Father Christmas mince tartlets

When I bought a 24-piece biscuit cutter set a while ago for Andrew to use with play dough, I noticed that there was a Father Christmas cutter included. As there aren’t many weeks of the year that you can get away with baking in such a festive shape, I thought I’d give it a go this week. I also had some marzipan left over from the star cupcakes that we made last week, so I came up with something that used it – mince pies with marzipan lids in the shape of Father Christmas. But because you can see some of the filling, they are really tarts rather than pies, and their small size means I’ve called them tartlets.

I’m not a massive fan of shop-bought mince pies, mainly because the pastry isn’t great unless you buy the really expensive ones. I actually prefer a plain unsweetened shortcrust pastry rather than a sweet pastry, because it tones down the highly sweet filling. Obviously the marzipan lids of these pies add sweetness, but at least it’s marzipan, which I LOVE – it’s one of the best tastes of Christmas in my foodie opinion. But the bases are unsweetened pastry, to which I added a dash of cinnamon, just to spice things up a little and make these tartlets a real twist on a classic bake.

I don’t usually bake mince pies in cake cases, but I have had times when they have stuck to the tin a bit, so I was pleased when I came across the idea of using paper cases on the website of Holly Bell, Great British Bake Off finalist 2011 – recipesfromanormalmum.com. We gave it a try, and it worked well.

Here’s how we made them. You could use whatever shape cutter you have for the lid, it doesn’t have to be Father Christmas (or Far Kissmas as Andrew is calling him 🙂 )! As there were two lots of rolling and cutting out dough , Andrew was very impressed, so I’d recommend it for toddlers who like that sort of thing. I’d also be interested to hear about other mince pie recipes, especially if they’re a bit unusual like this one – please leave a comment if you have one.

Ingredients (makes a dozen)

  • 110g plain flour
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 55g butter
  • cold water
  • mincemeat (I used about half a 454g jar)
  • ready to roll packet of marzipan (I used about a quarter of a standard supermarket packet)

Method

  1. First make the pastry. Chop up the butter into chunks and add to the flour and cinnamon in a bowl.
  2. Rub the butter chunks into the flour and cinnamon until you have a breadcrumb consistency.
  3. Add water, small amounts at a time, and combine with the butter-flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. Don’t overwork it.
  4. Leave to rest in the fridge overnight, and get it out an hour or so before you want to roll it out, to get it to room temperature again.
  5. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan), and put paper cake cases into a fairy cake tin.
  6. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board to about 3mm thick.
  7. Cut circles out for the base of the tartlets using a circle cutter, and press them lightly into the cake cases.
  8. Add a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat to each base.
  9. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes, until the pastry is lightly golden and the mincemeat is bubbling.
  10. Meanwhile, roll out the marzipan on the same lightly floured board, to about 3mm thick.
  11. Cut out Father Christmas shapes, or whatever festive shape you have a cutter for!
  12. When the tartlets are ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  13. When they have fully cooled, place a Father Christmas on top of each tartlet and press down lightly.

Apple pie (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 5)

As we were away last weekend, I missed a week of baking inspired by the Great British Bake Off (GBBO). The desserts the contestants made last week were very impressive, and I think I would have gone for baking a torte if I’d have had chance to do some baking myself (that was one of the things they had to bake). This week it was all about pies. For the first bake they had to make a Wellington (with whatever filling they liked), for the second – the technical challenge – they had to make what looked like an incredibly difficult chicken and bacon pie with a hand-molded, hot-water pastry (a bit like a pork pie really), and for the third they had to bake a sweet American pie (with whatever filling they liked).

mmmmmmm apple pie 🙂

As I’m not into cooking meat at all at the moment, I thought a sweet pie would be my best option. I was particularly interested in the short clip that was shown as part of the programme, telling us all about the history of the apple pie in America, as that was one of the first sweet American pies to really make it big, even though none of the GBBO contestants chose to make something that simple – their flavours were along the lines of pumpkin pie, squash pie, sweet potato pie, Key lime pie, and peanut butter pie. I haven’t had apple pie for a long time, so I decided that this simple but effective pie would go down well with my boys and me. Andrew’s Aunty Jenny was even with us on the day I made it, so I had an extra taster this time; the adults approved, but Andrew wasn’t too bothered – I think he was too tired by the point we ate it.

