When I’m in Australia I feel nostalgic for Italy and want to make a batch of Cavallucci di Siena at Christmas time or a Pastiera Napoletana at Easter. And every single Easter I have spent in Italy I have faithfully made hot cross buns, made using my battered and well floured copy of David Brown’s baking book, piping out the crosses and always eating them warm with salted butter. But I am also an admittedly lazy cook and so before Christmas I make a quick pilgrimage down to the foreign cook’s salvation Castroni for jars of Robertson’s fruit mince and other foreign essentials like Lyle’s Golden Syrup for gingerbread.
My mum used to make her mince meat, as did her sister Margie, whose mince pies were rendered very special by the lightest glaze of the palest pink lemon scented icing. At a certain point mum realized that, in-between plum puddings and elaborate turkey stuffings and just being a mother in general, the bought mince was just fine, and Robertson’s is her preferred brand.
I do however, have a fine mince pie pastry recipe, that I have tweaked over the last 4 years baking little star studded pies for homesick Aussies and Brits. Lard is in there, which gives a certain friabilta – such a great word for crisp but crumbly fried like texture – that butter alone cannot muster. It’s a half half operation, the butter being the sturdier partner that helps keep everything together.
Mince Pie Shortcrust
250 g plain flour (farina 00)
250 g finely ground semola flour (farina di semola rimacinanata)
150 g caster sugar (golden is nice)
125 g cold butter – cubed
125 g chilled lard (strutto)
3 small-medium eggs
This quantity of pastry should give you small mince pies for 1-2 jars of Fruit mince.
Weight out the lard and put into the freezer as you prepare other ingredients.
To make the pastry sift the flours with the caster sugar and salt and rub the cubed butter and lard into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers, as swiftly as possible, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Doing this in a stand mixer or food processor helps because the lard is sticky and tricky to manage.
Add the two eggs and mix until the mixture comes together in a ball, adding tablespoon or two of cold water if necessary. Work the pastry until until it is homogeneous and elastic and cover with butter or baking paper and refrigerate for at least an hour.
To make the mince pies roll out the pastry on a well floured surface and cut out disks that fit tart or mini muffin trays. Flour the trays, arrange the pastry fitting it well into the tray and pricking the bottoms with a fork so that the air escapes, and fill with a teaspoon of fruit mince (not too much or the mixture will sort of explode). Top with stars, lattice or otherwise. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is a golden brown. I like to dust with icing sugar to serve.
Photos by Marie Sjoberg