Thursday, 27 December 2007

Things to do with Mincemeat.....

It’s Christmas so it must be time to entomb some mincemeat in pastry i.e. make mince pies. Bored with the idea of doing this for what felt like the millionth time I sought different options; well, I am a Crusader after all even if it is just the ‘Caked’ variety. Here are two ideas for mincemeat that aren’t radically different but just different enough to whet one’s jaded taste buds.

The first is a large mincemeat tart.

We’re going to have it for dessert on Christmas day with some lightly whipped sweetened vanilla cream. By not having a pasty lid it gives centre stage to the mincemeat which, until I made this dish, I hadn’t realised how beautiful it looks. By having less pastry, it also makes the texture stickier and richer in your mouth. In other words – this is a good thing!

The second idea is at the other end of the size spectrum: mini mincemeat crumble tarts.

If it’s possible for baked items to be cute then these are the cutest little things around! I like cakes or tarts that do more than one thing – these are great because you have the pastry case which houses the mincemeat and then top it off with nutty crumble. Is it a cake or a dessert? Should you have it with a cup of tea or after dinner? Any answer is correct.

Here they are fresh from the oven, still in the baking tray:

They look so cute en masse:

And this is just to show off my mini-muffin tree stand. You’ll notice I made some mini jam tarts too, to satisfy the mincemeat haters!

Just a quick note on mincemeat. I’m sure you can buy some very nice quality mincemeat but homemade is always best. Mine is made by The CCM (Caked Crusader’s Ma) using Delia Smith’s recipe. It keeps beautifully and The CCM makes it every other year. This year I have used the mincemeat she made in 2006 and as long as it is kept airtight and cool it will mature wonderfully. If it looks a little dry stir in a tablespoon of brandy to return it to the required glossy state.

Whenever a dish requires sweet shortcrust pastry, unless there is something interesting about the recipe, I always ignore the pastry ingredients and make the sweet rich shortcrust pastry recipe from my Women’s Institute cookbook . This pastry is unbeatable – it never fails to be delicious and could not be easier to make or a nicer consistency to work with. Here’s the recipe:

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

For the pastry:
115g plain flour
80g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 egg yolk

How to make:

- Put the flour and butter into a bowl and rub together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs – either using your fingertips, a food processor or, as I discovered to my joy, the beater fitting on the Kitchenaid mixer.
- Add the icing sugar and stir in.
- Add the egg yolk and bring the dough together until it is smooth, glossy and soft.
- Wrap the dough in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before you need to use it – this relaxes the dough and stops the cooked pastry from shrinking.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Do not eat yet – it’s raw!

Mincemeat Tart

Double amount of the shortcrust pastry i.e. 230g plain flour, 160g butter etc
Approx 900g good quality mincemeat
1 egg for glazing
Sprinkle of caster sugar

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan oven 180°C/400°F/Gas mark 6
- Grease a 30cm loose bottomed flan tin. This is a big tart – if you want to, you can make a smaller one but obviously will have pastry left over from the proportion I have recommended.
- Take the pastry from the fridge and roll it out between two pieces of greaseproof paper. This gets rid of the need to flour the surface and risk drying the pastry out. Lay the pastry in the tin. Keep any spare pastry to one side.
- Cover the pastry with greaseproof paper and weigh down with baking beans, dried lentils – whatever you use.
- Bake the pastry case for 15 minutes. This is called “blind” baking i.e. cooking the pastry shell so it will be crisp when you bake it again with the filling.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing the paper and beans.
- Spoon the mincemeat evenly into the pastry shell.
- Use the pastry leftovers to make decorations to sit on the mincemeat. As it’s Christmas I used a Christmas tree cutter but a star or holly leaves would be just as pretty.
- Once you have positioned the pastry decorations on the mincemeat, glaze them with beaten egg and a sprinkle of caster sugar.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. Mine took 20 minutes.
- Serve with cream, whipped cream, brandy butter, ice cream – the list goes on!
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

Mini Mincemeat Crumble Tarts

Single amount of the shortcrust pastry
Approx 200g good quality mincemeat

For the crumble topping:
90g Plain flour
40g chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts)
40g soft brown sugar
40g Unsalted butter

How to make:

- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4
- Grease a mini muffin pan . The proportions above will give approx 14 mini tarts. If you don’t have a mini muffin pan, use an ordinary size muffin pan – obviously you will get less.
- Take the pastry from the fridge and roll it out between two pieces of greaseproof paper. This gets rid of the need to flour the surface and risk drying the pastry out. Using an appropriate size cutter, cut out discs of pastry and place in the mini muffin pan.
- Spoon in enough mincemeat so it is level with the pasty – this gives a nice flat surface for the crumble to sit on.
- To make the crumble rub the butter into the flour (this can be done in a processor or Kitchenaid mixer) and then stir in the sugar and nuts.
- Sprinkle the crumble into nice little domes on top of each tart. It will scatter a bit over the tray but don’t worry.
- Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the pasty is golden brown.
- Allow to cool slightly in the tin before removing, otherwise you risk smashing the pastry to bits!
- To look pretty, when I took the tarts out of the tray, I sat them in mini muffin cases. This makes them easier to pick up and eat.
- Serve just as they are or with a blob of cream.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.

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