Mince pies for those of us who don't really like them

I know, I know, making and eating mince pies in September is akin to hearing Christmas related Wham records in the shops whilst the sun cream is still at full price. I have an explanation. You see, I have no kitchen at the moment. Just a large hole in the wall, lots of dust and a a gaggle (seems like the right collective term) of take away cartons in the bin. The kitchen will be fabulous and make me feel all Good Homes-like when it's finished. Let's just hope it's sorted before Baby Bell II arrives.

Anyway, the reason for including this recipe now is partly that I had the picture in my back pocket and partly that I bloody love Christmas, especially the culinary preparation. I made damson gin this week and plan to start dusting down the Bell Christmas cake recipe soon. Chutney is also on the list. I love preserving, it's such a wholesome activity. Perhaps I was a 17th Century cook in a previous life.

I don't actually like mince pies. I always think there's too much filling and not enough pastry. And to be honest the pastry never quite does it for me. With such a rich filling I crave sugariness. I guess the best way to describe these mince pies is as shortbread style biscuity pastry with an equal quantity of mincemeat. I hope you like them. I can eat 4 at one sitting, sometimes 5 in December. Just to be festive.

The recipe originally came from Good Food magazine but I have adapted it over the years and now it's quite different. I think it's better but then I would say that.


- 220g cold butter, cut into smallish pieces (I use salted but I know purists prefer unsalted. If using unsalted you need to add half a teaspoon of salt to the mixture.)
- 140g caster sugar
- 350g plain flour (Cheap stuff is fine. I use Tesco Value stuff which is criminally cheap.)
- zest from one lemon
- icing sugar to dust (I use a loose tea infuser for this. It's the perfect size for accurate dusting, even if it does look like a gynaecological instrument.)
- mincemeat for filling. Just under a jars worth. (I don't make my own though I want to. Robertsons is very nice with some chopped cherries, toasted hazelnuts, flaked almonds and brandy stirred through. Tesco's own is also okay.)

Pop the oven onto Gas 6 and line some fairy cake trays with white paper cases. Please don't be seduced by the ones with cute flowers on. The motif transfers to the pastry which can put some people off their pies.

Just for the record, I have tried to bake these without cases, just using the tin and some butter and flour to provide a type of lining. This resulted in much tears and swearing with Mr B having to stay up past midnight carefully teasing the pies from their tins without breaking them. He is a man of patience it seems. I sat upstairs in bed, reading magazines in a snotty fashion, thoroughly ashamed at my teenage temper tantrum.

Take the butter, sugar, lemon zest and flour and blitz in a food processor until combined - takes about 1 minute. You should end up with a ball of dough. Take the dough and inspect to make sure all the ingredients are combined. If not, give it a brief knead with your hands. Then break off a ball of dough about the size of a ping pong ball. Squash it and work into a disc shape with your hands then line a paper case with the disc, pushing carefully into the corners. Be careful not to break it! Those who excelled at pottery at school will be especially good at this.

Fill the pastry bottom with 2 teaspoons of mincemeat then take a slighter smaller ball of pastry and fashion into a disc for the lid. Press onto the top of the filled mince pie and squeeze the edges together until the little pie is airtight. The pastry is best when about half a centimetre thick all over - if that helps the description at all.

Continue until all the pastry is used up, then pop in the oven for 15-ish mins. You need to watch these little buggers as they do have a tendency to burn. See pic. Icing sugar hides a multitude of sins though if used with gusto. Let them cool on a wire rack or failing that in a cool place. Then eat or store in a tin. Very good with coffee laced with ginger at any time of year - in my opinion.
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