Mincemeat puff pastry swirls

Christmas mincemeat puff pastry rolls
I am really pleased with this new recipe. It’s going to be my festive go-to recipe for whipping up a last minute sweet treat from now on. Basically, it’s a mince pie in disguise, and one that is even easier to make and store (which is really saying something, since mince pies aren’t exactly the trickiest kitchen task and don’t take up an awfully lot of room in the freezer). This mincemeat-packed pastry is the most efficient use of freezer space and can be put together in a matter of minutes. I used shop-bought puff pastry for this recipe because it’s all about convenience, but if you have time on your hands you can always make yours from scratch.

If you’re organised and already have homemade mincemeat ready to use then it will be perfect in this recipe. If not, then you can buy lovely mincemeat in the supermarkets, and we’ll perk it up with some orange zest, fresh pear and obligatory Christmas spirit anyway.
Ingredients for mincemeat puff pastry rolls
Ingredients (makes 24 pastries)
300g mincemeat
1 orange
Splash of brandy
2 ripe pears
1 lemon
500g all-butter puff pastry

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. Measure out the mincemeat into a bowl and add the zest of the orange and a splash of brandy. Mix together.
Adding orange zest and brandy to the homemade mincemeat
Homemade traditional Christmas mincemeat
2. Peel, core and finely dice the pears. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pear to stop the pieces from browning.
Finely diced ripe pears
3. Generously flour the work surface and roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle, with the long edge facing you. The pastry should be about 0.5cm thick.
Rolling out the puff pastry
4. Gently spread the mincemeat onto the pastry, right up to the edges of the sides, but leaving an inch gap at the front and back. Sprinkle the pear chunks on top.
Spreading the mincemeat and pear on the puff pastry
5. Roll the pastry into one long sausage-shape. Start by folding over the long edge closest to you (as shown below) and then roll up gently, using both hands. It will get easier as the roll gets thicker.
Beginning to roll the puff pastry
Rolled puff pastry filled with mincemeat
6. Trim the edges from the pastry roll to neaten it up. Cut it in half to make two manageable rolls. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up the pastry and make it easier to slice. Alternatively you can wrap the rolls in cling film and leave in the freezer, ready to slice and bake whenever you like.
Tidying the ends of the puff pastry roll
7. Remove the firmed pastry rolls and slice into 24 circles (or 12 if you’re just using one of the rolls). Space out on a large baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Sliced puff pastry roll ready to bake
8. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Leave to cool on a wire rack (or eat them while they’re warm!).
Baked puff pastry rolls stuffed with mincemeat
Cooling the mincemeat puff pastry rolls
Dust these flaky, spiced pastries with icing sugar for the perfect snowy effect if you like. Serve with steaming mugs of tea, coffee or (preferably) mulled wine.
Christmas mincemeat puff pastry swirls
Note: if cooking from the freezer, remove the roll about 30 minutes before you slice it. Cut off as many pieces as you need. Use a sturdy and very sharp knife, as the frozen pear makes the roll particularly hard. Bake as instructed above. Feel smug about how organised you are.

Easy apple tarts

Quick apple tart served with vanilla ice cream
This is a great little recipe if you need a dessert in a hurry. It’s basically a cheats apple tart, and isn’t much more than an assembly job, especially if you use ready-made puff pastry. It’s a great way to use up eating apples, of which there are many different British varieties in season at the moment. Don’t use cooking apples as they will become mush during the baking, but any eating apple will do – ours actually came from an overhanging tree in the Mitchell’s back garden (with neighbour permission of course!). Lemon juice stops the apple slices from browning and the brown sugar brings the sweetness back up and adds a caramelised toffee flavour. Then it’s just into the oven for a quick bake and a little glaze of jam at the end. Done and dusted in half an hour.

A special mention has to go to Natasha and Josh for their gift to me of a beautiful jar of homemade plum jam – with plums from the garden and all. The perfect topping for these fruity little tarts.
Ingredients for quick apple tarts
Ingredients (makes 6-8 small tarts)
400g puff pastry (or follow the quantities and method here)
4-5 eating apples
Half a lemon
2 tsp soft brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp plum or apricot jam

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Roll your pastry out to about half a centimetre thick. Using either a pastry cutter or a small bowl and a knife, cut out rounds of pastry and lay onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment. You want the size of the pastry circles to be a little bigger than the height of the apples. Pop into the fridge while you prepare the apples.
Rolling the homemade puff pastry
Cutting rounds of puff pastry
2. Cut the apples into thin slices and toss in the brown sugar and the juice of half a lemon.
Thinly sliced apple sprinkled with lemon juice and soft brown sugar
3. Arrange the apple slices on top of the pastry circles, overlapping in the middle. Brush a little egg around the edges of the pastry and bake for 8-10 minutes until the pastry has puffed up and the apple has started to caramelise.
Arranging the apple slices on the puff pastry
Baked apple tarts before glazing
4. While the pastries bake, heat the jam gently. Use a pastry brush to dab the melted jam over the top of the baked tarts.
Homemade plum jam
Heating the plum jam for glazing the tarts
Quick apple tarts
Serve warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream, or leave to cool and have with a steaming hot mug of tea.
Quick apple tart served with vanilla ice cream

