What can I say about Christmas that hasn’t already been said? The bite of cold and snowy days; the glow of warming log fires and the scent of mulled spices. The warm hues of twinkling fairy lights glittering out from frosted window panes and the clamorous gathering of friends and family. The rustle of wrapping paper and the soft touch of woollen gloves and cold cheeks to kiss. Feasts of rich, hearty food and the aroma of freshly baked mince pies, cinnamon and orange. This, to me, is what Christmas is made of.
The original pagan aspects of Christmas relied on three main elements: the preparing of food and drink to mark the midpoint of winter, a time when provisions could be relied on to last until the last few days of the cold months and so the remainder of fare could be pooled together to provide a celebratory feast. Secondly, the tradition of bringing branches of evergreen into the home in order continue the cycle of growth and existence and to encourage spring to weave its way back. Thirdly, the habit of lighting the home with candles represented the warmth of life: keeping the harsh winter at bay and keeping your loved ones safe and sound. These traditions have been adopted and evolved since their first beginnings but the essence is always the same: food, light and decoration to celebrate this wonderful time of year.
Mince pies are a rather fundamental part of Christmas traditions, but for the food sensitive of this world they are often squarely off the menu. I would like to think that you could make a batch of these little fruit numbers and relish in their taste texture much as you would the real thing. The pears do a rather incredible job when cooked down to form a thick, binding foil to the dried fruit, much as suet would do. For this reason it is pretty fundamental that you use as riper pears as possible – if they are hard they won’t break down properly and will leave you with a lovely tasting, but slightly chunky filling. I cannot lay claim to the marvellous pear mincemeat from this recipe, the original stems from a book by Xanthe Clay called It’s Raining Plums. It is a collection of recipes sent to her by readers over years while in her position as food writer for the Telegraph. I love this book; it’s full of wonderful little gems and would make a rather lovely Christmas present for any keen foodie.
As you can see, I have made two styles of mince pies: the mini starred variety and the classic covered version. You will need a 2 inch circular cutter and 1 inch starred cutter for the first, or a fluted 3 inch and 2 inch circular cutter for the latter.
PEAR MINCE PIES
Makes around 24 mince pies
For the pastry
225g/8oz Doves Farm Gluten Free Plain Flour
55g/2oz butter replacement (Pure Sunflower Spread)
55g/2oz vegetable shortening (Trex Vegetable Fat)
½ tsp xantham gum
2 – 3tbsp cold water
25g/1oz caster sugar
For the pear mincemeat
900g/2lb ripe pears
100g/3½oz golden and dark raisins
125g/4oz dried apricots, roughly chopped
50g/2oz soft light brown sugar
The zest and juice of ½ a orange and lemon
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ground ginger
2½ tbsp dark rum
Begin by preparing the mincemeat: peel and core each pear and chop into small cubes. Combine the pear pieces, sugar, dried fruit, orange, lemon and spices in a heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly to ensure the mixture doesn’t catch and burn. Uncover the pan and continue to gently simmer the mixture over a low heat for a further 20 – 30 minutes or until it is very thick in texture. Stir in the rum and continue to cook gently for another 5 minutes. Once cooked, set aside while you make the pastry.
Preheat the oven to 180c (160c Fan). Place the flour, xantham gum, butter replacement and vegetable fat in the food processor and blitz until the mixture is of a breadcrumb like consistency. Add the caster sugar to the dough and blitz briefly. Tip in the cold water, tablespoon by tablespoon, blending as you go, until the mixture begins to form a dough, or the breadcrumbs begin to stick together.
Turn the mixture in to a large mixing bowl and, using the tips of your fingers, pull together into a ball of dough. Knead the dough for around 3 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic to your touch. Lay the pastry between two large layers of clingfilm (this is the best tip I could offer you, it makes rolling out allergy pastry so much easier) and roll the pastry out to your required size - always ensuring that the pastry becomes no thinner than 2 -3mm. Peel off the uppermost layer of clingfilm and, using your circle cutter, cut out the pie bases. Carefully fit the pastry circles in to their cases, gently filling in any cracks or gaps that may appear with extra pastry, patted flat with your fingertips.
Fill each tart with a heaped tea spoon of mincemeat, ensuring that you get a good amount of juice in each tart. Ball up the remaining pastry and roll out again – still using the clingfilm technique – and using your pastry cutter of choice, cut out the tops of the pies. Lay the pastry top over the pies and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the pastry is crisp and. Remove from the oven, lift out the pies and leave to cool on a wire rack until ready to eat.