Mince pie is a dessert with an identity crisis. Is it sweet entremets? Is it savory viand? The answer is—or at least used to be—both. "Mincemeat" pie used to be literally made of minced meat mixed with dried fruits. Originally this could be finely chopped mutton, beefsteak, or veal mixed with minced suet (beef fat) to moisten, along with raisins, currants, wine, and sweet spices, all in a buttery pie shell. It sounds rather repulsive to our refined, modern sensibilities, but this is a pretty typical medieval flavor profile. Back in the day, spices were so expensive that using them in everything was the easiest way to show off how baller you were. Most early recipes considered it "beft" to use cow tongue for the meat, boiled for two hours and peeled to remove that unfortunate, papillae-bedazzled skin. If you just puked a little in your mouth, you're not alone! This is why the pies eventually stopped including meat. (Though most still have suet—retch!)
Although the meaty dessert was originally an English Christmas necessity, traditional American Thanksgiving menus typically included a mince pie (and a plum pudding) as a fun throwback to the old English days. And if you remove the nasty chopped tongue and tallow from the equation, you end up with a beautiful pie that really does taste like the holidays. You can use pretty much any combination of dried fruits, as long as you end up with roughly a 1:1 ratio of dried fruit to apples. Here's my 21st-century version, which I like to make into a rustic galette.
Mince Pie Filling:
1/2 quince, peeled, cored and grated (adds nice fragrance and complexity, but is totally optional)
~ 2 cups of diced, peeled, cored apples (roughly three apples; I love golden russets for this)
2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
2/3 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 tsp fresh orange zest
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp honey (I used a dark, earthy buckwheat honey)
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, diced (or freeze it and run it through a cheese grater)
Mix all of these in a big bowl and let it sit for a few days so the dried fruits can soak up the juices and brandy, and the apples can macerate in the sugar. Two or three days is great. Brits make it up to two weeks in advance and keep it in jars.
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 sticks cold butter (preferably frozen), cubed
~8 tbsp ice water
1 tbsp cream or milk and an additional tbsp sugar for brushing on the galettes
*You could totally just use store-bought pie dough if that's how you roll.
Hopefully you have a food processor, because this takes mere seconds if you do. Pulse the flour, sugar, and butter together once or twice to combine, then add the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs (if you lack such futuristic technology, use forks or a pastry cutter instead). Sprinkle in the ice water and pulse a couple more times until the dough starts to come together (or mush it together with your hands). Pull the dough out of the processor bowl and mush it together to a cohesive ball. Don't overwork the dough or you'll start developing the gluten and it'll get tough! Divide the dough in two, then press the two balls into thick disks and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Put these in the fridge for an hour or more to let it chill and relax a bit.
Make the galettes:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll each disk of dough out into a nice big circle. You want the dough to be somewhere between 1/8- and 1/4-inch thick. Divide the mince fruit filling in half and spread a nice thick layer onto each dough round , leaving 2 inches of dough around the edge (think pizza). Fold the edges over onto the filling ever so artfully (but don't worry if it's not perfect because hey! galettes are rustic!). Brush the edges with the cream and then sprinkle on the sugar.
Bake the two galettes for about 30 minutes until golden brown and lovely. If you want to add a sprinkle of sliced almonds or something clever like that, wait until the last 10 minutes of baking so they don't burn.
Note: you could just make this into one pie instead, if you want. Do everything up to rolling out the dough, then just put one round in a pie pan, fill the shell, and then put the other dough circle on top. Press the edges together with that dainty pinching finger motion, and then slice a few artistic vents into the top crust with a knife. Brush the cream and sprinkle the sugar and bake the pie for about 35-40 minutes.