24 Dec 2010

Mincemeat Muffins

I love muffins. They're dead easy to make and you can add pretty much anything you like to them - blueberries, cranberries, chocolate chips in all shapes and sizes, nuts, etc. etc. I tend to put in whatever I have to hand and it being Christmas, right now that means mincemeat. 

Muffins are a whole lot easier to make than mince pies (though I do have a pretty divine recipe for lemon and almond shortcrust pastry that really isn't that difficult to throw together - but another time), and they make for a great treat during the festive season - not to mention helping to get through the epic quantities of mincemeat I've now got lined up in my kitchen. Mincemeat is pretty delectable, though, and I could quite happily spoon it out of the jar and straight into my mouth...perhaps not! 

I made a huge batch of Christmas mincemeat a few weeks back, mincemeat being one of the things that it's virtually impossible to lay hands on in this fair land. I have seen it in miniscule jars, but the ingredients are not inspiring and let's face it: what's the point?! I could probably make about three mince pies with the contents of one jar, and it's fiendishly expensive too: I'll save my yen for my Marmite and make my own rich, sweet and spicy Christmas treat. All the dried fruit, citrus fruit, spices and alcohol mean that when you make mincemeat your kitchen ends up smelling like you've died and gone to heaven! This is what British Christmas tastes like and it is very good. 

In case you were wondering, in the beginning (way back in Tudor times, apparently) mincemeat really was made with meat (hence the name), along with eggs, and the dried fruits and exotic spices the Crusaders brought back to our shores. Over time, beef suet (kidney fat - nice!) came to replace the meat, and the eggs were dropped completely from the recipe. Today's mincemeat is a spicy preserve consisting of a mixture of dried and candied fruits, apples, and spices (with or without beef suet - though, let's face it, it's got to be better without) that are heavily laced with brandy and/or rum. It's divine, and Christmas really wouldn't be Christmas without hot mince pies topped with brandy butter and washed down with mulled wine...!
This recipe contains zero in the way of animal life, by the way. Beef suet is available in packets in Blighty, but I didn't even bother attempting to track it down here; I'm quite happy to have mincemeat without a trace of lardiness.

Last Minute Mincemeat - it better be, given that it's Christmas Eve!!
Makes about 1.8 kilograms

250g each of sultanas and raisins 
100g currants
250g each of dried apricots and dried figs
450g dessert apples, peeled, cored and chopped
100g blanched almonds
1 tbsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cloves
freshly grated nutmeg
3 lemons, grated rind and juice
125ml runny honey
4 tbsp rum or brandy

Rinse the sultanas, raisins and currants in hot water from the kettle. Dry with a clean cloth and tip into a large mixing bowl.
Snip the apricots and figs with kitchen scissors and add to the bowl, along with the apple and almonds. Mix well.
Coarsely chop the mixture in a food processor - do this in batches. Return the mixture to the mixing bowl. Stir in the mixed spice, ground cloves and a good grating of nutmeg. Finely grate the lemon rind directly into the mixture.
Combine the squeezed lemon juice, honey and rum (or brandy). Add to the chopped fruits and mix thoroughly. 
You're done!!

This mincemeat can be used immediately. Spooned into a container (jars, a plastic storage box, whatever you have to hand) it will keep for EVER, pretty much!! I found the tail-end of the last batch I made three years ago in a jar in my basement. It was a bit black, but still tasted pretty good. Given that this is my first Christmas at home in that long, however, I did decide that the time was probably right to throw a fresh batch together; I wouldn't want to be inadvertently (directly?!) responsible for poisoning all my friends - especially not at Christmas!!
By the way, you can freeze this mincemeat if you're feeling responsible - if you do, defrost and stir before using. You can also add in extra flavourings - more rum or brandy, some stem ginger, finely grated orange rind or a ring of fresh pineapple, chopped small - whatever takes your fancy.

And now to the muffins...this is something of a two-for-the-price-of-one post, it being Christmas and all.

Mincemeat Muffins
(Makes 6)

120g butter (or margarine)
80g cane sugar (or caster sugar)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp baking powder
120g plain flour
80g mincemeat

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Centigrade. 
Cream the butter and the sugar. Add in the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift the flour and the baking powder straight onto the mixture and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ones. Now fold in the mincemeat and mix well. 
Spoon the mixture into muffin cases and bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and brown. 
Remove the muffins from the oven and cool on a wire rack. 

                            Merry Christmas!!!

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