Anyway, I made some mince pies to take along to this, on the basis that I've made them before, so I was fairly confident that I could do so again. I posted a photo on Friday, so here's a bit more detail about the process involved.
As I said, I have done mince pies before, since my 6 bun baking tray came with a handy recipe on the cardboard packaging. Unfortunately, I was unable to find the recipe or the baking tray, so I assume that they're either in one of my remaining boxes (two years after I moved in, ahem), or that I left them behind when I moved out of my last place. Ah well, never mind. Once it got to 10pm on Thursday evening, I decided that I really ought to get started, so I hit the web in search of inspiration. I wound up combining two recipes (this one and this one), along with my own modifications.
That said, I was amused by the recipe for Total Cheat's Mince Pies (scroll down to the very bottom of that page): "[Buy package of quality mince pies.] Put the pies on a plate. Gently batter them with the rolling pin until pies look uneven. Sprinkle generously with icing sugar." I seem to recall one of the lead characters in Student Exchange using a similar approach for cooking pizza; sadly that is one of the classic 80s films which is yet to be released on DVD.
Anyway, the resultant shortcrust pastry recipe (for 36 pies) was:
300g Stork butter ("Perfect for pastry!")
700g McDougalls plain flour
Pinch of salt
3 egg yolks
Sadly I don't have any photos of the pies in progress, partly because my hands were a bit messy, so I didn't want to gunk up my camera. However, I have wondered about the idea of doing my own cookery show (e.g. via YouTube, which I could film with a webcam while recording a running commentary. This is inspired by something that elyon suggested about 10 years ago, when I used to do aerobics; the videos for exercising at home tend to involve a glamorous (female) celebrity in excessively scenic surroundings (e.g. stately home, clifftop, in front of waterfall), so I could do an alternate version For Men, set in a junkyard or something, possibly with explosions in the background, and helicopters swooping overhead.
But I digress, so back to the pastry. I made this by hand, because I'm a purist, and I care about such things! Or, alternately, because I'm too cheap-ass to buy a food processor - take your pick.
Step 1: "Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, holding the sieve as high as possible to give the flour an airing".
I think this probably looks quite impressive if it's done correctly, a bit like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. For that matter, it probably looks impressive if it's done wrong, although in a slightly different way. My advice here is that you should put a small amount of flour into the sieve, then get that into the mixing bowl before you add more flour to the sieve. Since I didn't do this, I wound up with a sieve full of flour, and it didn't seem to want to drop out. Patting the top of it didn't succeed in pushing it through, so I found that the solution was to run my finger around the edge of the sieve, and this apparently created a vortex, which sucked all of the flour through (or something like that). After the first sieve-full, I decided that I should change out of my work trousers (which are black), since white flour tends to show up a bit on them. When I'd finished with this step, I noticed that the packet of flour said "No need to sift". Ah well, never mind.
Step 2: "Cut the butter into small cubes and add them to the flour".
I cut the butter into cubes that were about 1cm per edge. This is about the same size as the cheese cubes that I've made in the past (for cheese and pineapple on cocktail sticks as party snacks), and the butter does in fact vaguely resemble cheese. However, I suspect that people would notice the difference, so this doesn't have the "last minute substitute" potential that one might initially think.
Step 3: "Using fingertips, lightly and gently rub the pieces of fat into the flour - lifting hands up as high as possible and trying to be quick".
This merges with the previous step a bit: I added the butter cubes to the flour two at a time, then squished them up. Actually, there was no real advantage to doing them in pairs, since I only handled one at a time, but it felt as if I was getting there faster. I didn't lift my hands particularly high, mainly because I didn't notice that part of the instructions until afterwards. I also wouldn't describe this step as particularly quick: it took me about 50 minutes to mix it all together. Coming back to the video idea, I think this is the type of thing that would definitely benefit from a musical montage. As I was actually doing it, I had the TV playing a selection of Madonna songs, but the montage could use different music, preferably including an electric synthesiser for that authentic 80s feel. You might ask why it's important to have an 80s feel, but then you might as well ask why you need a montage at all, and that way lies madness, so let us speak of it no more.
By the time I'd finished this step, I realised that I really should have used a bigger mixing bowl. I was using the biggest one I had, but I was pretty cramped for space by the end of it, and it was a challenge to find patches of flour that were still white (rather than yellow-ish). In fact, it would probably make more sense to have done the pastry in smaller batches, since that would make the next step easier too.
Step 4: Turn the pastry into a big ball, by sprinkling water over it, and separating it from the edges of the bowl. Then cover it in silver foil and put in fridge.
I added water a couple of tablespoons at a time, and I think that I used 15 tablespoons worth altogether. I wasn't able to produce one big ball, and I did find a couple of white patches in the flour that I'd missed before, so I did my best to mix them with the surrounding ("butter enriched") areas. In the end, I wound up getting one fairly big ball, and dumping that on the foil, then getting two smaller lumps, and smooshing the whole lot together when it was out of the bowl, then wrapping it up and putting it in the fridge.
Step 5: "Rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, preferably longer".
I left it in for 30 minutes, by which point it was 00:45, and I needed to move things along a bit.
Step 6: Pre-heat oven.
One recipe said 200° C, while the other one said 190° C. Since my oven is fan assisted, I went for the lower one. As it turned out, the oven then sat at temperature for quite a long time, while I sorted out the pastry, so in retrospect I should have left this until a bit later; it only takes about 5 minutes to heat up, so if I turned it on as I was doing the filling then that would be fine.
Step 7: Grease a baking tin.
