Mincemeat, a mixture of chopped dried fruits, spices, and spirits, is one of Ireland’s most popular Christmas foods. It was developed more than 500 years ago in England as a way of preserving meat without salting or smoking. Some early recipes for mincemeat used suet, veal or mutton, and gradually cooks added ingredients like apples, oranges, and red wine. When there was no longer a need to preserve meat with honey or spices, the meat in mincemeat was eliminated and replaced with fruit alone, although some cooks still use a bit of suet in their recipes. In Elizabethan England, huge mince pies were made during the 12 days of Christmas and it became customary to offer a slice to visiting guests. The leap from England to Ireland was a short one, and mincemeat soon became a favorite ingredient in an Irish Christmas as well, especially in the form of little mince pies. You’ll find this and similar holiday recipes in my cookbook Christmas Flavors of Ireland.
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Makes 18 tarts
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
10 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange
4 tablespoon sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon ice water
1 cup homemade or prepared mincemeat
1 large egg white, beaten
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
1. Make pastry. Combine flour, almonds, butter, zest, and sugar in a food processor. Pulse 8 to 10 times, or until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add egg yolk and water and process for 10 to 20 seconds, or until dough comes together.
2. Dust a work surface with flour. Turn out dough, form it into a ball, and then flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350° F. On floured surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch-thick round. With a 4-inch cookie cutter, cut out 18 rounds and put each round into the well of two 12-well tart pans. Reroll pastry scraps, and with a star-shaped cookie cutter, cut out 18 small stars.
4. Divide mincemeat into each pastry shell and top each with a star. Brush pastry stars and tart edges with egg white and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until pastry is golden and filling is bubbling. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to let cool for about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.