I make mince pies on December 22nd every year, almost without fail. It’s a silly personal tradition dating back to 1981, when I was doing all the Christmas preparations for my family as usual but I was also going off in the evening to meet school friends for a spot of pre-Christmas under-age drinking in the Tiger’s Head. (I guess you know exactly where I mean, @Chislehurst?). That winter was a snowy one, (remember those?) and huge amounts of fresh snow were falling that day over several centimetres that had been lying there frozen for at least a week. My dad said I was mad to go out but it was on that night that I was asked out on my first ever date by the boy who would become OH. That first date was 34 years ago tomorrow.
So anyway mince pies are my annual foray into shortcrust pastry making and, because I use cheap old tins, they always stick, no matter how good the pastry. I was aways taught “Never grease with pastry,” in cookery lessons at school and it’s been a load of rubbish ever since. I’ve spent so much time every year chipping away at the sad excuse for mince pies that refuse to relinquish their grip on my bun tin that this year I finally hd enough, relented and bought silicon bun tins.
I made this batch from Nigella’s Star Mince Pie recipe in her Domestic Goddess book first. Pastry was always touch and go with me until I stumbled upon her method that requires you to freeze the flour and fat before whizzing it in a food processor and adding orange juice as the liquid. Nigella recommends Trex but I have never really been happy using hydrogenated vegetable oils and I have recently taken to using lard. (I heard a thing on the radio recently about how lard is the new IN THING. Funny how these things come back into fashion after being out in the wilderness for decades.)
Here was my very pleasing first batch:
I’ll say this, though: the silicone does give the pies a slightly soggy bottom, so perhaps I need to bake them for an extra minute our two next time or perforate the bun tin.
So lard works. But it’s not suitable for the vegetarians among my guests. The question is, what does one use to create a tender, flaky pastry without using animal fat or hydrogenated vegetable oils? As you’ll have seen from previous posts this week, I’ve been toying with the idea of using coconut oil, as in the Date and Marmalade Christmas Cake. Thus it was, dear Reader, that I came over all experimental this afternoon.
I did a bit of research and came up with this website by Paula Brook Green and her coconut oil pastry recipe. This recipe is vegetarian but not vegan as it uses eggs to enrich the pastry.
I fought shy this time of using the Nigella method with the coconut oil, and giving all the ingredients a blast in the freezer, mainly because the recipe talks about coconut oil being harder to manipulate than butter, but logically, since it’s made in a food processor anyway, this shouldn’t really be a problem.
Instead I whizzed the coconut oil and the flour in the Magimix and then added the egg yolks, vanilla extract and water, and pulsed the mixture until it came together. The thing to watch with this method is that the fine breadcrumbs don’t actually meld together into a ball like ordinary shortcrust pastry made with butter and shortening would, and I added rather too much water in my attempt to get it to do this. I realised in time, however, and emptied the breadcrumbs out onto my floured work surface to knead them together.
Again I was wary of overworking pastry that cannot get too cold, so I left the pasty out of the fridge wrapped in clingfilm for a while before use to let it rest. In hindsight, I should have used less water and actually refrigerated the pastry ball before rolling it out, as it looked rather sweaty and turned out a little too brittle and not flaky enough for my liking.
A tip here is to roll out the coconut oil pastry on a sheet of cling film that you’ve placed on top of your work surface. Even though my granite is cold, and therefore ideal for pastry making, I felt that the perspiring pastry would have taken up too much flour and been ruined. A silicone rolling pin made this job a lot easier too.
The clingfilm was invaluable in helping me free the delicate cutouts from the rolled-out pastry, as you can see above, and I’ll use this tip again, I’m sure. I can see it being very useful next time I make a suet crust for a steak and kidney pudding.
Anyway, here are the finished vegetarian mincepies, which used Waitose cranberry mincemeat:
I think they too were a little undercooked and the pastry was not as crumbly or flaky as I had hoped. Next time, I’ll try and use Nigella’s freezer method and maybe not add as much water, and see whether that makes the pastry shorter. I’d also not be frightened of resting the pastry in the fridge before rolling it out.
For a first attempt, though, I am pleased. It’s good to be able to experiment with something completely unknown from time to time.
Do they taste of coconut? Only very slightly but I like coconut so this is not a problem for me. I understand that if you use refined coconut oil, this removes the coconut taste completely.
All in all a satisfying afternoon’s work, I’d say.
Boo. I should have been dressed up and at a party tonight with some of my choir members singing carols around their piano. I was going to bake some of Nigella’s sexy brownies with, for the first time ever, the correctly-sized pan.
Instead I woke up this morning feeling that my throat had been coated in razor wire and was slowly closing in on me. I had a fever and a headache too. Get out your tiniest violins.
It was inevitable, really, that I should get a cold this week. Everyone I’ve spoken to this week has been ill and I always succumb to something in the week before Christmas. Originally my singing exam was to be scheduled for tomorrow so let’s be thankful for small mercies. Being ill gave me an excuse to sleep for longer than usual and I managed to finish off my 60-odd Christmas cards. Yes. I know I’ve missed all the last posting deadlines but better late than never.
