Monday, 8 December 2014

Mince Pies and Snowflake Biscuits

I haven't blogged in nearly a month and I'm sorry about that. But now I am breaking forth from my brief baking hiatus to bring you Christmassy delights.

Aren't you delighted? Shut up, you are.

I love Christmas, but this year I'm working right up until Christmas Eve, so I used my remaining annual leave to take a week off at the beginning of December and held a little winter soireé for assorted friends.

It was lovely. I lit all the candles, sprinkled snowflake confetti over the dining table, personalised everyone's wine glasses with their name on a gift tag and served mulled cider (and spiced apple juice for the non-drinkers).

I also served smoked salmon paté, filo mince pies and snowflake biscuits. Here are the filo mince pies and biscuits:

First I'll give you the recipe for the snowflake biscuits. This is a simply magnificent recipe - I've used it for years and it always gives me at least twice the amount of biscuits I'm intending to make. This time I made 60.

Let me tell you, icing 60 biscuits with snowflakes is not a task to be undertaken lightly.

Now, I was baking these at my parents' house. There are several problems associated with baking at my parents' house:

1. They never have the necessary ingredients;
2. They are poorly equipped for high quality baking on an industrial scale;
3. The equipment that they do have is without fail either broken or lost.

Let me give you a couple of examples. When I decided to weigh my ingredients, I discovered that the electronic scales had run out of battery power. So I had to use these:

At least they can't run out of battery. 

Then, I discovered that the biscuit cutters were missing, presumed lost. This was a great shame, as we have several lovely Christmas-themed cutters in the shape of Christmas trees, stars, bells and the 3 kings (don't ask).

I called my mum's mobile, but it was, predictably, switched off. So I called her office, but she wasn't available and her business support team seemed very confused when I told them the biscuit cutters were missing and could they get her to email me and tell me where they were.

It might not have helped that I didn't tell them who I was, so they probably thought I was a local madwoman.

In the end I had to borrow a circular biscuit cutter from a friend and ice snowflakes on the biscuits. Without further ado:

You will need:
285g plain flour
170g butter
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla essence
biscuit cutters
a lined baking sheet
grazest of one lemon
285g caster sugar
1 piping bag with a fine nozzle

To decorate:
250g icing sugar
juice of one lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Beat together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.

2. Beat in the egg, egg yolk and lemon zest. Add the flour and mix in with a spoon until a dough starts to form, then knead together until you have a smooth dough.

3. Roll out the dough to about 3mm thick and cut out as many biscuits as you can, placing them on the baking sheet. Knead together the offcuts and roll them out again.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes until very lightly browned.

5. Leave the biscuits to cool. Beat together the icing sugar and lemon juice until runny enough to pipe but stiff enough to keep its shape. You may not have to use all the lemon juice. Once the biscuits are cooled, pipe snowflake shapes on the biscuits and leave to set.

Now for the filo mince pies. These are very easy and quick to make - providing you don't make the filo pastry yourself.

I'll tell you a secret - no one in their right mind makes filo pastry themselves. I know they make contestants do it on the Great British Bake Off. But even Mary and Paul don't make filo themselves. Do you own Paul Hollywood's Pies and Puds book? If you do, flick through to his "Hollywood's Temptation" (a salmon and filo pie) and cast your eye over the ingredients list. HE USES READY-MADE FILO.  So should you.

I make my own mincemeat - but don't feel you have to. If you want to, I loosely (very loosely) based mine on Delia's recipe, which is available online. If you don't, jars of mincemeat are not expensive. If you're vegetarian, like me, check the mincemeat is you-friendly. I make mine with vegetable suet.

You will need:

250g mincemeat
1 packet of filo pastry sheets
melted butter and pastry brush or sprayable cooking oil
24-hole mini-muffin tray, greased

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and cut the filo sheets into 8 x 8cm squares. Place one square in each mini-muffin hole, grease with melted butter or spritz with cooking oil. Place another on top at an angle on top and grease again.

2. Place a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in each pastry case.

3. Fold down the corners of the second pastry layer and grease to secure them.

4. Place a final pastry layer on top and grease once more. Bake for 10 minutes until light golden brown in colour.

5. Serve dusted with icing sugar.

I have one final recipe for you - traditional mince pies, which I made the morning after my soireé to use up the remaining mincemeat. This recipe makes 12.

You will need:
175g plain flour
75g butter
pinch of salt
cold water
250g mincemeat
2.5 inch round pastry cutter
3 inch round pastry cutter
12-hole muffin tray

1. Rub the flour, butter and salt together with your fingertips in a large bowl.

2. Add enough water to be able to mix and then knead the ingredients into a smooth dough.

3. Roll out the dough to around 3mm thick and cut out 12 3 inch circles and put into a muffin tray, pressing in with a lump of excess pastry. Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat.

4. Cut out 12 circles of pastry with the 2.5 inch cutter and place on top of the mincemeat, then crimp together the edges of the pastry with your fingers or a fork. Prick the top of each pie with a fork. Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and serve dusted with icing sugar.

That's it for now, but there'll be more to come soon, I promise (almost).

Tata for now,


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