Mince pies and mulled wine (with a secret)
The best laid plans and all that….. November came in like a train and left at speed, December hard on its tail. Exciting but manic events at work and frustrating internet disconnectivity at home for weeks on end blew a crater in my schedule including my Christmas preparations. The knowledge that my puddings were made, my cake neatly wrapped and maturing and Christmas cards dispatched were a massive comfort. I snatched a day off for Islamic New Year and headed for the kitchen to make mince pies, then my girls and I put up the tree and decorations, Handel’s Messiah providing the musical backdrop and easing us all into a more relaxed state. I tinkered with the mincemeat – I wanted oranges and spice. My dried fruit-hating children breathed in the aroma – ‘it smells like Christmas, Mum’ – reward enough. Forget Prozac – this is how I de-stress.
This time last year we posted our cards from the special Christmas post office in the Marienplatz in Münich. Emerging from the brightly lit underground railway station straight into the twinkling lights and stalls around the Rathaus was like entering a fairy land. We loved every minute of our pre-Christmas get away to Bavaria (plus a little detour to Salzburg). The street food of pretzels, every kind of ‘wurst’ you can imagine, sauerkraut, mustard, crepes, cream filled meringue-like confections and glüwein made up the bulk of our shopping experience. We joined tourists and Münichers alike to pause for a moment to warm and sustain ourselves with these delicious morsels (all served on china plates or mugs returned for a deposit).
My own take on vin chaud or glüwein is an orange-scented and spiced mulled wine. I can’t remember where I found the recipe but I have been asked for it many, many times over the years. The secret ingredient is Cointreau which boosts its fragrance (and alcohol content, so beware!). It is strange how as expats we cling to our traditions – the warmth of this delicious drink is not really required during the balmly December evenings in Dubai, but it is always consumed with gusto whenever I serve it.
My pastry-making is not always as light as a feather but even the most heavy-handed should have success with this crumbly almond-flavoured version. I was really pleased how the holly shapes on the top turned out – much easier than sealing on little round tops and more forgiving if you, like me, are not the neatest of bakers. The quantity is for a crowd (great after carol-singing or, as we did here in Dubai, with neighbours by the pool) but you can eat some now and freeze the rest, unbaked, until you are ready to whip them out for planned (or spontaneous) visitors over Christmas.
Note to regular readers: I find posts that start with ‘sorry I haven’t blogged for ages’ quite irritating to read, (although I made an exception with Scattered from Christie’s Corner) but when a very busy time in my day job coincided with patchy then zero internet connection at home for over 3 weeks I found that not being able to fulfil the posts I had planned very worrying. As well as missing the creative outlet I was overwhelmed by a feeling of letting regular readers down. The telephone company engineer finally visited and full service restored. If you’ve read this far, thank you and let’s just say I’m glad to be back. I did manage to grab some cooking interludes and have lots of lovely Christmas recipes that I will just have to nurture until 2011. If you are celebrating, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.
Mulled Wine – Printable version
125g (4oz) caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 crushed juniper berries
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 orange, studded with cloves then cut into slices
1 lemon, thinly sliced
150ml (1/4 pint) orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Triple sec
75cl bottle of red wine
- Put the sugar in a pan with 450ml (3/4 pint) water. Add the cinnamon stick, juniper berries, nutmeg, one orange slice and the lemon slices. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil, then turn off the heat and stand for 10 minutes to allow everything to infuse.
- Add the liqueur and red wine and heat through gently, then pour into a jug. Add the remaining orange slices and serve.
NB. If you heat for too long or have too high a heat at stage 2 the alcohol will evaporate and you will have a fruit cocktail. A good boxed wine will do very well here especially if you are multiplying the quantities for a party. I’ve found that Drostdy-Hof claret select goes down very well.
For the homemade orange-scented mincemeat and crumbly almond mince pies recipes read on…
Homemade orange-scented mincemeat
This will make a fairly dry mixture but when baked it transforms into a luscious, moist filling.
125 g raisins or dried berries and cherries with jumbo raisins
25g blanched almonds, finely chopped
1 piece of stem ginger, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, peeled and grated
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
pinch of dried cloves
finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons of Cointreau
1 tablespoon of soft, dark brown sugar
Combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl, cover and leave to steep at least overnight. Decant into a sterilised jar if not using immediately.
Crumbly, almond mince pies
Makes 2 -3 dozen
225g (8oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
large pinch of salt
50g (2oz) ground almonds
75g (30z) icing sugar
zest of half and orange, finely grated
175g (6oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
2 medium egg yolks
Lightly butter some bun or cake trays. Preheat the oven to 190 C.
Put the flour, salt, ground almonds, icing sugar and orange zest into a food processor and pulse for 30 seconds. Add the butter and whiz until the mixtures resembles fine crumbs.
Add the egg yolks and process until the mixture just comes together (if a little dry add a few drops of ice-cold water). Knead lightly on a lightly, floured surface to bring the dough together then wrap in cling-film and chill for 1 hour. I did all these stages with the paddle attachment in my KitchenAid.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to about 2 – 3 mm in thickness and cut out rounds with a fluted pastry cutter to fit the cups of your tray (usually about 7.5cm). Place the rounds in the tray and fill each one with a heaped teaspoon of the mincemeat.
Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut into smaller rounds or shapes and place on top of the pies. I used a holly cutter and scored veins on the top with a sharp paring knife. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden. Cool for 15 minutes in the tin then transfer to a cooling rack.
Make ahead: You can freeze these in their trays (at the stage prior to baking) and transfer to a bag or box. Put back in the tins to bake from frozen at 190C for 18-20 minutes. You can also make these a couple of days in advance and store in an air-tight container. Just warm the pies through at the same temperature for 5 minutes.