A GIFT TO YOU – MY BEST CHRISTMAS RECIPES
Merry Christmas to all! And to all a Happy New Year!
Ah Christmas! The scent of pine trees mixed with the perfume of Christmas lilies, the heady, spicy aromas of fruit pies or buttery shortbread baking. The faint rustle of wrapping paper, the gentle tinkle of glass baubles on the tree. The treats eagerly looked forward to all year, marzipan fruit, exotic cashew nuts, boxes of chocolates and all the rich array of special foods only had but once a year. The anticipation and the waiting made it all so much more special than it is now.
It’s that time of the year again, when thoughts turn to all those traditional festive treats that I grew up with. Back home in New Zealand in the 60’s and 70’s that meant a hot roast lunch, no matter how hot a day it was. When I was very young, that would be Stuffed Roast Mutton with all the trimmings. Later on, when chicken became more affordable we had that – accompanied by baby new potatoes freshly dug out of the garden, minted new peas (also freshly picked) roast yams (bit like a sweet potato), roast onions, gravy, bread sauce or mint sauce with the lamb.
After that there would be a Christmas pudding mum had made a month before, then steamed for 4 hours on Christmas Day, served with custard and lashings of whipped cream, and a sherry trifle as well. This was the only concession to the spirit (ha ha) of Christmas that my normally tee-totalling parents made.
A massive meal which was a gargantuan effort for my mum who would be up at 6am to get the meal on. After lunch the herculean task of washing the mountain of dishes would be promptly undertaken – no resting here – followed by an afternoon tea of hot fruit mince pies, Christmas cake, and assorted shortbread. After that I think there was a lot of lolling around and not much else. It’s a funny thing but I absolutely adored Christmas pudding and really disliked Christmas cake while my sister loathed Christmas pudding but loved Christmas Cake. I would really only eat the marzipan and icing off the top of the cake. It’s funny because the ingredients are almost the same, but they taste so different.
One thing we all loved and that was Mince pies. I have tried many different versions over time, and I’ve always wondered why bought ones, even expensive ones, tasted so strong – I finally figured it out when I started making my own fruit mince recipe. Traditionally the mince mixture is baked in the oven for several hours, this melts the suet and melds all the flavours together, before been baked again in pies. But my mum never did that , and I much prefer the fresher, juicier , unbaked version. So does everyone I have shared it with over the years, and I also developed a version for my vegetarian friends.
So here is my recipe for the best, freshest, tastiest fruit mince you’ll ever have. Please make this, and leave it for a couple of days or a week for the flavours to develop – but if you’re in a hurry you can use it straight away. In the warm climate of Sydney, Australia, it will stay good in the fridge for months, just give it a stir around every now and then.
Vegetarian Christmas Fruit Mince
- 125gm each of raisins (seedless or Flame Raisins if possible) currants, sultanas
- 60gm mixed peel, chopped finely
- 250gm cooking apples, peeled and finely chopped
- 250gm brown sugar
- 125gm butter, finely chopped (NB:traditional version use suet – see Note below regarding Suet)
- 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
- 65gm walnuts, toasted & chopped
- 1 lemon, grated rind & juice
- 1 orange, grated rind & juice
- 2 tb rum/brandy
- 1½ tsp ground allspice
- 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1½ tsp grated nutmeg
- NB. (1) if using butter, add 1 tb flour (2) Suet mixture in Australia (Tandaco brand) is about 45% suet & 55% flour mix, so sieve it to retrieve the pure suet. Enough flour will still be in it to thicken mince slightly.
- Chop raisins, if large seeded ones, mix everything together in a large glass/stainless steel bowl.
- Cover with cling-wrap and leave overnight (in fridge in hot climates) to macerate. Will look very runny, but the fruit absorbs a lot of the liquids.
- Pack into sterile glass jars and seal. Can be kept in fridge for 3-6 months, in plastic containers, just keep stirring and add more rum/brandy if it’s drying out.
Rich Shortcrust Pastry
- 250 gm plain flour
- 140 gm butter, cubed
- 1 -2 egg yolks, 2 is better but 1 can do. Also depends on size of eggs. If eggs are really small, use 2.
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 4 tb iced water (may need little more depends on temperature & humidity)
- Whizz butter, flour & sugar in a food processor until looks like fine breadcrumbs. (Or rub the butter in by hand.)
- Whisk egg yolk and water together, while running add to mix in processor and whizz till it just forms a ball. (Stir in with a knife by hand, bring together by kneading lightly)
- On floured board/bench, knead lightly until smooth.Pat into flat disc, wrap in cling wrap & chill 30 minutes before using.
Christmas Mince Pies
- Pre-heat oven to 180°C fan forced -200°C /350°F & grease 18 metal patty pans
- Roll out pastry, not too thin, about 3mm thick, and use 7.5cm fluted round cutter to line tins, and 6cm fluted cutter for tops or use a star shaped cutter (mine is one I pinched from my kids play dough cutters – many years ago!)
- Fill with mince, don’t overfill as it bubbles up a bit while baking. Place top on, pinch stars to pastry to secure in place, or brush edges of round tops with water and press lightly to seal edges. My mum used to prick with the tops with a fork, or you can snip 3 x with scissors.
- Brush with beaten egg to glaze, sprinkle with raw/demerara sugar if you like. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes till light golden brown. After a few minutes, carefully turn out to cool on rack.
Best served warm: Can be stored when cold in airtight tin for a few days and re-heated slightly before serving. Dust with icing/confectioners sugar to serve.
Serving Tip: Delicious served warm with a small round of rum / brandy butter on top.
Rum Butter for Christmas Pudding & Mince Pies Makes about 1 cup
(Photo from Delia Smith’s Christmas
This an old English recipe called Cumberland Rum Butter and is a hard sauce traditionally served with the Christmas Pudding and with (warm) Mince Pies. It’s really decadent and will lift your pudding or mince pies to scrummy new heights! I adore it and urge you all to try it too!
Brandy Butter seems more well-known for some reason than Rum Butter, but this recipe is much nicer and far more flavoursome. I have tried both, Brandy Butter is exactly the same except it’s made with icing sugar not brown sugar. I personally find it bland whilst this is fab.
- 170 gm/ 6oz unsalted butter
- 170 gm/ 6oz brown sugar
- rind ½ lemon, finely grated
- 6-8 tb dark rum
- pinch fresh grated nutmeg
- Beat butter till smooth, add sugar, nutmeg & rind and whizz /cream till well. Beat in rum slowly.
- Form into block or a roll with cling wrap and freeze. Or pile into serving bowl and chill well.
- Slice across rolls to form neat rounds to serve or cut block into small cubes.
- Served onto steaming hot pudding, it melts slowly and boozily into the pudding. On mince pies, place a small round on each warm pie just before serving. It adds a gorgeous rummy richness as it softens.