Many families have their favourite recipes at Christmas, handed down from one generation to the next. I know that I was lucky with learning to cook and appreciate food because my mum was a stay-at-home mum who not only came from a proud line of Yorkshire women renowned for their culinary skills but had also done a Cordon Bleu cookery course when she was first married. Even today you could drop in to see my 86 year old mother and guarantee to be served a home made delicacy appropriate for the time of day. If it’s lunchtime it might be a mouthwatering roast with her home-grown vegetables and famous Yorkshire puddings or one of her East African curries. If it’s coffee or tea time it will be a melt-in-the-mouth Ginger Thin or during the Christmas period, a freshly-warmed mince pie. Many of us don’t have the time or the energy to bake these days – I know I often don’t. However, despite the potential sticky mess, it is well worth making the effort to cook with your children. You can involve them with age-appropriate tasks, from choosing the ingredients at the supermarket to preparing, mixing and decorating the finished result; it also pretty much guarantees that they will eat the finished result, which is a sneakily effective way of dealing with a child who is a fussy eater! Moreover, you are creating togetherness and fond memories and developing their skills and confidence.
Whatever your thoughts, hopes and plans this Christmas, I’d like to help you to make it as stress-free as possible, as well as passing on a few treats just for you. I’ll be sending you a little something every day between now and Christmas.
Today’s gift is the recipe my mum and I always use to make mince pies at Christmas time. In my opinion they are far nicer than anything you could buy and well worth the effort and time spent in the kitchen. Children love to help assemble these and for a fussy eater you could substitute a spoonful of jam for the mincemeat filling.
560 g mincemeat (the sweet variety with chopped fruit, sold in jars)
350 g plain flour
75 g lard
75 g margarine
a pinch of salt
For the top:
a small amount of milk
a small amount of granulated sugar
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C).
You will also need one (or two) trays of 6 cm pie tins, one fluted 7.5 cm pastry cutter and one 6 cm cutter.
Make up the pastry by sifting the flour and salt into a mixing bowl and rub in the fats (bring them to room temperature and then cut them into small cubes first, to make it easier to blend). The trick with pastry is not to overhandle it or get it too warm at this point, so mix it quickly with your fingertips by lifting the pieces of fat up high over the bowl with the flour (so you are letting plenty of air in) and rubbing it gently and lightly through your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Use a knife to begin with and then your hands, then add just enough cold water so that the ball of dough leaves the bowl clean but is not too sticky.
Leave the pastry to rest covered in clingfilm (Saran Wrap) in the fridge for 20-30 minutes, then roll half of it out so that it’s as thin as possible but not breaking and cut it into twenty four 7.5 cm rounds, gathering up the scraps and re-rolling.
Then do the same with the other half of the pastry, this time using the 6 cm cutter.
Now grease the pie tins lightly and line them with the larger rounds. Fill these with a good spoonful of mincemeat, but don’t overfill as they split in the oven. Dampen the edges of the smaller rounds of pastry with water and press them lightly into position to form lids, sealing the edges.
Brush each one with milk and make three snips in the tops with a pair of scissors. Sprinkle with a small amount of sugar. Bake near the top of the oven for 25-30 minutes until light golden brown.
Cool on a wire tray and when the mince pies are cool, store them in a Tupperware or airtight tin. To serve: mince pies are best eaten when they’ve been warmed in the oven, either on their own or with cream or brandy butter.
If you would like my help and advice over the Christmas period, do visit my website www.thesinglemumssurvivalguide.com, where you can find a free audio on Coping with Christmas or sign up for a free one to one session with me.