Having a cold also means that I have an excuse to be pampered with the OH’s special hot toddy. Here is the recipe:
The OH’s special Hot Toddy
4 tsps whisky (roughly)
4 tsps honey
2 tsps lemon juice, freshly squeezed if possible
Fill a heatproof mug half full with boiling water.
Add the honey and stir well. Add the lemon juice and top up with filtered water. Adjust sourness, alcohol level, sweetness, hotness to taste. Drink while hot. Sleep.
I am very, very pleased to have reinstated my Abel & Cole organic boxes but one has to be organised and often I’m not. This often results in a surfeit of fruit or veg. This week I managed to cancel the fruit before the deadline so I ended up with loads of beetroots to add to the loads of beetroots and good intentions already in my fridge.
The remedy for excess veg is always soup of course, but I’ve never made beetroot soup so I appealed to Twitter for help and who responded immediately to my appeal but the great @SteveDoherty1, who instructed me to make not soup but cake and directed me to this website. for a recipe.
I’ve never made a vegetable cake before so I was a little cautious at first but my first step was to cook the beetroot in my steam oven this morning. Mopping up can be a little messy:
A judicious whizz in the Magimix later and I came up with this mixture that resembled a berry smoothie:
Then 50 minutes at 180C on the Intensive Bake programme and voici:
What can I say? The cake is rich but light and I’ll use the rest of the cooked beetroot in salmon en croute. Fabulous.
Much as I love my new slate kitchen floor, it took me well over an hour to vacuum and then steam mop it yesterday, and I had to admit that my new steam vacuum cleaner probably isn’t up to the task in its vastness. Best keep that for the bathroom floors then.
Long story short, I now find myself the proud owner of a George, the big brother of the famous Henry. Searching the Numatic website yesterday, I was somewhat dismayed to find a whole vacuum cleaner family: James, Charles, Henry, George and Hettie, who is, of course, pink. Here I shall pause for a massive eyeroll and link to the Pink Stinks website.
Here is George, a bells and whistles wet and dry machine.
One reviewer related how he just sloshed a bucket of water over his floor and mopped it all up with his George but I think we shall be more refined than that and actually use the brush/squeegee attachment. With any luck we’ll finally remove the lingering paint dust from our grout inside and outside.
I’m not really looking forward to explaining to my cleaning lady exactly how it all works: there are so many bits and pieces and it all looks very complicated. Luckily I found a very good video on You Tube although I do wonder about what motivates someone to spend the best part of an hour demonstrating a vacuum cleaner and filming it. I’m glad he did though: the Numatic instructions are rudimentary.
Now, I have always enjoyed spending Sunday afternoons baking. My post last week seems to have prompted an epidemic of cookie baking so these are for you @Annette1Hardy and @LesleyJ28.
The chocolate chip cookies follow the recipe I used before and I cooked them for 17 minutes but the puritanical, at times orthorexic OH is ostentatiously dismissive of anything as self-indulgent as chocolate, so I tried to make apple and ginger cookies for him.
Unfortunately the extra water in the apple made the cookie dough mixture a little too wet and loose so next time I’d probably add more flour and bake them for a couple of minutes longer. I used crystallised ginger, too, which seems to have stuck to the baking sheet a bit, so I’m glad that I used silicone Magic Liner on my baking sheets. Incidentally I’m finding my new double-handled baking sheets very much more user friendly than the ones that have handles on only on side.
I have never baked cookies before this week. Part of it is because I still have that quote from Hillary Clinton in the back of my mind, when she, rather dismissively, said that she was not the type of woman to stay at home and bake cookies. In my mind I’ve always been rather more Hillary than me, so not baking cookies was an outward expression of my thwarted ambition. Thank heavens, then, for Nigella and her ironically-titled Domestic Goddess book which still invites comment when I tell people how it is my favourite cookery book. Even having heard of it seems to be a cause for raised eyebrows from men who think they’re being funny.
The point of the title, of the book, is that no-one has to make a pudding, a cake, cookies but the sheer satisfaction of having produced something so luscious and homemade far outweighs the skill and effort required. Plus you have the whole warm, fragrant kitchen on a Sunday afternoon thing, which I love so much.
Another huge plus of baking one’s own cakes and biscuits, in my view, is that I know exactly what’s going into them. I have pursued my one-woman boycott of orang-utan-murdering, rainforest-destroying palm oil for years. It’s not easy to avoid because palm oil is an ingredient in so many things. It does seem to add taste and texture to biscuits and cakes, and it’s cheap, which is why it’s so widely used. But to establish palm oil plantations in South East Asia, they are cutting down huge areas of rainforest, the habitat for all sorts of endangered species.
I tried to explain my reasons to someone in a shop recently and she looked at me through dead eyes. It was much the same story as when I used to explain to greengrocers the reasons why I refused to buy South African fruit. First they laugh at you… Let us, for the time being, draw a discreet veil over the provenance of industrially-produced butter and the dairy industry. I’ll no doubt get to that another day.