Mince Pies Royale

Here is a great recipe for stretching a small amount of mincemeat into 30+ rich and delicious seasonable bites.

It is adapted from a recipe by Eliza Acton, and I’ve taken the opportunity to pair it with another of her recipes which she refers to as “Superlative Mincemeat”. Taking as an example my adaptation of Hannah Glasse’s Lenten mincemeat, I decided to try making this recipe suet-free. Now I still absolutely love Hannah’s recipe, but I also love discovering new things as well.

The mincemeat recipe is a delight for anyone who loves citrus fruit. It’s also a delight for anyone who loves a healthy slug of booze in their mincemeat. I’ve actually toned down the quantity of brandy because the alcoholic haze rising from the first test batch made my eyes water. Unusually, this mincemeat includes two boiled lemons, chopped finely, which add a real zing to the overall flavour. Once the lemons have been prepared, the method is very similar to the original fat-free mincemeat.

A portion of this mincemeat is then enriched and sweetened with sugar, fresh lemon, egg yolks and butter and used to fill pastry-lined mini tins. The pastry I’ve used is the sweet version of the cornflour shortcrust, flavoured with orange zest, and cut out using a flower cookie cutter. After an initial baking, the pies are topped with meringue and then baked for a further few minutes until nicely browned.

These little pies are extremely rich, which is why baking them in a mini muffin pan is ideal. The filling sets into a dense cross between Christmas pudding and Christmas cake and the crunchy meringue is a great contrast. This quantity makes about 30 mini pies, perfect as petites fours or to serve with coffee. You can keep them in a tin, but the meringues will go a little soft after 24 hours.

You can, of course, use any mincemeat and pastry you have to hand instead.

Citrus mincemeat

Makes about 1kg of mincemeat
2 small lemons (about 170g)
The weight of the lemons in raisins, currants and chopped dates
85g candied orange peel, chopped small
85g candied citron peel, chopped small
30-50g caster sugar
60ml  brandy
60ml apple juice
0.5tsp salt
1tsp grated nutmeg
0.5tsp ground mace
1tsp ground ginger

  • Put the lemons into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Drain the water and scrub the sides of the pan to remove the bitter lemon oil.
  • Rinse the lemons also.
  • Repeat 3 times, until the lemons are tender and a clove can be pushed through the skin.
  • Cut open the lemons and remove the pips.
  • Dice the pulp and rind finely.
  • Put the lemons and the rest of the ingredients into a small pan over a low heat.
  • Cover and allow the fruit to plump up. Stir occasionally.
  • If the fruit seems a little dry, add more liquid – your choice whether it’s alcoholic or not.
  • If the mixture seems too wet, uncover and allow the excess to evaporate.
  • Set aside to cool.

Orange Cornflour Pastry

225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 large egg

  • Put everything except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Whisk the egg and, with the motor running, gradually add to the mixture until it comes together in a ball. You might not require all the egg, or you might need additional liquid if the mix looks a little dry. If you have extra egg-white, tat would be ideal, otherwise use water.
  • Knead the pastry smooth and wrap in plastic.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until required.

Eliza Acton’s Mince Pies Royale

225g mincemeat
3 large eggs
30g clarified butter
juice and zest of 1 lemon
40g caster sugar
pinch of salt
caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Separate the eggs.
  • Mix together the mincemeat, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice and the sugar.
  • Warm the butter until just melted and stir in.
  • Grease a large (24 cup) mini muffin pan.
  • Roll out the pastry very thinly. It is easier to work with either 1/3 or 1/2 of the pastry at a time.
  • Cut out pastry and use it to line the mini muffin pan. For a lovely, neat edge to your pies, I recommend using a flower-shaped pastry cutter. The petals help to avoid the dreaded folds which can sometimes be an issue with the pastry for mini tarts.
  • Add a teaspoon of the enriched mincemeat mixture to each tartlet.
  • Bake for 7-8 minutes until the middle has set and the pastry is cooked.
  • If you’ve got filling and pastry left over (and you probably will), use them up first by making a second batch of tartlets before making the meringue. Arrange the cooked tartlets on a baking sheet, ready for the meringue.
  • While the tarts are baking, make the meringue.
    • You won’t need to use all of the egg white, so I suggest using just half.
    • Put a bowl onto your scales and set them to zero.
    • Pour in the amount of egg-white you will be using and make a note of the weight.
    • Measure out an equivalent amount of caster sugar.
    • Whisk the egg-whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks.
    • Whisk in the sugar, a spoonful at a time until the meringue is firm and glossy.
    • Spoon the meringue into a piping bag. You choose what style of nozzle to fit.
  • When all the tarts are baked and arranged on a baking sheet, pipe the meringue on top. Make sure the meringue covers all of the filling and goes right to the edge of the pastry.
  • Return the tarts to the oven for 5-7 minutes until the meringue is nicely browned.
  • Cool the tartlets on a wire rack.

Coconut Gingerbread Cakes

Gingerbread is such a classic teatime treat – and I’m a huge fan of classics – it’s just that I don’t usually feel very inspired when I hear the word ‘gingerbread’. I think of a treacle-dark cake, rich, sticky and aromatic with ginger – sounds delicious, no? – but the main thing that springs to mind is something akin to a brick slab.

It probably goes back to the large, family bakes of my childhood, where the cake-of-the-week was kept wrapped in foil in a tin and slowly chiseled away at during the week until it was all gone. There wouldn’t be another cake until this cake had been eaten, and it used to lurk in the tin in all its brickiness, standing between me and any other baked treat. The chances were high that it would eventually be replaced with something equally heavy and fruity – but that new cake’s attraction would be, initially at any rate, mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t the gingerbread.

The image of heaviness and brick-like shape has lurked in my culinary memory ever since – which is a shame because what it SHOULD bring to mind is crisp winter nights, spiciness and fireworks, treacle-richness and bonfires. So I thought I should try and rehabilitate it, and bring it up to date. Ironically, I achieved this by referring to a recipe over 165 years old, from Miss Eliza Acton.

Heroines of Cooking: Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Acton (1799 – 1859)

Originally a poet, Eliza Acton is considered by many to be the first to write a cookery book as we would recognise it today. Her Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) was the first to separate a list of ingredients from the methodology, and was aimed specifically at small households. Additionally, the author’s observations on potential problems and recommendations for subtle variations were included, illustrating Eliza’s personal experience with the recipes, unlike many of her contemporaries and cookery authors that were to follow. It was an immediate success and remained in print for almost 60 years. She was to write only one other book The English Bread Book (1857), in which her strong views against the adulteration and processing of food would still be being echoed by Doris Grant almost a century later.

After several experimental baking batches, here is Eliza’s recipe for Coconut Gingerbread Cakes, scaled down to a manageable quantity. Baked in a mini muffin tin, the recipe makes approximately 24 bite -sized cakes with all the dark richness of traditional gingerbread, with the added coconut giving both a lighter texture and more complex flavour. Fresh coconut is a little time consuming to prepare, but very much worth the effort.

Coconut Gingerbread Cakes

Makes 24

75g plain flour
75g ground rice
2 tsp ground ginger
grated rind of 1 lemon
110g treacle
40g butter
40g dark brown soft sugar
80g fresh grated coconut

  • Mix flour, ground rice, ginger and lemon rind in a bowl and set aside.
  • Put the treacle, sugar and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from the heat.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the warm treacle mixture and stir to combined. Stir in the coconut and then set mixture aside to cool.
  • Heat oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
  • Divide cooled mixture into 20g pieces, roll into a ball and drop into greased mini-muffin cups.
  • Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
  • Keeps very well in an airtight box/tin.