this weekend was cold, and felt especially so compared to the mild winter we’ve had so far. since i had already had my fill of christmas cookies and stollen, i started thinking about other winter treats i hadn’t eaten in a while. i decided to try a treat that was a staple of medieval winter cuisine and has stood the test of time: mincemeat pie. traceable back to the 13th century, when european crusaders were influenced by middle eastern cuisine that often combined sweet and savory ingredients, mincemeat pies traditionally contained meat, fruits, and spices. in slightly more modern times it proved a useful winter staple as the filling could be prepared in advance and sealed in jars for use during the cold months when most foods were in short supply. although meat has been weaned from the recipe in the last several centuries, it remains a rich and complex pie that i loved as a child.
having now baked one myself, i can tell you it is just as delicious as i remembered, and i think it will become a winter tradition in my kitchen. although the ingredients require 3 hours of cooking, the actually preparation of the whole pie is very simple. it’s the perfect thing to bake on a day when it’s too cold to go outside. once you have prepared the ingredients, you can leave them simmering on the stove while you attend to neglected to-do lists or watch a good movie, only stopping by occasionally to stir your filling. by the end of the day you will be warm and fulfilled with this sweet and spiced pie that i guarantee will keep the frost at bay.
the recipe i decided to use is from the baking companion to the ever-reliable best recipe cookbook, baking illustrated. i just know that when i try one of their recipes for the first time it’s going to be a success. that said, i did make a few changes of my own, which i have noted in italics in the recipe.
modern mincemeat pie
6 large apples, a combination of crisp, tart, sweet, and soft varieties, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup currants
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
grated zest and juice from 1 orange
grated zest and juice from 1 lemon
1/4 cup diced candied orange peel
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups apple cider, plus more as needed
1/3 cup rum or brandy
2 1/2 cups flour (i use half spelt and half wheat flour)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
6-8 tablespoons ice water
1 beaten egg for glazing the pie dough
1 tablespoon demerara sugar (or any sugar you have on hand) for garnishing the crust
1. preheat the oven to 400°f.
2. place all the filling ingredients except 1/2 cup of the cider and the rum in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-low heat. bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer gently. stir occasionally to prevent burning, until the mixture thickens and darkens in color, about 3 hours, adding more cider if necessary to prevent burning. at this point, the filling should have a jam-like consistency. then stir in the remaining 1/2 cup apple cider and the rum and cook until the liquid is thick and syrupy, about 10 minutes. cool the mixture to room temperature or refrigerate up to several days.
3. while the mincemeat is cooking, prepare the dough. place the flour, spices, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse until well combined. sprinkle in the vegetable shortening, and pulse for about 10 1-second pulses. sprinkle in the butter and pulse for another 10 1-second pulses, or until the mixture resembles course sand with pieces of butter no larger than a pea. turn the mixture out into a metal bowl and sprinkle with 6 tablespoons of ice water. using a spatula, fold and press the dough together, gradually adding more ice water if needed to make the dough cohere. divide the dough into 2 discs, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.
3. when the mincemeat is cooled and the dough is chilled, roll out the first of the discs of dough, on a well-floured surface, to a 12-inch circle. transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie plate. then roll out the second piece of dough to a 12-inch circle. spoon the mincemeat into the pie shell. place the second piece of dough over the filling. trim the edges of the top and bottom dough layers to 1/2 inch beyond the lip of the pan. tuck the rim of dough under itself so that the folded edge is flush with the pan lip. flute the edges or press with fork tines to seal. cut a few slits into the top of the dough (any design you like; this is just to let excess steam escape). brush the top crust with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the sugar.
4. bake the pie on the middle rack until the crust is light golden brown, 25 minutes. rotate the pie and reduce the oven temperature to 350°f. continue to bake until the juices bubble and the crust is deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. the bottom crust should also be golden (easy to see if you use a glass pie dish).
5. transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature before serving. garnish with whipped cream.