One of the best bits about the holidays for me is all the baking and confections of the season. It’s the one time of year where you are likely to throw caution to the wind, indulge in all the festive sweets that your heart desires and chalk it up to holiday spirit. I personally think that is A-OK. That is, until the first day of the New Year when I can’t seem to fit into my stretchy yoga pants.

Over the weekend, my little baking assistant and I made magnificent mince pies. I discovered that these savory/sweet tiny tarts are perfect for little hands to help out with, and Geoffrey had loads of fun rolling then cutting out circles of pastry and spooning the mincemeat into each little case to be topped off with a star. Later we packaged the pies up all pretty and brought them across the road to share with family. They went down a treat and Geoffrey was delighted with himself.

I must say, mince pies in Ireland are so perfectly dainty and elegant looking. Even if you don’t like mincemeat, it’s impossibe to not pick up a parcel of these eye-catching pies delicately sprinkled with powdery icing sugar. They just seem to jump out at you when you’re browsing the market, oozing the essence of Christmas.

The beauty of mince pies came as a surprise to me, however, as, unless I am mistaken, you would be hard pressed to find mince pies trimming the aisles of every supermarket  in America at this time of year. (or any time of year, really) Remarkably, my grandmother made mincemeat pie for Thanksgiving every year as a part of her trinity of classic tarts: apple, pumpkin and mincemeat. Still, I do not recall witnessing a mince pie at a friend’s home nor a bakery or grocery store in the States. I remember as a child, we considered mincemeat pie extremely old-fashioned because only the adults took a slice for dessert. In our naïveté, we also thought it very strange that people would eat a ‘meat’ pie after a massive meaty meal.

At the weekend, my wee assistant and I will be hitting the kitchen again and attempting to make meringues for the first time. The recipe looks uncomplicated, but I’ve been told that either you can make them or not. I’m hoping for the former. Wish us luck!

Now, for more exciting holiday pressie news!  We put all the butchery course entries into a big milk pail and the farmer drew a name last evening. And, the winner of last week’s holiday giveaway is…drum roll please….Kristin Jensen! Congratulations Kristin, leave it to my farmer to pull another expat out of the mix! You will be joining me on 21st Feb at 6:30 and we will butcher the night away! Will be sending more details via email soon. Thanks so much to everyone for leaving a comment, even if you didn’t win a place on the course, I would encourage you to still sign up…it will be an excellent opportunity to learn about butchering techniques and where our meat comes from!

For my second lovely Christmas giveaway, I am very excited to announce that I have a stunning book from The History Press Ireland up for grabs. A Taste of Cork, A Gourmand’s Tour of its Food and Landscape by Seán Monaghan and Andrew Gleasure captures Cork’s rich and diverse landscape and presents it in a whole new light, combining the spectacular scenery with the artisan gourmet food producers who are so much a part of the culture. The book features Ummera Smoked Products, Cork’s English Market, Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese and Lullaby Milk, McCarthys of Kanturk and many, many more sensational artisan food producers and beautiful Cork scenery. Leave a comment to be included in the draw. I will ship internationally!

Irish Mince Pies

For the homemade mincemeat

1lb sultanas

1lb beef suet (or a shredded veg suet)

8 oz mixed peel

2 oranges, juice and rind

6 tbsp brandy or cognac

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1lb raisins

2lb brown sugar

1lb cooking apples

2 lemons, juice and rind

1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp ground cloves

In a large bowl, mix together all the dried fruit, suet, sugar and spices. Grate the apples and add in along with juice and zest from oranges and lemons.  Add brandy. Leave for 24 hours, then put into pots and seal.  (makes 8-10 jam jars)

For the pastry

200g/7oz plain flour, sifted

40g/1½oz caster sugar

75g/2¾oz ground almonds

125g/4½oz unsalted butter, diced

1 large free-range egg, beaten

milk, to glaze

Lightly butter a 12-hole pie/shallow muffin tin. Tip the mincemeat into a bowl and stir so that the liquid is evenly distributed.

Place the flour, sugar, almonds and butter in a food processor and process briefly until resembling breadcrumbs, then slowly add the egg. (Or rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand and stir in egg)

Bring the mixture together with your hands, wrap in clingfilm and chill for an hour or so.

Thinly roll out the pastry on a floured surface. Cut out 12 circles with a fluted pastry cutter, large enough to fill the base of the prepared tin. Press gently into each hole, then fill with spoonfuls (as you like) of the mincemeat.

Cut out another 12 slightly smaller discs and 12 smaller stars and use to cover the mincemeat. Press the edges together to seal. Brush lightly with milk. Chill for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Bake the pies for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and serve warm with lashings of brandy butter.

Happy Holidays!

Slan Abhaile,

Imen

Photos & Styling by Imen McDonnell 2011

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

· · · ◊ ◊ ◊ · · ·