Brush up on your mince pie know-how with FOUR's Rough Guide to Mince Pies and this fool-proof recipe by Michelin star chef, Tom Aikens...

This very British festive sweet treat has been around since time began. Okay, not quite that long, but our parents baked (or bought) them, our grandparents certainly did and our grandparents’ parents did, too. But where do mince pies originate? And why is the ingredient inside mince pies called mincemeat, when there’s no trace of meat?

The ingredients of a mince pie can be traced back to the 13th century, when European crusaders brought Middle Eastern recipes containing meat, fruit and spices back from the Holy Land – resulting in sweet and savory ingredients combined. This is said to be where the mince pie recipe originates. However, it wasn’t always known as a mince pie. In the early days it was called mutton pie and then Christmas pie, before becoming known as the mince pie.

Today, all trace of meat has been removed and the key ingredients are dried fruits and spices. However, historic ‘minc’d pyes’ were slightly different from today’s version. It would have been commonplace for a c.17 century recipe to contain tongue meat or tripe. Later, c.1900s, it became the norm to use minced roast beef – perhaps the origin of the name we know our little sweet pies as today.

Mince pies may have evolved to survive the test of time, however, not everyone is a fan. Food writer and FOUR columnist, Tom Parker Bowles was once quoted: "I can't bear the bloody things!” The small pies are often as detested as Brussels sprouts (not us, we love these miniature green morsels), turkey and Christmas pudding! However, last year, Harrods shifted approximately 75,000 mince pies, equivalent to selling 205 per day for one year, while Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street sold 12,390 packs of mince pies in 2012 – equating to 74,340 mince pies in total.

A spokesperson for Selfridges said of this year’s mince pie sales: “We're currently tracking +90 per cent on LY, so we will smash the 2012 number by Christmas! The most popular [variety] are our mini flavoured mince pies, which we expect to sell almost 4,000 packs of this year.” Proving that this festive treat is still as popular as ever with the majority.  

Do you have a generations-old mince pie recipe? If so, we’d love to hear from you – get in touch with your recipe and in the meantime, here’s one from chef Tom Aikens.

FOUR's Festive Recipe #8

Tom’s Kitchen mince pies by Tom Aikens

Makes approx. 24



325g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped

115g shredded suet

150g raisins

115g sultanas and currants

115g mixed candied peel

150g soft dark brown sugar

Zest and juice of 1 lemon and orange

30g nibbed almonds

2tsp mixed spice

1tsp cinnamon

Large pinch fresh grated nutmeg

0.5g ground ginger

0.5g salt

4tbsp brandy


270g all-purpose flour

1.5g salt

140g butter

110g caster or powdered sugar

2 egg yolks

1 whole egg

Few drops vanilla essence



Mix all the ingredients together, except the brandy, in a bowl and leave in a cool place for 12 hours to marinade.

Place the mixture in a baking dish, cover with tin foil and bake for 2.5 to 3 hours at 140C.

Leave to cool stirring from time to time and then stir in the brandy.

Spoon the cooled mixture into storage jars and cover with waxed discs and seal. This is then ready to use, however it’s best to leave it to mature for one month.


Sieve the flour and salt, put into a stand mixer and place on a low to medium speed, then add the butter mix till crumb like. Add the sugar then eggs and yolks, it will slowly come together, then refrigerate for 1 hour.

Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment to a 0.5cm thickness, then let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut out 48 pieces with a round cutter, you need the tops to be medium and the bottoms to be large.

Make the mince pies in either small Yorkshire pudding moulds or tartlet cases. Lightly grease the moulds/cases then flour. Line with the pastry then add the mince pie mix. Place on the lid, crimp the edges and bake at 180C for about 10-15 minutes, dust with icing sugar.