Two thousand Cicadas overwhelm the air as the temperature pushes one hundred degrees farenheit. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Christmas in Australia that is, where the summer solstice has just passed and Christmas means time on the beach. As I grew up in the Northern Hemisphere, this really doesn't feel quite right to me, even after 21 years here, so holiday cooking is all about trying to evoke a seasonally appropriate response that fresh Bowen mangoes and ripe cherries just won't, even though I love them and eat them with all the relish of someone who has hybernated through the winter. Mixed spice, dried fruit, a little indulgence all come together in my favourite holiday recipe - mince pies. It's classic faire, I know, but I like to twist it by using no suet, maximising the apple, and adding some finely chopped toasted almonds for a bit of crunch. These can be served with ice cream or dusted with icing sugar, but I rarely get that far before my kids have finished off the dozen in one clean hit. That's okay because they're almost healthy, and because for me, the pleasure is in the aesthetic beauty of the things, and that amazing spicy smell. Also, perhaps, the idea of handing out treats, like some half-cocked Suzie Santaclaus. I give them to all my friends - boxed up nicely or if I really like them, on new, pretty-purchased silver or Christmas plates. I have them ready for guests. I make up the mincemeat in huge batches and keep it in dozen portions in the freezer so I can do up a plate fast. Come by for drinks on Christmas Eve and I'll pass them round.
Mince: Simmer up 10 peeled and finely chopped granny smith apples with a cup of brown sugar, a squeezed lemon, 3 cups of raisins/mixed fruit (proportions up to you - I've done it with all of one when that's all I've had), a very hefty dose of mixed spice and cinnamon - I use about 2 tablespoons, and about a half cup of apple juice. Cook for 15 mins or so until everything is soft and then cool completely. Once cooled you can freeze this mixture or it keeps in the fridge for about a week or so. Just before using, add about a half cup of finely chopped almonds. Other nuts work well too, but I'm a sucker for almonds.
To make the pies take 2 sheets of puff pastry. You could make that too, but I'm not that hardcore. Bought works fine, but use good quality. Cut circles of pastry with a large glass and press into greased muffin tins. Pre-cook for about 5 mins in a medium oven until puffy and then press down the puffy insides with oven gloved fingers. Then fill with the cold mixture and top each with a cut out puff pastry star. I find that the 2 sheets is enough but I have to roll out and piece together to make all the stars - that's okay as they don't need to be puffy. Then put back in and bake for another 10 mins or so until lightly brown and puffy. Remove carefully from muffin tin while hot (once they cool, if the mixture leaks, they stick like mad) and let cool a little before serving. Inhale a bit as you serve to get that full fruity, spicy scent, and feel free to sprinkle icing sugar over for a festive look. If you eat without ice cream, whipped cream, or butter (all of which are pretty nice on the side), they're fat free. Ho ho ho.