24 December 2002
Chaz'z Adventures in Pastryland, ongoing: because I decline to be defeated, even by something as scary-mystical as pastry, come Sunday I was determined to make mince pies. It's a Christmas thing, every decent right-thinking English cook has to do it, and so I did. And I started out with this recipe I'd found, that claimed to be foolproof; and I had to stop and redesign it twice along the way, because it was a nonsense; and it still came out as the only successful pastry I think I've ever made. So, here is the original 'foolproof' recipe, as adapted by a double fool into something that actually works:
Take half a pound of cold butter, and cube it into twelve ounces of flour. Start rubbing it in. When your hands cramp up and freak out on you, stop trying. Transfer the whole to a food processor, and give it a whizz. Add four ounces of caster sugar, and whizz again. Put back into the bowl you started with, and try to squeeze it into a single coherent lump. When you fail, beat in an egg for binding. Then squeeze it into a coherent lump. Butter the dimples of a mince-pie tray, put a walnut-sized lump of the pastry into each dimple and work them into cup-shapes with your thumbs. Add a spoonful of mincemeat to each, then manufacture little lids from the remaining pastry and seal them over. Puncture each with the blade of a knife, and slide into the middle of a preheated oven at gas mark 6. After half an hour, check they're ready and take them out. Let them cool a little in the tin, then slip 'em out onto a wire rack for cooling. You could brush 'em with egg before you bake them, you could dredge 'em in icing sugar after, but why bother? They'll be fine as they are.
Gail and Gavin came round Sunday night, to watch the musical episode of Buffy with me. It is fantastic, magnificent, adorable, and it kicked me totally into musical mode, so that I played Sondheim for the rest of the evening. Which Gail loves as I do, but Gavin not, I think. Still, I comforted him with shoulder of lamb, slow-roasted in the bottom of a cool oven for about eight hours and then served with spinach and a warm salad of new potatoes, garlic and green beans. That worked. Tonight I warmed through the leftovers and then hot-fried them into a single crispy bubble-and-squeak cake. That also worked, and I deserved it, after spending all day on Christmas duty, shopping and cooking and wrapping. The day's most demanding task: blanching a packet of hazelnuts. Picking the skins off just takes forever, and your fingers wrinkle up, and the little flakes of skin get everywhere, and Misha didn't at all understand why I was wet and stroppy and didn't want to play with her. It's always the family that suffers, come Christmas time...
© Chaz Brenchley 2002
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.