Sunday 24 October 2010

let's eat!

if you're visiting from Liberty Cottage, hello and welcome. If not, welcome also, we're blog hopping around the world today, reflecting on food and our lives. You can start at the beginning at Over at Our Place, or follow the links from here. 

 I HATE fruit mince pies! I know, with all the English in the family, how is it possible? But there's just something about the feel of them in my mouth... mind you, I haven't tried one since I became a grown up, it's my seven-year-old-self that can still taste them and refuses to try again.

But it's only 63 sleeps until Christmas, and that means I need to start baking them! I have always had this philosophy about cooking that if I don't eat it, I won't make it, but there's something about Christmas without fruit mince pies that just doesn't feel right.

I'm surrounded by people who DO like fruit mince pies. Well, maybe not surrounded, my mum and sister are over 1000kms away, but their Christmas isn't complete without a box of fruit mince pies turning up on the doorstep. And Steve and Douglas enjoy them. The girls, on the otherhand, are just like their mum and refuse to let the fruit mince filling past their lips!

Fruit mince pies don't work without this Kenwood mixer. That's why mum doesn't bake them any more, I have the mixer. The mixer that mum was given as an engagement present (if you're the counting sort, she got engaged two years before getting married, and I was born two years after the wedding, making the mixer FORTY years old this year. I hope to get to FORTY years old sometime soon!)

The recipe for the fruit mince pie pastry was a closely guarded secret of my mum's growing up (ie, she couldn't be bothered writing it down until I told her she HAD to, so I could use the recipe, because there was no way my baby-brain was going to remember the ingredients in the right quantities and produce a pastry that would be edible!) I always make a double quantity for the first batch of the season, because I share them around. Most years I get to make 2 or 3 batches!

The first ingredient up is butter. Now, if I've converted the quantities properly, you need 2 sticks of butter (250g) for the double quantity (so, only 1 stick/125g for 1 batch which makes I'm-not-sure-how-many-fruit-mince-pies, cause I've never counted how many in a batch!) Once the butter is soft enough to be mixed (the summer heat usually helps soften the butter in less than an hour here), you need to cream it with 1 cup of caster sugar (I don't think there is an American equivalent, caster sugar is just very fine white sugar that dissolves quicker, but I've made recipes using regular white sugar, it just took a bit longer to blend. Please let me know if there is an American equivalent, I've got lots of recipe sharing ahead of me this year!)

Once the butter and sugar are well blended, you need to mix in two eggs. I'm lazy, and break them straight into the bowl of the mixer, but if you want, you can break them into a cup/bowl/plate and then pour them into the mix. Mix on a low speed, because you don't want to over-mix. Now it's time for the flour. 3 cups of self-raising flour for the double batch (once again, I'm not sure if there's an American equivalent, I believe you add baking powder or bicarb and cream of tartar to all-purpose flour as your raising agent?)

Adding the flour is tricky, because to get the mixture just right you need to listen to the sound the mixer makes. Sometimes 3 cups of flour aren't enough, and you may need to add more until the mixer sounds just right. What does it sound like? Well, I'm not really sure I can describe it (it seems that I'm still a bit sketchy on the finer points of the noise, and have been known to add too much flour, resulting in a crumbly mess when you take that first bite) Trust me, if you listen closely, you'll hear the motor change slightly, and that's when the pastry is just the right amount of mixed.

Next, you press out the pastry into the pan. Only a round bottom pan will work! (I've had this tray for four years, it's a very good non-stick tray, so I never add any grease or releasing agent to the tray. I'm sure if you have some other tray that you use, it would work, but mum used to say that round-bottomed trays were the best. This year I'm thinking of splurging and buying a second tray!) Mum used to neaten the edges of the pastry up by slicing with a butter knife, but after the first year of doing that I found it too fiddly and time consuming, so we go with rustic charm.

Robertson's is the only fruit mince I have ever used. It's only been in the last five years or so that another brand of fruit mince has become available (and I have no idea what it is, because I've never bought it.) Some years I look at the recipes for homemade fruit mince, but I come to my senses very quickly and realise that I would be setting myself up for another job that I won't complete. Why do that when I can take the "easy" road, and actually make fruit mince pies, right? Once the pie bases are ready, go ahead and spoon a small mound of fruit mince into the middle. This is another one of those not-an-exact-science-but-you-need-to-figure-it-out-by-the-feel-of-the-pie things. The first year I made pies, I used 1 jar of fruit mince for 18 pies. And everyone complained, because it was too-much-fruit-mince, leaving a fruit mince taste behind! So now I mound a tea spoon, and fill two bases with one mound.

Using well-floured hands, press a small mound of pastry out flat with the heel of your hand, and place it on top of the pastry. Press down the edges to create a seal, and continue on until all the pies are covered. You could neaten the edges up again, placing all the scraps back inoto the bowl to be used for the next batch, but once again, I go with rustic.

