Monday, December 22, 2008

Mince pies

Now you've made your mincemeat, it's time to make your pies.

You will need:
  • a couple of trays of pattie tins (I don't think there's much point of making a batch of less than 24 - once cooked they keep quite well in an airtight container)
  • a large fluted cutter and a slightly smaller one (the exact size will depend on the size of your patty tins)
  • a good batch of shortcrust pastry.
A lot of people are a bit afraid of making pastry - there is a general belief that it is difficult and delicate, and requires a special touch (and maybe even the right hand temperature). Actually, making shortcrust pastry is very simple, and I suspect that most pastry failures can be traced back to simple problems such as too much water in the dough, not working with a properly floured surface, or allowing the dough to spend too much time in one place while working with it. As with the pies, the following recipe comes from Delia Smith's Christmas.

500g plain flour
110g lard
110g butter
a pinch of salt
200-220 ml cold water to mix

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Weigh out the lard and butter, cut it into small pieces, and rub into the flour until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Gradually add water, mixing it with a spoon at first then with your hands, until the dough forms a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead gently for a minute until it is nice and smooth, then wrap in polythene and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  4. Lightly grease your patty tins. Take the pastry out of the fridge, divide into four balls, and return three of the balls to the fridge.
  5. Flatten one of the balls of pastry to form a fat disc then, working on a lightly floured surface, gradually roll it out as thin as possible. (The pastry should be quite resistant at this stage, but even so you need to move it a bit between rolls, otherwise it may stick.) Repeat with the other balls of dough.
  6. Cut out 24 large circles and 24 small circles of pastry. Use the large circles to line the patty tins with, fill with mincemeat (best done by hand), moisten the edges of the small circles with some water, and place on top, pressing the edges to seal.
  7. Glaze with a little milk, and bake at 200oC for 25 to 30 minutes.
  8. Eat hot or cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container, reheating before serving.
Shortcrust circles

Filled pies

Still life

Food photography dates very quickly. I'm intrigued by how we instinctively recognise this, without necessarily being able to explain what it is that makes one photo look dated and another contemporary. The photograph below comes from The Carved Angel Cookery Book, by Joycel Molyneux and Sophie Grigson, published in 1990, and the photographer is Martin Brigdale. (He said, feeling slightly guilty about the blatant copyright violation.) When I first looked at it, my initial reaction was 'how ugly'. And then I looked again and realised that I was leaping to conclusions. The photo below is a carefully composed still life, with every element in the picture in focus (or at least it was in the original).

Contemporary food photography tends to have less elements, and these are usually shown with only one area of the shot in focus (achieved by using a very wide aperture), as in the completed mince pie shot above. One advantage of the contemporary approach is that it allows kitchen clutter to disappear into a hazy background, and is also well suited to taking photos in poorly lit spaces, as the wide aperture lets in lots of light. As my kitchen in Cadiz is both messy and dark, this suits me perfectly.

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