The Cayman Islands is fortunate to have more than 100 nationalities living within its shores, so in the lead-up to Christmas, the Weekender begins a series featuring Christmas recipes from around the world. We begin with the quintessential British favorite: mince pies.
A British classic: mince pies
The name mince pie might cause some unsuspecting consumers to believe they are eating a savory pie filled with minced meat, but they would be wrong. Mince pies have been a Christmas favorite in Britain for centuries, and made their first appearance in the 17th century in the diary of Samuel Pepys who wrote about them in 1662 and, indeed, in those days they were filled with lots of minced red meat. Fruit began to make an appearance alongside the meat over the years but the purely fruit-filled variety only becoming evident in the 19th century, as well-known cooks such as Mrs. Beeton and Eliza Acton adapted the recipes to suit the tastes of the nation, which was not so keen on the mix of sweet and savory in one pie.
The flavors of Christmas
Nowadays every household in Britain will have a plate of these delicious fruity, pastry-filled morsels out on the table come the big day. Soft and sweet inside with an incredibly dense flavor, filled with a sweet blend of sultanas, raisins, sugar and spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, outside the pastry shell should be crisp and light.
Chef George Fowler at Calypso Grill is a dab hand at creating one of Cayman’s most popular desserts: sticky toffee pudding, and he is equally skilled at knocking up a melt-in-the-mouth batch of mince pies to transcend you all the way back to chilly England. Our recipe calls for mince pies with lids on. Some people might prepare them in an open pie fashion but Chef George includes the extra pastry as he says the balance is then just right between flaky, buttery pastry and the densely sweet filling beneath.
Mince pies start appearing in our supermarkets around November time and there is no denying that makers such as Waitrose and Mr. Kipling do make lovely varieties of mince pie. But there is really no substitute for home baked. Chef George says they are easier on the eye, far more tempting and simply delicious home-made. It is however, best to buy ready-made mincemeat as it is very good and easily available on island.
Ingredients: (enough to make at least 12 mince pies)
1lb all-purpose flour (Chef George swears by a brand called Alberto)
5oz powdered sugar
8oz unsalted butter, cubed
1 tbsp milk, plus a little more for glazing
1 jar ready prepared mincemeat (we chose Robertson’s from Kirk Market)
Cooking spray for greasing
How to make mince pies
Start by preparing the sweet pastry. Chef George recommends using a food mixer as it does the job in record time. First sift the flour, salt and powdered sugar together and then add to the mixing bowl. Add the butter and gently blitz until the mix resembles coarse sand or breadcrumbs with little butter ‘peas’. Add the egg and table spoon of milk and mix until it just comes together. Chef George says it’s very important not to over mix your dough otherwise the resulting pastry will be tough.
Carefully take the pastry out and wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for about an hour and a half. It’s really important to chill your dough otherwise it will be unworkable if it’s too warm. Chef George says you can even make the dough a day ahead and keep it in the fridge overnight, but take it out about 20 minutes before you want to use it.
Once the pastry is chilled, remove from the fridge and cut in half. Flour your work surface liberally to ensure the pastry doesn’t stick. Because of the high proportion of butter to flour and also because of the addition of powdered sugar to the mix, the pastry is very short (i.e. very crumbly) which gives it a lovely flaky texture when cooked, however it does make it a little difficult to work with. Try to handle the pastry as little as possible.
Roll out one half to about a quarter of an inch thick. Grease a 12- muffin (or similar) tray using a cooking oil spray such as Pam and cut circles of pastry out with a pastry cutter to fit to size. The pastry should be large enough to fill the base and the sides of each muffin hole. Once lined with pastry, fill each tart with about a dessert spoon of mincemeat. Be careful not to overfill them otherwise the filling will find its way out of the pie while it’s cooking! As well as the fruit, sugar and spices, mincemeat also contains flecks of white suet, which adds to the overall richness of the dessert.
Roll out the remaining pastry and cut circles slightly smaller than the bases to make lids for your pies. Place lids on the pies, carefully sealing the edges as you go. Poke a small hole in the top of each pie to allow steam to escape during cooking (otherwise you will end up with soggy pastry) and brush with milk to glaze. Some chefs like to glaze with beaten egg but that can sometimes create a hard crust, Chef George says. Besides his grandmother always used milk instead of egg so that’s the way he learned how to glaze.
Cook in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes or until pale and golden on top, by which time your home will be filled with the scent of the spices of Christmas.
Chef George recommends leaving the pies in their tin to cool before removing (if you can possibly wait) and placing on a festively decorative plate. Sprinkle with a dusting of powdered sugar and serve with pouring cream, custard or even a good helping of brandy butter.
And there you have it – a British Christmas tradition on a plate.