Steak Pie with Flaky Puff Pastry

Inside the steak and mushroom pieSteak pie is a dish that is strongly associated with childhood memories for me. Just last week my sister and I were reminiscing about those rare evenings when we’d get home after school and spot a Marks and Spencer steak pie in the fridge – what a treat! We absolutely loved the rich, meaty filling and the crispy top on the puff pastry, but sometimes the best part was that bottom bit of the puff pastry right next to the beef which would go a little bit soggy. A serious pleasure. I still think you’re hard-pressed to find a better ready-made steak pie than those at M&S (apart from at a butchers I suppose), but a homemade one has all the same qualities – the melt-in-the-mouth beef, the rich gravy and the flaky pastry – with the added satisfaction that you get when you make a pie.

My method for steak pie is basically to make a delicious beef stew, allow it to cool and then pile it into a pie dish and top with pastry. I usually pack as much flavour into my stew as possible with extras like mustard, redcurrant jelly and herbs. A little glass of red wine or a dark beer will also add flavour to the stew, and I almost always add mushrooms, partly because I like the texture but also to bulk up the stew without spending lots of money on beef. You can cook the stew on the hob, but I find that a couple of hours in a low oven is the best way to achieve melting chunks of beef. You can also use short crust pastry – puff pastry is just my personal preference when it comes to steak pie, probably from those M&S ones – and shop-bought pastry is perfectly acceptable if you’re short on time. Or patience. This puff pastry follows the exact same method as I showed you before, and the ingredients are nearly identical. The one difference is that I substituted a small amount of the butter for white cooking fat for added flakiness. Never a bad thing.
Ingredients for homemade steak and mushroom pie with puff pastry
Ingredients (serves 4)
450g casserole or stewing steak, cut into large chunks
2 heaped tbsp seasoned flour
1 white onion, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
2 carrots, diced
250g mushrooms, cut into quarters if large
1 tsp dried rosemary
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
Few drops of Worcester sauce
Small glass of red wine or ale (optional)
500ml beef stock
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp red currant jelly
1 bay leaf
Vegetable oil

190g plain flour
100g butter
25g white cooking fat
20 tbsp iced water
1 egg, beaten

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/ Gas Mark 3. Toss the cut beef in the seasoned flour. You can do this in a bowl, but I find it easiest to pop everything into a freezer bag, tie the top and give it a good shake.
Casserole steak covered in seasoned flour
2. Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a casserole pan (the casserole pan needs to have a lid and be able to go in the oven). Fry the beef until golden brown and remove onto a plate with some kitchen roll to soak up the excess oil.
Frying the seasoned and floured steak
It’s best to do this in batches, so that the beef is just in one layer at the bottom of the pan. Don’t worry if the meat sticks to the pan, and leaves behind crispy bits – this is all added flavour in the end.
Frying the casserole steak in batches
3. Throw the onion, garlic and carrot into the hot oil and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any residue from the beef that has stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the vegetables are soft and turning golden brown.
Frying the onion, garlic and carrots
4. Tip in the mushrooms and continue cooking for a few more minutes, then add the beef back in, along with the dried herbs, and give everything a good mix.
Adding the mushrooms
5. Pour in the balsamic vinegar and let it bubble for a few seconds. If you’re using wine or ale then add this now and bubble for a few minutes until the liquid is reduced a little. Otherwise go ahead and add the stock, mustard and red currant jelly. Bring to the boil, tuck the bay leaf into the stew, top the pan with the lid and pop it into the oven.
Adding the seasonings and liquid
6. Cook for about 2 hours or until the beef is tender and the liquid has thickened to a gravy consistency. Check the stew after about an hour – give it a stir and add a little extra stock if necessary. Once ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool.
Homemade beef stew for a steak pie
7. While the stew cools you can make the puff pastry. This follows exactly the same steps as the puff pastry I showed you here (with more pictures): mix the fats into the flour; add the iced water and bring roughly together with a knife; tip onto a floured surface and shape into a rectangle; fold the top third down, the bottom third up, roll, turn and repeat. Once you have a smooth pastry, cover in cling film and pop into the freezer for 10-15 minutes to rest.
Ingredients for rough puff pastry
Combining the ingredients for rough puff pastry
Rough puff pastry ready to be rested
8. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas Mark 6. Spoon the beef stew into your pie dish and spread out evenly.
Chilled beef stew for steak pie
9. Roll out the puff pastry until it’s about 1cm thick and bigger than the pie dish. Lift the pastry onto the pie and press down firmly round the edges – a little egg wash round the lip of the pastry dish will help to stick it down. Cut round the pie with a sharp knife to remove the excess pastry.
Ready to assemble the steak pie
Rolling out the rough puff pastry
Topping the steak pie
10. Use the pastry trimmings to decorate your pie if you like. Brush with egg and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. If you’re not ready to bake the pie right away, you can leave it in the fridge until you are.
Steak and mushroom pie ready to be baked
Steak and mushrom pie with puff pastry
This pie will easily feed 4 people, served with a pile of lightly steamed and buttered green vegetables. However, you could definitely make it stretch to 6 people if you also make a generous helping of mashed potatoes.
Steak and mushroom pie served with green vegetables and red wine
Steak pie for Sunday dinner
A glass of red wine is not essential, but advised.

