Merry Christmas Koala fans!
It’s the Koala’s first Christmas in the UK and as such he’s adjusting to some very unusual weather. He’s feeling out of sorts, given that a typical Australian Christmas involves blazing sunshine and a barbecue somewhere. He perked up a little at the mention of mince pies though, so let’s get the snowball rolling. Our recipe for these comes from bbcgoodfood.com, as usual:
Being British, I tend to have a cynical streak several miles wide and so I wasn’t entirely convinced that these would be “unbelievably easy”. This was reinforced by some of the comments on the recipe page and my previous pastry endeavours. Still, I need the practice…
I made a couple of modifications to the recipe listed – a number of commenters noted that adding an egg to the pastry made it a lot easier to work with. The other change is the addition of some spices to the pastry. Last week at work, I was given a very unusual mince pie that had a very dark coloured pastry. This, I discovered, was due to a very high cinnamon content. It really made the pastry come alive and I wanted to try it with these. The spices I selected were the same ones I used for the pfefferkuchen, so I knew they would work well together.
From previous experience, I knew it was important to keep the butter as cold as possible, as this makes it easier to work with. By dicing the butter up into small cubes like this, it was simpler to rub the butter in with the dry ingredients.
I went with two teaspoons of each spice, although I think I made a mistake with the nutmeg and didn’t add as much as the other two. I was worried about this all through the baking, because if the pastry was too overloaded with spice, it’d pretty much be ruined even if the texture was fine.
Even after adding the egg, the pastry wasn’t holding together well. I wondered if it had warmed up too much so I decide to wrap it up and stick it in the freezer for 20 minutes.
I put a small amount of water in the mug so that if it was still too dry when it came out, some ice cold water would help to bind it all together. I did learn my lesson from the peach tart I made for entry 3 – “do not go overboard with the water, or the pastry will turn out like concrete”.
I was stunned at this point. I divided the pastry mix in half and sure, enough, when I took it out of the freezer, it was still very crumbly. Two teaspoons of iced water per half and the pastry started behaving. It may even have been a little too sticky toward the end – perhaps one teaspoon would have been fine, especially after the pastry had warmed up a bit.
Once the pastry was in position, I spooned a small amount of mincemeat into each of them. For the curious, mincemeat *did* originally have meat in it, back in the 16th century. As time progressed and fruit became more widely available, the meat content was slowly scaled back. By Victorian times (1800-1900 for our overseas readers) mincemeat was entirely based around fruits, sugars and various types of fat or suet.
20 minutes in the oven later and the pies were ready. I’m really glad I remembered to line the tray with butter as it meant that 10 out of the 12 pies slid neatly out when I tipped the tray. The other two slid out after running a thin knife around the edge of them.
It was at this point that I fell into some kind of weird alternative universe. I’d made pastry – successfully. The texture was absolutely perfect – slightly crumbly but firm enough to pick up. The taste was pretty good too, although I think I’ll scale back the spices a little next time. I wouldn’t describe these as “unbelievably easy” but successfully making pastry for the first time? That was a wonderful Christmas present. ^_^
I have another entry that I will be putting up at some point over the next few days. Until then, have a great Christmas folks and we’ll see you soon!