Christmas Mince Pie Tart
First, a warning: I meant for this post to be a completely innocent, cheery, festive Christmas blog entry. But instead, my rambling mind got ahead of me and turned this into a whole debate on what to call this mince pie-ish thing I made. It dives into the differences between pies and tart, touches on the history of mince pies, and ends on a less-than-satisfactory conclusion. Yes I did try to make this all more concise, but each time I tried to edit it down, I just ended up with an even longer post. So I’m writing this warning bit now after three failed attempts at cutting down the word count. So, proceed at your own peril.
Also, whether you end up making this mince pie-tar-thing or not (though I hope you do as it is very very good; I mean, it’s hard to go wrong with booze and sugar), I hope you have a very merry Christmas!! 🎅
Here’s a Christmas conundrum for ya: If you make a mince pie without a top layer of pastry (so, resembling a classic chocolate tart or pumpkin pie), is it still called a mince pie? Or would it be more accurate to call it a mince tart? Or maybe… a mince pie tart?
For those unfamiliar with mince pies, they are little, bite-sized pie-lettes, usually filled with a heavily spiced, boozy-sweet mixture of dried fruits and brandy. The ‘mince’ part might seem slightly misleading as there isn’t usually meat in them, but the name actually harks back to the original filling for these pies, which did in fact have minced lamb or beef folded through the fruits and spices. Sometimes, there’d even be a healthy glog of suet or beef fat throw in to enrich and bind the filling together. Thankfully, the days of meaty dessert are long gone, and today’s mince pies are mostly meat-free. (Though I suspect the classic meaty pies might actually taste pretty good, with a good savoury-sweet balance to it.)
But back to our conundrum – what should a tart-like mince pie be called?
It is a tart
First, we gotta distinguish between pies and tarts. While there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule for this, the general bakers’ consensus seems to be that pies are disc shaped, filled pastries that are fully, or mostly, encased in baked dough. Tarts, on the other hand, are similar but without a top layer of pastry, so the filling is fully exposed on top. Think chicken pot pies vs. egg tarts, or a classic American apple pie vs. a glistening, glazed French fruit tart. Of course, there’s plenty of grey in between. For example, if you take strips of dough and weave a loose, hole-y lattice over a tart, does it then become a pie? What if you space your dough strips out a bit further, so that barely any pie is covered? What’s the minimum amount of surface area that has to be covered for a tart to turn into a pie then?
As you can see, there’s quite a bit to unpack here, but one thing’s for certain – a pie with it’s top completely exposed should be classified as a tart, not a pie. So technically, pumpkin pies (the classic, naked top ones) are tarts. So, by that reasoning alone, a mince pie without a top dough should technically be called a tart.
But it is also a mince pie
Now here’s where it gets even dicier, because it’d be confusing to simply call it a mince tart. Think of it, the words ‘mince pie’ refers to a very specific dish, one that defies the expectations associated with the two individual words. Think of it kind of like a compound word – just as ‘bookworm’ does not refer to a worm that crawls through books, nor does ‘underdog’ mean going under a dog, ‘mince pie’ does not refer to a pie filled with mince. (Mince in the most straightforward definition meaning minced meat.) So the term mince tarts, to me at least, would bring to mind a savoury tart filled with mince meat, which isn’t what this dish is about.
To be fair, a quick Google search did yield several recipes that called mince pies mince tarts. But in my 7 plus years of living and studying in the UK, I’ve never heard this term being used. So I think I’m speaking for the majority here when I say that the official name of this Christmas dessert is mince pie. Plus, the photos for the so-called mince tarts were – based on our prior definition – pies! So, the term mince tart is confusing to say the least, if not plain misused. Hence, whatever you call this dish, the two words ‘mince pie’ has to be in the name, to prevent any ambiguity as to what the filing is.
In conclusion, for these two postulates – that it is a tart, and that ‘mince pie’ has to be in the name – a mince pie without a top layer of pastry should be called a mince pie tart. Quod erat demonstrandum. Also, make-m the recipe-sus. 🎁
Mince Pie Tart
Makes 1 large tart
3 cups of dried fruit (I use 50g (around 1/3 cup) each of dark raisins, golden raisins, currants, figs, apricots, cranberries, blueberries, mulberries and cherries, but any combinationof dried fruits would work nicely!)
25g candied ginger
1 apple, peeled and sliced into ½-inch cubes (Braeburn or Granny Smith work well)
zest and juice of 1 orange
250ml port or red wine
60g dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon powder
½ teaspoon ginger powder
½ teaspoon clove powder
½ teaspoon allspice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
60ml brandy or cognac
Pie dough (I used Stella Park’s Super Flaky Pie Crust recipe)
225g all-purpose flour
225g cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
120ml cold water
1 egg, plus one tablespoon of water, for eggwash
‘Mincemeat’: To make the mincemeat, chop up the larger dried fruits (like whole figs and apricots) into roughly ½-inch pieces. Transfer all the dried fruit into a pot, and add the candied ginger, apple, orange juice and zest, port, butter, sugar, salt and all the spices. Bring this up to a boil, then turn the heat down to a low simmer, and let it cook for 30-40 minutes, until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Then, add in the brandy or cognac, and let it cool to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight jar or container. The mincemeat keeps well for up to a month in the refrigerator. I like keeping them for at least a week before using it as the flavour will deepen and develop a bit more, but it works fresh too!
Pie dough: Now onto the pie dough. Start by mixing the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl. Then, toss the cubes of butter in the flour and pinch each butter cube flat with your fingers. Add in the cold water, and quickly knead it into the butter and flour until a rough ball of dough forms. Place the dough on a well-floured flat surface, sprinkle more flour on top, and roll the dough out into a rough 10 x 15 inch rectangle. Fold the two shorter sides into the middle so the edges meet, then fold it in half lengthwise. If not using immediately, wrap the dough in plastic and store it in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can freeze the dough if you’re keeping it over many days or weeks, just make sure to defrost it in the refrigerator for 24 hours before using it.
When you’re ready to roll out the mince pie, take the pie dough out of the refrigerator, and roll it out until it is 1-inch larger than your tart mould all around, and about 1/8-inch (3-4mm) thick. Lift up the dough with a rolling pin, and lay it into the tart mould. Make sure the dough is nestled into the edges nicely (it might help if you lift up each side of the dough as you nestle it in), and then trim away the excess dough.
Heat your oven to 190°C. Then, put baking paper or aluminium foil over your tart shell, and weigh it down with baking beans or weights. Blind bake the tart shell in the oven for 15-20 minutes, removing the beans halfway through, and stop baking when the tart shell turns the lightest shade of brown.
Remove the tart from the oven, and add in the mincemeat filling, pressing it down so the top surface is flat. Bake the now-filled tart in the oven for a further 10-15 minutes, or longer until the crust is golden all the way through.
When the tart is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool down for roughly 20 minutes on a wire rack before removing it from the tart mould.
Right before serving, dust a flurry of icing sugar on top. (You can cover it with a stencil or leaves like I did here to give it a more festive look.) Then slice and serve! The tart keeps well for up to a week in an airtight container. If you’re saving them for later, pop them into the oven for 5 minutes to warm up right before serving.
Have a very merry Christmas!