Pies are baked in the oven at 180degrees centigrade (which is a moderate oven of 340degrees farenheit, but I haven't checked, just guessed, so be sure to check!) until golden brown (about 15-20 minutes, I think) or they smell ready. I now, not very helpful, but I have discovered from sharing recipes here on my blog that I tend to do a lot of my baking by smell! Comes from having an oven that didn't seal properly for so many years, now I have an oven with a proper seal I need to retrain myself how to cook poperly!

Once the pies are cooled, you can ice them. About one cup of icing sugar (confectioner's sugar), and the juice of one lemon to the desired consistency. You can see in the top photo, it isn't fruit-mince-pie-making-day if you don't get to clean the drips of lemon icing up off the kitchen bench at the end of the day!

(While I've been typing this post out, I've had visions of my mum standing at the kitchen bench of our house in Melbourne, hands covered in flour, and each of us keeps popping into the kitchen to pinch a small morsel of pastry to stuff in our mouths. I don't know what year it is, but it isn't Cjristmas without mum making fruit ince pies, which is why I try to keep the tradition alive. If only I had the photos to share!)

Do you like fruit mince pies? What food is a must-have-at-Christmas-or-else-it-isn't-Christmas?

Now you're off to visit Rhona, happy hopping!


  1. fruit mince pies are my favourite thing to eat at christmas and I make lots of them to share around and keep me supplied. I also like to sample a wide range of the fruit mince pieas made by cafes and bakers

  2. Cate, fabulous! I love that you keep this tradition without even liking the little morsels ... truth is, I'm not a fan either!
    Our pudding is a family recipe as is the brandy sauce .... oooh, it is good!

  3. I never used to be a fan...but have grown to like them...especially from the local Baker Delight! Will have to try these :)

  4. I think you probably either love or hate mince kids all hate them....whereas I love them...but they have to be lovely crumbly, melt in the mouth pastry....and yours definately look like they are.

  5. I like mince pies even more since being given a recipe last year where orange juice is used in the pastry instead of water, and a dollop of cream cheese on top of the mince before closing, mmm, nom nom!

    Yours look FAB! LOVE the rustic look.

  6. Kenwoods are great. I am using my mother in laws that is about 40 years old. She stopped using it a while ago and I am so happy to have it. It makes baking easy. I will be making these pies this Christmas.

  7. I am firmly in the 'love them' camp! I wish I could sample one of yours, they look so scrummy! :)

  8. We love mince pies - I must make dozens every year. Always with your choice of filling - love that stuff. They are nicknamed "zippies" here because they always unzip themselves when cooking and the mince oozes out.

    Yours look delicious.

  9. I've never seen a mince tart with a top. Love them - one of my most favourite parts of Christmas! Yum :)

  10. Well, I have never had minced anything - fruit or meat. But the fruit in your post looks a bit like a fruit-cake type of mixture. At any rate, the pies you made look really yummy, and it's interesting to see the pan you've used - never saw one of those before. :o)

    Must have food at Christmas time? Hmmm...probably nut breads like pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, and the likes. Also, chocolate pancakes for Christmas morning. xo

  11. I love mince pies! Have never made them though, will try this a bit closer to Christmas. And my mum also has a Kenwood that was given to her as a wedding present!

  12. We have lots of Christmas food traditions, some of which I've imposed ;-) We definitely always have mince pies though, and we don't need to specify 'fruit mince' because mince pies always mean the fruit sort! I do make my own mincemeat but only because I'm allergic to nuts and the bought kind is risky as it may have nuts or traces of nuts; I found that my homemade mincemeat is much lighter and less rich though, so I prefer it :-)

    Last year I discovered a variation on the pies - pastry base but with a sponge cake topping, YUM!

    Thanks for getting me excited about Christmas, yay!! xx

  13. I quite like mince pies, and hubby and daughter LOVE them. I just started making my own a couple of years ago, and I like them a lot more when they're homemade. Especially served warm with cream. I've never seen a round bottom pan like that before though, I'd love to give that a try with my pies! I'd also like a mixer, I do it all by hand and it takes forever! x

  14. I haven't tried mince meat pies since I was a child either, but if someone else would make one for me, I'd be willing to try now. :-)

  15. I have to admit to not liking mince pies but I was lucky enough to try K's handmade mince pies last year and I actually liked them! They are gorgeous and quite different with the orange and cream cheese but not actually made them yet!! Well done for making them Cate even when you hate them!

  16. mince pies aren't part of Christmas here, but i have enjoyed them when in the uk. so thank you for the instructions to do some on my own! and inspite of your not liking them yourself, you've done an excellent blog post :) THX!

  17. Being American I have never had mincemeat pies but have read about them in books lol I am not big on sweets so at Christmas I look forward to the turkey, dressing (stuffing) and cranberry salad!

  18. I disliked mince pies for a lot of my childhood then suddenly realised how nice they were. But my mother used a very plain pastry, with lard. I'm glad Mel has mentioned her homemade mincemeat, I remember seeing it last Christmas but would have forgotten to try it myself.

  19. Love the recipe... but I will never make it hehe

    BUT I do have one of the pans I think somewhere in my kithcen..and am happy to send to you if you like... it is old one but still good


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