We were thinking of ways to promote the benefits of joining our workplace union when someone mentioned mince pies. I knew I had to make some.
I have been a proud member of the National Union of Journalists all my working life and now I am a member of Unite too. Unions and feminism come under similar fire. ie propaganda from a status-quo establishment paints both as uncool and combative. Hello! Just as feminism makes for a more balanced relationship between the sexes (do you really want to be your husband’s chattel?), so the union supports management to create a better workplace.
My mother makes her puff-pastry from scratch and, natch, me too. Talk about propaganda! It’s a family sin to buy the ready-made stuff. I consult my handwritten cookery notebook, begun in 1971 when I was a 17-year-old aspiring counter-culture hippy, and find her instructions.
For home-made puff pastry use equal amounts of butter to flour. (Yup, I know I am lactose-intolerant but I could not face cooking mince pies with marge).
1 pound (500g) of butter to a pound (500g) of self-raising flour makes about 30 mince pies with little hats, plus a 300g jar of organic mincemeat (sorry I did not make that from scratch but the Village Bakery organic mincemeat is soooo good and not too sweet and you could always add orange peel or cranberries to jazz it up).
Make sure the butter hard and cold from the fridge. (If too soft, your pastry will be too crumbly).
Cut the block of butter lengthways and then sideways, until you end up with little cubes to toss in the flour.
Add scant lemon juice and/or water to the mixture to start uniting (how symbolic! Our workplace union is Unite) the flour and the fat. It is tempting to add enough water to blend the two but don’t or it will turn to goo. Add liquid parsimoniously, teaspoon by teaspoon.
And do not crumble the fat into the flour with eager fingers or you will end up with too buttery-shortcrust pastry. The true blend comes from the butter gradually pressing into the flour – the oven’s heat will ‘unite’ (symbolic union!) the rest.
Now – turn out the unwieldy mass on to a floured board and press down a few times with a rolling pin.
Believe me, it will look a mess. Cooking IS a mess. I always go through this stage of despair: “Oh this will never come together, I am a failure (etc)….”
Which is how I felt at this stage.
But all was not lost! The trick with puff pastry is in the folding then rolling. You assemble your uncohesive mass of pastry into a rough oblong shape. Then fold over the top third, and fold the bottom third over that. Turn this ‘envelope’ to the right and then give it a firm press with your rolling pin (or improvise with a bottle).
Repeat this fold-turn-and-roll action 3-4 times until finally your dough looks more shapely, and the flour and butter has come together in fairly homogenised layers. But don’t over-roll.
Wrap in greaseproof paper and let it rest in the fridge for an hour. Or less, if, like me, you lack patience.
My handwritten instructions from my 17-year-old self say: “Roll out not very thick.” What the hell does this mean, I ask her?
Basically, the dough will never be paper-thin because it is too buttery so will stick to the board and you do not want to use too much flour to stop it sticking. So, well, roll it out “not very thick”.
Cut with a pastry cutter or use jar lids instead: a bigger one for the bottom case and a slightly smaller one for its little hat.
It all sounds so orderly on the page, doesn’t it? Here is a picture of mincepie mayhem. (I was staying at my sister’s last week because I lent my flat to our Canarian family who came to see the new baby, Tayda – but that is another story!).
Grease not the baking tin as the pastry is sufficiently buttery. Fill each case with a teaspoon of mincemeat mixture. When ’tis time to cover with its hat, dab the rims of both bottom and top pastry cases with an ice-cube to make them ever-so-slightly damp and and press with a fork to unite both top and bottom (more symbolic union!).
Heat your oven to very hot about Gas Mark 8 / 45o F / 230 C
Place a tray of your uncooked darlings for approx 10-15 minutes in the oven. Put a timer on and do not get distracted – easy to burn!
Listen, some were over-crumbly (the butter was not hard enough) so I texted my friend-colleague at 1am to say: buy extra from Joe’s Bakery.
But they tasted OK, even the over-crumbly ones, as this note from my niece attests.
As for the union, we had a happy half-an-hour the next day at work what with the mince pies and brandy butter and making two new members, and goodwill galore.