I had a greaseproof tray with 12 pie-shaped dents in it. Back in my Durham days, I did have a spirited discussion with my housemates on this issue: I maintained that if a tray is greaseproof then that means that you don't have to grease it, while they maintained that in actual fact you do, otherwise the food will stick to it. After some experimentation, it turned out that they were correct, so I prepped the tray using Flora Pro-Activ and toilet paper. However, I only had to do this once, and that was fine for all three batches of pies in the same tray.
Step 8: Cut pastry into shapes.
Following elvum's advice, I tried to get the pastry as thin as possible, although I didn't make it to 1mm. I was concerned that I might not have enough for 36 pies, but I pressed on regardless. I rolled out the pastry on a plastic chopping board, using a wooden rolling pin. However, I noticed a marble rolling pin at the pie-off today, and aca said that this is to keep the pastry cool, so in retrospect I would have been better off rolling it directly on my granite worktop (which is also larger than the chopping board). Ah well, live and learn. Since the chopping board is relatively small, I couldn't roll all of the pastry at once, so I pulled sections off the big lump; this comes back to my previous comment about just preparing separate batches of pastry, rather than dealing with the logistical difficulties of a huge lump.
The iVillage recipe said that you should make sure your pastry cutters fit the pie tins you have, which is a good tip. I don't have a ruler to hand, so I can't tell you the precise sizes I used. However, the pastry cutters I bought came in a set of three, and I used the largest for the base of each pie. I left the lids until later on, due to a lack of space. For the same reason, I put each base straight into the pie tin as I cut it out.
Step 9: Filling.
When it came to the filling, I used Robinson's Classic Mincemeat. I'd stocked up on three jars (411g each), and based on the recipes I estimated that I'd need 700g, but I actually wound up using about 650g. Basically, that's not something that you really measure out, so the estimate is only useful for you to know how much to buy. I just did a heaped teaspoon into each pie, which worked out about right. It sounds like a pretty stingy portion, but I suspect that my spoons may be a slightly non-standard size. It may be slightly cheating to use shop bought mincemeat, so I'm vaguely considering doing it from scratch myself the next time I do this recipe (e.g. at Christmas). However, that will require a bit more planning (I gather that the mincemeat should be prepared at least a week before the pastry), and also a food processor.
I had some trouble opening the lid of the second jar, so I found this page very helpful, specifically the tip about wedging a bottle opener between the jar and the lid to lever it off.
Step 10: Top lids.
For my first pie, I used the middle pastry cutter of the three, as judged by holding it against the dent in the tray. That is the bottom-left pie in this photo. However, that looked a bit on the large side, since I hadn't allowed for the thickness of the pastry base, so I did the rest of that batch using the smallest pastry cutter. When I showed that photo to nou, she recommended larger lids, so I went back to the medium pastry cutter for the rest of the lids (in the second/third batches).
Step 11: Eggs.
I seperated out the yolks from three eggs, using a handy gadget that I have for that purpose, and let the white from each one drain into a glass. I then whisked the egg yolks together in a jug, and used a pastry brush to spread the mixture onto the lid of each pie. For the first batch, I was a bit tentative, and it was a gentle dab to suggest a vague hint of egg on each one. By the time I reached the end of the third batch, I realised that I was going to have an excess of egg yolk left over, so I was painting it on quite liberally. As with my home decorating, I learn through experience. My vague idea is to combine the leftover yolk/white with some extra eggs, so that I can make an omelette. However, I'm not sure how long eggs last once they're out of their shells, so it may now be too late for that.
Step 12: Cook in oven.
As with the oven temperature, there was quite a variation in cooking times: one recipe said 10-15 minutes, while the other said 25-30 minutes, so I went for 15 minutes. When they looked done, I transferred them to a cooling rack (as seen in the photo).
Step 13: Sprinkle with icing sugar.
I put the third batch on the rack at about 3am, then went to bed, leaving all the pies to cool overnight. When I got up in the morning, I then sprinkled them with icing sugar, transferred them to a tupperware container, and put them in the fridge.
I wanted to make 30 pies, so I figured that if I followed the recipe for 36 then that would do nicely. I was worried about running out of pastry way before the end, but I wound up getting 31 pies out of it, and I probably could have got 32, since I had a small amount of leftover pastry. I ate the first pie myself, in a similar way to the Queen getting the second pineapple from the gardens at Heligan; the staff ate the first pineapple to make sure that it didn't taste of manure, and I wanted to make sure that they tasted alright (which it did). That left 30 for today, which exactly (and conveniently) matched my target. As it turned out, only 7 of them were actually eaten (and I ate one of those myself), but never mind.
Suitable for vegetarians.
Not suitable for vegans.
Free range eggs, but the butter may not be from Happy Cows (TM), i.e. these probably don't count as organic.
No alcohol, so they are suitable for Muslims.
No nuts (or peanuts) anywhere near them.
I assume that the flour contains gluten, but I don't know much about that allergy.
For people on diet plans, I've worked out the WeightWatchers points, and included some extra info where I know it. I'm not sure how things like the low GI plan work, but if you'd like any more specific information then let me know, and I'll see what I can find out.
300g Stork butter = 2025kcal, 82.2g saturated fat, 42.5 points from database (49.5 from calculator).
700g McDougalls plain flour = 1002kcal, 0.6g saturated fat, 14.5 points.
Pinch of salt = 0 points.
3 egg yolks = 4 points.
650g Robinson's Classic Mincemeat = 1787.5kcal, 7.8g saturated fat, 27.5 points.
Sprinkling of icing sugar = 1 point?
Total = 89.5 points
Divided by 31 = 2.89 points each, so roughly between 2.5 and 3 points, which isn't too bad. (My basic quota is 30 points per day.)
Incidentally, I'd be interested to hear comments from anyone who tried my pies out, although bear in mind that if you say you liked them then I may feed them to you again at a later stage :) Meanwhile, I'll take the remainder into work tomorrow, and see what my colleagues think of them.