Nigel Slater shares his favourite mince pie recipe, simple but elegant and perfect for your Christmas baking.
Shortcrust, sweetcrust, rough puff or puff? There is no traditional answer so it becomes a matter of choice. But let us go back a bit. The early pies were savoury, the pastry made with lard rather than butter. As someone who will take any opportunity to eat any part of the pig, I often swap some of the butter for lard.
Using a sweet paté brisée, the French sweet shortcrust, is surely pushing the sugar bag too far. Puff and rough puff doughs introduce a welcome lightness and is what I would use if my handiwork is to be eaten the day it is made. Neither keep well. Even stored in a biscuit tin the crust tends to toughen up overnight. Rolled thinly and eaten no more than an hour or two after halting, a puff pastry mince pie can be exquisite, warm and crisp and buttery and as fragile as a butterfly.
My go-to crust is made with halfbutter and halflard, and no sugar. I roll the dough as thinly as I dare and ensure that the bottom is always slightly thicker than the top. As good as thin pastry is, we must never forget it also has a job to do. Many a mince pie is eaten without a plate.
A Jolly Good Mince Pie
A classic, simple mince pie, devoid of bells, whistles and creative meddling. The pastry is a rich but workable shortcrust. It won’t collapse in the carol singer’s mittens. The pies themselves will stand or fall by the quality of mincemeat. Go for broke, Christmas is not the time for parsimony. The little darlings are at their most delicious when eaten warm. Baked a day or more before, they reheat nicely.
Makes 18 small pies
– 75g unsalted butter
– 75g lard
– 150g plain flour
– 1 egg yolk
– a little cold water
– 375g good-quality mincemeat
– icing sugar, for dusting
– 12-hole tartlet tin, each hole measuring 6cm x 2cm deep
NB: It is best to bake the pies in a batch of twelve, then a second of six.
1. Cut the butter and lard into small pieces and rub it into the flour with your fingertips until you have what looks like coarse, fresh breadcrumbs. If you do this in the food processor it will take a matter of seconds.
2. Add the egg yolk, then mix briefly with just enough water to bring to a smooth dough. You will probably need only one or two tablespoons. Bring the dough together into a firm ball, then knead it gently on a floured board for a couple of minutes until it softens.
3. Reserve half of the dough, then roll the remainder out thinly.
4. Set the oven at 200°C/Gas 6.
5. Using cookie cutters or the top of an espresso cup, cut out eighteen discs of pastry: (There may be a tiny bit left over.) Place twelve discs of the pastry in the tartlet tins, reserving six for the second batch, smoothing them up the sides so the edges stand very slightly proud of the tin.
6. Fill each one with a dollop of mincemeat. A level tablespoon is probably all you will get into them, unless you have especially deep tins. Be generous.
7. Roll out the reserved pastry with any leftover trimmings and make a further eighteen discs of pastry, reserving six again. Slightly dampen each of these round the edge with cold water then lay them over each tart and press firmly to seal the edges.
8. Using the point of a small kitchen knife cut a small slit in the centre of each pie and bake for twenty minutes until golden.
9. Let them cool for a few minutes, then slide them out of their tins with a palette knife and serve warm, dusted with icing sugar. Repeat with the remaining pastry discs and mincemeat.
From the BBC1 presenter and bestselling author of Eat, The Kitchen Diaries and Toast comes a new book featuring everything you need for the winter solstice. The Christmas Chronicles is the story of Nigel Slater’s love for winter, the scent of fir and spruce, ghost stories read with a glass of sloe gin, and beeswax candles with shadows dancing on the ceiling. With recipes, decorations, fables and quick fireside suppers, Nigel guides you through the essential preparations for Christmas and the New Year, with everything you need to enjoy the winter months.
Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles is published by Harper Collins and is available to purchase here.