The Mince Pie Antidote
The appearance of the first mince pies in our shops seems to get earlier every year. I spied a small display in my local supermarket in September, long before the Halloween tat had been cleared. It’s no wonder consumers are fed up with this yuletide treat by the time Christmas arrives.
I love a mince pie but sometimes hanker for an alternative that still screams festive. During the year I spent living in America at the end of my teens I fell in love with egg nog (or more precisely egg nog flavoured milkshake from McDonalds – don’t judge me!). It’s a drink that curries little favour in the UK although it is believed to have it’s origins here. The concoction of milk, eggs and sugar heavily laced with rum and nutmeg is thought to be derived from the English ale posset. Possets were made by curdling cream or milk with alcohol such as ale or sack (a type of sherry). Whilst the popularity of these types of drink would eventually wane in Britain, early colonialists in America continued to enjoy them and egg nog is still a drink associated with Christmas in the US to this day. There are regional variations across the Americas and Caribbean but many favour rum for the alcoholic hit (George Washington had rum, whiskey, brandy and sherry in his recipe). In Mexico, they also flavour their egg nog (known as rompope which has a far nicer ring to it as a name for a drink) with vanilla and sometimes cinnamon rather than nutmeg
Perhaps it is the idea of drinking semi cooked eggs that puts people off drinking egg nog. When you think about it, egg nog is really just a type of alcohol laden custard. Another favourite confection of mine are Pasteis de Nata, those gorgeous cream tarts from Portugal. It’s not a huge leap from there to egg nog tarts although I’ve used with the Mexican flavourings rather than the traditional nutmeg. My second offering is a Cumberland Rum Nicky (featured on one of the technical challenges on the last series of the Great British Bake Off) which is not far removed from the traditional mince pie but is a little bit different.
Egg Nog or Rompope Tarts
Ingredients (Makes 18)
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp cornflour
30-50ml dark rum (depending on how alcoholic you like your tarts!)
300ml single cream
500g puff pastry
Caster sugar to finish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200℃. Get your pastry out of the fridge a good 30 minutes before you plan to make these tarts (it will be easier to roll).
Combine the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, cornflour and rum in a bowl using a balloon whisk to mix them together. The mixture doesn’t need to be beaten until thick but beaten just enough for the ingredients to be thoroughly combined.
Meanwhile heat in the cream to boiling point then pour onto the egg mixture. Strain into a jug. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 2mm. Cut out 10-11cm rounds and use them to line a patty tin (the sort you would use for mince pies or jam tarts). Carefully pour the custard into each tart case filling each one almost to the top. Bake for 10 minutes on the top shelf then move to the bottom shelf and reduce the temperature to 180℃. Bake for a further 10 minutes. The custard will puff up but will sink back down again as the tarts cool down.
If you like you can sprinkle these tarts with a little caster sugar then use a blow torch to caramelise the top. Best eaten warm so if you do have any left the following day put them in a low oven (say 100℃) for 5-10 minutes to heat them up.
Cumberland Rum Nickys
Admittedly this is only a nudge away from a mince pie. The key difference in this recipe is the absence of any ground spice or candied peel in the filling. If you’re not a fan of dried fruit then these won’t be your thing but if it’s the spice or the citrus tang you object to in the traditional offering then these are a great alternative. Sometimes I ring the changes by using marzipan for the stars on top of pies instead of pastry. This recipe is adapted from Elizabeth Luard’s European Festival Food
Ingredients (Makes 16)
1 piece candied stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped
75ml dark rum
250g plain flour
½ tsp fine sea salt
3 tbsp icing sugar (optional – I quite like a slightly sweetened pastry for these tarts but you can leave it out)
75g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
75g cold lard, cut into 1cm cubes
4-5 tbsp cold water
½ large Bramley apple, peeled, cored and coarsely grated
25g softened unsalted butter
25g soft dark brown sugar
Icing sugar for dusting
Put the dates, currants, raisins and candied ginger into a bowl then pour over the rum. Stir to coat all of the fruit then leave overnight.
To make the pastry sieve the flour, salt and icing sugar (if using) into a bowl. Add the cold butter and lard. Rub the fat into the flour until if resembles breadcrumbs then add enough water to make a firm dough. Alternatively, place the flour, salt, icing sugar and fats in a food processor then process to the breadcrumb stage before adding the water to make a dough. Cover the pastry with clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200℃/ 180℃ Fan.
Add the apple, soft butter and dark brown sugar to the marinated fruits. Stir well to combine. Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 2-3mm. Use a 10-11cm pastry cutter to stamp out rounds and use these to line your tart tins. Place a generous tablespoon or so into each tart. Re-roll the pastry then cut out mini stars or snow flakes for the top (if you don’t have this shape then use a 5-6cm round cutter instead).
Bake for 20-25 minutes until they are a pale gold. I prefer not to brush my tarts with an egg glaze beforehand although you can if you like (but not if you are using marzipan). Instead, I dust them with icing sugar once they have cooled. These tarts are delicious warm or cold and a traditionally eaten with rum butter.