There’s been a lot of discussion on the food internet lately about what constitutes a mince pie.
The controversy kicked off two weeks ago, when US food website The Spruce Eats posted (and swiftly removed) a bizarre misinterpretation of the dish. The team mistook “mincemeat” to mean “beef mince” and so prepped a full-sized tart filled with mince, topped with apples and served with custard.
UK commenters laughed and recoiled in horror in equal measure, though that wasn’t the end of it. As Eater London posited: When is a Mince Pie No Longer a Mince Pie? Does a mincemeat-stuffed doughnut count? Or a mincemeat and apple pie topped with a cloud of meringue? Or a mince pie filled with tonka-bean custard?
I’m not here to wade in with any proclamations, but instead to add another mince pie-ish candidate to the playing field: the deep-fried mince pie. First, credit where it’s due: this iconoclastic recipe comes from Lee Tiernan, the chef at Black Axe Mangal (London’s most punk-rock restaurant, IMO). It’s devilishly simple, to the point where it’s barely even cooking: procure store-bought puff pastry dough and a jar of mincemeat, unroll the dough and cut it into even rectangles, add a good dollop of mincemeat to each, seal, and freeze before frying.
That’s it. You can prep them in 10 minutes, stick ‘em in the freezer for as long as you like and fry them from frozen before your festivities kick off. Though Tiernan’s recipe calls for the frozen mince pies to be dunked in a slurry before going in the fryer, I find they still emerge crisp-tender without it, so I’ve foregone that step to make the prep even simpler.
So is this really a mince pie? It looks closer to an empanada – a mince hand pie is likely more accurate. But I can say that, still warm from the fryer, dusted in icing sugar and grated clementine zest, and served with brandy cream, it is by far the most delicious iteration I’ve ever had. The only thing that further improves it is a glass of St Bernardus Christmas Ale on the side. It perfectly matches the pie’s level of sweetness and rich flavours of dried fruit. At 10% ABV, this Belgian quad just about out-boozes the brandy cream and certainly chases away any winter chill. It’s hard to get more festive than this pairing – even if the mince pie doesn’t quite adhere to tradition.
Deep-Fried Mince Pies
Adapted from The Black Axe Mangal Cookbook
For the mince pies:
375g shop-bought puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
320g mince pie filling (preferably the matured variety)
1 egg, beaten
1.5–2 litres vegetable oil
Several tablespoons icing sugar
1–2 clementines or satsumas
1 container brandy cream
1. Unroll the sheet of puff pastry and slice into eight equal rectangles. Prep your first mince pie: take the first rectangle of dough (short side facing you) and dollop roughly 1.5 tablespoons of mincemeat on the bottom half, being sure to leave a ½-inch edge around the margins. Brush beaten egg yolk on the top half of the dough and fold over to cover the mincemeat. Lightly seal the edges with your finger before pressing down with the tines of a fork to completely seal. Place in a large sealable container lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour so the mince pie doesn’t stick.
2. Repeat the process with the remaining pies and place in the container, being sure the pies do not touch and stick together (you may need to create several layers inside the container using additional sheets of parchment paper). Seal and place in the freezer until the pies are completely frozen. These can be made ahead and left in the freezer until you’re ready to fry them.
3. When you’re ready to fry, add the vegetable oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot and place on high heat; you’ll want the oil to come up around 4 inches, so add more if necessary. Heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until the oil reaches 160° Celsius (325° Fahrenheit). Meanwhile, preheat your oven to its lowest setting and line a large baking sheet with foil. Line a separate plate with paper towels.
4. Add two mince pies to the oil at a time and cook for approximately 5–8 minutes, until they are evenly golden-brown and look crisp; using tongs or a slotted spoon, flip and move them regularly so they cook evenly. Once cooked, transfer to the paper towel-lined plate and leave to drain and cool for several minutes. Then, transfer to your foil-lined baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm.
5. Repeat with the remaining mince pies, cooking two at a time so as not to overcrowd the pot or lower the oil temperature too much – they should bubble up and boil vigorously as soon as you add them to the oil. Once all the mince pies are cooked, drained and keeping warm in the oven, remove the pot of oil from the heat and leave to cool completely before discarding the oil.
6. To serve, sprinkle over some icing sugar and grate over the clementine or satsuma zest. Serve while still warm, with brandy cream on the side.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our award-winning first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.