Tom Kitchin: Gingerbread, mince pies, mulled wine

Tom Kitchin. Picture: TSPL

Tom Kitchin. Picture: TSPL

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NOTHING signals the countdown to Christmas quite like gingerbread, mince pies and mulled wine.

The smells, the flavours and the tastes of these festive favourites always fill our house when the big day approaches.

In the Kitchin household, Christmas is a big celebration, as is Advent, and we love to get into the festive spirit early, inviting family and friends round to our house to catch up over light snacks.

To accompany the nibbles, nothing beats home-made mulled wine, using aromatic, seasonal spices like cloves, star anise, cinnamon and cardamom, filling the house with a wonderful warming, inviting Christmas smell. We usually prepare our mulled wine in a big pot but this year we’ve borrowed the old coffee urn owned by fellow chef Dominic Jack’s grandmother. It really adds to the theatre of the celebrations and means we can keep the mulled wine warm for our guests arriving. We like to make a non-alcoholic version for the kids too, replacing the wine with juice. It also means any designated drivers don’t have to miss out.

This time of year is also a great chance to get kids into the kitchen, keeping them entertained at weekends or during the school holidays by showing them that cooking and baking can be a lot of fun. Classic mini mince pies and home-made gingerbread biscuits are simple to make, and children have so much fun filling the pastry cases of the pies, or cutting biscuits and decorating them with their favourite Christmas characters or shapes. Our boys always invite their friends over to help bake some Christmas treats – and usually add to the mess in the kitchen at the same time.

Whether you’re preparing the biscuits and mince pies yourself, or the children are helping, they can make perfect edible gifts and really thoughtful presents to take round to friends or family. You can even hang the biscuits from the Christmas tree and show off all your hard work.

MINCE PIES

Serves four to six

For the pastry

65g butter

40g sugar

115g plain flour

½ an egg

For the filling

85g diced cranberries

45g chopped apples (skin on)

45g suet

56g raisins

45g sultanas

45g currants

45g mixed peel

55g soft brown sugar

zest and juice of one orange

zest and juice of one lemon

30g floured almonds

pinch nutmeg powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp brandy (you can leave out the brandy if you’re enjoying them with the children)

Method

For the pastry: Keeping the egg aside, combine the rest of the pastry ingredients in a large mixing bowl until the mix resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix in to a dough. Leave the pastry to rest for 1 hour before rolling it out.

For the filling: Keeping the brandy aside, combine the rest of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and leave to rest for at least 24 hours, the longer the better. Pre-heat the oven to 120C/Gas Mark ½. Place the mix in a tray, cover with foil and cook for 3 hours at 120C/Gas Mark ½ until all the fruit is sticky and soft, stirring occasionally. Once cooked, add the brandy and leave to cool.

For the mince pies: Roll and cut the pastry to fit your bun tins, ensuring there’s enough to cut a lid for each pie separately. Fill the lined pies with the mincemeat. Place the lid on top and crimp the edges down. Using a small Christmas tree pastry cutter, use the excess pastry to decorate the top. Egg-wash the top and bake at 120C/Gas Mark ½ for 20 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.

To serve

Once cooled, dust with caster sugar and serve.

HOME-MADE GINGER BISCUITS

Makes 15 biscuits

15ml water

40ml sugar

30g butter or margarine

10ml syrup

½ tsp cloves

½ tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

120g flour

½ tsp baking powder

icing to decorate

Method

Heat the oven to 225C/Gas Mark 7. Mix the baking powder and half of the flour. Then boil the water and sugar. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the syrup, butter and spices. Let the sugar cool, then add the flour and mix. Put the dough on the table and mix in the remaining flour. Put the dough in a container, sprinkle flour on the top and cover with a tea towel. Let it cool in the fridge overnight. When making the biscuits the next day, roll out the dough and cut the biscuit shapes out with cookie cutters. Place on a baking tray and put in the oven for 5-6 minutes.

To serve

Decorate with icing. Once ready, allow the biscuits to cool on a rack before placing them in an air-tight container to store.

MULLED WINE

Serves five

700ml red wine

1 orange, sliced

6-8 cloves

5 star anise

handful of juniper berries

4 cinnamon sticks

2 cardamom seeds

Method

In a heavy-bottomed pan combine all of the above ingredients. Simmer on a low heat for 5-10 minutes to allow the fruits and spices to infuse with the wine. Remove from the heat and serve warm.

NON-ALCOHOLIC MULLED WINE

Serves eight

500ml apple juice

2 cinnamon sticks

1 orange, peeled and sliced

3 tbsp sugar

knob of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

1 apple, chopped

Method

Add all ingredients to a heavy-bottomed pan. Simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes. Cool to a suitable temperature for children and serve.

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