Last year at St. Louis Magazine, one of my colleagues a piece on Christmas food, with his thumbs up/down on several things. I took deep exception to his dislike of mince pie, and parried back with a discussion of my own.
During that Christmastime, I was on the road for family functions in all directions. This year, I'm staying home, and today made the mince pies I spoke of. Perhaps not as pretty as the scallop-edged ones they found a photo of last year, but remarkably tasty.
I've made my own mincemeat sometimes, and other times I've used the commercial sort, although I do try to go beyond the Nonesuch that's usually found in supermarkets. It'll do in a pinch, but I keep my eye out for other kinds throughout the year. One year, I found good stuff at the now-gone Esicar's in Cape Girardeau. This time, I found a jar of British mincemeat, Robertson's, at Global Foods in Kirkwood.
It's seriously good, tart, a little heat to it, very rich. And that's as it should be. Just as a good hamburger should have a proper meat-to-bread ratio, so also should a mince pie. These little guys, which is how I first found them in a church in the heart of downtown Cardiff, Wales, cheering weary shoppers, are two-bite pies, and the texture of the crust is almost as important as the mincemeat. It's the usual size in Great Britain.
I just use cupcake pans and a biscuit cutter to make rounds that fit into the tins. The amount of mincemeat I spoon in might be, in my pans, a generous tablespoon.
Here's the recipe for the dough. It's very forgiving, essentially a shortbread that you roll out. I can see it small rounds cut out and baked flat (or in the cups) with no filling and lemon curd piped in, or maybe a mousse of some sort.
1 3/4 c. flour
6 Tbs. powdered sugar
2 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch or so pieces
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs orange juice and perhaps a little more
Glaze: another egg, beaten
Whiz the flour, powdered sugar and orange peel in the food processor until mixed. Add the cold butter. Process until it looks like coarse cornmeal. Whisk together the egg yolk and 2 tablespoons orange juice in a small bowl or cup and add to processor. Blend until moist clumps form, adding more juice by teaspoonsful if it seems dry.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Gather dough into a ball and flatten firmly into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes or so. (Longer is okay, but you'll need to let it get closer to room temperature to work with it.) Roll it out so it's about 17 inches across. If you need to patch it, you can. If your cupcake pan has 12 spots, start out by cutting 12 rounds from the dough and press them into the pan. Add the mincemeat to each round. Then I use a wee star cutter to cut out something for the top of the tart, but you may use whatever's around that fits, even a thimble. It's nice to let the filling show through. Brush each topping with a little of the beaten egg. If you don't have a brush that small, I've used my fingertip before.
Start baking that pan - set the timer for 18 minutes - and begin the same process with your next pan. Check the first pan, and continue baking if necessary until the top is a golden brown. (My times have gone from 18 minutes to 25.) You may gather the scraps and re-roll the dough with a very minimal loss of texture.
I've gotten anywhere from 18 to 24 pies out of this, depending on what I run out of first, the mincemeat or the dough. (The Robertson's gave me 18.)