Clara´s Pastry and Up the Mountain Mince Pies

Don´t recommend cooking these during a power cut!

Last Christmas Eve, which is the Big Night here as far as Christmas dining goes, we were a “small” group of only about 20 over at Big Man´s mother´s home. He comes from 10 siblings, all apart from one have at least two children.  Most of the neices are nephews are also married and have children of their own, so you can imagine what family weddings are like.

Because I have the biggest oven, I was put in charge of cooking 2 whole lambs.  Even though they weren´t enormous by some standards, it was a whole lot of lamb and a whole lot of cooking.  In true Up the Mountain style, we had a power cut on the evening of 23rd December which lasted 24 hours.  Luckily my oven is gas, so cooking the meat was not a problem but I was doing it by torch and candlelight.  As they tend to eat their meat cooked through here, and I had to ensure it wasn´t remotely pink, keep it warm and transport it 25km whilst ensuring no one went down with food poisoning, it was challenging to say the least.

Yesterday, we ran out of gas.  Not through negligence on my part but because the man who delivers the gas cylinders (no mains gas Up the Mountain) seems to have disappeared and we haven´t been able to swap the empty “bombonas” for full  ones for a few weeks.  Not to worry I thought, planning my baking today, I can use my little electric oven and Big Man can load the empty bombonas onto the truck and drive to the nearest village which stocks them and change them over.

Meanwhile last night, the lights went out, then came back on, but it looked as though they were being run by a generator fired up by an old lady pedaling slowly on a rickety old bicycle.  As I type this I am working on battery power, fingers crossed things resolve themselves soon and I can cook, bake and post.

Today I will make mince pies.  I don´t come from a family of great pastry chefs, but my best friend Ria, luckily does.  Her mum, Clara, makes the best pastry ever, and like many people of her generation, does it without a list of ingredients or measuring.  When I moved to Spain I remember calling her one Christmas in desperation and she yelled the ingredients down the phone to me which I then managed to transfer into measurements I can use.  She always uses margarine in hers with lard, I use butter and lard.  You can use all butter, the choice is yours, but don´t blame me if the pastry is not as good as Clara´s.

Ingredients

  • 200g plain flour
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 50g each of cold butter and lard
  • One egg, beaten
  • Milk

Rub the fat into the flour and salt until it resembles fine breadcrumbs (I won´t tell Clara if you do this in a food processor….not an option for me today with the electric situation), Then using a broad knife, work the egg into the flour.  Now gently start to bring the pastry together with your hands.  You will probably need to add a very little milk so add drops rather than slugs.  This morning I used about a tablespoon.

Now wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge until you are ready to use it, but bring it up to room temperature first.

Bake at about 200ºC when you have filled with mincemeat, jam, whatever.  Obviously I had another power cut mid way through baking today, hopefully you won´t and yours will be perfect!

I made my  mince pies using my mincemeat, but even a humble jam tart is elevated to perfection with this biscuity pastry.  Clara doesn´t bake anymore, but I hope she´s proud that her recipe is being shared for so many others to enjoy.

Merry Christmas Clara – wish we could have a sherry and a mince pie together this year!

Light Christmas Pudding

It will look prettier on the Big Day on a Christmas Plate!

With the forthcoming arrival of my parents, I´m getting into the swing of Christmas food preparations.  Traditional Christmas cakes and puddings in the UK can be made ages ahead of time (even a year) to allow them to mature.  Of course, I am nowhere near as organised as all that, and none of us is mad keen on the heavier traditional pudding.

For many years I have made a lighter version based on a recipe from my trusty Delia Smith´s Christmas Cookbook.  In fact, looking back, I made it the first year I was in sole charge of Christmas lunch for 10 people.  My beloved grandfather had died in the November, and this was 21 years ago.  Of course, we were all still in a state of shock and sadness, especially my darling grandmother, but we still wanted to celebrate.  I lived up the road from my parents in a little flat, and it was decided that we would change things a little so that memories of sitting in my parents´ dining room with Grandad at the head of the table would be a little less vivid.

