Mince pie was on the table of the nobility in medieval times. The filling mixed fruits, spices, brandy, suet, and meat (or sometimes even fish), with beef, veal, or ox tongue the most common choices. The pie made an appearance at every major special occasion but was increasingly favored at Christmas. Then, with the arrival of Puritan rule in 1640s, mince pies were banished along with other festive foods, returning to the table in 1660 with the restoration of the monarchy. By this time, the large pies of the Middle Ages had been replaced by smaller ones in a variety
During the nineteenth century, the pies were made with shortcrust or puff pastry or with a mix: the base was shortcrust and the top was puff pastry. Mrs. Beeton’s Book
of Household Management gives recipes for mincemeat with and without meat. By the twentieth century, however, the filling no longer included meat, and the pies were firmly established Christmas tradition.
Mrs. Patmore would have learned to make them the Victorian way, however, with just enough meat to provide a subtle note of flavor. Both options are included here in this recipe adapted from Mrs. Beeton’s.
Downton’s Mince Pies
This lovely mince tart recipe comes from the Official Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook.
FOR THE MINCEMEAT
- 1 large lemon
- 1 large cooking apple (cored, peeled, and chopped)
- 1 tsp. unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar (firmly packed )
- 1 1/4 cups suet (shredded )
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup currants (dried )
- 1 oz. candied citrus peel (finely chopped)
- 5 tbsp. brandy
- 2 tsp. orange marmalade
FOR THE SWEET FILLING
- 1 3/4 cups mincemeat
- FOR THE SWEET FILLING WITH MEAT
- 1 1/2 cups mincemeat
- Unsalted butter (for frying)
- 2 oz. coarsely ground or finely chopped lamb or mutton
FOR THE PASTRY
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 3/4 cups flour (plus more for the work surface and the pans)
- 1/3 cup icing sugar
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. cold butter (cut into cubes,)
- 1 tbsp. butter (room temperature to grease pans)
- 2 tbsp. ice-cold water
- 2 egg yolks (lightly beaten)
- I egg yolk beaten
- I tbsp. whole milk
MAKE THE MINCEMEAT
- To make the mincemeat, grate the zest from the lemon into a small bowl. Halve the lemon and squeeze the juice into the bowl with the zest. In a small saucepan, combine the lemon flesh with water to cover, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil until tender, 5-7 minutes. At the same time, in a second small saucepan, combine the apple and butter over medium heat and stew the apple, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 8 minutes.
- Remove the lemon and apple from the heat and let cool.
- Finely chop together the cooked apple and lemon flesh until reduced to a pulp. Scoop into a bowl, add the lemon zest and juice, sugar, suet, raisins, currants, citrus peel, brandy, and marmalade and mix well. You should have about 30 oz (880 g).
- Spoon the mincemeat into sterilized jars (two l-pint/475-ml jars should hold it), cap, and, if possible, refrigerate for 10 days before using. It will mature in flavor as it sits.
MAKE THE PASTRY
- To make the pastry, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and, using your fingers, rub in the butter until the mixture is the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the water and egg yolks and mix with a fork until the mixture forms a rough mass.
- Knead on a lightly floured surface just until the dough is smooth, then pat into a ball, wrap in
- plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
GET THE FILLING READY
- While the pastry rests, ready the filling. If using the sweet filling, use the mincemeat straight from the jar. If using the sweet filling with meat, scoop the mincemeat into a bowl. In a small frying pan, melt a little butter over medium heat, add the lamb, and cook, stirring, just until cooked, 5-8 minutes. Do not allow to brown.
- Let cool, then add to the mincemeat and mix well.
ASSEMBLE THE PIES
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Using two 12-well tartlet pans with wells about 2 1/2 inches in diameter at the top and 1/2 inch deep. Butter 18 wells. Dust lightly with flour.
- Cut off one-third of the pastry. rewrap the smaller piece. and refrigerate. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the remaining dough about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-inch round pastry cutter, cut out as many rounds as possible. Transfer the rounds to the prepared tartlet wells, pressing them onto the bottom and up the sides. Gather up the pastry scraps. reroll, and cut out more rounds as needed to fill 18 wells total.
- Prick the bottom of each pastry shell three times with a fork.
- To make lids for the pies. roll out the remaining dough about 1/8 inch thick. Choose a cutter in the shape you like and about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Stars are traditional, though Mrs. Patmore would have probably used rounds. Cut out the lids, rerolling the scraps as needed to make 18 lids.
- Divide the filling evenly among the pastry shells and press down gently. Top with the lids. If using stars or another shape. no need to crimp. If using rounds. cut a small hole in the center. then crimp the lid to the rim. Brush the lids and rim with the egg wash.
- Bake the pies until the pastry is golden brown, 20-25 minutes. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for at least 5 minutes, then serve warm or at room temperature. Use the tip of a small knife to ease the pies out of the pans.