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Marzipan & Orange Mince Pies


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)

 

Makes: 12
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Suitable for freezing?: Yes

For the sweet pastry:

  • 250g 00 flour, plus extra for rolling
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 50g Fairtrade icing sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter (cold), plus extra for greasing the tin
  • 2 free range medium egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 tsp Arancio extra Calabria orange essence
  • up to 30g ice-cold water


For the Frangipane:


For the filling:

  • 440g Instant Cranberry & Orange Mincemeat *See recipe
  • 120g marzipan divided into 10g discs
  • 30g flaked almonds


Brandy Butter

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 marzipan and orange mince pies, made with sweet all-butter shortcrust pastry. 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.

Reading around the subject of the origins of mince pies and mincemeat is fascinating. The filling would once have been a mixture of beef or mutton, dried fruit and spices, and the word ‘mince’ probably derives from the Latin ‘minutia’, a small detail, a scrap, while ‘meat’ also meant solid food in general, as opposed to ‘drink’. These early pies were larger, and oblong, like the Nativity scene crib; and one source suggests that the use of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, was symbolic of the gifts brought by the Magi.

The Gervase Markham recipe from 1615 is typical of its period, using mutton leg and suet, pepper, salt, cloves, mace, currants, raisins, prunes, dates and orange peel, and served with sugar, but later in that century, the English Puritans frowned on the celebration of Christmas, and anything that smacked to them of over-indulgence was suppressed, including the mince pie. But we don’t have to worry about their concerns, or test our bravery with the more challenging ingredients of that time. We can just enjoy these wonderful flavours, and the good times that we’re able to share.

Serve these mince pies warm, with home made brandy butter.

Method:

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 biscuit 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-assisted/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 mix 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.

*Take care not to use more than this, as Lazzaroni bitter almond is very strong.

 

Brandy butter

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 suirface and beat it in until the whole mixture is light and pale. Then add the brandy, 25 - 50ml 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.

 

 

 

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