Boon of Knights

There aren’t many things that will make you braver in the kitchen than knowing how to craft the holiday season’s perfect British treat — mince or Christmas pies. Initially filled with meat, these holiday favourites have been relished since the 13th-century Crusaders, who returned from the Holy Land with more than just their lives. They brought back spices and popular Middle Eastern cooking methods combining meats, fruits and spices. In tune with the holiday spirit, some even say today that three of the main spices — cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg — signify the three Wise Men who came to bless Jesus after his birth, while the crust was often traditionally made in an oval shape, symbolic of his manger. One thing is for certain, if you follow our three-part recipe, your delectable pies will be the tea-time dessert friends and family demand every Christmas. 

Christmas Pie 

Part 1: Vegetarian Mince Meat

4 tablespoons salted butter
⅔ cup brown sugar
2 cups unsweetened apple juice (or 1 cup apple juice and 1 cup brandy)

2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon clove
2 large grated apples
zest and juice of an orange
Dry fruits :
½ cup Thompson raisins
½ cup figs
½ cup dates
½ cup sweetened cranberries
½ cup sweetened cherries
⅓ cup candied papaya spears (or other candied fruits)
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup chopped almonds

In a large pot, put in all the ingredients in listed order (the butter, brown sugar, apple juice, spices, fruits and nuts). Bring mixture to a boil, stir, lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes to reduce liquid. Add an additional splash of apple juice or brandy, about ¼ cup. Let cool. Put into a covered container and store in the refrigerator. 

Part 2: Pastry

⅔ cup almond flour
1 cup rice flour
½ cup corn flour
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon baking powder
8 tablespoons salted butter
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg yolk
Mix the rice flour, corn flour and baking powder in a big bowl. Add the butter, then rub into the flour mixture using your fingertips to make a light breadcrumb texture. Stir in almond flour. Whip the cream with the egg yolk until creamy, and add this to the flour-butter mixture. Mix gently until the dough starts to get sticky. Make a ball (add a bit of cold milk if it’s too dry). Refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Part 3: Frangipane

6 tablespoons butter
½ cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tablespoon almond flavour (or amaretto)
⅔ cup almond flour
1 tablespoon rice flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Cream the butter with the sugar. Add the egg and the almond flavour. Gradually stir in the rice flour, almond flour and baking powder until the mixture is smooth. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease a 12-hole muffin tin. Roll out the pastry to 5mm thick. Using an 8cm cutter, cut out circles of pastry and press gently into your tin. Spoon a teaspoon of vegetarian mincemeat (part 1) into each pastry circle and level. Spoon a teaspoon of frangipane (part 3) atop the mincemeat and level again. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for a few minutes in the tin and transfer to a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar. 

Chinese Text by Zhao Wen   English Text by R.L. Hart   Recipe and Photography by Gaëlle Didillon