Christmas is our annual excuse for good-natured excess. It's like being transported back to Tudor times—very Henry VIII. What makes Christmas great is that it's all about quantity. You don't really need half a dairy worth of cheese or 45 boxes of Quality Street sweets, but these things all duly arrive. Let's face it: Turkey in itself is not great, but there's shitloads of it. Christmas Day is also one of the few occasions during the year when it's not frowned upon to start drinking at 10 AM and carry that through until 10 PM on Boxing Day.
Then there are the ubiquitous mince pies—these delectable round pastries packed with sweet, spiced filling. These days, mincemeat filling consists of fruit and suet, which is the fat lining beef kidneys, but the pies used to contain actual animal meat: mutton, venison, goose, rabbit, beef tongue, you name it. The mince pie was an indiscriminate zoo of goodies.
Before the 17th century, mince pies were oblong-shaped so they resembled a crib, sometimes with a pastry baby Jesus resting on the crust. That really pissed off the Puritans, who raged against these edible idolatries. The Quakers also joined the chorus of discontent. Avid readers of the Gentleman's Magazine in 1733 will recall the following line from its Grubstreet Journal column: "[The quakers] distinguish their Feasts by an heretical Sort of Pudding, known by their Names, and inveigh against Christmas Pye, as an Invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, an Hodge-Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his Works."
To be honest, I can't really blame the Quakers and Puritans for their fury if they had been exposed to some of the atrocities that are now flogged by the boxload from our supermarkets shelves. Every season, bosses in tacky Christmas jumpers wheel out shop-bought mince pies at the company party as a token of festive gesture to give the employees an illusion that they are not total scrooges. But supermarket pies are the bearers of gloom rather than culinary joy. Don't buy your pies—make them yourself. It ain't that hard.
The mince pies you get from the shop have the wrong pastry-to-filling ratio. They are stingy on filling and the pastry is too dry and not short enough. My mum makes a pastry that is so short you almost can't pick up the pie with your hands. She adds a real Christmas touch by stuffing them with lots of zest from oranges and clementines. Eating the pies freshly baked is a completely different beast to ones you eat cold from a packet. That goes for any kind of pastry. Something straight out of the oven—when all the butter and fats are still hot and the spices are alive and aromatic—is a much more exciting proposition than something that's been sitting on the shelf for a few weeks.
For my recipe, I use puff pastry. Get a baking tin with cupcake moulds, put in a little disc of pastry in the bottom and add a tablespoon of mincemeat with whatever dried fruits and spices you prefer. (Ideally you would prepare your filling back in early autumn, when you start feeding booze and nourishment to your Christmas pudding.) Then put a pastry lid over the mincemeat, brush that with egg wash, bake it, and Bob's your uncle; you got the best mince pies.
Just make sure you have enough of them for this season of excess.
As told to Lars Hinnerskov Eriksen. This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2014.