One of my students said to me the other day, "Miss Williams, do you only ever think about cake?" to which I responded with a quizzical expression, "Yes!" But I suppose I wasn't telling the complete truth. If I was to be honest, at this time of year my thoughts are more about biscuits, minced pies and marzipan - not just cake.
Whilst living in the UK in my early twenties, one of my duties at Christmas time was to ensure there was a constant waft of baked goods coming from the kitchen. The lead up to Christmas was a wonderful time - enhanced by the cool climate and presence of real Christmas trees that weren't going to be dried out by the time December 25th came along.
I still have some of the recipes I gathered - snipped out of magazines and newspapers or jotted down from my employer's recipe books. These Apricot and Almond Christmas Pies are without a doubt the best version of a minced pie that I have come across. I first made them whilst living with a Dutch family at Hole Cottage, near Exbourne, Devon. Obviously the fruit mince benefits from being made a month or two in advance, but this year I didn't get around to it. I don't think anyone will notice though. The inclusion of almonds in the pastry, and the combination of almonds and apricots in the filling is a definite winner, regardless of how long they have soaked in the brandy!
Extra bits of information:
- I quartered the pastry and stored half in the freezer, a quarter in the fridge and made the remaining into the batch of six pictured. Pastry can be defrosted in the fridge overnight.
- To ensure crisp pastry, ensure it is chilled. If it is warm, place the tray of assembled pies in the fridge for 15-20 minutes prior to baking.
- I used my cumquat brandy, but any brandy will do.
Apricot and Almond Christmas Pies
200g plain flour
100g cold butter
25g ground almonds
50g icing sugar
Place ingredients in processor and whiz to a dough. Knead gently, wrap in cling film, chill 30 minutes.
Apricot and Almond Filling
500g dried apricots, chopped
150g flaked almonds
500g mixed dried fruit
125g vegetable suet
Zest and juice of 2 oranges
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
250ml Grand Marnier or brandy
275g brown sugar
Combine all ingredients; stand for 2 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. Spoon into sterilised jars, press down well to ensure no air gaps. Cover with waxed paper discs, seal, store in a cool dark place.To assemble...
On a lightly floured surface, roll pastry to 3mm. Cut rounds and press into greased tart tin. Fill with fruit mixture. Cut stars or circles from remaining pastry and place on top, press down gently.
Bake at 200°c for 10-12 minutes or until pastry becomes to brown.
Note: unbaked pies may be frozen in trays. Bake from frozen 12-15minutes.
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