody recognized it, it didn't appear in the taste at all. So mince pies get excellent mark from me :) And the last note: while I was uploading the photos to this post, my mom saw them and said: "Oh, these were good, I loved them. Hope you'll make them again..."

Linked to:
Sweet Tooth Friday
Sweets for a Saturday
Sweet Indulgences Sunday
These Chicks Cooked


  1. Very interesting. You met a butcher that does not sell meat? Its been a very long time since I had these pies (without meat mince). I didn't realise suet was a critical ingredient. I wonder if regular beef/pork fat would work. They have slight aroma but the fruits would overcome it. Or why not butter or coconut oil?

  2. Absolutely gorgeous photos! The mini pies are so cute!

  3. wow...irresistable n hearty..
    just found your your space..
    very interesting presentation with stunning cliks..
    Am your happy follower now..;)
    do stop by mine sometime..
    Tasty Appetite

  4. How interesting! Thank you for sharing the history of mince meat - makes it seem a little less scary - though I do think I'd prefer the vegetable suet. I'm sorry you had a hard time with the real stuff, but glad you perservered to make these gorgeous treats.

  5. I know nothing about suet, but I rendered lard once (to make strutto) and the smell in the kitchen was certainly not pleasant. However, I expected it and in the end, I got what I wanted.
    Your resourcefulness is admirable so it is just right that you were rewarded with a nice result.

  6. Three-Cookies: Thank you :) Yes, I know it's crazy - there was meat everywhere in the shop and he told he didn't sell meat :D If I had the access to good quality suet, I'd use it but unfortunately, I don't. This mincemeat is baked and I'm afraid that butter would get burnt but the idea of using cocnut oil sounds pretty good! To be honest this one haven't come into my mind. Thank you for the tip :)

    Renata, betty: Thank you for your nice comments!

    Jay: Thank you so much for the kinds words and for following! I can't wait to see your site :)

    Courtney @ Misadventures in Cooking: Thank you, I'm happy your find it interesting :) I have to say I'm really glad that I preserved some of the mincemeat so that I don't have to prepare it again and again :D

    Simona: I make my own lard quite often and the smell is actually pretty nice :D Anyway, thank you a lot for your words! I think I'd be really disappointed if they didn't turn out well :)

  7. I found your blog through Beti Vanilla and I have to say that your blog is SO awesome. I love all of the food that you have made, and these little pies look amazing! :)

  8. The Baker: Thank you so much for the kind words! I am SO happy that you like it here! You've made my day much better :)

  9. Thanks for the history of mincemeat, and wonderful photography! Makes me want to give these pies a try. :)

  10. Muy hermosos y sabrosos lucen perefectos,abrazos hugs,hugs.

  11. Morsels of Life: You're welcome and thank you! If you try them, let me know :)

    Rosita Vargas: !Muchas gracias por tu comentario!

  12. These mincemeat pies are gorgeous! I wish I could reach into my computer and try one.

  13. kyleen: Thank you so much :) I wish I could give you some!!


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