Mini Mincemeat Tarts


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.



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

Fabulously Fine Filo Fish Pie

So according to the Hummingbird Bakery and Google Alerts, it’s British Pie Week. I’m not actually sure by ‘British’ if we are talking geographically or the more jingoistic slant of British pie recipes, but who knows or cares, it’s all about food. Actually, the more I think about it the more confused I am becoming on this point…….hmmm. Anyway, whatever this pronouncement might mean it’s not clear who is promoting it. Pastry makers? potato growers? butchers? fish mongers? the spinach society? apple growers?  the list goes on which just goes to prove that pies are perfect for any occasion, any ingredients and any season.

Coincidently, we have been having a bit of a savory pie renaissance at Cutest Cakes HQ. My better half declared when we first met that he didn’t like offal and so Steak and Kidney pie seemed to be off the menu, however after 20 years I finally lost my patience and made one recently and here are the left overs:

I made it with Hot Water Crust Pastry (with butter not lard!) which was dead easy to do, looks dead professional and in my case courtesy of the beloved Rachel Allen, and as you can see it went down a storm with the kids and kidney haters alike and so now I am a mixture of smug and exasperated!

I am also a big fan of Shepherds Pie (minced lamb with mashed potato topping) and expanded on the original recipe by devising a tagine inspired version a couple of years ago. The ’70’s-stylie picture below shows this paprika laced, honeyed delight topped with a mixture of sweet and regular potato which worked well. This was originally served up for a Bonfire Night Party so I think I shall save the recipe for November time.

At Christmas we usually have a Turkey and Ham Pie with the obligatory left overs and to be honest this is my favourite dish on the Yuletide menu. I am sorely tempted to divulge the recipe now, but again, I think I will save it up for the relevant moment.

So, I have devised a Springtime pie and as Friday is looming up I thought a fish one might be appropriate. I adore Fish Pie in all forms; creamy ones with white sauce and mashed potato, tomato-y ones with fish, peppers and a short crust pastry topping, but this has a slightly fancy slant and is a little less faffy as the topping is made with filo pastry.

I first discovered the filo pastry pie topping some years ago on a recipe card that came free with a magazine or a box of stock cubes or something like that. I have only used it as a topping with savory recipes so far but I will show you what to do with the left over pastry sheets, once you have made this recipe, next week. Very sweet, very perfumed and very luscious…..

The beauty of using filo pastry surrounds the ease of assembly and the fact that the finished result looks very sophisticated. This could easily be served up as a dinner party dish and has the required how-did-you-do-that factor! In an unusual break with tradition, I shall present this recipe in a formal way:

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

600-800g ‘meaty fish’ cod, hake, salmon, smoked haddock, that sort of thing, filleted and skinned

150ml White Wine, Juice of ½ Lemon, 125g Butter, Salt & Pepper, 225ml Cream, 1 ½ tsp Dijon Mustard, 2 tbsp Dill or Parsley, 3 hard-boiled Eggs, 80-100g Frozen Petit Pois,defrosted, a handful of Baby Spinach Leaves, 1 Packet of Jus-Rol Filo Pastry, defrosted.


  • Preheat oven to 200°C/Fan 180-190°C.
  • Place fish pieces into the bottom of a wide bottomed, deep-sided frying pan or large saucepan and add the wine, lemon juice, seasoning and about 90g of the butter, diced. Cook, covered, gently over a moderate heat for around 10-15 minutes.
  • Once cooked, transfer the fish to a pie dish with a slotted spoon, add the cream to the cooking liquor and continue to simmer the liquid for another 10-15 minutes until the sauce has reduced, thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  • Add the mustard and herbs and stir through. Remove from the heat.
  • Roughly chop the boiled eggs and stir these and the peas into the fish mixture, gently. Add the cream sauce and finally stir through and tamp down the spinach.

Right, the pastry: Melt the remaining butter in a nonstick saucepan, search for a pastry brush and set aside nearby. Unroll the filo pastry carefully, and separate the first sheet from the pile. Tear or cut this sheet into quarters and then scrunch each quarter up as shown in the picture and work your way across the top of the fish/veg filling. Cover the whole lot with the filo pastry sheets, you may or may not need them all.

Once you have finished and have no gaps showing, brush the melted butter across the top of the whole lot.

Bake for around 30-35 minutes, the top should be golden brown and the filling bubbling underneath.

You can pause the pie making once the eggs and peas have been added and pop the whole lot in the fridge once cool for anything up to 24 hours, but do not add the spinach and the pastry until the last minute. Cook for 40 minutes instead and turn down the temperature a little towards the end so the pastry does not burn. Yummy.

Finally, fold up any remaining pastry, wrap in clingfilm and fridge until I show you how to make light and airy baklava.

Perfect Pancakes and no Palaver

At Last! My perfect pancake.

As it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow I feel I should blog about Pancakes. However these delicious creations feature large in our house as Child 2 is a creature of habit and campaigns weekly, without fail, to have them for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Seeing as this is the least busy day of the week from the point of view of cooking something up first thing, I have generally been happy to indulge him.

Of course I’m talking about the American variety and therefore Delia just won’t do. I have been through several versions over the years and I have always been left wanting in some way. Typically I’ve used a recipe of Nigella’s but this involves melting butter which then has to be cooled to some degree before being added to the various other ingredients, which I could not commit to memory, basically a bit of a faff. At that time of the week, let alone morning, I want to be able to bang these out in a family-tradition-I’ve-been-doing-it-all-my-life kind of way, with a minimum of brain power, equipment and little opportunity to forget some vital ingredient. I have learnt this the hard way and after 5 years have finally come up with the ideal recipe, and here it is.

