Mincemeat a la Royale

This recipe dating from 1900 sits right on the cusp of the centuries and comes from the pastry manual “Savoury Pastry” written by Frederick T. Vine.

I have a bit of a thing for Mr Vine and his manuals. Written for the bakery trade, they are packed with recipes for the variations and huge range of goods that made Victorian bakeries so amazing. Mr Vine also published books on ‘Practical Pastry’, cakes, biscuits, ‘Saleable Shop Goods’ (covering a range of small items), Christmas puddings and bread.

A little trouble needs to be taken in order to scale down the recipes to a more manageable domestic size (the original size of this batch was over 120kg), but it is well worth it in terms of flavour as well as delight in the sheer number of (to our 21st century eyes) innovative and unique baked goods.

Here’s the thing, though.

This traditional mincemeat contains meat.

Stop! Wait! Come back!

I thought it best to be up front about it, because I can then explain why I can thoroughly recommend you try it.

You don’t taste the meat. Well, actually you do, but you don’t realise that you do. It’s an underlying umami taste that makes the whole flavour experience much richer, deeper and just generally bigger. Can you honestly see the meat in the above photograph? No, I can’t either – and I made it!

Having read probably close to a hundred mincemeat recipes spanning five centuries of books and manuscripts, I feel confident in stating that, overwhelmingly, the best meat for mince pies, according to the recipe writers and my own taste testing, is ox-tongue. But I appreciate that that is a bit ‘full on’ for the meaty mincemeat novice, so I have chosen this recipe as a ‘gateway recipe’ to all the wonderful savoury-sweetness that traditional mincemeat recipes hold.

The recipe calls for lean beef. Some recipes I have read suggest that this should be beef fillet, but personally, I think that too extravagant, so my recommendation is for beef skirt, as it’s widely available, lean and economical.

Another reason why I like this recipe is the use of a couple of ingredients that don’t usually get included in modern recipes.

Mincemeat a la Royale

Makes approx. 1.5kg, enough for 36 individual mince pies. Be sure to read the ingredient notes at the bottom of the post.

140g beef skirt
170g fresh suet [1]
265g sharp apples
112g raisins
190g currants
95g sultanas
95g raw sugar [2]
60g citron peel
70g preserved ginger
50g glace fruits [3]
50g candied orange peel
50g candied lemon peel
25g brandied cherries [4]
25g chopped almonds
½ lemon – zest and juice
3tbs/45ml brandy
2tbs/30ml sherry
1/2 tsp each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, allspice, ginger, salt

  • Trim any fat/silverskin from the meat and cut into 1cm cubes. The aim for mincemeat is for everything to be roughly the same size. Small, but not so small that it goes to a mush. The meat will shrink as it cooks.
  • Cut the suet into 5mm cubes (obviously skip this step if using dried).
  • Peel, core and cut the apples into 1cm dice.
  • Leave the dried fruit whole, unless, for example, the raisins are very large, in which case cut them in half.
  • Cut the preserved fruit and peel into small dice (5-10mm).
  • Mix everything, including the liquids and spices, together thoroughly.
  • Check the seasoning by heating some in a pan or by zapping in the microwave until the suet has melted, and tasting. Add more spices/salt/alcohol as you think fit.
  • Keep in an airtight container in the fridge until required.

 

 

[1] If you can’t get fresh suet, dried is absolutely fine. Atora is the main brand in the UK. NB If using dried, reduce the weight to 120g.

[2] Not 100% sure what Mr Vine means here, so since I had some in the cupboard, I used jaggery. Soft, light-brown or light muscovado is also fine.

[3] Don’t splurge on expensive boxes of preserved fruits just for 50g for this recipe, use a mix of any sweetened and dried fruit you have to hand – glace cherries, pineapple, mango, etc.

[4] I didn’t have any of these, and couldn’t find any in the supermarket, so I used dried cherries and soaked them in brandy. Verr’ nishe. *hic!*.

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.

Fat-free Mincemeat

This recipe is adapted from Hannah Glasse’s 1747 recipe for Mince Pies for Lent.

Nowadays, we traditionally make mincemeat far in advance of the festive season, so that it can mature in flavour. Both the sugar and the suet act as preservative and so when Christmas rolls around, you’ve got a jar of deliciously spicy sweetmeat and not a fizzing, fermenting jar of goo.

The downside of course is having to be organised enough to remember to make it far enough in advance, making enough for those unexpected baking moments (such as surprise visitors, or a last minute school bake sale contribution), and not making too much so you have storage problems. Quite apart from it not being suitable for either vegetarians or vegans.

Here, hopefully, is a solution. No suet means it’s vegetarian and vegan. No added sugar means its more suited to people needing to control their sugar intake, for whatever reason – although there IS sugar in the candied peel, so this isn’t quite a sugar-free recipe. Best of all it doesn’t need maturing, it’s literally mix and go.

The mixture is gently warmed and the fruits absorb the sherry, brandy and fruit juices. The finely-chopped dates break down and bind everything together. The result is packed full of flavour and with a much cleaner and fresher taste. This mix makes just under 500g of ready-to-use mincemeat.

NB This will keep for up to a week in the fridge, but no longer. Cooked as mince pies and frozen – up to 3 months.

Fat-free Mincemeat

50g currants
50g raisins – crimson raisins look pretty
50g sultanas
50g dates – finely chopped
25g candied orange peel [1]
25g candied lemon peel [1]
25g candied grapefruit peel [1]
35g dried cranberries
25g flaked almonds – chopped
2tbs sherry
1tbs brandy
juice & grated rind of an orange
pinch of ground ginger
a grating of nutmeg,
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of mixed spice
pinch of ground cloves

60-100ml apple juice

  • Put the dried fruits into a small saucepan.
  • Cut the candied peel into small pieces with scissors and add to the pan with the spices. NB If you’re using your home-made candied peel that has been stored in syrup, then there’s no need to soften it in the saucepan – just stir it in with the nuts once the fruit has plumped.
  • Add the orange juice and zest, brandy, sherry and 60ml of apple juice.
  • Stir gently to combine and set pan over the lowest possible heat.
  • Cover and let the mixture stew gently until all the liquid has been absorbed.
  • If the fruit isn’t as plumped and juicy as you would like, add a little more apple juice.
  • The mixture should be moist, but with no liquid visible in the bottom
  • When you’re happy with the consistency, stir through the chopped, flaked almonds.

[1] If you’ve made some candied peel yourself, then these are pretty straightforward. If not, then use 75g of what you have/can get. Buy whole peel pieces if possible – they retain their flavour much better than chopped – and cut them just before use.