christmas mince pies in foil paper

Boozy mince pies: let the Christmas fun be-gin

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

Ingredients:

Mince pies
  • 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:

Mince pies
  • 350g flour
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • Icing sugar (to dust)

Method:

Mince pies
  1. Heat the sloe gin and brown sugar in a saucepan, stirring until all sugar has dissolved
  2. Stir in the dried fruit, spices and grate ion the zest from the orange
  3. Add the cranberries and squeeze in the juice from the orange. Leave to stew for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
  4. Remove from heat and place to the side while you make your pastry
  5. Rub the flour and butter together in a bowl until it forms a crumbly mixture
  6. Add the sugar and egg and knead together into a dough
  7. Roll the pastry out and use a circle cookie cutter to cut dough circles to the right size for your muffin tins
  8. Squeeze the dough circles into your muffin tin and generously fill with mincemeat
  9. Top each pie with a pastry star, sprinkle with sugar and bake in the oven for 18 minutes at 220C
  10. 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!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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gin toddy

Hot sloe gin toddy: an easy recipe for autumn comfort

posted in: Cocktails, Gin and Juniper | 0

Summer is officially behind us and these days, the weather’s much colder, the rain’s more frequent and sometimes you can even see your breath in the air. This is the season of long nights, darker mornings, conkers, log fires, cozy walks, sturdy walking shoes and Wellington boots. But it is also sloe gin season in the UK.
You might have seen our interview with our friends Jenny and Hamish Prentice about how and when to harvest sloe berries. They’ve been making sloe gin in the Wiltshire countryside for years and they offered some handy tips on exactly how and when to harvest these elusive little berries and turn them into sloe gin. It’s well worth a read if you missed it. But once you’ve got your sloe gin, what exactly do you with it on a cold autumn evening?

Spice up those autumn nights

Well one thing you could do is warm yourself up with a delicious hot sloe gin toddy. So, we thought we’d make it nice and easy for you by giving you a simple recipe that will add a little spice to those cold, dark nights. When you’re trapped indoors (maybe enjoying the warmth of a log fire or wondering what gin based drink you should have) you could get your evening going with a burst of delicious, spicy alcoholic warmth.
Welcome to our hot sloe gin toddy – we think you’ll FALL in love with it (see what I did there?)

Sloe gin toddy recipe

Ingredients: Continued

Ingredients: Continued

A crafty glass bottle full of dark sloe gin with a shot glass next to it and surrounded by juniper berries

Slowly does it: why you can’t hurry a sloe gin

A short interview with our friends Hamish and Jenny Prentice, who’ve been harvesting sloe berries since they traded in the big smoke of London for the quiet beauty of the English countryside a decade or so ago. The couple now live in Wiltshire, in the gorgeous south of England and have been harvesting and bottling their homemade Sloe gin by hand ever since.
Every Christmas, Hamish and Jenny give me a gorgeous bottle of their beautiful, rich, warming, fruity, homemade liqueur as a present. I look forward to it for months. It’s so good that this year, I thought I’d ask them to share some of their sloe gin tips with the Barcelona Gin community.
This is what they told me:

How did you first discover the joy of homemade sloe gin?

Jenny and I have always been fond of food (and drink!). We delight in cooking adventurously using unusual, locally foraged ingredients. When we moved to the countryside drinks, jams and jellies were added to our repertoire. Sloe gin and Damson vodka quickly became our favourites.

What are sloe berries?

Sloe berries are actually the fruit of the Blackthorn bush. They are a deep blue/ purple colour and roughly the size of a large blueberry! When ripe for picking, they become soft on the outside and usually develop a pale bluish sheen on the outer skin. You can remove this by gently brushing your fingertip across the fruit to reveal the dark blue/black gloss below.

When is the best time to harvest your sloes?

Picking is normally late September through to late October. Traditionally the best time to pick was always “after the first frost”. That’s because the frost damages the skin & fruit pulp allowing the alcohol to get to the stone, which is where the real flavour can be found. We like to pick when they are starting to soften just a little and put the berries in the freezer, which has the same effect.Some people also advocate pricking each berry multiple times with a pin. This allows the alcohol to reach the stone, but it is time consuming. We’ve tried both ways (freezing and picking) with the same crop and found absolutely no difference at all. We go for the freezing option.

What about foraging?

We always harvest our own fruit. That’s because the fun is in the forage. Picking is better enjoyed with friends and family before a good, long Sunday lunch. We’ve been really lucky over the last few years to find some good bushes which we “monitor” from the middle weeks of September.

What’s your favourite homemade sloe gin recipe and how do you make it?

All sloe gin is good! But somehow it tastes better if you make it yourself. The idiosyncratic flavour and unique profile that each different batch achieves is very satisfying. Over the years we’ve reduced the sugar of more traditional recipes as we prefer a slightly tarter taste

Sloe gin is not difficult to make. It can be as simple as adding some sloes and sugar to a suitably elegant bottle of gin. We only use three simple tools – a demi-john bottle with a stopper/bung (readily available), a funnel for pouring and a cloth or muslin sieve when ready for bottling!

What’s the best ratio for a good homemade sloe gin?

We use 1.5kg of sloes, add 2 ltr. of gin and 1kg of granulated sugar (avoid caster sugar, which can be too fine and cause the sugar to clog the base of the demi-john).

For our taste, the best recipe ratio is 33% sloes:45% gin: 22% sugar

However, you can increase/decrease the sugar according to your taste. We’ve tried & tested countless combinations over the years. We stir the mixture frequently at first then we just forget all about it. It’s probably drinkable after 4 to 6 months, but we choose to leave it for a year to really steep that gin with a real burst of fruit.

Method

  1. Enjoy the picking & remove as many leaves , twigs as you can when you get home (stalks are fine). Freeze and leave for at least 24 hours for when you have the time to make the sloe gin
  2. Make sure your demi-john/ bung is clean. Soapy water, rinsed & dried has been fine for us – no need for ‘sterilizing’ 
  3. Pop your frozen sloes into the demi-john. Add the gin then the sugar, bung and swirl 
  4. Place in a dark cool place and swirl daily for the first week then weekly until all the sugar has dissolved. 
  5. We tend to bottle after a year when we are foraging for the next crop but you can bottle after 6 months
  6. Pour the demi-john contents through a sieve to catch the now shriveled berries  (compost them). Collect in a large bowl/pan. If you don’t sieve first the straining takes much longer
  7. We use a wooden hooped cloth straining bag but you can use muslin tied onto legs of a stool. We use 2 chairs and a broom to hold the strainer – so be resourceful
  8. The key thing is never be tempted to squeeze the bag or the gin will be cloudy – overnight  straining should be sufficient. You can move the cloth around a bit so that the gin finds a new area of clean cloth. It will strain through more quickly
  9. The crystal dark sloe gin can now be bottled or put back into a clean dry demi-john stored somewhere cool & dark until you are ready to bottle

Bottling it

We use an attractive 200ml cork stoppered bottle. It’s ideal for enjoying with friends and family or giving as a gift! We would normally make between 30/40 bottles of sloe gin and damson vodka in any one year.

What’s the best way to drink sloe gin?

We think that sloe gin is best enjoyed neat in a shot or sipped from a small sherry glass after a good lunch or dinner. It is equally enjoyable as a Sloe “Royale” with bubbles! We have also mixed it into homemade ice cream, dribbled it over puddings and have friends who swear by adding homemade lemonade to a generous shot. It’s also a great addition to cocktail recipes.

Enjoy.


Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)

Don’t forget to follow us on our facebook community page to join in the gin discussion.


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