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The pastry kitchen is always the first part of the house to feel festive as winter evenings draw in at Ballymaloe. The weather changes to suit the season and the pastry team is busy at work; making a list, checking it twice and from then on its lots of plum puddings, mince pies and cakes to ice. Work begins in October as the aroma of citrus peel, slowly candying, fills the kitchen. Soon extra whiskey from the Midleton distillery and rich plump dried fruits arrive. This year Breda took on the job of carefully mixing the plum puddings, cakes and mince meat in good time for all to mature nicely. Over the past few days Anne and Alaina made the first mince pies and from now the festive feeling flows through the house as our food also changes to suit the season.

For me one a warm mince pie served with a generous spoon of softly whipped cream laced with good Irish whiskey is the perfect seasonal treat. The recipe here is my all time favourite and is used throughout the season at Ballymaloe House:

Mince Pies

Mince meat will keep for a year, if not longer, in a cool place.

This recipe fills two 450g (1lb) jam jars, enough for approx. 40 pies made in shallow 6.5cm (21/2in) tins

  • 1 cooking apple
  • 1 lemon
  • 225g (1/2lb, 11/2 cups) raisins
  • 110g (4oz, 3/4 cup) currants
  • 110g (4oz, 3/4 cup) sultanas
  • 60g (2oz, 1/3 cup) candied peel
  • 450g (1lb, 2 cups) firmly packed moist brown sugar
  • 225g (1/2lb, 2 cups) chopped beef suet
  • 75ml (21/2fl oz, generous 1/4 cup) whiskey
  • 1 tablespoon orange marmalade

Put the apple in a hot oven to bake. Grate the lemon rind finely without any white pith. Squeeze out the juice. Mix in the other ingredients one by one, mixing thoroughly. When the apple is cooked, peel and core it and mix the flesh in thoroughly with the fruit. Put into jam jars and cover closely. Use as required.

For approx. 20 mince pies:

  • 225g (1/2lb) cream pastry, puff pastry or flaky pastry
  • 225g (1/2lb) sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 1 jar mincemeat
  • egg wash

Roll out the sweet pastry to 3mm thick and cut into rounds, 7.5cm (3in) in diameter, and line shallow bun tins with the discs. Put a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in the centre and brush the pastry edges with egg wash. Roll the cream pastry to 3mm thick and cut into rounds, the same as you did for the shortcrust base, and cover a pie with each. Prick the lid of each pie with a fork. They can be kept like this for a day or two in a fridge before baking. Brush with beaten egg before putting in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes approx. in a moderately hot oven, 200°C/400°F/gas 6, until golden brown. Serve warm with Irish whiskey cream.

Irish whiskey cream

  • 1 tbspn Irish whiskey
  • 1 tspn icing sugar, sieved
  • 225ml (8fl oz) softly
  • whipped cream

Fold the whiskey and sugar into the  whipped cream.

Cream Pastry

  • 110g (4oz, 1/2 cup) flour
  • 110g (4oz, 1/2 cup) cold butter
  • 150ml (1/4 pint, 2/3 cup) cold cream

Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric food mixer. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub into the flour using the paddle attachment until the mixture forms a coarse texture. Do not overmix – if you do, the mixture will form a shortbread-like ball. Pour in the cold cream and mix until a smooth pastry forms. Wrap the pastry in parchment paper and chill overnight.

Always roll cream pastry straight from the fridge. If the pastry comes to room temperature it will be too soft to handle.

Sweet Pastry

  • 300g (11oz, 21/4 cups) flour
  • 60g (2oz, 1/4 cup) caster sugar
  • 30g (1oz, 1/4 cup) icing sugar
  • 170g (6oz, 3/4 cup) cold butter, sliced
  • 1 small egg, lightly beaten

Sieve the flour and sugars together, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Bind with the beaten egg to form a smooth pastry. Divide the pastry in two and wrap each piece in cling film. Rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour or freeze.

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