Once upon a time, English mince pies did contain minced meat. Nowadays, the meat has disappeared and the fillings are complex mixtures of dried and fresh fruits, sometimes nuts, usually highly spiced and rather alcoholic. The only legacy of the meat is that beef suet is often an ingredient. These miniature pies have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century. I include grated beef suet in my mincemeat as nothing else gives such a rich gloss and succulent texture. Those who find the idea repellent can substitute butter, I suppose, or simply leave it out.
240g plain flour
180g unsalted butter
60ml cold water
1 egg yolk
1 pinch salt
mincemeat for filling (see recipe here)
1. Process flour, salt and butter until the mixture is like biscuit crumbs. Add water and give one or two pulses until the dough comes together. Tip on to the bench, knead quickly to make a cohesive ball of dough, flatten it into a disc, wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour.
2. Roll out on a floured surface. Cut out rounds for the bottoms and smaller rounds for the tops of the pies. Allow extra diameter to allow a little shrinkage. Chill shapes for 20 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 200C.
4. Line a tartlet tin with the bases. Fill generously with mincemeat. Brush edges of the pies with a little water, cover with tops and pinch edges to seal firmly. Make a small slit in the centre for steam to escape and brush the pie surface with the yolk whisked with the salt.
5. Place pies in the oven and after 10 minutes lower the temperature to 180C. Bake for a further 20-25 minutes until a rich golden brown. Slip the pies from the tins and cool on a cake rack. When completely cold, store in an air-tight cake tin.
Note: I use an all-purpose shortcrust pastry for my pies, although many cooks may prefer to use a sweet shortcrust.