Mince pies

Mince piesI’ve been using Dan Lepard’s quick mincemeat and extra rich pastry recipes for my mince pies for the last few years. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’ve already made two batches to this recipe this year (what can I say? I’m keen!), but I decided to go with a straightforward sweet shortcrust pastry for my third batch earlier today, mainly due to running out of ground almonds!

Mince pies
For this, I adapted a Nigel Slater recipe I found online, while using the last of the mincemeat I made to Dan Lepard’s recipe (albeit with a few variations – see below). Nigel Slater’s recipe is largely fine except for two things: 1) there’s no sugar in it and 2) he doesn’t call for the pastry to be chilled before rolling out. I added some light muscovado sugar and chilled the pastry for 20 minutes just to make doubly sure all would be well… and it was!

Mince pies
As you can see above, I’ve also been making sure to properly fill my mince pies this year – not that I’m usually stingy with the mincemeat, but as I tend to make slightly thick pastry, it’s always nice to balance it out with a generous helping of the filling.

Mince pies
I have to say, the mince pies turned out very well indeed. The pastry is lovely – crisp, buttery and not too sickly (even with my addition of sugar!). The mincemeat I made this year was properly boozy, but also sharp and flavoursome, which is pretty much perfect in my eyes! I need to make some more, but I don’t think I’ll stray too far from my tried-and-tested formula.

Mince pies
Mince pies recipe

Makes approx. 15 pies

  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 300g plain flour, plus extra for rolling out
  • 50g light muscovado sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1-2 tbsp milk
  • 375g mincemeat (I use Dan Lepard’s recipe – this year I substituted the cherries for dried cranberries and used Wells Sticky Toffee Pudding Ale, as well as 2 tbsp dark rum and 2 tbsp calvados for the spirits at the end. The recipe makes enough for around 3 batches of mince pies.)
  • icing sugar, for dusting

Method:

  1. In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  2. Stir in the sugar, making sure to break up any large lumps.
  3. Add the yolk and 1 tbsp of the milk to begin with. Mix and press together until the mixture resembles a rough dough. Add another tablespoon of milk if it looks dry.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead briefly until it comes together properly to create a smoother dough.
  5. Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Grease a muffin tin. Cut some baking paper into strips that you can place in each hole of the tin to help you get your pies out more easily (see the third photo above).
  7. Unwrap the chilled pastry and roll out on a floured surface to around 3mm thick. It’s easiest to split the dough into two or three pieces and roll each bit out separately.
  8. Use two cutters to cut out two discs of pastry for each of pie – one large disc for the base of the pie and a smaller one for the lid. I use 68mm and 88mm cutters for this, but the sizes you use will depend on your muffin tin. It’s best to cut one big disc, then one small disc, then one big disc, and so on, to make sure you have enough pastry for the same number of base and lid discs.
  9. Gently place the larger discs in the holes of the muffin tin (ensuring that there’s a strip of baking paper underneath), pushing them down to the bottom and ensuring the sides are level. You should have baking paper sticking out on opposite sides of each pie.
  10. Fill each pastry-lined hole with mincemeat, trying to be as generous as possible without overfilling (keep the filling level with the edges of the pastry).
  11. Brush the edges of the pastry with cold water, then place the pastry lids on top, pressing around the edges to close any gaps.
  12. Use a skewer or the tip of a knife to cut a small hole in the middle of each pie.
  13. Bake the pies in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until they start to brown on top.
  14. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then use the ends of the strips of baking paper to lift each pie out of the tin and onto a baking rack.
  15. When the pies are nearly cool, sift a little icing sugar over them and serve.

Chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies

Chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies
I came across this recipe for Ferrero Rocher brownies a few days ago, and couldn’t stop thinking about it. There’s something rather amazing about the thought of a squidgy, decadent brownie with a Ferrero Rocher in the middle! Yesterday, I decided to just go for it and make them, albeit with a little Christmassy twist – hence these chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies.

I adapted a trusty brownie recipe I use a lot to make the cake itself, adding the zest of an orange and replacing 100g of the dark chocolate with some Milka Noisette chocolate I just so happened to have in. I also threw in some chopped hazelnuts at the last minute. Then I followed the suggestion of the recipe I found and put half the mix in the tin, studded it with the Ferrero Rochers, then put the rest of the mix on top.

Chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies

Chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies, pre-topping and baking

The brownies took a while to cook – I would say about an hour overall. But they were still beautifully moist and not in the least bit dry when they came out of the oven.

Chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies
I couldn’t wait for them to cool! When they finally did, I was in chocolate heaven. The orange zest is absolutely lovely with the chocolate, and the chopped hazelnuts and decadent middle add a nice bit of texture. These really are brownies for the serious chocoholic in your life, and could also make a wonderful Christmas treat thanks to the festive orange. You could also omit the chopped hazelnuts and use a dark chocolate orange in place of some or all of the chocolate – the choice is yours!

While I’ve reserved a few of these for myself, I’m going to take the rest with me when I go to visit my boyfriend in a little while – he absolutely loves both chocolate orange and hazelnuts, so I’m thinking these will be a big hit!

Chocolate orange Ferrero Rocher brownies
The recipe

Makes 16 brownies

  • 250g dark chocolate (around 70% cocoa solids)
  • 100g hazelnut-flavoured milk chocolate (or use more dark chocolate, or orange-flavoured chocolate, or whatever you like!)
  • 250g unsalted butter
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 85g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 50g chopped toasted hazelnuts (optional)
  • 16 Ferrero Rocher chocolates

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/160C/140C fan. Grease and line a 20cm square tin.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl set above a pan of simmering water. Stir in the zest, set aside and leave to cool slightly.
  3. Whisk the eggs until pale then add the sugar and whisk again thoroughly.
  4. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
  5. Sift in the flour and baking powder, add the hazelnuts if using, and stir until just combined.
  6. Pour just over half of the mix into the tin, embed the Ferrero Rochers into the mix then pour over the rest of the brownie mix.
  7. Bake for about 1 hour, checking the brownies after 40 mins in case your oven is better than mine!
  8. Once the brownies look set on top, remove them from the oven and leave them in the tin to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing them up.

First bake: Not a Christmas cake (part 2)

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
Well, I finally got round to decorating the Christmas cake I made in December – and it almost looks too good to eat!

I’ve had this recipe from Asda magazine for a Christmas decorated with rather crazed-looking penguins for a few years, but have never quite got round to making it. So, I’m very pleased to have finally attempted it with a moderate level of success.

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
The cake had matured for around 2 months before I decorated it, and I diligently fed it brandy every week over that period. Thankfully, it turned out to be sturdy enough to hold the weight of the icing, despite all the booze!

I started off by covering the cake with marzipan, then a layer of sugarpaste. I deviated from the recipe here as it called for more sugarpaste to create an iceberg/ravine scene, but I felt it would make for ridiculously thick icing, so I kept it simple.

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
Then my boyfriend and I started on the fun task of creating the penguins. This was fairly easily done with pre-coloured icing and a couple of cake decorating tools to help with cutting and placing tiny, tiny blobs of icing on other tiny blobs of icing.

We also made piles of snowballs to show that the penguins were in the middle of a snowball fight, and a snow penguin just for fun! My favourite bit is the ‘secret’ penguin on the cake board, who is definitely going to win the fight by popping up out of nowhere.

Not a Christmas cake - with penguins
I was surprised at how easy it was to decorate the cake overall – despite taking a cake decorating course a couple of years ago, I have zero confidence in my ability to make cakes that actually look nice! I would love to attempt this again with another scene like this – would a woodland scene be too adventurous…?

Not a Christmas cake slice
So, what does the cake actually taste like? It does indeed taste like an extremely drunken Christmas cake! I shared it out with friends last night, and the brandy was the first thing we all commented on – not that the booziness detracts from the loveliness of the cake in anyway! It is extremely delicious, especially with the marzipan, and all the different kinds of fruit make for a great flavour. I’ll probably give it another go for next Christmas, albeit actually in time for December 25th!

First bake: Not a Christmas cake (part 1)

Christmas cakeWell, it’s been a while since my last post, but rest assured that I have been baking! I’ve already turned out several batches of extra rich mince pies (see my post from last year here), but this winter has also seen my first ever attempt at a Christmas cake.

This post is simply about the baking of the cake itself – I actually won’t get round to decorating it until January (long story), so, technically it’s not really a Christmas cake. However, all the principles are there – plenty of dried fruit and lashings of booze!

