First off, can I just acknowledge that mincemeat is one of those flavours that may take a little getting used to.
So intense, highly spiced, sweet and tangy, with that hint of alcohol, it isn’t for the faint of heart. Most children aren’t drawn to it. Too adulty. Having said that, I did like it, from a relatively early age. Must be the German in me. I didn’t really know what was in it, only that I liked it. It is like the big cousin to sticky toffee pudding. But instead of being a cakey texture, it is all the goodness of chopped nuts, apples, pears, dried fruit, candied peels etc cooked down in a combo of cider, brandy and a touch of vinegar. The cozy gingerbready spices bring out the best of all the ingredients to create a filling that has texture, since the liquids cook down into a syrup which coats all the chopped ingredients. I was so thrilled when I discovered that Jim likes it as well- I didn’t have to convince him!
I knew that back in the day, actual meat like beef, lamb or venison was added to the ingredients. It’s only been recently that we leave the meat out. So I did a bit of research into the history of this often misunderstood pie filling:
“Most people have never tasted a true old-fashioned mincemeat pie (also called mince pie). The flavor of real mincemeat pie (not the bottled version purchased at your local store) is sort of like a Middle Eastern mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. There’s a definite meaty taste, with an ever-so-slight sweet flavor.
Mincemeat developed as a way of preserving meat without salting or smoking some 500 years ago in England, where mince pies are still considered an essential accompaniment to holiday dinners just like the traditional plum pudding. This pie is a remnant of a medieval tradition of spiced meat dishes, usually minced mutton, that have survived because of its association with (the holidays).
Today, we are accustomed to eating mince pie as a dessert, but actually “minced” pie and its follow-up “mincemeat pie” began as a main course dish with with more meat than fruit (a mixture of meat, dried fruits, and spices). As fruits and spices became more plentiful in the 17th century, the spiciness of the pies increased accordingly.
1545 – A cookbook from the mid 16th century that also includes some account of domestic life, cookery and feasts in Tudor days, called A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, declarynge what maner of meates be beste in season, for al times in the yere, and how they ought to be dressed, and serued at the table, bothe for fleshe dayes, and fyshe dayes, has a recipe for a pie that sounds alot like a modern day mincemeat pie:
To make Pyes – Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take the fattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste.”
1853 – Quaker Elizabeth Ellicott Lea explained in her book called Domestic Cookery that was published in 1853: “Where persons have a large family, and workmen on a farm, these pies are very useful.” By useful, she meant that the pies could be baked in large numbers, and more importantly, during cold weather, they could be kept for as long as two months. The mincemeat could be made ahead and kept even longer.”
Quoted from ‘What’s Cooking America’ Mincemeat Pie History
I could go on and on, mincemeat has such an amazing history, but I think you get the basic idea.
One of my favourite ways to enjoy mincemeat is in Eccles Cakes, a lovely little British pastry filled with a mincemeat type filling centred around dried currants. You will always find a batch of them in the local bakeries in towns and villages across Britain, especially the south. I first had one when I visited Devon and Cornwall, England. That delightful spicy dried fruit filling just assailed my senses in the best way possible. The flakey pastry was the perfect contrast. And I think it was those scrumptious little hand pies that influenced how I make mincemeat to this day. Dried currants are the star of my filling as well. There are some sultanas, but definitely it is the currant that is the star.
How to Make Mincemeat: Making mincemeat is as easy as chopping up the walnuts, apples and pears, gathering the rest of the ingredients, and putting them all in a heavy bottomed pot. Add the liquids (in my case, apple cider, brandy, and a touch of apple cider vinegar.- But feel free to substitute cognac or rum for the brandy if this is all you have on hand) Once it has been brought to a hefty simmer, drop the temperature and let it gently bubble away until all the juices have cooked down into a lovely thick syrup that coats all the fruits and nuts, which have plumped up and softened because of the liquids. The fragrance in your kitchen will be intoxicating in the best way possible!
Once it is ready, you can store it in a glass jar in the fridge till needed. This recipe will make about 3 cups or a bit more. The ratio below will fill one 9 inch covered pie. Or it will fill three strudels outlined below. Any leftover filling can be used in mini tart shells, or as a filling for crepes etc. Why not top your baked oatmeal with some!?
Back to this recipe. I had wanted to make something mincemeat-y this year, but I didn’t feel like the usual pie (I know, shock of shocks!!) So I decided on something Eccles Cakes inspired- and use puff pastry. I didn’t want to fiddle with making individual cakes (hand pies) so I decided on my ‘braided’ strudel format. And since I was thinking along those lines, I thought that a frangipane filling might be an interesting bed for the mincemeat to sit on. But I wanted the frangipane to help counteract the richness of the mincemeat. So I thought of citrus. Heaps of orange and lemon zest folded into the almond pastry cream would make for a bright contrast to the filling. So a quick whip up of softened butter, sugar, egg, flour, almond meal (ground almonds) and vanilla. And that zest. Done.
I pulled out and unfolded the two thawed puff pastry sheets from the box. They are both about 10×11 inches in size. (this is 450 grams or 16 oz of puff pastry) I decided to leave them as is, no rolling to make them larger. I left them on their parchment wrapping, and placed them as is on baking sheets. Why cut a new piece of parchment when they are already on parchment paper, amirite!?
