As an Englishman in Amsterdam, there are many exotic new treats for me to indulge in. For example, this month I’ve eaten myself through two chocolate Ms. However, being my second Christmas in a row spent away from the island, it’s all too easy to notice the absence of the familiar in the presence of the novel. That’s why tonight I’m preparing mince pies to take on tomorrow’s traditional Christmas Eve Crawl.
Mince pies aren’t everyone’s favourite bite, but I reckon you could get a lot worse. What’s strange is that these gems are only broken out for the Christmas period and neglected for the rest of the year.
You can make mince pies with a variety of pastry, but my favourite is shortbread pastry. If you don’t know what shortbread is, that’s for another post. The main source of international misunderstanding, however, is the mincemeat. Up until about the 20th century this substance did indeed contain a form of meat but, unlike minced meat, contemporary mincemeat is usually a mixture of fruit, spices, spirits and animal fat. In popular culture mincemeat has become something of a misnomer. It’s entirely possible to make mincemeat at home if you have the ingredients to hand, but at this time of year it’s easy to find jars of mincemeat on the English supermarket shelves.
If you have the pastry and the filling, it’s pretty straightforward to clinch the deal on mince pies. They don’t take much cooking, either – just stick them in the oven until the pastry turns golden brown. Don’t be too eager for the first bite, though, or the mincemeat might end up burning a hole through the roof of your mouth while you tearfully try to spit it out into your hand.
Ice cream can seem a little over-indulgent to put next to a mince pie. Alternatively, double cream is a perfect accompaniment to this fruity delight; it helps to cool the molten mincemeat and wets up the dry pastry too. If you’re not convinced of this the first time round, it’s definitely worth going back for a second try. Persistence is the cornerstone of gluttony.
Santa can’t bring me everything I want this Christmas, but at least for some things I can help myself. Thinking optimistically, if I get these bad boys right I might even be able to harvest a few Dutch converts to worship at the altar of mince pies. Merry Christmas.