3rd December (+8): Mincemeat musings

Making the mincemeat is a great activity to start off the festive season. I love the whole process, the time it takes, the delicious ingredients and the beautiful scent it produces as it cooks away in the oven.

There are so many different recipes for mincemeat that have evolved over the years. Originally the recipe included some form of meat (usually beef or venison) on top of the mixture of dried fruit, spirits, wines or vinegars and spices. Nowadays beef suet or shortening is often used instead but in my case I always use vegetable suet. The use of the familiar festive spices like clove, nutmeg, mace and cinnamon that became more common in late medieval meat dishes plus the increase in sweetness that came from adding more sugars to cooking made mincemeat less savoury and evolve into a form of dessert.

Mince pies are a necessity at Christmas time in our house but what if you love the mincemeat flavours but fancy something different? Here are a few suggestions for mince pies with a twist...

1. Mince pie vol au vents - Using frozen vol au vent cases, make the vol au vents as usual until they're just cooked. Take the tops off & fill with a small amount of mincemeat before popping back in the oven to finish cooking.

2. Filo cup mince pies - Make filo pastry cups using layers of filo pastry, melted butter & a mini muffin tin. They can be filled with mincemeat and baked until cooked through.

3 . Mince pie turnovers - Using puff pastry squares, fill the centre with mincemeat & fold over to create a turnover. Glaze & cover with sugar before baking until ready.

4. Mince pies escargots - Similar to my savoury 'snails', spread mincemeat on a rectangle of puff pastry, roll up then slice, glaze with beaten egg & bake until cooked. These are particularly good to serve with drinks as they're small & not too messy to eat with one hand!

5. Mincemeat can also be added to cake batter to make a lightly spiced fruit cake or festive buns.

6. If keen on the traditional looking mince pie, why not make ones with star-shaped lids using a cookie cutter? Or open-top like a jam tart but sprinkled with flaked almonds? You could pop a square of chocolate in under the lid before baking as normal to add a different flavour or perhaps cut out thin layers of icing to pop on top & decorate. My friend Ciara at Ursa Minor Bakehouse in Ballycastle makes amazing ones with a frangipane topping. Go try them for yourself. You'll not be disappointed!