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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas makes

I've made a couple of things for Christmas recently which I am really proud of, so thought I would share them.

Firstly, as every year, mince pies.  I always make my own mincemeat and pies as I don't usually like bought ones.  The recipe I use is the one my mum always used to make and her pies were always the most popular at the various school fetes, Guides meetings and parties we went to over Christmas. It's a brilliant recipe as you don't need to mess about with sterilising jars, you just make it and keep it in the freezer.  I've even been known to use it direct from the freezer and because of the amount of syrup it's still quite flexible when frozen.  Also it doesn't have any suet in it so is suitable for vegetarians.

450g raisins
350g currants
225g sultanas
350g soft brown sugar
150g butter
2tsp ground cinnamon
2tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground cloves
900g cooking apples - peeled, cored and chopped
Quarter pint medium cider
2 lemons, grated rind and juice
4tbsp golden syrup
4tbsp brandy/rum (apricot brandy is particularly nice)

1.  Mix all dried fruits, sugar, fat and spices in a large bowl
2. Gently heat cider in a large pan till it bubbles around the edge
3. Stir in the fruit mixture, lemon rind, juice, syrup and apples
4. Simmer, covered, for 40 mins, stirring occasionally.  Remove lid, simmer for 15 mins or until the juice is almost absorbed
5.  Cool slightly, then stir in the brandy or rum.
This makes about 6lb of mincemeat which is enough for about 3 lots of 24 mince pies.  You can also stir it into home-made ice cream or make mincemeat muffins.  Or do what Mr D does and eat it from the container with a spoon!

For the pies I use a version of a Nigella Lawson pastry recipe, which is:
300g plain flour
75g Trex
75g cold butter
1 egg yolk
Water to mix (or you can use all water)

Blitz the flour and fats in a food processor until it looks like breadcrumbs.  Then pour the water and egg yolk down the funnel, pulsing until it looks as if the dough is about to come together - stop just before it forms a ball.  Refrigerate for half an hour wrapped in cling film.  Roll it out nice and thinly (I hate mince pies with too much pastry), then cut out the bases and lids - fluted bases and star lids are best I think. 

Use the bases to line a buttered 12-hole tart tray, pressing them down with your fingers to avoid air bubbles.  Then fill each pie with mincemeat - again use your fingers to press it down so it is level.  Then top each with a star.

Bake at 200 for 10-15 mins.  Keep an eye on them from the 10 minute mark so you avoid the mincemeat bubbling out.

When they are cooked, dust them with icing sugar - and I put red glitter on mine to make them even Christmassier!

For the last 3 years I've also made my own Christmas wreath for the front door.  The first time, I went to a workshop at a local National Trust property to learn how to do it which was brilliant.  They had a barn full of enormous piles of foliage from around the estate.  Now, I don't have an enormous estate and I didn't want to go and buy Christmas foliage so I hit on the idea of using the clippings from my bay tree which usually needs tidying up by this point in the year.  So now I get to make a home-made, home-grown wreath for free which makes me feel even more smug!

I forgot to take photos as I went along so this will just have to be a show off rather than a tutorial, although there is a similar method shown here.  At the workshop we were taught to use a wire ring which we covered with hay using florists wire.  You then make several bundles of about four pieces of foliage which you wire onto the hay-covered ring at an angle until it is all covered.  Then wire on any other bits and pieces you are using; baubles, fir cones, dried orange, flowers, bows, bundles of cinnamon etc.  I used a few bits from a box of Christmassy pot pourri.  You have to soak it in a bowl of water overnight so that the hay absorbs some water to keep it fresh - make sure you've drained the excess off before hanging it up or you will have dirty water all down your front door!


Merry Christmas Everybody!