Whether you love them or not, Christmas Mince Pies are a British seasonal requirement. Bought or home-made, they are guaranteed to be found lurking (along with tins of sweets and bags of bright orange tangerines) in offices, at Christmas parties and on coffee tables wherever you go. As a child, I even made a load and took them carol singing to offer along the way… I made a fortune that year!
They are best (in my opinion) home-made, with good-quality mincemeat and perfectly crisp pastry. The gluten free mince pies shared here go one step further… With the flavours of Christmas crammed into a basket of cherry-almond pastry, each is decadently topped with a crunchy cinnamon crumble and packed to bursting point with wonderfully aromatic Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio & Calvados. Laced with a good glug of apple brandy, they will leave you with a happy seasonal glow.
Complex as they sound, they are really quite easy to make and will be a revelation of loveliness for anyone lucky enough to eat one (gluten-avoider or not).
The History of Christmas Mince Pies
If you have ever wondered why these little tarts filled with dried fruits are called ‘mince pies’, you need to journey back into history. Here you will find a story of gradual metamorphosis from savoury meat to fruity and sweet, dating back some 600 years.
The Meat Pie
Originally filled with meat, mince pies appear (in their most primitive form) in the 14th Century. But they were not originally associated with Christmas. Made with ground meat (commonly mutton, pork or game), the original pastry was just a basic paste of flour and water, predominantly there to seal and preserve the meat inside. Over time, it appears that spice and dried fruit were added, although the mince pie remained essentially a savoury treat.
You can find an early (1591) meat, fruit and spice recipe for ‘Real’ Mince Pies on the English Heritage website.
The seasonal Christmas mince pie only makes its appearance in the mid-17th Century. Still largely filled with meat, fruit and spices, these ‘Christmas Pyes’ and ‘Crib Cakes’ were originally oval in shape to represent Jesus’ manger. The pastry top symbolised his swaddling blanket. At this time, mince pies also began to symbolise wealth, with rich people making them particularly for Christmas gatherings.
From Meat to Sweet
The first documented non-meat version of the Mince Pie appears in Georgian times in the 1747 cook book the Art of Cookery (Hannah Glasse). The printed recipe offers an alternative filling, using a mixture of currants, raisins, apples, sugar, suet, peel and wine.
During this period, the Christmas mince pie can also be seen to morph in shape. It increasingly takes the form of stars, hearts, crescents, with some even designed to fit together as if a jigsaw. The specific rise of the sweet mince pie however, only becomes popular later in the mid 19th Century, with the increased availability and affordability of cheap sugar from the West Indies.
Today, Christmas Mince Pies are very much a season-specific treat. Even in households where they are not popular, they seem to find their way into kitchens and shopping baskets. The tradition it seems, is inextricably engrained in our British psyche. Or perhaps we just fear that if we don’t leave the time-honoured warming treat out for Santa, our stockings will remain empty…
Gluten Free Mince Pies – Why you should make your own
Not Too Sweet
For the Coeliacs and gluten avoiders amongst us, there is now a growing selection of gluten free mince pies available in the shops. As with all gluten free sweet treats however, they vary massively in quality, flavour and texture. Aside from the obvious need to avoid wheat-based pastry, the biggest issue for me, is that for the most part, they are extremely sweet… Way too sweet to make eating them a truly enjoyable experience.
Christmas mince pies should sing crisp pastry filled with juicy fruit, nuts and spice and a warming hint of booze. And sugar should enhance but not overpower the delight of this quintessential seasonal treat. It would seem the ratio as well as quality and choice of ingredients is key.
Choose Your Fruit to Suit
If you love them, great. But I have a bit of an aversion to finding too many currants in my mince pies. Whilst sultanas seem to add moist, soft, sweet and fruity enjoyment, currants by contrast come across as hard, gritty and often a little bitter. Suet is not a favoured ingredient either.
The answer it seems, is to make your own mince meat as well as pies… From pastry that is short, to easy home-made, low-raisin, no-suet, alcohol-infused Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio & Calvados. Home-made offers the freedom of choice to use your favourite fruits and nuts; to opt for using caramelly brown sugars; and to add a little extra texture and decadence with a cinnamon-crumble top. Now these Christmas mince pies are beginning to sound tempting!
Good Pastry is Essential – Try Mince Pies with Almond Pastry
In addition to the carefully created and balanced mincemeat and a spiced crumble blanket, the recipe below is for Christmas mince pies with almond pastry. Crisp, and not over-sweet, I have been using my almond pastry for years. Delicious ‘straight’ it also makes a dough which is flexible enough to take on a whole variety of flavoursome additions. From Lemon & Almond pastry, to Orange pastry and even Parmesan Pastry, this recipe can be adapted to whatever you are making. (Although I now use Gluten Free Alchemist flour blend A rather than the brown rice-flour outlined in earlier recipes).
