Saturday 16 December 2017

'Tis the season to indulge... with these ICA recipes

Mince pies from The ICA Book of Christmas, edited by Aoife Carrigy, photo by Joanne Murphy
Mince pies from The ICA Book of Christmas, edited by Aoife Carrigy, photo by Joanne Murphy
Pistachio and cranberry chocolates from The ICA Book of Christmas, edited by Aoife Carrigy, photo by Joanne Murphy
Christmas cracker from The ICA Book of Christmas, edited by Aoife Carrigy, photo by Joanne Murphy
Mulled wine. Photo: Joanne Murphy.
Speculoos biscuit tree decorations. Photo: Joanne Murphy
The ICA Book of Christmas

Mince pies, mulled wine and spiced biscuits - the Irish Countrywomen's Association share some of its favourite festive recipes for bringing the taste of Christmas home.

Mince pies


From the time I was old enough to mash butter into flour and icing sugar with a fork, I was initiated into the sacred realms of Christmas baking. Dozens of mince pies were made every year and rapidly frozen before the rest of the family realised there were more pies than those set before them. Today I freeze batches of pastry, which takes up less space.

Makes about 8-12 pies, depending on how thin you roll the pastry


225g (8oz) plain flour

50g (2oz) icing sugar

140g (5oz) butter, at room temperature

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp ice-cold water

1 tsp lemon juice

For the filling:

1 jar mincemeat, about 400g (14oz)

To finish:

Beaten egg

Caster sugar

12-cup bun tin

Pastry cutter


1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processor and add the butter, mixing it at a very low speed. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk, ice-cold water and lemon juice. Once the dry ingredients become like breadcrumbs, add the egg mixture and continue mixing. Once it comes together as a pastry, allow the processor to run for another five or six seconds to save on kneading, but no more.

2. Turn out onto a large piece of cling film, flatten the pastry and wrap well. Rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Grease the bun tin or line with paper cases.

4. Lightly flour the work surface and rolling pin. Knead the pastry a little to loosen it, then separate one-third of the pastry and set it aside.

5. Roll out the large piece of pastry to the desired thickness - I like a very thin pastry with lots of mincemeat. Cut out the pie bases with a plain pastry cutter that matches the size of a flattened paper case/bun tin hole. (If you don't have pastry cutters, a pint glass will do.) Place the pastry bases into the lined or greased tin, and fill each with mincemeat.

6. Roll out the remaining pastry, and cut out the pastry lids using a fluted cutter that matches the size of your paper cases/bun tin holes (or a smaller glass will do). Moisten the underside of each lid before setting in place. Gently push the edges down to seal. Cut two slits in the lid or prick with a fork to allow steam to escape.

7. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until golden but not brown.

ICA Tip: This sweet pastry can also be made with gluten-free flour using a straight swap, although you may need to adjust the amount of liquid to achieve the desired pastry consistency.

Mulled wine


Each year since the new millennium, on the Sunday before Christmas, my local walking club in Knockatallon on the Monaghan-Tyrone border meet up with the Clogher Valley walkers. Our annual 'mulled wine walk' takes us up to Knockmany Cairn, an ancient passage grave situated on a high hilltop. There we sing carols and share flasks of mulled wine with homemade mince pies and shortbread.

Serves 12-15


1 lemon, unwaxed if possible

1 large orange, or two mandarin oranges

4 dozen cloves, approx

170g (6oz) brown sugar

2 sticks cinnamon

2-3 star anise (optional)

1 bottle red wine

½ bottle ruby port

To garnish:

Thin slices of orange and lemon

Sprinkling of grated nutmeg (optional)


1. Pare the lemon and the orange (or mandarins) thinly and remove the pith.

2. Stud the peeled fruit all over with cloves, and add to a large saucepan with 570ml (1 pint) water. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon and star anise, if using. If you are using unwaxed lemons or oranges, you can add the peel too.

3. Stir over heat until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for about an hour to give the flavours time to combine. (Even better, you can prepare this a day in advance to really give the flavours a chance to blend, and simply reheat it before the next step.)

4. Strain and discard the fruit and spices. Return the infused liquid to the saucepan and add the red wine and port. Reheat to bring almost to the boil.

5. Serve hot with orange and lemon slices and a sprinkling of nutmeg if desired.

Speculoos biscuit treee decorations


These Dutch spiced shortbread biscuits are traditionally served on St Nicholas's feast day on December 6. They also make lovely tree decorations, if they last that long. Children love making (and eating!) them and the baking aromas evoke everything that is warm and festive about Christmas.

Makes 10-15 biscuits


200g (7oz) plain flour

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground cloves

1 tsp baking powder

½tsp salt

100g (3½oz) soft brown sugar

1 tbsp milk

150g (5½oz) butter, at room temperature

To finish:

10-15 pieces of ribbon, about 35cm (14in) long

You'll also need:

Baking tray and parchment


1. Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Line the baking tray with baking parchment.

2. Sieve the flour, spices, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Add the brown sugar, breaking up any lumps with your hands. Add the milk and butter to bring the mixture together into a dough. Transfer to the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.

3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and roll to about 5mm thickness. Cut out the biscuits with a cookie cutter of your choice, or into whatever shape you like. If you wish to hang them on the tree, use a piping tip nozzle with a 3-4mm opening to cut out a hole at one end of each biscuit. These holes will be used to thread the ribbon through when the biscuits have been baked and cooled.

4. Place the biscuits on the lined baking tray with a gap of at least 2-3cm (1in) between them. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

5. Thread the ribbons, if using, through the holes in the biscuits and tie the ends together before hanging on your Christmas tree.

6. These biscuits will keep well for up to a week in an airtight container.

ICA Tip: In the Netherlands, a textured or patterned rolling pin is traditionally used to imprint patterns on the dough when it is rolled out.

Pistachio and cranberry chocolates


This is a simple enough idea but it looks great. It's versatile, too; you can use whatever dried fruit and nuts you fancy, or candied peel is also good. These chocolates make gorgeous little gifts and are a perfect pick-me-up with a mid-afternoon coffee.

Makes about 40


200g (7oz) white chocolate

75g (3½oz) shelled pistachios (or whatever nuts you like)

50g (2oz) dried cranberries (or whatever dried fruit you like, or a mixture of dried fruit and candied peel)

50g (2oz) dark chocolate

You'll also need:

Shallow baking tray and parchment


1. Line the base and sides of the baking tray with baking parchment.

2. Break the white chocolate into pieces into a bain marie (a heatproof bowl set over a gently simmering saucepan of water) and gently melt, stirring regularly. Stir in the nuts and fruit, and pour into the prepared tin.

3. Allow to cool while you melt the dark chocolate in a bain marie. Once the white chocolate has cooled but not fully set, pour over the melted dark chocolate. Set aside to cool fully.

4. Cut into small shapes of your choice (e.g. squares or triangles; or diamonds can look pretty).

5. These chocolates will keep well in a cool, dark place or in the fridge. Store them in an airtight container layered with greaseproof paper until you are ready to gift wrap them. Little packages of clear cellophane tied with a bow look pretty.

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