At this time of year, the pre-Christmas nibbling has probably already begun.
Mince pies are one of the most traditional of all English treats at Christmas time – and for many, they are the taste of Christmas. But if you’re not brought up with this tradition, it’s sometimes quite difficult to get your head around the term “mince pie”. In fact, these days, there’s absolutely no meat to be found inside a traditional mince pie.
These sweet little pies have been decorating English Christmas tables since the 13th century when they were first brought to England by crusaders returning from the Middle East. The original Mediterranean recipes included meats, fruits and spices representing the symbolism of the gifts delivered to the baby Jesus by the Magi. In fact, in the early days, mince pies were actually rectangular and “manger-shaped” and were often topped with a pastry image of the Christ Child.
From crusader cuisine to rich, sweet Christmas pies
Over the centuries, these tasty sweet and savoury treats began to lose the savoury. In fact, these days, the meat has been removed altogether, in favour of traditional sweet mincemeat – a rich mixture of chopped, dried fruit, spices, sugar and distilled spirits.
The fruits usually include chopped apple, fresh citrus peal, currants, candied fruits, citron and brandy or rum. It’s then all mixed together and aged so that the flavours deepen and the texture changes to a dark, sticky, boozy Christmas goo! This gorgeous mixture is then encased in little pastry packages of buttery goodness and baked.
Once out of the oven, they receive a final light dusting of sugar powder to finish it all off.
For the final step: top with a little cream or brandy butter and pop this little sweet, spicy, steamy Christmas parcel into your mouth. Christmas will follow.
This amazing mince pie mixture is unlikely to last you the whole festive season, but if you maintain your discipline, it can be stored for up to 10 years.
Sloe is better…
But what if we were to substitute a little gin where traditionally there was rum or brandy?
And even better, what about sloe gin?
If that’s more to your taste, then here’s a simple little mince pie recipe that means you don’t have to mix your spirits – just stick with gin!
These festive pies are made with lashings of sloe gin for a truly festive blast of boozy, fruity, seasonal goodness and they’re really easy to make. We recommend using Sipsmith Sloe Gin for this recipe, with its deep, warming sloe-ness. But you can choose any sloe gin you prefer – or even use your own if you have some home made sloe already in the house.
Mince pies recipe
- 300g fresh cranberries
- 300g dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, apricots etc.)
- 60g brown sugar
- 40z Sipsmith Sloe Gin
- 2tsp cinnamon
- 2tsp nutmeg
- 2tsp mixed spice
- 1 orange
For the pastry:
- 350g flour
- 250g unsalted butter
- 100g sugar
- 1 egg
- Icing sugar (to dust)
- Heat the sloe gin and brown sugar in a saucepan, stirring until all sugar has dissolved
- Stir in the dried fruit, spices and grate ion the zest from the orange
- Add the cranberries and squeeze in the juice from the orange. Leave to stew for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
- Remove from heat and place to the side while you make your pastry
- Rub the flour and butter together in a bowl until it forms a crumbly mixture
- Add the sugar and egg and knead together into a dough
- Roll the pastry out and use a circle cookie cutter to cut dough circles to the right size for your muffin tins
- Squeeze the dough circles into your muffin tin and generously fill with mincemeat
- Top each pie with a pastry star, sprinkle with sugar and bake in the oven for 18 minutes at 220C
- Pour one glass of Sipsmith Sloe Gin for you. Pour another one for Santa. Sit back and hope you’re not on the naughty list.
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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