The mince crumble pies pictured here showcase a delightful cherry-almond pastry. Although the recipe uses freeze-dried cherry powder (I usually buy mine from Healthy Supplies), if you don’t have any, it’s not a problem. The pastry is quite delicious without it. Or alternatively, you could substitute for freeze dried raspberry powder which is widely available now in many supermarkets.
To make them even more festive, top each pie with a little fondant icing snowflake made using a cute little cutter. And of course, it goes without saying… a bit of seasonal edible sparkle.
Other Favourite Christmas recipes on Gluten Free Alchemist
- Amazing Mincemeat Frangipane Tart with GF Orange Pastry
- Wonderfully aromatic Extra Fruity Mincemeat with Pistachio & Calvados
- Gluten free Mini Quiches
- Vegetarian Stuffed Cashew Nut Roast (Roulade)
- Christmas-Spiced Star Biscuits
- Tiramisu (with home-made trifle sponges)
- Coffee Ice Cubes (Perfect for popping in a glass of Baileys)
- Full English Breakfast Blinis (mini bites of traditional English breakfast to keep you going until that celebratory lunch)
- A traditional Gluten Free Gingerbread House
- German Gingerbread Cookies (Lebkuchen 1)
- Winter Ginger & Pear Trifles
- Gingerbread Stuffing
- Layered Chocolate-Mint Christmas Tree Cake
- A beautiful gluten free tear-&-share Bread Bouquet
- Honey-Glazed Thyme-Roasted Carrots & Parsnips
- White Chocolate Panna Cotta served with Honey-Roast Figs
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Christmas Mince Pies with Cinnamon Crumble Topping
- Kitchen scales
- measuring spoons
- Mixing bowls
- mixing spoon/spatula
- flat table knife
- Rolling Pin
- non-stick muffin tray
- round cookie cutter/glass rim
- wire racks (to cool)
Gluten Free Almond Pastry
- 130 g gluten free plain flour blend I use gluten free alchemist Blend A – see website
- 50 g corn flour (corn starch)
- 2 tsp ground freeze-dried cherries (optional)
- ½ tsp xanthan gum
- pinch fine sea salt
- 110 g unsalted butter cold & cut into cubes
- 40 g ground almonds (almond meal)
- 60 g caster sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1½ tbsp cold water
Christmas Mince Meat Filling
- 410 g mincemeat (approx 1 jar) – or make your own (see link in 'notes')
- 150 g plain gluten free flour blend I use gluten free alchemist Blend A – see link in 'notes'
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon or to taste
- 100 g unsalted butter cold & cut into cubes
- 40 g golden caster sugar
- 35 g coconut sugar or soft light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp soft light brown sugar for sprinkling
- fondant icing snowflakes; edible glitter; sprinkles
- Weigh the flours, cherry powder, xanthan gum and salt into a large bowl and mix, making sure any lumps are broken down.
- Rub the butter into the flour mixture with your finger tips until it resembles breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the sugar and almonds.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of the water and pour into the dry ingredients.
- Stir all the ingredients using a table knife until they begin to clump together. If you think the mixture is too dry add a little more water, a dribble at a time until you feel the consistency is right (moist, but kneadable and not crumbly).
- Dust your hands with corn flour/flour blend and bring the dough together, pressing into a ball. Knead very briefly, to make sure the ingredients are fully amalgamated.
- Don't chill. Roll the dough to about 3mm thickness, cut into rounds using a cookie cutter and use to line the holes of a muffin tin.
- Place the pastry-lined trays in the fridge to chill whilst you prepare your crumble topping.
- Weigh the flour and cinnamon into a large bowl and add the cold, cubed butter.
- Rub the butter into the flour with your finger tips until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.
- Add the golden caster and coconut sugars and stir through to combine.
Filling, Topping and Baking the Pies
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 C/350 F/Gas 4.
- Fill each pastry cup with Christmas mincemeat (⅔-¾ full).
- Top with a spoon of the crumble mixture, ensuring the filling is covered to the edge of the pastry rim.
- Using your finger tips, sprinkle a little extra brown sugar on the top (optional for crunch).
- Bake for 20 to 30 minutes until golden-brown, with a crunchy surface.
- Using a small spatula or flat-bladed knife, carefully remove the pies from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool.
- Decorate with fondant snowflakes, sprinkles and glitter (optional)
Shared with :
- Cook Blog Share with Easy Peasy Foodie
- Full Plate Thursday #460 with Miz Helen’s Country Cottage
- Mix it up Monday with Flour Me With Love
This post was originally published on 19.12.2015 and updated on 26.11.2019
Previously shared (2015) with Free From Fridays with Emma at the Free From Farmhouse; Tea Time Treats with Lavender & Lovage and the Hedgecombers; The Food Year Link-Up with Charlotte’s Lively Kitchen; Recipe of the Week with A Mummy Too.