My parents cooked the turkey in their oven as I just didn´t have room, but everything else was done in my little kitchen.  All my wobbly hand me down tables and chairs were pressed into service, and the family walked up the road carrying girft and fold up chairs.  Plates were borrowed – I was a 25 year old in her first flat as a non sharer, so I was still building my collection.  Tears were shed, but much there was fun and laughter too.  It was emotional but happy and we all ate and drank far too much.  The meal ended with this pudding – made initially as my grandfather would probably have grumbled about there not being “proper” pudding and this made us all chuckle.  Since then it´s become a new kind of family tradition whenever I am the Christmas lunch fairy, and my parents requested it this year.

I haven´t changed the recipe much at all, so I hope Saint Delia won´t mind.  It can be frozen once made, and then warmed through in a steamer or Bain Marie on Christmas Day while you are eating lunch.

Ingredients

  • 175g sifted self raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 110g softened butter
  • 110g brown sugar
  • 1 medium apple chopped or grated
  • 2 large eggs beaten gently
  • 3 rounded tablespoons of mincemeat
  • 2 pinches ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Grated zest of one lemon and one orange
  • 2 large tbsp of candied peel

Put half the peel in the base of a 1.2 litre buttered pudding basin. Beat the butter and sugar until creamy and then add 1tbsp of egg and flour and mix in, continuing until both egg and flour have all been incorporated.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir in, then spoon the mixture into the basin.

Cover with a double layer of pleated foil and tie a string around to keep the foil tight and give yourself a handle to lift it out.

Mucky Cooker – oops, don´t let it boil over!

Place it in a steamer or saucepan half filled with boiling water and steam gently covered with a lid for 2 ½ hours.  Keep a kettle of boiling water to hand to top up the water when needed.

When the time is up, let it cool completely and you can then turn it out and wrap well in cling film to freeze until needed.  If making ahead and reheating on Christmas Day, slide it back into the pudding basin and cover again with foil to do this.

Delicious with custard or brandy sauce, boozy fruits, ice cream….whatever takes your fancy!

PS. Stir Up Sunday (the last Sunday before Advent) is when Christmas Puddings were traditionally made to allow them to mature.  Of course, I missed that date, but never mind!  I was also always told that every member of the family needed to give the cake or pudding a stir and make a wish – so we did this too…

Suet Free Mincemeat

For anyone not familiar with mincemeat, let me explain.  It has nothing to do with minced or ground beef, it´s made with fruit. Well…initially it was made of meat, flavoured with sugar, fruit and spices.  This, historically, was probably to mask the strong flavours of meat which needed to be preserved without the benefit of refrigeration.

Over time the mixture became sweeter and all that now remains of its meaty ancestor, is an ingredient called suet, which is usually beef or mutton fat. This melts down into the mix to preserve it.  Vegetarian suet it now also available.

When I spent my first Christmas in Spain 6 years ago, it was impossible for me to track down ready made mincemeat for my Christmas Mince Pies, let alone suet to make my own.  Things have changed now over the years, but I still use a recipe I came across (and I don´t know where, so apologies to whoever it “belongs” to) which is a suet free version of mincemeat.

The flavours develop and improve over time, although it´s excellent even freshly made.  If you make a large batch, it will be wonderful next Christmas!

Ingredients

  • 250g brown sugar
  • 250ml cider (sweet or dry) or apple juice
  • 1kg of peeled and chopped cooking apples
  • ½ teaspoon ground mixed spice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 250g each of currants, raisins, cranberries
  • 75g glace cherries
  • 75g blanched almonds
  • Rind & juice of ½ lemon plus rind of 1 orange
  • 6 tablespoons of brandy or rum (optional)

(Feel free to vary the ingredients according to your taste)

Dissolve the sugar in the cider over a gentle heat, add all the other ingredients except the alcohol and cook until soft and pulpy.  Cool slightly, stir in alcohol and put into sterilised jars.