I’ve always had it in my head that I didn’t really like Christmas. I’ve found the family politics a little difficult, the commercial aspect hard to swallow and the expectations high to make this one day have a magic to it that it didn’t live up to.
Yes, it’s nice to see family and to spend time with friends, and I love that summer is coming on strong, but I was focusing my dislikes on this one particular day and it tainted the lead up to it.
Then my lovely colleague, Eliza, said something very simple, at obviously just the right moment, and ‘twas a Christmas miracle. As she zoomed around the office in a chair with her impromptu cape flying, she said: “don’t think of the day itself, but the build up to it.”
For her, Christmas is about focusing on catching up and having fun with her favourite people, celebrating with good food, thinking of others and loving that people are, on the most part, trying their best to be lovely, warm, caring human beings – for an entire month!
And it just clicked. It is a pretty great time of year – I just had my focus on the negative side of the season and had never realised it. Twinkling lights shine, the sun is out (usually) and warming our days and people are busy but really trying to show they care, doing small acts of kindness and just celebrating life.
So I have celebrated my Christmas conversion by making one of the things I had always looked forward to at Christmas: fruit mince pies (well, except when I found out many of them use suet (animal fat) in their pastry, so make sure you check labels if you’re buying any).
I hope you, my dear reader, are having a fun month so far with lots of laughs, genuine celebrations and good cheer. Have a wonderful Christmas season and thank you so much for supporting me this year.
fruit mince pies
This fruit mince recipe is an adaptation of one I found online on the Delicious website: I’ve halved the sugar, changed the fruit mix, replaced the butter with macadamia nut oil and was more liberal with the brandy.
Making these may seem time consuming, but it took me about 20 minutes to assemble the fruit mince (two days before) and just over 90 minutes to make the pastry and assemble the pies (this includes the 30 minute waiting time). I found it fun and it was nice to give my friends homemade pies that were made with love.
I’ve included two options for the pastry – a vegan and a vegetarian version. The coconut-oil pastry is a little fiddlier to handle and may need some repair work done in tin. Also, it won’t last as long as the butter version, as it starts to go soft after three days or so – but that just means they should be eaten quicker… damn! Both pastry recipes are from Jude Blereau’s Wholefood Baking.
You will need some biscuit cutters and a special tray to make these – either a dedicated fruit mince pie tray or small pie tray that has a shallow dip and measures around 6 cm (2.4 inches) across (though it’s always fun to improvise). For a tin this size, use a 7cm (2.8 inch) round cutter for the base and a 6 cm (2.4 inch) round or a 5cm (2 inch) or 6cm (2.4 inch) star for the top.
1 cup sultanas
¼ cup currants
¼ cup mixed peel
½ cup dried nectarines*
⅓ cup finely chopped almonds
1 apple, finely grated (preferably Granny Smith)
½ cup unrefined brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
40ml macadamia nut oil
3 tbsp brandy
3 tsp grated lemon rind
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- to a bowl, add the dried fruit, chopping any large fruits into small pieces roughly the same size as the sultanas (or smaller)
- add the almonds, sugar, spices and stir in well so it coats the fruit
- then add the apple, oil, brandy, lemon juice and rind, mixing after each addition
- cover and leave to macerate for at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
*The choice of dried fruits is completely up to you. As long as you make it up to 2 cups in total: pears, peaches, figs, raisins, prunes, dates etc. are all good options to add to sultanas and currants. I’m a fan of mixed peel, but you can replace this too with another fruit.
to assemble the pies
- follow the instructions for one of the pastry recipes below
- grease (rub with butter or coconut oil) and lightly flour your pie tray and set the oven at 180°C/350°F
- once you’ve rolled out the pastry, it’s time to make the shapes. Using your 7cm round cutter, press firmly into the dough and then slide a butter knife gently under the rounds to remove them and place them in the bottom of the tray. You will have to repeat this process a few times – reforming the scraps into a ball and rerolling them out. If the pastry starts to feels soft, place in the fridge or freezer to firm up for 5 or so minutes
- if the coconut pastry breaks up a little, just press it together so there are no holes, or use an extra bit of pastry to patch it up
- once you have your bottom pieces prepared, use a teaspoon to place the fruit mince into the pies, filling them so they’re not overflowing or raised too high
- roll out more pastry and cut out your tops – I used half stars and half rounds. Press them gently onto the top of the pies, pressing down the edges of the rounds but not sealing them. With the stars, just drape them over
- if you want to, you can brush the vegetarian versions with the leftover egg white – this will make them glisten, but you should check on them more often as they are more prone to burning slightly
- place in the oven, using the cooking times that I’ve indicated in the recipes below.
They taste best shared with friends or with a relaxing cup of tea. Enjoy!
vegetarian pastry ingredients
160g unsalted butter, softened
40g rapadura or raw caster sugar
1 egg yolk
½ tsp natural vanilla extract OR rind of 1 orange
1 ¼ cups unbleached white spelt flour
pinch of fine sea salt
1-1½ tbsp ice-cold water
- in a large bowl, use an electric beater to beat the butter and sugar together until creamy
- add the egg yolk and vanilla OR orange rind and beat until well combined
- with a wooden spoon or pastry cutter*, add the salt and half of the flour and cut it into the butter mix until it is roughly sticking to the butter. Add the next half and do the same
- using your hands – the fun bit – work the flour into the butter, adding 1 tbsp of the ice-water to help it work into a smooth ball. It should be firm but not hard, soft but not moist. Add more water if needed
- press into a ball and flatten. Cover well and refrigerate for 30 minutes
- remove pastry and on a lightly floured chopping board, use a rolling pin (or brandy bottle as I did) to roll the pastry to about a 3mm thickness. If it’s easier, you can break the dough in half and roll the two sections separately
- once you’ve assembled the pies (see above instructions), cook for 30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes then every 5 minutes after that to make sure they aren’t overcooking
- once ready, remove from the oven and let sit in the tray for 5 minutes to settle. Then gently transfer them to a wire wrack to cool – I used a spoon to help dislodge them. They will last 7-10 days in an airtight container.
Makes around 15 pies
* If you have one, you can use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment to do all the steps above
vegan pastry ingredients
100g unbleached white spelt flour
100g wholemeal spelt flour
¼ tsp baking powder
a small pinch of fine sea salt
100g of lightly roasted almonds (skins on) or hazelnuts (skins removed), finely ground
90ml maple syrup
90ml coconut oil (in liquid state)
2 tsp vanilla extract OR rind of 1 orange
- place the flours, baking powder, salt and ground nuts in a bowl and mix together
- place the maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla OR orange rind in a bowl and whisk together
- add the coconut oil mix to the dry ingredients and stir well until it comes together. Flatten into a disc, cover with plastic and chill for 30 minutes
- take the pastry from the fridge and leave for 10 minutes – it should be a little soft, as coconut oil is hard to roll when too cold and will crumble
- roll the pastry between two sheets of baking paper. As the pastry becomes bigger, it will stick to the paper. Lift the paper off and then replace it – this breaks its seal so it won’t stick. Gently turn the whole thing over (paper and all) and then repeat this process a few times until the pastry is rolled to about a 3mm thickness
- peel off the top layer of paper and cut out the round shapes, as indicated above in the assembly instructions
- bake for 15-18 minutes, or until lightly golden and dry
- remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes (any longer and the pastry can stick). Then gently place on a wire rack to cool completely – I used a spoon to help dislodge them.
- once ready, remove from the oven and let sit in the tray for 5 minutes to settle. Then transfer them to a wire wrack to cool. They will last around 3-4 days in an airtight container.
Makes around 15 pies