Star Anise and Saffron Mince Pies

THIS RECIPE HAS BEEN SUBMITTED FOR THE ‘YOUR BEST RECIPE’ ON THE SPICIE FOODIE BLOG COMPETITION ON FOR DECEMBER 2011!Ingredients:

For the butter pastry:
150 g cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
300 g plain flour / gluten free white flour
1 egg yolk
about 2 tbsp cold water

For the mincemeat:
50 g soft brown sugar
200 g dried apricot pieces
200 g black currants
110 g chopped pistachios
110 g crystalised ginger
200 g cinnamon dusted dried cranberries
juice and zest of one clementine
juice of half a lemon and zest of one lemon
1 1/2 tbsp of ground star anise, cinnamon and cloves – in equal quantities
1 cup cherry brandy
2 tsp saffron soaked in 1 tbsp hot water for 30 minutes
2-3 drops almond extract
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rose water

Makes about 18 mini pastry shells and about 6 cups of mincemeat (extra can be kept up to 1 month in a jar or frozen up to 1 month in an airtight sterilised jar)

Christmas in London means mince pies, mulled wine and lots of trips to Selfridges (wish list come true),  Harrods (Christmas wonderland) and Fortnum and Mason’s (all you could dream of hampers), a smile on every face, lights laden on the high street and the smell of pine cones in the air – I don’t think that one could survive the cold if it wasn’t for the festive season. Here I am counting the days before the long break and lots of nice pressies under the Christmas tree and I’m thinking it’s about time I baked something ‘Christmasy”. Mince pies are Christmas in a mouthful -  the audible crunch of the crust followed by the explosion of flavours on the tongue you can almost hear the bells on Santa’s sleigh…..I hear Ayaana singing jingle bells…

How different Christmas was in Karachi, though not as much as one would imagine -  even with a minority of Christians everyone could feel the change not just in the weather but also the atmosphere lit with fairy lights at Frere Hall and  ”French bakery’s” chewy Christmas cake without the booze…. There is something quite endearing and calming yet exciting about this time of year, that no matter where you are in this world, there’s hope, happiness and expectation. I remember making our yearly trek to “Bohri Bazaar” to buy a Christmas tree and the very limited decorations on offer. Nonetheless we went with excitement and determination, and every year we’d return with red tinsel and a green plastic tree. Having gone to convent run schools I suppose we were groomed with an appreciation of all things ever so Xmas-y and learnt by rote every hymn, carol and remotely Christmasy song in the book…. We had to embrace it and we did so willingly. Christmas parties, pudding and turkey was always procured, by whatever means necessary. So I suppose in a way, Christmas was not really that much different in the sense that it bought the same hopeful joyous positivity that it does no matter where  you may be.

I wanted to bring the sense of Christmas from this world and mine so many thousands of miles away -  lending some association with home by adapting some ingredients in my version of mince pies, and so here goes to hoping it takes you to my home and back  – allowing the essence of a Pakistani Xmas co-mingling happily with that of an cold yet festive English one. And I do believe that the pastry will crumble and flake to perfection and the flavours of the mincemeat will tantilize the senses and bring you home or away no matter where you may be…

Method:

1. Make the pastry first  – in the food processor, blend the flour and butter until it resembles breadcrumbs then add the egg yolk and blend for a few seconds. Now add the water slowly allowing the dough to form a ball – you may need to add less or more water depending on how it looks. The end result should be a soft dough – not too wet and pliable. Take this out and knead it a bit and wrap in cellophane until ready to use.

2. To make the mincemeat – Combine the dry fruits, pistachios and crystalised ginger in a bowl and add juices of lemon and clementine. Now heat the brown sugar and cherry brandy (save 2 tbsp for later). Once sugar is dissolved add the dry fruit mixture and cook until the liquid is all absorbed and the fruits are soft. At this time add the zests and take of the heat. Allow to cool and then add the almond extract, saffron with it’s water, the remaining cherry brandy, rose water and honey. Allow to rest for about 30 minutes before making the pies.

3. Heat the oven to 200 degrees C and roll the pastry as thin as possible, cut out circles the size (using a flutted cutter) to fit the shallow or deep mini pie pan and press down. Mark bottom with fork and then add much mincemeat as desired (be generous its Christmas!) Now cover the top using a shape cutter – with either a big cut out star (using the remainder pastry) or small stars and crescents as I have (keeping true to the Paki flag and the Pukka Paki logo!) and bake in the oven for about a maximum of 20 minutes – keep an eye on them they don’t take long!

4. Once done, cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar when ready to serve. Devour with a cup of mulled wine and breathing in this atmospheric aroma of a  frankincense and myrrh candle (or the everlasting ever-seasonal  Pomegranate Noir candle), your Xmas tree lights blinking in the background and Michael Buble’s Christmas album playing…How more Christmasy can you get?

 

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