Adapted from the inspirational Rachel Allen, and the result of a happy accident, her Drop Scones recipe has been morphed into our American Pancake one, and because it is all about stateside in this post, I use my anglicised version of american measures:

a generous ½ cup self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 1 tbsp (15g) caster sugar, 1 egg, ½ cup milk, a drop of sunflower oil. That’s all you need apart from a bowl, a balloon whisk and a frying pan. (I do appreciate you can buy pancake mix (type in pancake mix at the link) which would be far simpler but that’s not what this blog’s about).

So put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg and milk. Whisk until you have a smooth batter and that’s it. Heat 1 tsp oil over a moderate heat and after a minute, wipe the non stick frying pan with some kitchen paper, to remove the liquid oil or use that oil spray. Depending on the size of your frying pan dot single dessert spoonfuls of mixture around the pan. It will spread out, so to a say 22cm (9″) pan add about 3 dollops. Allow the mixture to cook on that side until you can see bubbles popping on the surface of the cooking batter, then get a little palette knife or fish slice under the pancake and flip it over, give it another 30 seconds to a minute and remove to a plate and a slightly warm oven whilst you carry on with the next batch, wiping the frying pan carefully with the oily kitchen paper between each batch. Keep going ’til you have used up all the batter, you will probably end up with around 12 or so depending on how big you decide to make them. There is no right size but you know what they should look like. We don’t go massive.

Delicious with the following:  honey, jam, eggs and bacon, any fruit, sliced to go with, and of course Maple Syrup.

Maple Syrup – Canada – Thinking Day (c.1982). What can the Girl Guides Thinking Day Celebrations have to do with all this I hear you asking? Thinking Day is also this week (22nd) and is celebrated by Guides world-wide as it’s their founder’s birth date. Back in 1982 we were duly celebrating this with other Guides from our town in a school hall somewhere. Each Guide Company providing a display from another one of the Guiding Nations. This was to include food from the relevant country for us to eat ourselves as a snack.

Our Company had picked Canada and so someone had kindly prepared a kind of Maple Syrup Tart (a bit like Treacle Tart) for us all. Maple syrup for the uninitiated has a distinctive, intense flavour in such a dish. I should like to point out that I adore maple syrup but as we all sat there that evening, hungry and picking miserably at this confection, we were all absolutely bright green with envy as we looked across to the Company who had chosen Italy……

Let’s all groan for the Granola

Yummy? Yes really!

I know, I know, why on earth would anyone want to be eating this stuff let alone making and eating this stuff, but believe me it can really pep up your breakfast. I have used it on the fruit salad recipe in the previous post, mixed in with something a bit boring like every girls favourite red-letter, wheaten flakes, and even as a kind of garnish with yoghurt, bananas, honey…. the options are endless.

However the best bit about it (apart from the taste) is that it is a conduit to using up all those opened packets of nuts, seeds and dried fruit which have been hanging around since Christmas or even a couple of Christmases before that.

So, what to do: take a large mixing bowl and first off add 250g or so of rolled oats (quantities are not critical at all here), around 50g of desiccated coconut, 100g of chopped mixed nuts (hazel, pecan, almonds, brazil but probably not cashews, peanuts or walnuts) chopping roughly if whole, and around 50-100g of seeds, (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, linseed, again what you have lying around but not poppy). There are then two ways of approaching the next bit: either to around 75g/ml of honey slacken it with a slug of apple juice and a drop of vanilla extract and combine with dry ingredients or, and this is easier, warm the honey and a drop of vanilla extract with around 50-60g of butter until the butter is melted and then combine with the dry ingredients.

Once the dry is coated with the wet, spread evenly over a baking sheet and pop in a moderate to cool oven around 160-170°C/150°C fan stirring every 10 minutes or so for about 30 mins in total until it all appears toasted. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet. At that point you can add dried fruit of your choice or again based on what you have in the cupboard (raisins, sultanas, apricots, prunes, dates) chopped up if necessary. Transfer to an airtight jar and it’ll keep for a couple of months.

I find I have packets of ready-to-eat apricots and prunes hanging around from the business side of things which have a fairly short shelf life once open. This recipe seems to provide the ideal opportunity to use them up. Again credit must go the likes of Rachel Allen and also Sophie Dahl for the inspiration behind this concoction.

Veg Box Fruit Salad

So one of those food marriages I’d never stopped to think about until was pointed out to me by the fabulous Rachel Allen, she gives a great fruit salad recipe with a herby twist in her wonderful book on which the following is based.


Veg/fruit boxes at this time of year are groaning under the weight of a curious mixture of pears and oranges (amongst other things).

 Therefore try the following: peel and chop a pear, slice the ends and the peel and pith from a couple of oranges (stand the oranges, once the tops and bottoms have been removed, on a chopping board and using a sharp knife cut down round the orange flesh removing just the peel and pith). Remove the segments of flesh with the knife by cutting adjacent to the segment membranes. This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is. Alternatively, peel oranges, separate segments and cut each segment in half. Add to the pear, add a little fruit juice or the juice released from the cut up oranges, or both and then add a small amount of finely chopped fresh mint. Either you are lucky enough to have some in the garden, or like me you bought some for a curry a week ago and the rest of the packet is languishing in the fridge. Mix together and eat at any time of day but particularly good at breakfast.

The first time I tried this I also added grapefruit and grapes. Citrus seems to be the key here, but also tropical either juice or actual fruit.

Rachel Allen’s book is still in print (Collins, 2009), and if you hang around here long enough you will see I refer to her often. She has a fantastically, simple style often needing few ingredients to pack a punch. A true food hero of mine.

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