Mince pies

Mince pies are not part of my native culture, and I didn’t like them for a long time after moving to London, but since I started making these (to keep my husband happy) I have grown to like them. I think this recipe is a really good mince pie recipe. Making the mince requires you to be somewhat organized, as you want to leave it for a few weeks, before using it for the actual pies.

Mince
225g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped/grated
110g sultanas
60g currants
60g dried cranberries
175g raisins
110g mixed candied peel
4 tbsp dark rum, whiskey or brandy
25g finely chopped blanched almonds
1 large orange, finely grated zest and juice
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
110g shredded suet
175g dark muscovado sugar

Rum butter
125g butter, room temperature
50g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp dark rum, whisky or brandy

Pastry
450g plain flour
180g butter, chilled and diced
50g lard, chilled and diced
finely grated zest of  1 orange
5-6 tbsp orange juice

Mince
1. Combine all mince ingredients apart from the muscovado and suet. Cook in a saucepan over low heat for 45 – 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has plumped up, the apples have broken down and excess liquid has evaporated.

2. Set aside to cool, then mix in the muscovado and suet. For adults version, I also tend to add some more alcohol at this stage (3 tbsp), as the cooking has burned all alcohol off.

3. Put in sterilized jars, and mature for 3-4 weeks.

Rum butter
Whisk the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then gradually beat in the rum, and set aside in the fridge.

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Pastry
1. Put the flour, butter and lard, as well as a pinch of salt, into a food processor. Whizz briefly until it looks like breadcrumbs.

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2. Add the orange zest and juice, and whizz again.

3. Turn onto floured surface, and knead briefly, until smooth. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes.

The pies
1. Preheat oven to 190°C / 375°F.

2. Grease the baking tins with butter. Roll the dough to about 5mm thickness. I tend to cut out circles with two glasses. The bigger one for the ‘body’ of the pies, and the smaller for the lids of the pies. Place the bigger circles in the greased baking tins, forming the bottom and sides of the pie. fill with the mince mixture, and put a teaspoon of the rum butter on top. Then place the lid over, pressing the edges together with the edges of the other dough.

3. Make few punctures with a sharp knife, and brush with beaten egg, then bake for 20 minutes.

Fig crumble

Both my husband and I love figs, so it was a no brainer for me to use them for my crumble when I wanted a change to the usual apple or rhubarb options. I also thought it might be fun to make individual pots, rather than one large crumble. I think the individual pots also ‘smarten’ them us, and are a perfect way of serving this kind of food if you’re hosting a dinner party. I serve my crumbles with thick custard, and personally I think my recipe still makes the best custard I’ve ever had (click here for recipe).

makes 4
12 figs
4 tsp caster sugar
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75g self- raising or plain flour
50g butter (+ a small piece to butter the cooking dish / pots)
25g light brown muscovado sugar
25g chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 355°F (fan).

2. Cut the figs into bite-size pieces. It think cutting them into quarters lengthwise, and then halving all those pieces make them perfect size. Place the pieces into buttered individual pots, or a larger dish if making one, bigger size. Sprinkle over the caster sugar.

3. Make the crumble topping. Self-raising flour will give you more puffy topping, and plain flour a more crumbly one. Place the flour, butter and muscovado sugar together, and massage together with your hands, until it’s all mixed together and a crumbly texture.

4. Cover the figs with the crumble topping mixture.

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5. Chop the walnuts, and sprinkle on top of the crumble.

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6. Bake for 30 minutes.

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Pineapple and almond cake

I had added a whole pineapple on our food shopping delivery, thinking I would use it for a fruit salad. My husband, however, set me on a different kind of challenge when he asked if I could make a pineapple cake, pineapple granita and a pineapple ice-cream (yes, all from the one fruit!). The juicy pineapple makes this cake very moist and wonderful, and it’s very fluffy and light. I added some Amaretto for a super moist result. The amount I’ve used only gives a slight taste, if you want to make a boozy cake add more.

250g butter
2 dl caster sugar
4 eggs
4 1/2 dl plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 dl chopped almond
1/2 pineapple (about 3-4 dl once chopped to small pieces)
3 tbsp Amaretto (optional)

1. Prepare the pineapple, and chop to small pieces. Measure the dry ingredients together.

2. Whisk the butter and sugar together on high speed, until fluffy.

3. Add the eggs, one by one, whisking thoroughly on high speed.

4. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the pineapple pieces.

