Family Christmas Tradition: Fruit Mince Pies

Every family has one.  The one food that is always on the table at Christmas time.  It can be anything from your grandma’s casserole to your uncle’s glazed ham.  At my in-law’s house, it’s fruit mince pies.  Janet, my mum-in-law, makes hundreds of these tiny flaky, sweet pies every December to give to neighbours, team mates and friends.  There’s always a tray of these on the counter or coffee table on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and they’re pretty much all gone by the end of the day.

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Jan emigrated with her family from England to Australia when she was 14.  Her mum made these pies, and as far as we know, her mum’s mum made these too.  We don’t actually know how old the recipe as it’s never actually been written down, but I think it’s safe to assume it’s at least 100 years old.

I’ve watched Jan make these pies before and thought I had written the recipe correctly and had been making these correctly for the last couple of years.  I realised while filming Jan make these that I was doing quite a few things wrong!  So even I will be watching this video a few times when I make my next few batches!

Here’s my video on how to make these delicious pies.

There are few tips and tricks Jan told me while off camera that you should bear in mind while making these delicious little concoctions:

  • Never make the dough ahead of time.  You always want to make it fresh, and it’s easier to roll when made fresh.
  • Always use very cold lard and ice water.  The colder the lard, the flakier the pastry.

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  • When your dough starts to shrink back once rolling it a few times, it’s time to make a fresh batch.  Keep the used dough on hand, just in case you need to make a few extra tops or bottoms.
  • Always bake in a single layer.  Using both rack in your oven will cause the bottom pies to steam instead of bake.
  • Jan always uses lard for her pie pastry, never butter.  Lard makes a lighter pastry that works really well for these fruit mince pies.

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  • Jan also has always use Robertson’s Fruit Mince (or mincemeat as it’s called in the UK).  Her mum used them too.  They’ve been around for over 100 years and their product is outstanding.  You’re welcome to make your own fruit mince, but why do that when you can conveniently buy a few jars of it?
  • Jan has never used any mini pie tins, always the “patty pie” tins.  These are usually readily available in Coles and Woolies here.  If you can’t find them in your local supermarket, you can find them on Amazon. If you’re searching the net I’ve also seen them called fruit mince pie tins.

While this is an incredibly easy recipe to make, there are few steps in it and will take some time.  It would certainly be an excellent Christmas recipe to do with the kids, and they can help roll the dough and fill the pies.  Once you get the hang of it, you can churn these bad boys out in no time like Jan, who makes 10 dozen in less than two hours!

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The challenging part here is as this recipe was never written down, this is a bit of guesstimation involved in terms of the ratio of flour.  The recipe I have written down seems pretty close, which is why I’ve put “approximately” next to most ingredients. but you’re welcome to try your own amount of ingredients.  Remember though, it should always be more plain flour than self raising.  You don’t want your pies to puff up too much.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe!

Jan’s Fruit Mince Pies

  • Approx. 1 1/2 cups plain flour
  • Approx 1 cup self raising flour
  • Approx 1/2 cup caster sugar 
  • 3/4 stick of lard (lard in Australia come in 250 gram sticks.  So you need approximately 187 grams, or approximately 6.6 ounces)
  • Ice water
  • Robertson’s fruit mince
  • Egg wash
  • Icing sugar
  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, or 390 Fahrenheit.
  2. Drop the flours and sugar in a food processor and pulse to combine.
  3. Add the lard, and one a medium speed mix until blended.
  4. Add the ice water, one teaspoon at a time until the dough forms a ball.  You don’t want a sticky dough, just enough water to get all the ingredients incorporated.
  5. Drop the dough onto a floured surface and roll until it’s about 1/4 of an inch thick.  You’ll know if you’re dough is too sticky if it sticks to the surface.  If you are using a silicone mat to roll on, you want to just start to see any lines from the mat come through.
  6. Use a 4 inch cookie cutter to cut out the pie bases.  Place them into your well oiled patty pie tins and lightly press them into the molds.
  7. Fill the bases with about 1 teaspoon of fruit mince.  Don’t over fill, as the mince thins out once heated.
  8. Roll out your dough again about 1/4 inc thick and use a 2 inch cookie cutter to cut out the tops.
  9. Paint one side of the tops with water and place on top of the fruit mince.  The water helps create a seal.
  10. Use a fork to prick holes into the tops.  This is to let any steam out while they’re baking.
  11. Paint with egg wash and then bake them until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
  12. Once cooled, get them out of the pan and onto a plate.  Dust with icing sugar.  Pack them in a Christmas tin or gift bags only once they’re fully cooled.
  13. Enjoy!

The Great Pumpkin Pie

I can already feel it.  That manic rush that creeps up from about now and doesn’t fade away until January.  That impending sense of doom and awe that the year is nearly over already.  That Christmas is around the corner (side note: seriously why do shops put up Christmas crap in SEPTEMBER???? Do you want to give me a panic attack???).

As I discussed in my last post on Green Bean Casserole, Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as I affectionately call it, is just around the corner.  To me it’s almost a pre-game to Christmas.  A test run of our now famous spit roasted turkey and the perfect excuse to have a big barbecue with our friends.  To me, it’s not Thanksgiving unless there’s pie.  Pumpkin Pie that is.

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The only time for Pumpkin Pie is around the holidays, or I guess in Australia would even be in June/July when it’s winter.  It’s a custardy, creamy filling full of cinnamon, ginger and cloves and to me just tastes like the holidays from when I was a kid.  The only time I ever had pumpkin was in a pie.  We never had it as a savory dish in my house.  I actually never had savory pumpkin (or squash) until I moved to Australia, and I found it a bit weird at first but love it now.

