Reinventing the mince pie

How traditional should a mince pie be? That’s a question for the Mince Pie Project, which has assigned 36 celebrity chefs to create 36 different mince pies in batches of 50 that will be auctioned online in mid-December in support of Action Against Hunger and The Jamie Oliver Foundation.Reinventing an old-time favourite that has roots in the 13th century seems like a challenge. As with so many other holiday traditions, bringing something new to the (Christmas) table is considered sacrilege. Not having a Christmas tree? Out of the question! Exchange the turkey for chicken korma? I don’t think so.

So what about mince pies, are they as holy as, say, chestnuts and mulled wine? Judging by the launch night of the Mince Pie Project, they are. Out of seven mince pies represented, only two displayed a significant difference to the traditional type. Size, pastry and shape told them apart, but the filling was ostensibly the same.

The two chefs that had thought outside the box were The Square’s Phil Howard and Fifteen apprentice Tony Phillips. Looking at Howard’s contribution, you would initially react with a ‘that’s not a mince pie, that’s a cinnamon roll’ scorn. Yet, after a few chews I forgot the puff pastry’s snail shape and the flavours blended into the familiar mince pie, albeit with less filling.

Tony Phillips’s input was a beautifully crafted pie with hints of chocolate and a smooth filling. It was sophisticated. Tony commented that he wanted to stay true to the traditional treat but add a modern twist. With cinnamon sprinkled on top, it certainly didn’t abandon its Christmas roots.

I only had the chance to sample seven mince pies of the 36 specimens that will eventually be auctioned off. Some had almond-flavoured pastry, a lot of mince filling, less mince filling, elaborate decorations, and homemade touches, but it was impossible to say what rocked people’s boats (although Angela Hartnett’s pies were scoffed first off the plate).

It’s when the auction kicks off December 9th – 16th that the real verdict will come in. Will people bid higher for Heston’s deep fried mince pie, Marcus Wareing’s 1624’s loin of lamb ‘minst pye’ or possible even Claude Bosi’s humble and homemade-looking version? We just have to wait and see.

Top 3 traditional mince pie tips from Tony Phillips, apprentice at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen

  1. Mature the mince filling for 6 months to give it a deeper flavour. Plan well ahead and preserve in jars.
  2. Match the pastry with the filling, you don’t want to add too many spices to the pastry to make it overpowering.
  3. Plenty of Brandy gives a good kick, it’s never wrong to make it boozy
Learn how to make mince pies and other festive treats on Christmas cookery coursesBy Emmeline Westin

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