Mini Mincemeat Tarts

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Just before we get into mincemeat tarts, here is the result of the Decorate your own Christmas cake Workshop held last Friday. I had an intermediate group, so that’s students with some prior modelling/decorating experience. A Christmas wreath with sparkle -y roses and a festive robin.

Here are some of the gorgeous cakes produced by the students and the demonstration in progress…. As you can see there is always a unique element to each cake even if we are essentially producing the same thing.

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This design is fairly easy to achieve, sugarpaste can be bought from specialist cake shops in a variety of colours or purchased online and with the addition of a little Tylo powder, a food thickener, modelling paste can be produced. This is much easier to use when cutting out foliage such as holly and ivy as the paste is stiffer. Foliage plunge cutters are widely available.

Robins are very easy to produce: again using modelling paste form an egg shape and fashion a head and a tail. Add a red breast from a disc of red paste, eyes and  a beak and wings. Claws from black or brown complete the design. A robin would also look very good on a chocolate log.

IMG_0518So on with the mincemeat tarts. I am including a recipe for this as they are a Christmas staple, unfortunately widely overlooked as a culinary delight and easily relegated to shop bought status. However with a little bit of forethought, care and attention can provide a delicious dessert all on their own with a little cream or ice-cream and easy peasy to produce at a stressful time.

Firstly acquire some really good mincemeat (making your own is a bridge too far). Farm shops are very good for this or the best quality you can afford in the supermarket. The second trick is to have a go at making your own pastry. I know I know, the perceived wisdom is that making your own pastry is a waste of time but trust me, if you have food processor it takes seconds, and you get a MUCH better result. It also behaves itself a lot better too (much less shrinkage).

So the sweet shortcrust recipe: the one I use is Rachel Allen’s, but as these things are really a bit of a standard thing I’ll include the details here.

You will need for 6 tartlets: 110g cold butter, diced, 200g plain flour, 1 tbsp icing sugar, 1 egg yolk plus 1 egg beaten for glazing.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C. Grease your mini tart tins (loose bottomed for preference) with butter, pop the diced butter, sugar and flour in the food processor and whizz until you have coarse bread crumbs, add at least half the egg yolk and whizz again until it has more or less come together, then remove from the bowl to your work top and add a little more yolk if necessary and with a light touch bring together to form a smooth ball. Wrap in cling film and fridge for 30 minutes. Once chilled, roll the pastry between two pieces of cling film to a thickness of 3mm or so and using a large pastry cutter (size will depend on tart tin size) cut out at least 4 discs and press into the tart tins. Repeat the rolling out process with the remainder of the pastry to produce the last two discs giving you six in total. Freeze the pastry lined tins for 15 minutes. Then bake blind for 10-15 minutes, remove from the oven, brush with a little left over beaten egg yolk or beaten egg if necessary and return to the oven for 2 minutes max. From any remaining pastry cut out stars, brush with beaten egg and bake, on a greased baking sheet, for 5-10 minutes with the pastry cases until lightly browned.

These can then be held in this state for as long as you like, or frozen…..

When you are more or less ready to eat them, dollop 4 or 5 heaped tsps of mincemeat in each tart tin, top with a star and bake at the same temperature as before for 10 minutes or so. We are trying to get the suet in the mincemeat melted but not overcook the mincemeat so that it becomes browned and chewy. If they are frozen defrost them before you start.

Once out of the oven remove from the tins and sprinkle copious amounts of icing sugar over. Delicious.

I’m going to give my favourite Christmas dessert recipe in a few days, a warm fruit salad, perfect after a rich meal….see you then

Lavender Laced Apricot Tarte Tatin

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy

I never thought I would see the day but my better half and I are arguing over Tarte Tatin. He sneaks slithers whilst I’m out exercising; again. This upping of my exercise regime allows me an additional piece beyond the obligatory test slice. Despite spending an hour out at a Zumba class this evening I am planning a sprint (x3) up one of the hilliest streets in town tomorrow morning so I can have some more for breakfast. We are utterly in love with my latest creation.