I laid out a layer of the frangipane down the centre of the sheets. This layer should be no wider than 2.5-3 inches. On top of the frangipane I gently spooned about 1 cup’s worth of the mincemeat (if you have made this filling in advance, let it warm up to room temperature before spooning- it will be too firm to spread gently and you could damage the pastry or the frangipane in the process) Then I cut a fringe on either side of the filling. The cuts should be about 3 inches in length and spaced about 1 inch apart. Cut them on a slight downward angle. You can see what this should look like here on my Strawberry Rhubarb Jalousie recipe. Take one strip and fold it across the filling, angling it slightly downward. Take the corresponding strip from the other side and gently stretch it across the first one. Keep repeating until all the strips have been utilized. Pinch the ends tightly and fold them under if possible.
I gave the two strudels an egg wash, sprinkled them with raw sugar and baked them at 375F for about 30 minutes, till deep golden brown. When cooled, a dusting of icing sugar makes them look ever so appealing. Let them cool before cutting- this will ensure that the filling has had a chance to set, and your cuts will be perfect. Served with bourbon whipped cream, these were a huge hit with friends. And one asked if she could take a piece home for breakfast the next morning. And yes, cool, these make the perfect breakfast danish!! I will say, stored in an airtight container, the next day, when you lift the lid, the aroma will be sublime!!
I hope you will give mincemeat a try. Don’t be fooled by the ready made stuff you can buy at the store. Make it fresh, your kitchen and your nose will thank you. And make it all through the winter. If I’m in England and it is July, you can bet I’ll be looking for Eccles Cakes in the bakeries- mincemeat is truly a year long treat!
Mincemeat Citrus Frangipane Strudel
Taking classic mincemeat and balancing it with a citrus frangipane filling to make a wonderfully impressive looking strudel. Serve it with whipping cream as a dessert, or sliced with coffee for breakfast!
- 2 medium Granny Smith Apples peeled and diced into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1 large Bartlett Pear if you can't find the pear, then use three apples, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch cubes
- 1 cup dried currants
- 1/2 cup sultanas
- 1 cup walnuts or pecans chopped small
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup apple juice or cider
- 1/4 cup brandy cognac or rum can also use apple juice if needed
- 4 tbsp 1/2 stick butter
- 2 tbsp candied ginger diced small
- Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Extra Large egg or two medium eggs
- 1/4 cup AP flour
- 3/4 cup ground almonds
- 1 tbsp orange zest
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 lb 450 grams puff pastry, sheets or block, thawed thoroughly in the refrigerator
- 1 egg beaten with a touch of water, for egg wash
- raw sugar for sprinkling
- icing sugar for dusting
Place all the ingredients into a heavy bottomed pot and set over medium high heat.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer
Stir regularly, until the liquids have reduced to a thick syrup and have coated all the ingredients. The bottom of the pan will be almost dry, as you stir and expose the bottom with a wooden spoon. Do not let it completely cook off though. The remaining liquids will solidify as it cools so you want some syrup there, or else it will be a stiff, dry filling.
Set aside. This part can be made in advance and stored in a glass jar. Bring back to room temperature before using in the recipe below.
Beat the butter and sugar with a hand held mixer until soft and fluffy.
Add the egg and cream till smooth
Add the flour and almonds and beat on slow till a thick cream develops.
Fold in the zest.
This can be stored in the fridge till needed. Let it warm up before spooning it onto the pastry though, or else it may pull or tear at the pastry as you try to spread it.
Pre-heat the oven to 375F (190C)
Ensure that the mincemeat and frangipane are at room temperature.
Take your pastry sheets from the fridge. They should be completely thawed.
Spread them out on parchment (you may use the parchment they came wrapped in)
Most sheets seem to come sized at about 10x11 inch (26x28 cm) If you are working with a block of pastry, divide it and roll it to the above dimensions.
They should be oriented in portrait, or with the short ends at the top and bottom. They should fit nicely inside the parchment paper.
Spoon the frangipani down the middle of each pastry. It shouldn't be wider than 2.5-3 inches. See Notes below.
Spoon the mincemeat (also warmed to room temperature) on top of the frangipani.
Make incisions on either side of the filling on a slight angle (see photos in Strawberry Rhubarb Jalousie recipe, link in notes) , stopping short of the filling itself, each cut about 1 inch apart. You should have strips about 2 3/4 or so inches long and 1 inch wide.
Fold the top fringe across the fruit on a slight angle, pulling gently to cover the fruit. It should just start to meet the other side. But don't force it further. As long as it covers the mincemeat, you're good.
Fold the opposing fringe over this one, creating a criss cross, pressing gently into each other, so that they adhere.
Continue on till you have reached the end. Press the top and bottom ends tightly and under to seal them. Brush away any excess flour from the parchment paper.
Gently transfer the pastry to a baking sheet, using the parchment to carry it over. The parchment can remain on the baking sheet.
Egg wash the entire pastry. Sprinkle with raw sugar.
Bake until golden, about 30-35 minutes. Don't be eager to remove too early.
Cool and then dust with icing sugar. Slice each strudel into six portions.
Can be stored in an airtight container for a few days.
See Strawberry Rhubarb Jalousie for instruction photos.
As per my photographs, I only spoon enough of the frangipani and fruit that seems reasonable for the size of pastry I have rolled out. If it seems unreasonable to use all that you have prepared, don't use it all. It will just ooze out between the 'braid's'. Better to be reasonable when spooning it out, and then have a bit leftover to use elsewhere, than trying to stretch the pastry too thin to cover over it.
There always seems to be leftover frangipane. You could store the frangipani in the fridge and make tarts later in the week. Just make or thaw frozen mini tart shells. Par-bake 15 minutes after thawing. Then fill with frangipani and top with mincemeat or fresh fruit. Just remember that frangipani puffs up as it bakes, so you don't need to overfill. 1/3 of the tart is more than enough. Then bake till the shells have finished baking, about 20 more minutes. As per tart box instructions.