Despite living in Britain for over 25 years I have not quite adopted the local Christmas custom of whipping up batches of mince pies. All of that rolling and stamping out dough makes me want to break out in a not very festive sweat. But plenty of people do, so these small fruity hand pies are at absolutely every gathering at this time of year.
Some pies are just-out-of-the-oven-warm, all crumbly and buttery. Quite a few are spectacularly boozy, the brandy elevating the humble store cupboard ingredients that we mightn’t normally give the time of day. Others are more wholesome, with chunks of fresh fruit in with the dried. You can also make them a bit ‘skinnier’ (it is all relative) by using phyllo pastry instead of the usual shortcrust. And of course there are stacks of made up ones in the supermarket, with something for all tastes. Except perhaps mine.
Very much a British thing, mincemeat – the filling of mince pies – is not actual minced meat (phew!), instead a heady compote of dried fruits, mixed peel, some kind of fat (often suet), nuts, sugar, sometimes booze, and plenty of warm spice. It used to be made with meat, but thankfully this is no longer the case or I doubt very much whether it would be as popular a pie filling as it is. I certainly wouldn’t be adventurous enough to try one.
One reason that I haven’t got with the programme on the whole mince pie obsession is I don’t really like mincemeat. Or rather I think it is fine in small doses. For someone who likes full on savoury food I am not so hung-ho for full-on sweet foods: “No thank you” to death-by-chocolate, and “no ta” to mince pies. I will eat one (okay, two) to be polite if they are homemade, but I’d rather move onto some chilli-flecked cheese straws, or smoked salmon blini.
So, to get round the whole not being crazy for mince pies thing, I have come up with a couple of mincemeat-lover friendly recipes that will also please any non aficionados – last year’s somewhat similarly flavoured Pear, Mincemeat and Cranberry Galette and today’s Polenta Cake. The textures are however very different, and this cake is even more subtle, and actually easier too. Everything for this festive recipe is pretty much just bunged into a stand mixer and poured into a waiting tin. The hard part is, as always, waiting for the darn thing to cool.
I will leave you to read on for the recipe. As for me, I have just realised that my early present-buying has done me no favours as I now I need to find said presents and wrap them. Serves me right for being organised. Never again.
Pear, Almond and Mincemeat Polenta Cake
The bundt type tin is my favourite tin for most cakes – so easy to make even slices – but use a square tin or loaf tin if that’s what you have or prefer, perhaps covering the cake towards the end and leaving in a further 10 minutes. I’ve only made this in a bundt tin so can’t give specifics on the timings for other tins. And don’t be put off by the serving amount: this cake keeps well for up to five days. Plenty of time to scoff the lot. Freezes well, too. xx
**This recipe is based on my Fig and Walnut Polenta Cake recipe from earlier this year.
Butter or oil spray for the pan
150ml light olive oil or rapeseed oil (organic)
100g dark brown or muscovado sugar + 1 heaped tbsp (divided use)
3 medium organic eggs or 3 “chia eggs” for vegan version
100g ground almonds (lightly toasted and then blitzed in a powerful blender is best for flavour and texture, but bought is fine of course)
100g polenta (fine or coarse)
75g gluten-free flour blend (like Doves or Bob’s Red Mill) or plain/AP flour
1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
3 small firm pears, small dice (divided use)
5 rounded tbsp mincemeat (bought or homemade) – more to taste
1 tbsp butter or coconut oil
Palmful of dried cranberries
Palmful of flaked almonds, plus about 3 tbsp toasted flaked almonds to decorate and add contrast of texture
You will need: stand mixer, food processor or electric beaters; mixing bowl if using beaters; bundt type tin or 9 inch square cake tin; small saucepan
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F. Butter or oil spray your tin. Set aside.
2. Add the oil, sugar and eggs to the bowl of a stand mixer, food processor or large mixing bowl. If using a stand mixer use the ballon whisk attachment. Whisk/beat on high until light and fluffy. Change to a paddle attachment if you have a stand mixer.
3. Turn off the machine and add in the almonds, polenta, flour, baking powder, salt and the extracts. Beat until all is incorporated.
4. Pour or spoon in half of the batter and dot over about one-third of the pears and all of the mincemeat. 5. Top with the remaining batter and smooth with a wet spoon. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until lightly golden, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Place the cake on a cooling rack or similar (anything to let the air underneath the tin).
6. While the cake is cooling, heat the butter/oil and sugar until the sugar is dissolved; add the pears. Saute the pears, stirring, for a few minutes then add the cranberries and flaked almonds and continue cooking for a couple of minutes until all is softened. Allow to cool a bit.
7. Turn out the cake and place on a plate or cake stand. Spoon over the cooked fruit and top with the toasted almonds.
Soft Food Diet: leave off the topping, or blend it thoroughly first, and no flaked almond extra topping.