Pumpkin pie is an acquired taste.  If you don’t like those spicy sweet desserts that have a lot of cinnamon in them (talking to you mum), then you may as well stop reading now.  This is just not the dessert for you.  If you’re into that kind of thing, or even Indian or Mexican desserts as they sometimes have cinnamon in them, then by all means keep reading.

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Ground cloves, ginger and cinnamon

In The States, there’s pumpkin and then there’s squash.  The pumpkins you use to make jack-o-lanterns at Halloween are pumpkins (duh), but everything else is a squash.  Don’t ask me why.  Quite frankly doesn’t make much sense to me.  Just call them all squash or pumpkin dammit!  For a pumpkin pie recipe, use whatever pumpkin you want.  Test the recipe out with different ones if you’re making some for a crowd.  I used butternut pumpkin as it was cheap at the time and also it has a sweeter flavour compared to other pumpkins we have readily available here.

I found this recipe in a book I have called A Taste of America.  I bought it off of Booktopia.com.au, but you can also get it on Amazon.com if you’re not in ‘Straya. It’s a pretty hefty book, with over 400 recipes from all over The States.  What’s great about the book is it has the imperial and metric measurements already written out (about bloody time a recipe book did that!), and photos of the creation process for each recipe.

If you want to watch my recipe test, you can on my new YouTube channel!  Or just click below.

 

Let’s get started on this bad boy.

Pumpkin Pie from A Taste of America

Pastry Crust

  • 1 1/2 cup (175 g) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp (75 g) cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 tbsp (40 g) cold white vegetable fat (shortening), cut into pieces
  • 3-4 tbsp (45-60 ml) iced water (3 tbsp is about a shot glass worth)

Pie Filling

  • 1 lb (450 g) cooked or canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup (250 ml) whipping cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup soft brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp (60 ml) golden (light corn) syrup
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  1. For the pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl.  Cut in the butter and fat until it resembles coarse crumbles.  Bind with iced water.  Wrap in clear film (plastic wrap) and chill for 20 minutes.
  2. Roll out the dough and line a 23 cm (9 inch) pie pan or tin. Trim off the overhang. Roll out the trimmings and cut out leaf shapes.  Wet the rim of the pastry case (pie shell) with a brush dipped in water.
  3. Place the dough leaves around the rim of the pastry case.  Chill for about 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200 Celsius, 400 Fahrenheit.
  4. Line the pastry case with baking parchment.  Fill with baking beans and bake for 12 minutes.  Remove paper and beans and bake until golden, 6-8 minutes more.  Reduce the heat to 190 Celcius, 375 Fahrenheit.
  5. Beat together the pumpkin, cream, eggs, sugar, golden syrup, spices and salt. Pour into pastry case and bake until set, 40 minutes.

The Good

While it’s a bit time consuming to make, this recipe actually is pretty darn good.  It’s that perfect creamy, custard like texture you expect from a pumpkin pie (trust, I’m an expert!).  It would be the perfect dessert after Christmas dinner with a dollop of whipped cream.

The recipe itself also makes the perfect amount of filling for one pie.  You won’t have much wastage at all.

The recipe calls for cooked or canned pumpkin.  When I was a kid my mum would use Libby’s tinned pumpkin.  You can find this at fruit and veggie shops in Australia, but air on the side of caution.  There’s tinned pumpkin, and there’s also tinned pumpkin pie filling, with all the spices already added.  Read the label very carefully!  If you’re conscious about what you’re putting into your body, you may want to steer clear of Libby’s tinned pumpkin/pie filling because of possible additives.  Now I say in my video that it’s because it may not be actual pumpkin, but in fact that’s all because of the stupid pumpkin/squash debate.  Apparently Libby’s doesn’t use one type of pumpkin in their filling, but instead use a variety of winter “squash” or pumpkin depending on where you are.  Seriously who the fuck cares.

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Pumpkin puree

Making your own pumpkin puree is super easy.  Just make a few slits with a sharp knife in your pumpkin, and bake it a 160 degree Celsius (320 Fahrenheit) oven until a knife can easily cut through.  Let it cool and then skin and de-seed and puree.  You’ll definitely have more pumpkin on your hands than you’ll need for this recipe, but you can save it for baby food, or other recipes that call for pumpkin puree.

The Bad, but not Inedible

The pie crust is incredibly short.  I think it kind of works with the pie filling, but if you have a no fail, go-to pie pastry recipe, use it instead, let me know what the recipe is!

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I tried the second test using golden syrup.  Golden syrup is readily available here in Australia, whereas light corn syrup is not. I did manage to find light corn syrup at a cake decorating shop, as it’s used to make modelling paste (the stuff some cake decorators use to make figurines, flowers, etc). The golden syrup made the pie way too sweet, that sort of sweetness that sticks to the back of your throat and almost tastes bitter.  So if you can find it, definitely use light corn syrup.  Light corn syrup gives it that right amount of sweetness without overpowering the filling.

The other issue (well not really an issue, maybe just a translation problem) is that there’s no such thing as whipping cream in Australia.  There’s thickened cream, pouring cream, pure cream, cream for cooking, and on and on and on.  According to PopSugar, all creams contain 18% milk-fat content.  Whipping cream has 30% milk fat content, and heavy whipping cream has 35%.  Thickened cream in Australia has a 35% milk fat content and some thickening agents.  Since it was the closest in milk fat content to whipping cream this is what I used, and it came out perfectly.

Other than that though, this recipe is a keeper!  I wouldn’t change anything about it besides the crust if you want a less short pastry and sticking to the light corn syrup. So have a crack at it, and just maybe this will make it to your table this holiday season.  Enjoy!