Vegetarian Mince Pies – crisp flaky golden pastry and rich fruity brandy-infused mincemeat and all ready in just over half an hour. Your kitchen will be filled with delicious seasonal baking aromas and you will be able to offer everyone, veggies and meat-eaters, a warm pie fresh from the oven. If you want to get into the Christmas baking vibe, without doing anything too complicated or time consuming, then this is your go-to recipe.
In a world where there is a proliferation of good-quality ready-made Mince Pies, I think it is still worth making your own as it is an easy short-cut to seasonal baking bliss without too much effort. At this time of the year, spending an hour or so making these beauties, ignoring the cold outside, is just what I want to do.
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Pimp your pies…
This is my manifesto for Mince Pie making heaven.
I think home-made Mincemeat is best and I have a recipe on this blog. However, you do need to make it in advance and, frankly, you may not have either the time or inclination to do this. Using shop-bought mincemeat is absolutely fine but try and go for one that is good quality. If you are using shop-bought mincemeat, you can add a teaspoon of brandy or port to the mixture, which will really lift the flavour, or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice if you don’t want to use alcohol. Adding some grated orange or lemon peel is also good.
Whether you are using home-made or shop-bought mincemeat, you can add an additional hidden treat to your pies. I will sometimes add the following to each pie, on top of the mincemeat filling, before putting on the pastry lid: a chunk of marzipan, a few dried cranberries, a piece of dark chocolate, a glace cherry or a lump of cheese.
Again, I think home-made pastry is best. It has a buttery crispness which even good quality ready-made pastry doesn’t seem to have. It is also really easy to make your own pastry. However, again, you may not have the time or inclination to make your own. If you want to use shop-bought pastry, that is fine. Just make sure you get a brand that is “all butter” as it will generally taste better.
You can go for different shaped “lids” for you pies but, honestly, stars are best. It is Christmas after all and you can’t get much more festive than a star!
When you are baking your pies, make sure that the door to your kitchen is open so the smell of baking and alcohol-infused fruit spreads throughout your house.
Without a doubt, mince pies are best eaten warm. If you are not eating them immediately, you can re-heat them by popping them in the oven at 180 C, 350 F or Gas Mark 4 for five minutes. You can eat them on their own. You can eat them with whipped or pouring cream (if you must). I eat mine with a lump of strong cheese (extra mature cheddar) and a glass of Pedro Ximenez sherry, if I can. Try it before you judge.
Make the pastry. Put the flour in a bowl. Add the fat and combine – either by “rubbing in” by hand or processing – until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little cold water (2-3 tbsp) and shape the mixture into a dough.
If you have time, allow your pastry dough to rest for half an hour, wrapped in cling film, as this will make the resulting pastry more tender. If you do not have the time, don’t worry!
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface so that it is as thin as possible.
Using a round pastry cutter which is slightly larger than the depressions in your pie tin cut circles from your pastry. I use a 7.5 cm diameter pastry cutter which is fairly standard.
Place a circle in each of the depressions in your pie tin.
Put 2 teaspoons of mincemeat onto each pastry circle.
Using a star shaped pastry cutter, cut stars from the remainder of the pastry. Place them on top of each mound of mincemeat.
Paint the top of each star with a little milk using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with caster sugar. This will make the top of the pies golden and crunchy. (Some people add beaten egg instead but I always think it is a waste of an egg as you don’t need very much of it!)
Put the pies in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes. They will be done when the pastry is golden.
Remove the pies from the tin immediately and place on a cooling rack.
This quantity of pastry and mincemeat makes approximately 12 large pies. It will vary according to how thin you roll your pastry and the size of the depressions in you pie tin.
This recipe is vegetarian (as long as you use vegetarian Mincemeat)
Vegetarian Stuffing with Chestnuts, Pecans and Cranberries
These Vegetarian Stuffing balls are crammed with flavour and texture. Chestnuts, both chopped and pureed, add a sweet creaminess which binds the other ingredients together. Roasted pecans add a nutty crunch and dried cranberries, one of my new favourite ingredients, at a sweet-sharp hit of fruitiness. I use fresh nutmeg to add a seasonal spiciness to the recipe.
They are a great addition to a big, celebratory roast dinner. Try them with home-made Bread Sauce and Fresh Cranberry Sauce and tell me I’m wrong! Think nutty crunchiness, creamy richness and zesty, fruity sweetness.
Why bother making Vegetarian Stuffing?
