Monday, 1 December 2014

Low-Gluten Rye-Pastry Mince Pies

It's mince pie time! I adore Christmas pastries; as a student coming home from college at Christmas I anticipated my brother's amazing home-made sausage rolls so much that I could almost smell them as my train pulled into Gloucester station. As these are no longer an option (what with me being veggie n' all), my dad has taken over the responsibility with Delia's unbelievably delicious veggie 'sausage' rolls. But oh! mince pies. Lovely, lovely mince pies. Each year I almost forget how good they are until I open the previous year's half-used jar of mince meat and it all comes flooding back in a delicious, Christmassy fug.

Home made mince pies are a gazillion times better than any shop versions. Mass-produced mincers are a constant disappointment of overly dry and crumbly pastry and too-sweet filling, and they're always, always, far too big. A mince pie shouldn't be too deep; no more than a teaspoon's worth of mincemeat should fill it up and, in my opinion, the pastry should always be savoury and somewhere between shortcrust and flaky. I favour a simple mince meat with little to no residual booziness; glacé cherries are a no-no and I prefer it nut-free, though the occasional almond is nothing to be sniffed at. A mince pie with icing is not a mince pie, it's the work of the devil. And screw the best before instructions on shop mincemeat - use within 3 months of opening?! Hell, no. Mince meat is much better for a year's maturing - all that sugar and booze will keep it well preserved.

                                                                                                                                                                          (c) Becca Thorne

These rye pastry mincers came about this weekend after I volunteered my pie-making services for the opening of our friends' new shop (in Broadmarsh, Nottingham - Dukki Gifts on the first floor - check them out!) and, as one of them has a wheat/gluten intolerance I thought I'd try making some that he could enjoy too. Rye flour is low in gluten (but not gluten-free, so not for coeliacs) and has a pleasingly wholesome, nutty flavour. Combining this virtuous flour with butter (instead of veg lard or marg) helps lift the flavour to provide a richness that seems thoroughly unwholesome without overpowering the flavours of either the rye or the mince meat. As rye flour is rather grainy I added a tablespoon of gram flour to help everything hold together a little better. You'll find the raw dough a little off-putting - it looks (and feels) like a ball of concrete, but once cooked it goes a tasty-looking golden brown and is surprisingly delicious.

You can make plain flour pastry versions in exactly the same way, just replace the rye with plain flour and omit the gram.

You'll need a mince pie tray (the one I used had 15cm wide moulds) and two fluted cookie/pastry cutters, one for the bases and a slightly smaller one for the lids (I used an approx 7cm and approx 6cm pair).

Makes 15 small mince pies

6oz rye flour
3oz cold, salted butter, cut into approx 1 cm dice
1 tbs gram flour
cold water
Mincemeat (make sure it's made with veggie suet, double check there's nothing else meating it up or introducing any extra gluten if these are for someone with a gluten intolerance)
Milk for brushing (I used Koko)
Caster or demerera sugar for dusting

 First, make the pastry. Mix the rye and gram flours together in a bowl, then rub the butter into the flour using your thumbs and first two fingers. It will start to create a breadcrumb-like consistency. Make sure there's not too much loose flour left, but don't rub all the butter in fully - leave some lumps so that as the pastry cooks it will flake and puff a little. Add cold water a little at a time, and initially combine with a knife so you're not handling the dough too much and melting the butter - you need less water than you'd imagine, so go carefully, don't let it get soggy or gooey. Once the mix looks like it's coming together, get your hands back in there to form a tight ball of dough, then wrap it in cling film and stick it in the fridge for at least half and hour. It can be left overnight if you wish.

Pre-heat the oven to approx 200C/gas mark 6-7. Lightly grease your mince pie tray with butter (use the butter wrapper, you don't need much).

Lightly dust a clean, smooth surface with flour and roll out the pastry to about 1-2mm thick. Don't worry too much if edges crack and it seems much heavier and less elastic than normal pastry - this is just because of the lack of gluten. Use the cookie cutters alternately to cut out lids and bases until you have the right amount for your tray. Any leftovers can be pressed back together and re-rolled to make more if you like.

Take the larger rounds and gently press them into the pie moulds, ensuring they're fairly straight (if they're too wonky, the mincemeat juices will run out as they cook and burn onto the bottom of the pan, which creates an unholy mess that's impossible to clean up and ruins your pie.) Then use one teaspoon to scoop out mincemeat from the jar and a second to portion it out. A teaspoonful should serve two pie cases. It may seem like it's not enough but, it spreads out as it cooks. When each case is filled, brush one of the smaller rounds with milk and place it, milky side down, onto a filled case, gently pressing around the edge to secure it to the base. Do the same with all the rest, then brush each top lightly with milk and sprinkle with a little sugar. Using a sharp knife, poke a small hole in the top of each one and wiggle the knife gently from side to side to enlarge it a little. You may need to hold the lid lightly with one hand to stop it coming unstuck.

Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 10-15 mins or until they've gone golden brown on top and the bottoms are firm.

Immediately remove from the pie tray (you might need to use a knife to pop them out) and allow to cool on a wire rack. Get the fairy lights up, make some mulled wine or cider, and scoff the lot.