Countdown to Christmas

And with that, it’s Christmas Eve! I don’t know about you but boy, that came around quickly. I had to double check the date the other day – it was the 21st and, terrifyingly, I wasn’t feeling festive. Sure, Christmas shopping had been accomplished but since when has that been a jolly experience? A crowded shopping centre the week before Christmas is best avoided unless you enjoy being herded like cattle around the pound shop. I needed to shoe-horn festivities into the last four days which, given the time limit and, you know, work and all that, has been a little tricky. However, I’m quite proud of my determined Christmas jolliness – nothing quite epitomises Christmas as an adult than reminding yourself to have fun.

mince pies nigellaeatseverything.com

First step, I bought a scented candle. Don’t judge but this little guy has seen me through the last few days, burning bright and filling the sitting room with the scent of ‘winter berries’. Each day Calum and I leisurely opened our advent calendars. Calum’s is stuffed with various Lindt chocolates and he’d be grumpy if wasn’t his favourite each time. Mine, sans chocolate, is full of pretty atrocious jokes – ‘What did the duck get for Christmas? A Christmas quacker!’ – so my enthusiasm quickly dwindled, although it is decorated with illustrations from ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ which always triggers an impromptu a high-pitched singsong (‘On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to meeeeee’).

As we are spending Christmas with our families we indulged in our own Fake Christmas full of frenzied gift unwrapping, festive films and a slap-up roast to feed at least four. Substituting the turkey for chicken, the bird slid from the hot oven juicy and golden, the skin so crisp it broke into shards. Calum carved while I stole slivers of meat, and plated the rest of the meal – crunchy roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips roasted with honey, clementine zest and sprigs of thyme, tiny sausages wrapped in streaky bacon and a vast meaty log of sausage meat and sage stuffing. We filled our plates and our bellies before collapsing in a food-induced torpor. Much, much later we ate dessert of honeycomb and clementine brownies still warm from the oven accompanied by spoonfuls of tangy crème fraiche.

countdown to christmas nigellaeatseverything.com

Fake Christmas was merely the tip of the iceberg of these jolly activities. Under the guise of being spiced and mulled, Hannah and I managed to guzzle two bottles of wine the other night but, as it accidentally came to the boil and may have burned off any trace of alcohol it might explain why we weren’t drunk but merely dozing off in front of Elf. That, along with my candle, filled the room with the delicious warming smell of cinnamon, cardamom and orange before Hannah very generously filled our glasses to the brim and I ecstatically scoffed some homemade mince pies she brought with lots of obscene moaning and exclamations of ‘oh my god this is so tasty’.

These were my first mince pies of the year. Believe me, I’m horrified too. Shop-bought mince pies are a travesty in my opinion – such hard, thick pastry clagging your mouth like cement, and a miserly filling, making the whole venture a complete rip-off. Baking a tray of mince pies for one (Calum is a Scrooge), is a little depressing so this year I’ve absconded… that is, until I tasted the buttery pastry and the fruity boozy filling. Legend says it is illegal to eat mince pies on Christmas Day; Oliver Cromwell banned these treats to discourage gluttony. Unfortunately, he failed there. Of course, I’d prefer to stay within the law so if I’m going to bake mince pies I better get cracking. The fact I’ve spent four hours of this special suspenseful day on a jam-packed train hurrying me homeward, which didn’t play ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ once, time is now running out.

mince pies nigellaeatseverything.com

Luckily, my parents are always prepared and the fridge is always stocked. My mum rustled up a tray of mince pies, golden and steaming with their tender pastry bases warm from the oven, scented with a little orange zest. These miniature morsels are oozing their hot jammy filling and only need a lick of brandy butter for a late Christmas Eve snack. We all get there in the end.

Bring on the festivities and merry Christmas!

Mince pies

Makes 18 little pies

140g cold butter
225g plain flour
30g caster sugar
Zest of half an orange
1 egg
1 jar of mincemeat

  1. Cut the cold butter into cubes and throw them, along with the flour, into a food processor and pulse until it forms breadcrumbs. Alternatively, rub the butter and flour together with cold fingertips.
  2. Add the sugar and orange zest then mix well before cracking in the egg and stirring to create a stiff dough. If necessary add a few drops of iced water to loosen the mixture.
  3. Flatten the pastry into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Unwrap the pastry and sprinkle a little flour over your work surface. Bash the pastry with your rolling pin a few times – just enough to soften the dough – and rotate it 90 degrees to stop it sticking. Once soft and flat, roll out until it’s a couple of millimeters thin and, using a couple of circular cutters, stamp out 18 large circles and 18 medium circles. You may need to reroll the trimmings a couple of times.
  5. Line a shallow cupcake tin with the large pastry circles. Dollop a teaspoonful of mincemeat in each one and top with a smaller circle of pastry. Gently crimp the edges together and brush with a little beaten egg yolk.
  6. Slide the tray into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Once cooked pop out of the tin, cool on a rack and serve with brandy butter.

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