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5. Pour the mixture into your baking tin. I use a silicone one, so I don’t need to butter it, however if you use a non-silicone one you may want to butter and coat it with flour first.

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6. Bake in a preheated oven 170°C / 340°F for 1 hour.

7. If using the Amaretto, once out of the oven let cool for 10 minutes. Prick the cake all over with a needle, and pour the liquid all over the cake. Wait for about 30-60 minutes before serving.

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Thick vanilla custard

I was never that keen on custard in the past, when my experience was from pub desserts with this sauce. My husband was sometimes requesting this, so I finally decided to have a go. The first time I made it, I was amazed at how good it was! None of that tasteless from a packet stuff, but oh so wonderful, proper, creamy custard. This is still to date the best custard I’ve ever tasted, and I also use it for my trifle. I would strongly recommend this for anyone wanting a nice, thick custard. And it’s really easy to make too. Perfect accompaniment with your Christmas pudding, apple pie or rhubarb crumble, or whatever else is your favourite.

300ml double cream

3 egg yolks

2 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp potato or corn flour (any starchy flour for thickening)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Heat the cream in a pan until steaming, but not boiling. If you don’t stir it during this time, you will get a skin on top you will want to remove. I tend to stir the cream during heating.

2. While the cream is warming, mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl.

3. Pour the cream onto the eggs on a thin strip, stirring continuously as you pour. Then pour the whole mixture back into the pan.

4. Over medium heat, stir until the mixture thickens (5-10 minutes). I don’t usually get lumps, but if this happens, the custard can be passed through a sieve.

Then it’s time to enjoy the best vanilla custard to date!

Poached pear with vanilla and mascarpone mousse

I’ve not really used pears in cooking much, but was recently inspired to have a go. I spent a long time looking at various recipes, and in the end combined a few. This dessert is perfect for this time of the year, with winter spices of cardamom and cinnamon. After poaching the pears the red wine mixture gets reduced to syrupy wonderfulness. I also think vanilla is better used in the mascarpone mousse, rather that the red wine jus. It’s pretty simple to make, and I’m pleased I made this, as I’ll for sure be making this again.

4-6 pears
1 bottle (750ml) of red wine (I used Merlot)
3 cardamom pods, bruised (place knife flat on the pod, and hit with your hand)
1 cinnamon stick
200g caster sugar
1 lemon, grated zest and juice
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1/2 dl caster sugar
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250g mascarpone cheese
4 egg whites
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod

1. Peel the pears. Cut the bottoms off, and core them. (I forgot to peel them first, but it will be easier if you do it first).

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2. Put the prepared pears in a pot, together with the cinnamon, cardamom, lemon zest (save the juice for later), sugar and red wine. Bring to boil, and simmer, covered, for 20-30 minutes, until soft.

3. Remove the pears, and boil the liquid,  uncovered, to reduce. During the boiling add the lemon juice and 1 tbsp of sugar. Reduce at least until half the original volume, the more you reduce the more syrupy and thicker it will be.

4. Whisk the egg whites and sugar until stiff foam. Cut the vanilla pod lengthwise in half. With a sharp knife, remove the seeds from inside both halves. Mix the seeds thoroughly with the mascarpone cheese, and add the whisked egg whites, little by little, carefully folding  together with the mascarpone.

5. Pour the red wine reduction through a sieve. Put the pear and mousse on a plate or a bowl, and spoon some of the sauce over the pear.

Dark chocolate mousse with pistachio crumb

I’m not sure why I don’t make this decadent dessert more often (my husband agrees!), as it only requires a few ingredients. You do need to get certain things right when making it or it might fail, but I still think it’s simple enough to make easily. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream to soothe the bitterness of the chocolate and add pistachio crumb for some crunch and texture. It’s very rich, so you won’t need big portion sizes.

serves 6-8
120g dark chocolate (I used 70%)
4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/2 dl caster sugar
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handful of pistachios, crushed
whipped cream

1. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together into a thick foam.

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2. Gently melt the chocolate in a bain marie (water bath), stirring with a wooden spoon. Once the chocolate is all melted and smooth, remove from the bain marie and let cool for 3 minutes. Pour the yolks into the chocolate, stirring. The mixture will become stiff at this stage.

3. Little by little, add spoonfuls of the egg white foam, folding together with the chocolate mixture. Try not to mix too hard, just gently fold them together, as hard mixing may ‘kill’ the foamy texture required for the mousse. The colour of the mousse will become lighter as you go along.

4. Put the mousse in ramekins, cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for few hours to allow the mousse to set.

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