For Brits mince pies are integral to the holidays. And this recipe by Executive Chef William Drabble at St. James’s Hotel & Club will become an integral part to your holiday dining table.
Mince pies have been a popular dessert in England for centuries. The traditional mince pie used to consist of meat and fruit, such as shredded beef suet or venison, but it has evolved over time to include more ingredients. In fact, meaty versions of this pie haven’t been popular on holiday tables since the 17th century. Nowadays, the British staple is primarily a fruit pie filled with boozy dried fruit. And they’re often served warm with a dollop of brandy butter or whipped cream on top.
Like many households in England, Executive Chef William Drabble’s recipe pays homage to his family, particularly his grandmother. “I always remember her making them when I was a child and I guess it’s a tradition that I try to carry on!” It features suet, finely chopped dried fruit, orange marmalade, chopped confit orange peel, and brandy, encased in a buttery crust. The pie is sweet, rich and complex, unmistakably expressive of the English culture and extremely reminiscent of the holiday season.
There are a few steps and things to note before assembling the pies. First you’ll need to make the pastry crust which can be refridgerated until ready to use. Next the mincemeat calls for suet, which can be prepped ahead of time or store bought to save time.
What is suet?
Veal suet is a type of hard fat that is found around the loins and kidneys of a calf. In terms of culinary uses, suet is particularly prized for its high melting point, which makes it ideal for deep frying and pastry making, such as for traditional British puddings, mince pies, and dumplings. The high melting point results in a light, crispy texture in fried foods and a crumbly, flaky texture in baked goods.
If you don’t have the time to make your own suet, or if you cannot find veal suet in your supermarket, there are some options:
- Vegetable Suet: This is increasingly available in many supermarkets and specialty stores across the US. It’s designed to mimic the texture and fat content of traditional suet without any animal products, making it suitable for vegetarians. Brands like Atora offer a vegetable version of suet that can be used in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement.
- Butter: Readily available and a staple in most households, butter is an excellent substitute for suet. For best results, freeze the butter and then grate it before adding it to your mince pie mixture. This approach helps maintain a texture similar to that of suet. Butter also contributes to a rich flavor in the pastry.
- Shortening: Vegetable shortening like Crisco is widely available in grocery stores across the US and can be used as a direct substitute for suet. It’s especially useful in pastry recipes due to its high fat content and ability to create a flaky texture. Shortening has the added benefit of being flavor-neutral, which makes it a versatile option for various recipes.
Lastly the mince filling should ideally be prepared a couple weeks in advance so that the fruit can soften and the flavors can meld. However, If you’re short on time and cannot prepare the mince filling for your mince pies weeks in advance, the shortest amount of time to ideally make it ahead would be at least 24 to 48 hours before using it. This allows enough time for the fruit to soften somewhat and for the flavors to begin melding together, resulting in a more cohesive and flavorful filling.Print