Would you eat mincemeat pie or tartlets if you knew there was no meat, just flaky pastry filled with fruit and spices. How about fruitcake, the Christmas cake everyone jokes about? Some holiday desserts are misunderstood and should to be given another try…when properly made, they are delicious.
One of the best parts of the festive holiday season are the desserts we prepare and share with others; they have become an integral part of our celebrations. Many are part of time honored traditions that have followed families from one country to another and have been passed down from generation to generation. Italian Panettone, German Stollen, Jamaican Christmas Rum Cake, Polish Babka, Spanish Tortell de Reis, French Bûche de Noël, French-Canadian Tarte au Sucre and British Mincemeat Pies and Fruitcake are just a few of the traditional holiday desserts from around the world that are made each year and shared with family and friends.
Some desserts, however, seem to be misunderstood and aren’t as popular as they once were. Perhaps it is because of their name or because they are now mass produced and of dubious quality. Take fruitcake for example, it seems to be the most disliked cake in America and has become a joke during the holidays. Literally…Johnny Carson once joked that there was only one fruitcake in the world and that people just keep passing it around.
There are countless jokes about fruitcake yet it is a beloved part of British holidays and weddings. Both Princess Diana and Kate Middleton served fruitcakes at their weddings. There are dark fruitcakes often made with brown sugar or molasses, raisins, dates, and cherries as well as light ones with golden raisins, apricots and pineapple. My husband and I love fruitcake and I’ve made both versions, always using quality dried fruits that have been soaked in rum, along with lots of toasted pecans and wonderful spices.
Another essential part of the British festive season are mince pies but mincemeat isn’t very popular here anymore. I think it has to do with the name as meat isn’t something we would normally associate with a dessert. During the Middle Ages, mincemeat was originally made with meats such as goose, rabbit, pork or deer along with fruit and spices. However since the Victorian times, the English have also been using mincemeat without the meat. They make small little mouthfuls of crumbly pastry filled with mincemeat made with apples, candied citrus peel, nuts, raisins, and sultanas, often soaked in brandy, topped with a pastry star then baked and eaten during the twelve days of Christmas.
Foods change and evolve, even the Christmas classics, and my mincemeat is a modern version made without any meat or suet whatsoever. Made into a full size pie, it is a delicious holiday treat that still has the flavors of Christmases past but doesn’t have any meat. It is basically an apple and raisin pie loaded with lots of flavor from citrus, spices, rum or brandy.
HOMEMADE MINCEMEAT PIE
- 1 large Golden Delicious apple (or similar sweet, flavorful apple)
- 1 large Granny Smith apple (or similar tart, flavorful apple)
- 1 cup golden raisins (sultanas)
- 1/2 c. dark raisins
- 2 Tbsp. dark rum for plumping (brandy may be substituted)
- 1/2 c. diced candied orange peel (diced citron or dried fruit may be substituted)
- zest of 1/2 orange
- juice of 1/2 orange
- 2 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 – 2 Tbsp. brown sugar, depending on how sweet you like your desserts
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. allspice
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
- a pinch of salt
- 4 or more Tbsp. dark rum (brandy may be substituted)
Peel and dice the apples (about the same size as the raisins) then add the lemon juice and toss. Plump the raisins with a tablespoon or two of rum. (I microwave the raisins and 2 Tbsp. of rum in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 10 seconds and let sit until cool and plumped). Combine the diced apples, plumped raisins and the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Place in a sealed container and let sit at room temperature for at least 4 days or more, stirring the mixture each day. The longer your fruit mixture ages the better the taste will be.
To complete the pie:
My basic pie crust recipe is: : 14 Tbsp. butter, 2 1/4 c. flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 5 to 7 Tbsp. ice water and 1 Tbsp. vinegar.
Combine flour, salt, and butter in a food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, about 10 pulses. Add about half the ice water and the vinegar and pulse to combine, about 3 pulses. Add the remaining ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture just starts to come together. Form dough into two discs, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out two crusts. Place one crust in the bottom of a large deep dish pie plate, fill with mincemeat and top with the final crust. Crimp the edge and make slits to release steam. Bake until the crust is nicely browned and juices are bubbling, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.
Let the mincemeat mixture sit a few days before using as the flavors will mature. After the first day, if the fruit appears dry, add another tablespoon or two of rum so it is thoroughly moistened. It can be kept at room temperature if using within a week or two, if longer, I suggest keeping it refrigerated.
Calvados or other brandy of your choice can be substituted for the rum. Apple cider or juice may be substituted in place of the liquor but then you need to refrigerate the mincemeat and use it within a week.
You can also buy jarred mincemeat and add apples, raisins or nuts of your choosing. You can find another of my mincemeat (no meat) recipes here.
You can use your favorite refrigerated store bought pie crust but make sure it’s a deep dish size. If you use a regular pie plate, you may not need to use all of the mincemeat filling.
Any remaining mincemeat makes a great stuffing for baked apples or as a topping on ice cream.MY COOKING NOTES
Fruitcake and mincemeat pie, two of my favorite holiday desserts, have gotten a bad rap over the years and should be given another try. You may have tried these desserts that are mass produced and sold online but they can be disappointing. However, the rich taste of a homemade version of either, made with lots of quality ingredients and seasonal spices, will make you a convert. Christmas isn’t Christmas in our house without a slice of one of them. Tell me, what holiday dessert do you make each and every year? Is there one that would you stand in a long line to buy from a famous pastry shop…I’d love to know?