Lorraine Godsmark is upset. For the first time in 15 years she will not be selling her fruit mince tarts at Christmas. "With COVID, I just haven't had the staff and time to make them," says the baker-in-chief of Lorraine's Patisserie in the CBD.
"I feel terrible, because a lot of people have been buying mince tarts from us for years, but the process to make them begins in June when navel oranges and lemons are their best to be candied. By November, we're cleaning fresh beef suet to add to them, which is a pain but makes the end result really moist.
"Real fruit mince tarts take a lot of time and care. If I'm going to make them, I'm going to make them properly."
Godsmark expects Lorraine's Patisserie will sell a lot of her famous strawberry mascarpone cake and cheesecakes over December instead.
"We put little fresh red currants and European Christmas decorations on them. I find people are increasingly ordering lighter desserts for Christmas Day than mince pies and pudding."
Regardless of a shift towards more climate appropriate sweets, fruit mince tarts (or pies, if you will) are still big business for Sydney bakeries in December.
"Our fruit mince pie is the most popular Christmas product," says Victor Li, co-owner of Flour Drum cafe and bakery in Newtown. "We've already had a massive amount of mince pie orders and we haven't even started advertising them yet."
The process of making Flour Drum's mince pies began in 2019 with a mixture including raisins, currants, dried figs, cherries and medieval spices marinated in brandy for a year.
"When you buy pies from the supermarket, they have often just been made or manufactured to sit in storage," says Li. "The flavours haven't combined so all you taste is sultanas, fruit and other bits and pieces. When you marinate fruit mince for a long period of time, it allows flavours to combine and become something special."
Phillippa Grogan is one of Australia's most successful bakers, and her eponymous line of Christmas treats is now available nationally. She says freshly ground spice (something the supermarket tarts don't have) is essential for a good mince pie.
"That way the spice retains its essential oils and you don't risk getting spice cut with nut shells and the like."
Meanwhile, Godsmark suggests adding grated apple to a mince pie mix. "That's a little secret if you're making your own, but add the apple at the point of baking, not while you're aging it, otherwise it will sour."
Grogan likes to serve mince pies with Rutherglen muscat and a slice of stilton or cheddar, similar to the Lancashire cheese eaten with currant-filled Eccles cakes in England.
"You can also stir crushed mince tarts through good commercial or home-made ice-cream," she says. "If it's a hot day, that works really well. Some tarts will have a star crown, which I like to reserve and place on top of the ice-cream for decoration."
A half-dozen of the best mince pies in Sydney
Berkelo 18A Whistler Street, Manly
Secret spices enhance Murray River Organics fruit for the mince tarts at Manly's most fermentation loving bakery, while Gunnedah's Wholegrain Milling supplies organic spelt flour for a robust and buttery pastry. Also available at Berkelo's Brookvale, Mosman and Mona Vale stores, and set to appear at farmers' markets including Carriageworks closer to Christmas.
$3.50 each, berkelo.com.au
Brickfields 206 Cleveland Street, Chippendale
Simon Cacio says he will be filling little pastries until Christmas Eve to make sure Brickfield's Marrickville and Chippendale stores are piled high with his treacly, stout-supercharged mince tarts. "We're on the same block as Batch Brewing in Marrickville, so we keep things local by using their Elsie Milk Stout."
$4 each or six for $17.90, brickfields.com.au
Feather and Bone 8/10-14 Lilian Fowler Place, Marrickville
Sydney's ethical butchery is taking mince pies back to their medieval roots this Christmas. Available from December 9, Feather and Bone's Christmas tarts star dried fruit, citrus peel and a good lug of spirits, plus beef mince and suet in a similar fashion to the treats served when Henry V was causing a ruckus with France.
Six for $38, featherandbone.com.au
Flour and Stone Annexe 43 Riley Street, Woolloomooloo
There's no secret fruit mince recipes at Nadine Ingram's lauded bakery, where apple and rhubarb tarts hum with vanilla paste, stem ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and other heady spices that smell like Christmas.
$4.50 each or six for $25, flourandstone.com.au
Flour Drum 531 King Street, Newtown
"This year's mince pies are the best we've ever made," says Victor Li. "Previously, we have marinated the fruit for nine months, but this Christmas it has been given a full year. I tried one yesterday and that extra three months adds another level of flavour."
$4.50 each or six for $24, flourdrum.com.au
Phillippa's various locations
Made in Melbourne, yes, but Phillippa Grogran's baked goods are becoming increasingly available in Sydney stores such as McMahons Point Grocer and La Frutteria Double Bay. They're also bloody good. Her six-spice mix includes cinnamon and cardamom, giving an aromatic punch to organic fruit and candied orange peel cupped in a rich shortcrust pastry.
Six for $17.90, phillippas.com.au
With Richard Cornish