An Andrew-sized slice - the first slice is always the hardest to cut nicely out of a pie, but I think this isn't bad, even if it did collapse a bit at the side. The next ones came out more in tact!

I went for a simple shortcrust pastry with no sugar, and a caramelised apple filling. I didn’t want to make the pastry sweet, because I don’t like pastry too sweet and think that it’s actually nicer to have the contrast of a plain pastry with the sweetness of the apple filling. (Maybe Paul Hollywood would approve? He didn’t seem to like the sickly sweet American pies that some contestants came up with, but preferred more mellowed-down British versions!) Plus I’ve found it hard to make sweet pastry in the past, whereas plain shortcrust is easier in my experience. I found a great page on Delia Smith’s website, giving tips on how to achieve good shortcrust pastry, which points out some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. I have to say it turned out very well and I found it pretty easy to make, even without a food processor – the main thing is making sure everything is at the right temperature when you need to use it.

Here’s my recipe, which has very few ingredients, but the outcome is a yummy, good classic apple pie.

Ingredients

Pastry:

  • 8oz plain white flour
  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • cold water

Filling:

  • 2 large Bramley apples
  • 80g brown sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 20g flour

Method

  1. First make the pastry so it has time to rest whilst you’re doing the other bits (or leave it for a few hours or overnight). Take the butter out of the fridge and leave it to soften to room temperature. According to Delia, you should just be able to cut through it easily with a knife, but it should still be quite solid.
  2. Cut the butter into small chunks and add to the flour. Rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips, working quickly and lifting the flour up as you rub, to keep it light and aerated. Don’t overdo it, but stop when you have a rough breadcrumb-like texture.
  3. Gradually add small amounts of cold water, like a couple of tablespoons at a time, and mix with a knife to bring the mixture together into a dough. Once it gets wet enough, finish bringing it together with your hands, and form into a ball. Stop handling it, put it into a food bag, and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour, if not more – overnight is good.
  4. Then make the apple filling. Peel and core the apples, and cut them into chunks.
  5. Melt the butter and sugar in a pan on a moderate heat. Add the apples, and cook for about 5-10 minutes until lightly golden and a bit squidgy. Just before you finish cooking them, add the flour and stir in until the caramel sauce thickens. Take the pan off the heat and allow the filling to cool completely.
  6. When the pastry is well chilled, take it out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before rolling it. Getting the temperature right is key in making successful pastry, so don’t try to rush it. At this point, pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  7. Once warmed up enough (but not too warm!), cut the pastry into two pieces: about one third of the whole for one piece and two thirds for the other.
  8. Roll the bigger bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to fit the bottom and sides of your pie dish, with a small overhang.
  9. Line the pie dish with the pastry, and cut off any excess bits of pastry beyond the small overhang.
  10. Pour the cooled apple filling into the pastry-lined pie dish.

    A glimpse of the yummy filling before the lid went on!
  11. Roll the smaller bit of pastry out to about 3mm thick, big enough to cover the top of the pie dish. Place this pastry on top of the filling. There should be enough room in the dish after the filling has gone in so that there is a lip of pastry that can join with the lid pastry.
  12. Press the lid pastry together with this lip of pastry from around the side, using a fork to squish them together and make a nice pattern at the same time. Use the fork to make several pricks in the pastry lid, to allow steam to escape when cooking.
  13. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is golden.
  14. Remove from the oven, and eat as fresh as possible – hot apple pie is so much better than cold apple pie! 🙂

    Spot the shadow from the photographer! You can tell I'm no professional. Must get round to putting into practice the tips I got from Britmums!