Whether you buy them in the shops or you make them at home, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in the UK without these two typical English recipes: Mince pies and Christmas cake.
Mince pies date back to the 11th century when crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought home with them oriental spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. These three spices were the symbol of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Magi, and were added to mincemeat, which was used to fill large rectangular meat pies. Over the centuries the pies changed shape (from rectangular to round) and got smaller and the filling became a mix of spices and dried fruit soaked in brandy, and put into little pastry cases, covered with a pastry lid.
During Oliver Cromwell’s reign Christmas (considered a pagan holiday) was banned along with pies, that were seen as a forbidden pleasure. Christmas and pies were eventually reintroduced by King Charles II in 1660.
The tradition of mince pies has survived over the centuries and this is the recipe to make them, but before you start making mince pies, you need to get the mincemeat ready!
The ingredients for mincemeat are:
- 250 g raisins,
- 250 g currants,
- 125 g mixed candied peel,
- 2 cooking apples,
- grated peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon,
- 125 g brown sugar,
- 125 g butter,
- ½ teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves,
- 155 ml brandy.
(Makes about 1.5 kg mincemeat)
Once you’ve got all the ingredients you can start: finely chop the raisins, currants and mixed candied peel, and place in a bowl. Chop the apples, melt the butter and add with the lemon and orange peel, brown sugar, spices and brandy to the raisin mixture. Combine well and leave it mellow 3 days before using it. After 3 days you are ready to make mince pies.
For the dough you need:
- 250 g plain flour,
- 1 tablespoon sugar,
- 155 g butter,
- 2 tablespoons water,
- 1 egg yolk.
(Makes 10 mince pies)
In a mixing bowl combine flour and sugar; then rub in the butter, add the egg yolk, water and mix into a firm dough. Wrap it up and refrigerate for 1 hour.
On a floured surface roll pastry to ¼ cm thickness, cut circles (8 cm large) with a cutter: these are for bottom crusts. For top crusts cut the dough into smaller rounds (4 cm large) or star-shaped-tops. Place bottom pastry circles into tins, fill them with a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat and cover with top pastry lids. In the meantime pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
Using a fork pierce the top of your mince pies to allow steam to escape and bake until the pies are a light golden brown. Leave them to cool down and dust with icing sugar if you want.
Christmas cake is an English tradition that started as plum-porridge, but very soon dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture, and afterwards it turned into Christmas pudding. In the 16th century butter, wheat flour and eggs were added.
Richer families that had ovens used to make fruit cakes with marzipan to celebrate Easter, and for Christmas they made a similar cake with dried fruit and spices, that became known as “Christmas cake.”
People usually prepare Christmas cakes in advance: many make them in October or November! Christmas cakes are basically fruit cakes covered with almond paste and icing, but there are many recipes to make them; the following is the most traditional one.
The ingredients are:
- 225 g plain flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- mixed spice
- 30 ml black treacle
- 200 g butter
- 200 g dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla essence
- 4 eggs
- 800 g mixed dried fruit
- 100 g chopped mixed peel
- 150 g glacé cherries
- 100g chopped almonds
- apricot jam
- almond paste
- royal icing
Grease a round or square cake tin and line the base and sides with greased greaseproof paper. Mix together the flour, salt, mixed spice, and add melted butter, sugar, treacle and vanilla essence. Beat in the eggs and fold in all the fruit and almonds (a handy tip 😉 mix the dried fruit and the cherries with a few spoons of flour before adding to the cake mixture…this will stop it from sinking to the bottom of the cake). Turn the mixture into the cake tin and cook in the oven for 3-4 hours at 150°C. Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for at least 15 minutes.
After cooling down I suggest you turn the cake up side down, make some holes with a skewer and pour over brandy. Then wrap the cake in greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin for at least a week.
Later brush the top and sides of the cake with sieved apricot jam. Roll out the almond paste and cut into a circle the same size as the cake, then cover it. Spread the icing all over the cake and decorate while it is still soft. Leave to set.
Now you have the recipes, you are all set to celebrate Xmas!