Mini puff pastry apple pies

Mini puff pastry apple pies with homemade pastry
The days are getting a little shorter, the temperature has dropped a noticeable few degrees and a few tell-tale leaves are already turning brown. It’s all pointing to the inevitable fact that Autumn is creeping up on us. Perhaps we still have a few more warm September days to come, but if not we have lots to look forward to: cold mornings with hot porridge, crisp afternoons with a bowl of soup or a steaming mug of hot chocolate and evenings wrapped in a blanket while tucking in to a hearty stew or a slice of pumpkin pie. Although eating apples aren’t quite ripe yet, the cooking apple tree at my grandparents’ house was laden with a huge crop of fruit. At the weekend we helped strip the tree bare, ending up with buckets and boxes and bags of cooking apples. A traditional apple pie made with short crust pastry is a beautiful thing, but here is something just a little bit different – miniature individual apples pies made with puff pastry.

I’ve been planning to share a recipe for puff pastry with you for a while now, and pastry week on Great British Bake Off seemed like the perfect timing. Puff pastry is a scary beast for most people, and we always hear chefs telling us not to bother making it from scratch, but to buy the ready-made pastry available in the shops. Now there’s nothing wrong with using shop-bought puff pastry – it’s relatively cheap, easy to store and use and cuts down cooking by a reasonable amount of time – and I often do so. However, “rough puff pastry” is actually very, even surprisingly, straightforward to make. Granted, “proper puff pastry” is a little more complicated, but this quicker version below produces beautifully light, flaky, buttery pastry.
Ingredients for mini puff pastry apple pies
Ingredients (makes 12 individual pies)
190g flour
Pinch of salt
125g chilled butter, cut into cubes
100ml iced water
400g cooking apples (about 4 small apples)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6 and lightly butter a 12-hole muffin tin.
2. Add the butter to the flour and salt and mix to coat.
Chilled and cubed butter and flour
3. Add 10 tbsp of the iced water, stirring with a knife to roughly combine. Add a little extra water if the mixture seems much too dry, but don’t worry that the mixture doesn’t come together completely – you need to be able to gather the mixture together with your hands, but you don’t want it to be wet.
Adding iced water to the puff pastry mix
4. Flour a surface and tip the pastry out, forming into a rough rectangle with your hands.
Making puff pastry - gathering the ingredients together
5. Gently roll the rectangle longer. Again, don’t be scared if the mixture cracks a little at this point, it will become smooth soon.
Making puff pastry - the first roll
6. Fold the top third down on itself, and the bottom third up over this.
Making puff pastry - folding down the top third
Making puff pastry - folding up the bottom third
7. Turn the pastry 90 degrees and repeat this process of rolling and folding. Repeat a total of 4 or 5 times, until you have a lovely smooth block of pastry. Wrap in cling film and put in the freezer for 15 minutes while you make the filling. (If chilling for longer, leave it in the fridge and take out 10 minutes before you need to roll, so that it’s not too hard. This pastry can be frozen if you want to store for another day.)
Making puff pastry - the pastry after 4 or 5 roll-and-fold processes
8. Peel, core and chop the apples into very chunks. Mix together with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.
Apple pie filling flavoured with cinnamon and vanilla
9. Remove the pastry from the freezer and roll out to a half centimetre thickness on a well-floured surface. Move quickly at this point, since the high butter content of the pastry will make it sticky and hard to work with if it gets too warm. Use a pastry cutter to cut 12 circles of pastry and gently press them into the buttered tin. Fill with a large spoon of the apples.
Filling the mini apple pies with the cinnamon and vanilla apple mixture
10. Dab a little egg around the edges of the pastry using a pastry brush to help stick the pie tops and bottoms together. Cut another 12 circles of pastry, lay them over the filling and gently press round the edges with a fork. Brush egg over the tops of the pies and make two small cuts on the top of each pie with a sharp knife to allow any steam to be released from the pies during cooking.
Mini puff pastry apple pies ready to be baked
11. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Cooling the mini puff pastry apple pies
Cooling the mini puff pastry apple pies on a wire rack
These can be eaten warm from the oven, or you can let them cool completely and then reheat them at 180C for about 5 minutes. They will keep in an air-tight container for a couple of days.
Mini puff pastry apple pies with homemade pastry
Mini puff pastry apple pie
Serve these with cream or ice-cream for dessert, or with a cup of tea in the afternoon. This is also how I usually make mince pies at Christmas time, replacing the apples with mincemeat, but for now miniature apple pies seem like the best way to celebrate the fact that Autumn has really arrived.