I am fairly sure this food marriage of apricots and lavender is not unique, but a quick surf about only revealed lavender soaked in milk and then converted into shortbread or cupcakes, certainly not used to flavour sugar syrup. I didn’t even strain the lavender flower heads and this does not seem to matter. The aromatic scent cuts through the sweetness of the fruit in such a heavenly way you are barely conscious of them in the finished dish and I believe they add some charm to the appearance.

Apricots.

I have always had a bit of a thing about them, I pop the ready-to-eat variety moorishly and adore dishes such as tagines with all that heat and spicy sweet. Despite not having a particularly sweet tooth, I get my inevitably need for some sort of sugar fix from them on a regular basis; bitter dark chocolate covered apricots is almost my most favourite flavour combination behind liver with a tomato and mushroom sauce, but more of the latter soon…

22 years ago this week I set out on my Italian culinary adventure, described on the ‘About Sarah’ page, and one of the first food related delights I came across greeted me as we drew up to the house for the first time. In the garden, almost next to the garage, was an apricot tree. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before that some countries have such luxuries but I still remember the double take I took as I realised that for this family their windfalls weren’t apples, pears or plums. Unbelievable. I could pop out whenever and eat as many of the ripest, juiciest fruit as I could manage. The parents of my charge for 2 months were more or less nonchalant about the situation. No big deal. But I suppose if you always virtually live in the garden of Eden, you would be.

Anyway as transportingly delightful as these memories are, on with the recipe.

You will need a 9″ sandwich tin or deep sided pie dish, non stick for preference. Don’t use anything loose bottomed as you will be hopelessly scraping baked on sugar syrup residue from the bottom of the oven otherwise.

Start off by making the pastry, or to be quite honest you could buy sweet short crust from the supermarket. If you are making it you will need: 100g self-raising flour, 50g diced, cold, unsalted butter, 1 tbsp of icing sugar, 1 egg yolk, 2 tsp of cold water. Sift the flour and the icing sugar into a bowl and add the butter, rubbing it into the flour with your fingers. Add the egg yolk and a teaspoon of water and with a table knife, start the combining process. Once you have made some progess dive in with your hands and swiftly bring the dough together. Add the second teaspoon of water if you need it to give a working dough, not too sticky. Once you have a smooth ball of pastry, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for ½ hour.

Meanwhile make the sugar syrup. Place 75g of caster sugar and 75g of unsalted butter in a non-stick saucepan with 3 sprigs of lavender (preferably flowering) and gently heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has started to dissolve, allow it to bubble a little and stir regularly. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse until the pastry is ready.

Cut 10/11 firm but ripe apricots in half,  remove the stones wash and dry. Once the pastry is ready, remove from the fridge. Heat the sugar/butter/lavender mixture again as a sludge is likely to have formed in the saucepan until the mixture is bubbling again, stirring regularly, remove the lavender stems and finally pour into the bottom of the pie dish. Arrange the apricot halves, cut side up so that the smooth hemispheres are uppermost when you turn the dish out once baked, and at this point turn the oven on to 200°C/Fan 180°C.

Roll out the pastry to give roughly a 9″ diameter circle. As you can see I usually go rustic in these situations and don’t worry about rough edges, but you can always use a plate to cut round if you wish. Plonk the pastry over the fruit and tuck in round the edges. Pop low in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. I know the oven isn’t up to temperature at this point but I think it helps cook the apricots thoroughly.

Once the 25 minutes is up you should have a golden brown baked pastry top (or bottom) and much sugary bubbling. Remove from the oven and try carefully to decant the sugar syrup into a waiting saucepan before inverting the tart using the presentation plate. This is a bit of a messy business, but not to worry. If the fruit has slid up to one end in the process just carefully shove it back into position. (I did and look how lovely mine turned out).

Boil the sugar syrup in the saucepan until it thickens some more and then drizzle over the tart. Serve warm. We had it with honey and ginger flavoured fancy yoghurt from Waitrose, but creme fraîche or cream or ice cream would work well.

N.B. I THINK it is OK to eat the flower heads and in my limited research some recipes definitely didn’t remove them, but you can always pick them off as you eat if you wish.

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