In addition to the flavour, there are lots of good things about this recipe. First off, it is a vegetarian side dish which will also appeal to meat-eaters. My family is a mixture of carnivores, vegetarians and pescatarians so I have a ready-made focus group for my recipes. The verdict was that these are pretty much as good as any meat-based alternative. Therefore, you can put them on everyone’s plate – cosying up to the turkey or the nut-roast – and they work just as well.
They are also really easy to make – just a matter of mixing the various ingredients together – and can be prepared in advance. Just make up the stuffing balls and keep covered in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. They only take 15 minutes to cook.
They are also pretty versatile. Although I came up with this recipe as accompaniment to a roast dinner, I sometimes make them as a vegetarian lunch or snack option. They are also great cold as part of a packed lunch or winter picnic.
Try this home-made Bread Sauce recipe and you will never again use ready-made or packet versions! Most importantly, it tastes fantastic. It is rich, creamy and buttery. It is warm and soothing and delicately flavoured with nutmeg and bay. It is also exceptionally easy to make and requires little or no culinary skill and can be made ahead and then gently re-heated so it is a brilliant side dish for a big, celebratory meal.
Its Christmas dinner – don’t panic!
This recipe is one that my mother used to make at Christmas. It is a fantastic sauce to have with a big festive dinner as its creaminess enhances the drier ingredients, such as turkey or vegetarian main courses such as nut roast. I always think that producing a tasty Christmas dinner is difficult even for experienced cooks. Not only are you producing dishes that you may only make once a year, you are often doing it for a large number of people who may have a wide range of food preferences and your thought processes on the day may well be impacted by a higher than average intake of alcohol! My Christmas dinner tips, which helped me when I first took on the role of primary Christmas dinner cook, are as follows.
Some Christmas dinner tips
Do not panic.
Plan it as you would any other meal. That is, that it needs a centrepiece (turkey, nut-roast, wellington), something to add juiciness (gravy), something to add zest (Cranberry Sauce), something to add richness (Bread Sauce), something to add texture (roast potatoes and stuffing), something for everyone to hate (Brussels Sprouts) – just kidding, I am actually a sprout lover and impose them on my family once a year at Christmas time..
Keep it simple. I generally don’t bother with a starter on the basis that, unless you are in training as the next presenter of Man v Food, full Christmas dinner plus pudding is sufficient. I do serve very simple canapes and nibbles (Cheese Biscuits, Spiced Nuts) when everyone starts with the aperitifs in order to try to absorb the alcohol.
Do as much of the preparation as possible the day before (peeling vegetables, making stuffing, Cranberry Sauce, Bread Sauce etc).
Delegate tasks whenever possible. Granny can decorate the table. Even young children can peel vegetables.
Write out in advance on a bit of paper when everything needs to start cooking. You will need this once you start hitting the champagne at 11.00 am.
Do not stress about dessert. A shop-bought Christmas Pudding which can be heated in the microwave is the way to go. Or why not just have Mince Pies?
Do not panic – did I say that already?
For guidance on dealing with family disputes and/or feuds, dealing with the combination of a range of political views and a large quantity of alcohol and people of all ages who do not like their presents, I am afraid you will have to look elsewhere.
This home-made Bread Sauce recipe is quick and easy to make. It has a rich creaminess, flavoured with bay and nutmeg, which is a sumptuous addition to any celebratory meal.
300 ml milk
1 bay leaf
6 black peppercorns
75 g fresh white breadcrumbs
75 g butter
100 ml double cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel and chop the onion.
Put the chopped onion into a small saucepan. Add the milk, bay leaf and peppercorns.
Heat the milk until it starts to gently bubble. Don’t let it boil over!
At this point, you can set aside the milk without removing the flavourings. Once it is cool, leave it in the fridge overnight and then use as from step 5. This allows the flavour to develop. However, if you want to eat the breadsauce on the same day, you can just proceed as from step 5.
Strain the milk to remove the flavourings.
Pour the flavoured milk into a small saucepan and add the grated nutmeg, breadcrumbs, butter and cream.
Heat gently, stirring to combine, until the butter is melted.
Serve warm topped with a little more grated nutmeg.
It is very easy to make your own breadcrumbs. Just tear or cut white bread into large pieces and then process for a few seconds in a blender or food processor. It works best if the bread is proper, crusty bread and if it is slightly stale.
It is really worth obtaining your grated nutmeg from actually grating a whole nutmeg rather than using ready-grated nutgmeg. You can buy a jar of whole nutmegs in most supermarkets and then just use a food grater to grate what you need into your dishes. Just smell the freshly grated nutmeg and you will understand!
