Last week I received an email from the digital marketing agency of Raffles Medical Group. They are running RMG Smart Subs on Facebook, in which participants submit recipes of festive treat with healthy substitutions. I thought it was a worthwhile cause to be involved in, so here is my effort- home made mince pies.
I first made mince pies when I was a student in London. Back then all we had to was to roll out frozen store-bought pastries and fill them with jarred mincemeat and we were perfectly happy to eat them throughout the festive season. These days, perhaps inspired by the marvelous TV series The Great British Bake Off, I prefer making my baked treats from scratch. Home made would also mean a product free of unnecessary additives and preservatives, so it is a good start. Wherever possible I used organic ingredients, their nutritional values may not be higher than non-organic, but if it means we lessen our exposure to pesticides, fungicides and other nasty chemicals, it is worth the switch.
The recipe for the pastry came straight from the superstar baker Paul Hollywood published this week in the Guardian feature Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood's Christmas baking recipes. I didn't make any substitutions to the pastry as baking requires precision. The almond pastry comes together quite easily but it is extremely soft, and really needed to be properly chilled. The dough was still quite floppy when rolled out, even on a Silpat sheet, so my shells didn't turn out pretty. Still, my daughter and nephew pronounced the pastry as "good". Definitely no soggy bottoms. The almonds gave it a nice crisp texture and nutty finish.
The healthy part came mainly from the mince. I got the rough recipe from
my third sister, who bakes them for sale every year. Put fresh and
dried fruit in roughly equal proportions. I peeled and chopped 3 red apples and eye-balled the other half in whatever dried fruit I had at home, which were raisins (green and dark),
cranberries, wild blueberries and pineapple. Juice of 6 oranges and
their pulp but not the zest as I was using normal oranges. Store-bought orange juice would do as well. For
flavouring I put in a stick of cinammon, ground 2 cardamons and grated
some nutmeg in as well as threw in 2 teaspoons of candied peel (could have made that myself but I was so short of time). The
whole mix was cooked down on a medium fire until the apple softened and
the liquid absorbed into all the fruits. To add sweetness to all the
tart fruits, I used gula melaka, the caramelly palm sugar rounded the flavours nicely without being cloying, add 2-3 teaspoons to start with, and adjust accordingly.
The mince smelled wonderfully of Christmas as it cooked. When done, scoop into a wide bowl (to cool faster) and add chopped almonds and zest from some organic limes I had in the fridge. Also a generous glug of brandy. This recipe deviates slightly from traditional versions, which calls for suet, or kidney fat, an ingredient that is decidedly unwieldy and quite unhealthy.
To assemble, cut out rings of the rolled dough using 9 cm rings, lay them in a muffin or bun tin. They can be topped with a round of dough and sealed up, or left quite open with just a star-shaped topped, which I prefer as I like more fruit than pastry in each bite. Glaze with milk wash or egg (I prefer milk as there is less wastage), sprinkle with a little castor sugar and bake till golden brown in 180C.
Best served warm, with some coffee or brandy for the adults. My daughter loves these pies, but her cousins did complain of some tartness, which was alleviated by a light dusting of icing sugar. I still have quite a bit of mince in the fridge, might pair that with a sweet crust pastry next time.