This is my take on Heston Blumenthal’s delicious Night Before Christmas mince pies that can be bought in Waitrose.
I am not generally a fan of mince pies and the commercial ones often suffer from being too sweet, dry pastry, bland filling and very little going for them.
However, the Heston ones I bought were delicious: I could have eaten the whole pack! My only criticisms were there was slightly too much caraway that it almost veered on having a slight medicinal flavour and the filling was a touch on the stingy side.
For my version, I gussied up some good quality commercial mincemeat. The carrot and caraway work so well together and these, combined with the fruits in the mincemeat and a little extra splash of brandy, make these particularly special.
I opted for an enriched shortbread rather than the shortcrust pastry that was used in the commercial mince pies: I think shortbread makes for a more luxurious mince pie.
I decided to add the carrot just in the filling and not in the shortbread. The caraway in my recipe is subtle – too much and your tastebuds cry out for help! – but there is just enough to gently pep things up.
I made these mince pies in mini Victoria Sandwich tins to keep them cylindrical but of course they work just as well made in traditional mince pie tins. If using the cylindrical tins, these mince pies look best served upside down to the way they were baked as you then get a perfectly neat finish.
Smoked sugar – an optional flourish!
The commercial version of these mince pies come with a sachet of smoked sugar – delicious! – so I got out the indoor smoker and made my own, which is SO easy.
I smoked granulated sugar in ramekins in the indoor smoker, using cherrywood chips. The sugar was smoked for about 10 minutes over a low heat before leaving to cool in the smoker. This was not hot enough to melt or caramelise the sugar, but enough to impart a delicious smoky aroma and flavour.
Once smoked sugar has cooled, it will keeps well in an airtight jar. You can use it as it is or, as I did here, crush it a little with a pestle and mortar to give more of a light powder.
Recipe: carrot & caraway mince pies – makes 12
- 300g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 200g unsalted butter
- 100g smoked sugar (or use standard caster sugar)
- grated zest of 1 large orange
- juice of a large orange
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
- about 200g mincemeat
- 1 tablespoon ground or even roughly chopped almonds
- 2 tablespoons brandy or dark rum
- grated zest of 1 large orange, optional
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
- a few teaspoons smoked sugar (or use caster sugar or icing sugar)
You will also need mince pie tins or tins of choice, lightly buttered or oiled.
(1) Put the shortbread ingredients into a food processor and pulse gently until it just comes together to a ball. Wrap up and chill for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 140C (fan).
(2) Mix the filling ingredients together. You can do this several days before if you want the flavours to develop further.
(3) Roll out about 2/3 of the dough – this is easiest rolled out between two sheets of greaseproof. Cut out circles of pastry (a bit wider than the base of the tin holes) and pop gently into the tins to give a bit of a rim around the edge of each. Add a teaspoon or so of filling to the centre of each.
(4) Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut out circles. Place on top of the filling and press lightly to seal. Make a cut in the top to allow the steam to escape.
NB: you can make decorative flourishes on top if you prefer but there is no need to do this if using the cylindrical tins as they look perfect simply served upside down, as you then get a perfectly smooth finish.
(5) Bake for about 25-30 minutes (they will be pale golden) and leave in the tin for a few minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool fully, by which point the shortbread will have crisped up beautifully. Serve slightly warm with a generous dusting of the sugar – perhaps with some cream/brandy butter to dollop on!