This Cranberry Ice Cream is made with Fresh Cranberry Sauce which gives it the added flavours of white wine, orange and cinnamon. Using Fresh Cranberry Sauce, adds an extra dimension to this ice cream and makes it the perfect seasonal pudding.
Made from left-over Cranberry Sauce….
So, there are two ways you can go with this Cranberry Ice Cream. First off, if you have made some Fresh Cranberry Sauce to eat with your Christmas dinner and you have some left over, you can use any that is left over to make this ice cream. If you go down that route – and it is super-easy to make your own cranberry sauce – then making this ice cream is a doddle.
… or specially-made Cranberry Sauce
However, if you do not happen to have any surplus Fresh Cranberry Sauce to hand – and maybe you don’t really fancy it with your Christmas dinner (or maybe its not even Christmas) – you can make a batch to use as an ingredient in puddings. I have two excellent cranberry-based puddings on this blog each of which conveniently uses half a batch of my sauce recipe. One is this Cranberry Ice Cream and the other is my Cranberry Pavlova. Both are great at Christmas or New Year, when there are a lot of fresh cranberries about, and I think they are a brilliant alternative to heavy Christmas pudding! They are both sweet and creamy with the fruity tang of cranberries.
This Cranberry Ice Cream is made with Fresh Cranberry Sauce, which not only includes cranberries but is also flavoured with white wine, orange and cinnamon, adds an extra dimension and makes it the perfect seasonal pudding.
Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl until the mixture looks paler and resembles a mousse.
Put the cream in a saucepan and heat gently. Do not allow to boil – it will be the right temperature when you are just about able to bear to dip a finger in it!
Pour the cream into the bowl containing the egg yolks and sugar, whisking all the time.
Transfer the combined mixture into a bowl set over a pan of simmering water or, ideally a double-boiler, as you need to reheat it very gently.
The mixture will gradually thicken until it looks like a custard (which is what it is). Stir regularly to make sure it does not stick while it is thickening.
Remove the thick custard from the heat and transfer into a bowl.
If you are using my home-made Fresh Cranberry Sauce, you will need to use a food processor or hand-held blender to chop up the whole berries and create a rough paste before adding to the custard. If you are using smooth, ready-made Cranberry Sauce, you can just stir it into the custard.
Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then transfer to the fridge to become thoroughly chilled.
When you are ready to make the ice-cream, transfer to your ice-cream maker and use according to your machine’s instructions. If you do not have an ice-cream maker, you can place the mixture in a freezer-proof container, put in the freezer for several hours until half-frozen. Whisk the mixture and then return to the container and replace in the freezer until totally frozen.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own Fresh Cranberry Sauce – and it honestly is very quick and easy – you can use ready-made Cranberry Sauce although the flavour will not be as good unless you can find one that includes cinnamon, orange and white wine!
Cranberry Pavlova – a meringue-based festive dessert
This Cranberry Pavlova is the perfect light and creamy, meringue-based festive dessert. It is made using left-over Fresh Cranberry Sauce which makes it super-easy to put together.
I always have a family lunch on Boxing Day and serve this pavlova as one of the desserts using sauce prepared for Christmas lunch. It is the perfect dessert for those who have eaten too much Christmas Pudding and want something which is still festive but is a bit lighter!
Making Fresh Cranberry Sauce is really quick and easy. If you haven’t got any left over, it is a matter of minutes to make it from scratch. It is a great accompaniment to a festive meal – either a traditional turkey dinner or a vegetarian alternative. Even better, it can be used as an ingredient in a range of desserts. I will often have some left over if I have made it as a meal accompaniment and sometimes in the summer I make a batch just to make desserts! You just have to make sure that the sauce has time to cool down before it is used to top your pavlova.
Fruit with flavour – cranberry, rhubarb and gooseberry
I love fruit which have a good balance of sharp and sweet flavour. Often, as with this recipe, they need to cooked to bring out their zingy flavour. In addition cranberries, I think rhubarb and gooseberries are both under-rated. If you share my love of a good old-fashioned sharp and sweet fruit recipe, you might like my Rhubarb Fool, Rhubarb Roulade or Gooseberry and Elderflower Sorbet.
One of the great things about pavlova is that while it has that show-stopping, celebratory vibe, they are actually extremely simple to produce even for inexperienced cooks. It is easy to make the meringue a day in advance and then assembling the pavlova takes a matter of minutes. I make loads of them at Christmas and New Year. In addition to my Cranberry Pavlova, some of my other favourites include Strawberry Pavlova, Rose and Raspberry Pavlova and Lemon Pavlova.