I used a recipe by Felicity Cloake at the Guardian for her perfect Christmas cake, which was a doddle to make, although I did have to leave it in the oven for a good while. I was originally going to go down the Mary Berry route, but her recipe required a few things I don’t have. I do recommend Felicity Cloake’s column in general – she does a lot of testing and research to come up with recipes that are almost always foolproof.

Christmas cake mix

Christmas cake mix, pre-baking

As my mincemeat is rum-based and I didn’t have whisky as called for in the recipe, I’ve decided to soak this cake in brandy instead. I made the cake at the very end of November and I’ve been feeding it weekly since then. As you can see from the first photo, it’s looking promisingly moist! It smells lovely as well, so I’m really looking forward to cutting into it.

When I do come to ice it, I’m going to attempt a complicated-looking scene involving penguins having a snowball fight. Hopefully, there’ll be a part 2 with pics galore when that happens. If there isn’t, it’s safe to assume that my cack-handed decorating skills failed me again…

The recipe

Perfect Christmas cake from the Guardian

First bake: extra rich mince pies

Extra rich mince piesAs a Hindu, I don’t really ‘do’ Christmas – happily, there’s no need for me to stress out about presents and cooking a big family meal! I do, however, very much ‘do’ the delicious treats that come with the festive period – especially mince pies.

I’ve always had shop-bought mince pies, but decided that, this year at least, I would attempt to bake them myself for a change. Having never even made pastry before (I know, I know), this seemed like a pretty huge challenge! So, after looking at quite a few different recipes, I settled on one particular source that I knew wouldn’t fail me – Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet.

There are a couple of mincemeat recipes in the book – a ‘proper’ suet-based one and another quicker one that’s suitable for vegetarians. I (obviously) opted for the latter, called dark rich mincemeat. The method involves whisking together brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, dark ale (I used Marston’s Oyster Stout) and grated Bramley apple before adding spices (I used cinnamon, ground cloves and mixed spice), raisins (I used sultanas), dried cherries, prunes, currants and more apple and leaving it to thicken on the hob. You then stir in a few tablespoons of brandy or rum (I used Captain Morgan’s Spiced) at the end.

Dark rich mincemeat ingredients

Dark ale + spiced rum + big pile of fruit =…

Dark rich mincemeat

…this!

I made the mincemeat on Friday night. Yesterday, I steeled myself for my first ever attempt at pastry. I used the extra rich mince pies recipe in Short & Sweet, as opposed to the standard sweet shortcrust pastry recipe, as I was rather intrigued by the idea of adding cream cheese (yes, really!), ground almonds and baking powder to the pastry. The addition of these ingredients makes for a sturdier, cakier crust than a normal mince pie might have.

The pastry-making went surprisingly well – I only had a near disaster when I realised I hadn’t cut out enough discs to go on top of the pies. Luckily, I had a small bit of pastry left over that I could just about roll out into the correct size! I think the dough could have been a bit smoother, but I had to grind some flaked almonds in a food processor, and they didn’t come out as fine as I’d have liked.

Extra rich mince pies

Filling the mince pies…

I initially followed the recipe by cutting out 10 and 8 cm discs, but as my tray was a little shallower than a standard muffin tray, I decided to switch to 9 and 7 cm discs after doing the first one. You can see the larger mince pie in the top left corner in the pic above. I was a little worried that I’d rolled the pastry out too thick, but it turned out to be just right what with using the smaller sized pastry discs.

Extra rich mince pies

Mince pies ready to go in the oven

Extra rich mince pies

The recipe required a hole to be cut into the lid of each pie, making them look a bit like pork pies, especially with the lack of fancy crimping around the edges. The holes help the steam escape from the middle during baking. I left them in the oven for the stated length of time – 25 minutes – but I probably should have checked on them earlier, as they came out a little browner than I’d hoped!

Extra rich mince pie

The browning didn’t matter, in the end. The pies were absolutely delicious; they did indeed feel very sturdy and the crust was pleasingly thick and a little cakey, due to the baking powder, I think. The filling was gorgeous – wonderfully rich, sweet and boozy. I had two warm from the oven and I nearly wept with joy at how lovely they were!

Extra rich mince pie

I’m very pleased with myself for making these, and for managing to make pastry for the first time! I would heartily recommend the recipes for both the mincemeat and pastry if you like the idea of a rustic-looking mince pie with a bit of heft (and aren’t at all bothered about calories…).

The recipe

Both the mincemeat and pastry recipes are from Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard. They’re also available online here (mincemeat) and here (pastry).