Come, guard this night the Christmas-Pie,
That the thief, though ne'er so sly,
With his flesh-hooks, don't come nigh
To catch it
From him, who all alone sits there,
Having his eyes still in his ear,
And a deal of nightly fear
To watch it.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
Though Herrick’s Christmas Pie was probably filled with meat and gravy, rather than mincemeat steeped in rum or brandy, I almost want to recommend that you similarly sit up to guard these Almond and Arancio Extra Calabria Orange Essence mince pies, made with sweet all-butter shortcrust pastry based on Dan Lepard's recipe from the Guardian which gives a very buttery and crisp result. They really are that good. There is a natural synergy between almonds and oranges, but mixed with warm spices and a touch of vanilla there is magic to be found.
Sift the flour, salt and icing sugar into a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into cubes, toss into the flour, and rub between the fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Don’t overdo this. Keep your fingers deliberately light: it is essential to keep the mixture as cold as possible for the best texture, so if you feel you’re taking too long, pop it into the freezer for 10 minutes to cool before continuing.
Add the egg yolks, Arancio Extra Calabria orange essence and a little of the water and mix to a firm dough with cold hands, or a spatula. Use your judgment with the water: add a few drops at a time and work it in: too much will make the pastry too wet. Once the dough comes together, squeeze it into a ball, wrap it in cling film, and chill it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before using.
Roll out on a floured surface to about 30cm x 35cm. Using a 10cm diameter pastry cutter, cut 12 circles and fit them gently into a lightly greased muffin tin. Chill for 10 minutes in the fridge.
While it chills, heat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/325°F/gas mark 3, and make the frangipane. This is not strictly the traditional way, but it’s quick and it works. Place all the frangipane ingredients in a mixer and blend on full for 3 minutes. When this is done the pies can be assembled.
Spoon a tablespoon of mincemeat into each pastry base, gently pressing it flat with the back of the spoon. Place a disc of marzipan on top of the mincemeat.
Spoon the frangipane over the mincemeat evenly, gently easing the mixture to the edge of the pastry. Scatter with flaked almonds and pop in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave for 5 minutes to set a little. Place each pie carefully onto a wire rack; when completely cool, store into an airtight tin. Use within a week.
This is a simply but indulgent addition to the Christmas feast; make it more or less alcoholic, as you prefer!
Cream the butter and sugar together, then dot the vanilla over the surface and beat it in until the whole mixture is light and pale. Then add the brandy, a little at a time, until the flavour is strong enough to please you. Transfer to a clean serving bowl and chill for at least 2-3 hours before serving with mince pies or Christmas pudding. This can be made ahead and frozen for up to 3 months.