Special equipment: Shallow 24-hole fairy cake tin or 16-hole muffintin 2 1/2-inches/6 cm plain or fluted cutter 1 1/2-inches/4 cm plain or fluted cutter or 11/4-inches/3 cm star-shaped cutter
Mince pies freeze very well, taking some of the headache out of all that Christmas preparation. If I make lots of these before Christmas, I freeze them raw and then cook them on the day. Cooked mince pies can be stored in a biscuit tin or airtight box and warmed through gently before serving. They are perfect with a glass of spicy mulled wine or a cup of coffee for a festive snack.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F/200 degrees C/Gas mark 6. Brush the tin with melted butter.
On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch/3 mm thick and, using the 2 1/2-inches/6 cm cutter, cut out 24 circles for the bases. Then use the smaller plain/fluted cutter or star cutter to cut-out 24 circles/stars for the lids. Re-roll the trimmings, if necessary.
Line the holes of the cake tin with the larger pastry rounds. Fill each base with a teaspoon mincemeat and top with one of the smaller rounds or stars. Brush the tops of the mince pies with the beaten egg.
Bake in the oven for 10 to 13 minutes until pale golden. Cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tin and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Dust with icing sugar (confectioners') to serve.
This basic pastry is used in many popular recipes, from mince pies to quiches; it's also one of the easiest pastries to start with. The uncooked dough can be frozen or kept in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
Put the flour, salt and butter in a food processor and whiz briefly. Add half the beaten egg and continue to whiz. You might add a little more egg, but not too much as the mixture should be just moist enough to come together. If making by hand, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs then, using your hands, add just enough egg to bring it together. With your hands, flatten out the ball of dough until it is about 3/4-inch/2 cm thick, then wrap in cling film or place in a plastic bag and leave in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or, if you are pushed for time, in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes. Variations: Sweet Shortcrust Pastry: In place of the pinch of salt, use 1 tablespoon icing sugar (confectioners'). Soured cream shortcrust pastry: Replace the egg with 2 tablespoons sour cream or creme fraiche, adding just enough to bring it together.
This delicious mincemeat will keep happily in a cool dark place for at least a year. If you are making your own suet (the fat that surrounds the beef kidney), make sure that every trace of blood has been removed before you whiz it in the food processor, otherwise it will cause the mincemeat to go off.
Put the apple chunks in a small saucepan with 1 teaspoon water, cover and cook over low heat for about 8 to 10 minutes until the apples are cooked down to a pulp. Allow to cool.
Mix the apples with the orange zest, orange juice, lemon zest, lemon juice, suet, raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel, dark brown sugar, almonds, mixed spice, and whiskey in a large bowl and put into sterilized jars.* Leave to mature, if possible for at least 2 weeks before using.
Cut the fruit in 1/2 and squeeze out the juice. (Reserve the juice for another use, perhaps home-made lemonade.) Put the peel into a large bowl, add the salt and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 24 hours.
Next day, throw away the soaking water; put the peel in a large saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently for about 3 hours or until the peel is soft.
Remove the peel from the pan and discard the water. Scrape out any remaining flesh and membrane from inside the cut fruit, using a teaspoon, leaving the white pith and rind intact.
In a clean large saucepan, dissolve the sugar in 1 3/4 pints/1 litre of water, then bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the peel and simmer gently for 30 to 60 minutes until it looks translucent (shiny and 'candied') and the syrup forms a thread when the last drop falls off a metal spoon. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for 20 to 30 minutes to slightly cool.
Put the candied peel into sterilized glass jars* and pour the syrup over. Cover and store in a cold place or in the refrigerator. It should keep, stored like this, for at least 3 months.
It should mash between the tips of your fingers easily when it is cooked.
Properly handled sterilized equipment will keep canned foods in good condition for one year. Making sure hands, equipment and surfaces in your canning area are clean is the first step in canning. Tips: Jars should be made from glass and free of any chips or cracks. Preserving or canning jars are topped with glass, plastic or metal lids that have a rubberlike seal. Two-piece metal lids are most common. To prepare jars before filling: Wash jars with hot, soapy water, rinse them well and arrange them open-side up, without touching, on a tray. To sterilize jars, boil them in a large saucepan, covered with water, for 10 minutes. Jars have to be sterilized only if the food to be preserved will be processed for less than 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath or pressure canner. To sterilize jars, boil them in a large saucepan, covered with water, for 10 minutes. Follow manufacturer's instructions for cleaning and preparing lids and bands. Use tongs or jar lifters to remove hot sterilized jars from the boiling water. Be sure the tongs are sterilized too: Dip the tong ends in boiling water for a few minutes before using them. All items used in the process of making jams, jellies, preserves and pickles must be clean, including any towels and especially your hands. After the jars are prepared, you can preserve the food. It is important to follow any canning and processing instructions included in the recipe and refer to USDA guidelines about the sterilization of canned products. Find Information information on canning can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website: http://nchfp.uga.edu/.
Recipe courtesy of Rachel Allen