Holiday Almanac December 4: Flaming Mince Pie

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In case you're like me and had never heard of mince pie until your grown-up years, here it is. It's a British winter dessert mainly eaten around Christmas that's made with a combination of apples, dried fruit, citrus peels, and some kind of syrup, and a whole lot of suet. It's really rich, and although you may know it by its longer name (Mincemeat Pie), it's a sweet dish that contains no meat.

This recipe calls for storebought mince pie filling. The funny thing, though, is that if I were still in the US, I would never be able to take that shortcut because who sells mince pie filling in the US? Luckily, though, I'm on the other side of the pond and as I discovered today, supermarkets here in the UK all sell mince filling.* Anyway, mince pies, like Scottish tablet, are one of the British foods I'm pretty on the fence about. They're only around for the month of December, which is convenient, and when people bring bite-size ones into work, I can generally deal with about one bite before I'm done. It's not to say that they're bad... I think they just throw me off because they're so rich and the flavours are pretty unexpected when you actually think about it (also, I've never known exactly what was in them, which makes it difficult to eat something and love it, since you're never sure what you're tasting).

This was a fun one to make-- just a quick homemade pie crust, 2 jars of mince filling, and then some orange peel flowers to make, as I regularly do for my gourmet desserts (this is a lie, the orange peel flowers were made by Judson, who proved surprisingly adept). Anyway, the bourbon-soaked sugar cubes that I made lit on fire so briefly that I couldn't really photograph them-- if you're looking for spectacular flames, you should use something in the 70-80% alcohol range, which I didn't have in my house (however, the bourbon paired with the pie just beautifully, so I'm not too disappointed.

*Indeed-- I tried to look up a from-scratch mince pie recipe for funsies and all the ones I found called for canned mince filling that you just embellish with your own stuff.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. I'm only knocking off spoons because I'm kind of meh about mince pies. If you like this kind of thing, you'll love this (and you should totally make some brandy-soaked sugar cubes to flame on your next pie!).

The recipe:

the directions:

Prepare pie crust as normal and bake the bottom crust until just done and still pale.
Fill bottom crust with mince filling.
Roll out top crust to the size of your pie pan, and cut out 5 small circles around the edges.
Lay top crust over filling and crimp the edges well.
Bake at 190C/375F for 15-20 minutes until crust is golden brown.
To flame, soak sugar cubes in brandy briefly until saturated.
Place an orange peel rose into each hole in the crust, then place a sugar cube into the middle of the roses.
Carefully light the sugar cubes on fire just before serving.

Flaming Mince Pie

the ingredients:

1 double pie crust of your choosing (I used this one and added the zest of one orange to the recipe)
2 jars of mince pie filling if you're using a standard-sized pie pan
5 sugar cubes
1 shot of bourbon or other high-octane alcohol
Peel of 2 oranges, removed and twisted into rosettes