Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Frangipane-topped mince pies

I love mince pies and so, it transpired this week , does my one-year old nephew George. I am not surprised; this child was born to be a gourmand. He sports round, rosy cheeks and enjoys a polo-neck most days, pootling around somewhat unsteadily on his feet; channelling the Eighties food-critic vibe perfectly.

Although we share the mince-pie love, Master G and I approach them in different ways; I like mine warm (if the mincemeat even makes it out of the jar uneaten) whereas he enjoys rubbing the pie between his hands to extract the currants before plucking them out daintily (an amuse-bouche, if you will) and poking the lot in the general direction of his mouth. Either way, we all agree that a baby that smells of mincemeat at Christmas will be happily passed around from person to person. Better than smelling of something else.

George’s first mince pie was of the very highest calibre – made by the BSG’s mum just that morning and an hour off the cooling rack. As he crammed it in I asked his parents, casually, if he had a nut allergy. Thankfully not. The addition of a surprise almond either on top or inside each pie is magic, and the frangipane such a good foil to the rest of the pie that I am not sure there’s any going back for me; they are quite simply my favourite version yet. Ma BSG’s is a closely guarded secret recipe but I managed to cobble one together for you. Try them on Christmas Eve perhaps, with the radio up loud, just before you all settle down for The Snowman

Happy Christmas all!  

Frangipane pimped-up pies

The quantities below really depend on how you like your pies. I like mine with a crisp thin base, to contrast with their soft top. You can do them thicker, add more brandy/frangipane..whatever.

1 pack (750g) ready-rolled puff pastry
Large jar of good mincemeat
100g unsalted butter
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
20g plain flour
1 large egg
2 tbsp brandy
Handful of chopped dried cranberries
Zest of half an orange
Whole blanched almonds

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Grease two 12-hole tart tins (or if you happen to have a tin with smaller holes you can make – and eat - many more).
Roll out the pastry sheet very thinly and cut 24 rounds of pastry to line the tins with. Leave the pastry bases to rest in the tins in the fridge while you make the frangipane.
Beat the butter until soft. Beat in the sugar until pale and fluffy and then beat in the egg. Mix in the flour and ground almonds.
Mix the brandy, chopped cranberries and orange zest with the mincemeat in a bowl. Half fill the pastry cases with mincemeat and then spoon a heaped teaspoon of frangipane over the top over each one. Smooth it over and press in an almond.
Bake for about 20 – 25 mins until golden brown.

Try not to eat the lot before they cool down. And leave a couple for Father Christmas….

Friday, 7 December 2012

Leckerli/l├Ąckerli. Luckily.

I sat damp November out, ignoring the premature strains of The Pogues and tried not to get too overexcited by the red cups at Starbucks as I waited for December and its promise of legitimate Advent thrills. I am now daydreaming of sprouts, bread sauce and mince pies, happy in the tangerine promise of Christmas to come.

A timely foodstuff has floated into my day-dreamy place: a Swiss biscuit called Leckerli. These little Christmas helpers are sure to see me through Advent. A friend recently proffered these in the office, in a crisp white paper bag all the way from Basel, Switzerland, where they are a speciality.

Immediately hooked, I scoured the Internet and have located a recipe from Stephen Jackson, correspondent at the Huddersfield Examiner. Writing about these spicy treats, he strikes just the right note, having been familiar with them from childhood. I wish I had been too – I will be making up for those lost Christmases.

Here is the link to his recipe. The mixture came out a bit dry so I used the clods that looked mixed and pressed them into a tin… though I did use the wrong sugar so perhaps that was the problem. Not entirely sure what to do with the almonds, I added them in with the flour, but again, perhaps there’s a bit too much dry stuff here to make it work. I didn’t have Kirsch so I used brandy in the mix, which was pretty good too and I left off the glaze for fear of losing all my teeth.

There was doubt as the sawdust-like dough went into the oven but when the biscuit emerged it was (and still is)  dense and chewy, and tastes of Christmas, if rather ugly (as if Father Christmas sat on a packet of mince pies). If you want neat squares, cut the slab while it’s still warm or face a losing battle; you could build houses with this stuff. Or just break it up.

I will try this recipe again, and perhaps another one translated from the many US versions around,  just to make sure I’m on the right snowy track… See this as phase 1.