Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Little pear, pecan and mincemeat cobblers

I realise this post probably requires an explanation.

Because, of course, nobody in their right mind would want to be cooking, let alone eating, a cobbler right now. Nobody in their right mind would want to be eating anything at all right now. Maybe a few salad leaves and a piece of fruit. But certainly not anything involving butter, nuts or dried fruit soaked in alcohol

I think I've had enough dried fruit soaked in alcohol to last at least until next Christmas. Everywhere I go, it's there, haunting me. Mince pies. Christmas cakes (why, oh why, did I decide to make TWO?). Christmas puddings (again, I made TWO). Stollen. My body yearns for sweet release from this culinary captivity, yet somehow I can't help myself. 

Generally I have pretty good willpower. I have on several occasions got up bright and early after a very late night out, having had only four hours sleep, and cycled to the swimming pool to do sixty lengths before breakfast. Last weekend, after six days skiing and a 17-hour coach journey back from the Alps (again, involving approximately four hours sleep), instead of collapsing in bed with a cup of tea, I hurried to the swimming pool (and there discovered just how many muscles I'd damaged on the slopes). I'm pretty good at saying no to sugary and enticing foodstuffs unless I'm actually hungry or have been pretty physically active that day.

But waft the aroma of a freshly baked mince pie or loaf of stollen in my face, and I am powerless.

It's a sad cycle of despair and gratification, trying to decide if the sheer momentary pleasure of biting through a flaky, buttery crust to reach a pool of molten, sweet, sticky fruit is worth the subsequent (and much less fleeting) self-loathing, paranoia, and frenetic examination of my expanding hips in the mirror.

I blame the devil on my shoulder, telling me to lighten up (ironic, considering Christmas fare is anything but light) and just enjoy the festive season instead of worrying about what a few (OK, probably about twenty) mince pies will have done to my normally OK physique.

So I am trying not to be totally neurotic about the whole thing. However, I cannot deny that I do feel replete to the point of discomfort after Christmas. It's not just the sweet stuff, but the sheer onslaught of meat I have been forced to withstand, considering I normally only eat the stuff about three times a week. Roast turkey, yes, but also sausagemeat stuffing, sausages wrapped in bacon, sprouts with a bacon and chestnut crust, a whole baked ham, Mum's homemade sausage rolls. And then, for no apparent reason, my family decided we had to have a roast rib of beef for dinner, two days after Christmas lunch. Even the carnivores in my family seemed defeated by it, and much smaller portions were had than would normally be the case if we'd eaten this lovely roast any other time of the year.

Alas. So, you're probably wondering why on earth I've been baking pear and mincemeat cobblers during this troubling time. Well, the simple answer is that I haven't, actually. I made these a week or so before Christmas, when I was still in the midst of a rapturous love affair with mincemeat, nuts, baking and autumnal fruits. 

I'm sharing them with you now for two reasons. Firstly, I imagine a lot of you probably have a bit of leftover mincemeat, can't face any more mince pies, and are wondering what to do with it. Secondly, if you've managed to be a bit more restrained than myself over Christmas, a lovely fruity dessert that still packs a festive punch might be just what you fancy.

Even in my mincemeated-out state, I can tell you that these are absolutely sumptuous. They take everything that is good about a mince pie, and almost make it better. Combining chopped ripe pear with the mincemeat and adding a little lemon juice takes the strong sugary and boozy edge off it, resulting in something much fresher, lighter and - I think - tastier. The toasted pecans add a gorgeous crunch and a lovely caramelly, nutty flavour that balances the tangy mincemeat perfectly. Adding a cobbler topping means you end up with a gorgeous fluffy scone-like dough that is soft in the middle and crispy on the top, soaked around its frayed edges with rich dark juice from the mincemeat and pears.

Scoop over some cold vanilla ice cream, and you have a fabulous dessert that is reminiscent of stollen, Christmas pudding and mince pies all rolled into one. Fluffy, sticky, dark and delicious.

And, amazingly, they're not even bad for you, really. My cobbler topping contains hardly any butter, using yoghurt to thicken it, and apart from that and the suet in the mincemeat there's no fat. OK, so you'd be better off with a solitary clementine, but relatively speaking, in the context of all those other Christmas delights, these are quite healthy.

Perhaps this is the perfect post-festive dessert, after all.

Do you have any interesting uses for mincemeat other than the classic mince pies? I'd love to hear them!

Pear and mincemeat cobblers (serves 4):

2 large/3 medium ripe pears (I used Comice)
125g mincemeat
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of pecan nuts, toasted in a dry pan and crumbled
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
15g cold butter, cut into cubes
15g light brown sugar
100ml plain yoghurt or buttermilk
4 tsp demerara sugar
Ice cream, to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 180C (170C fan oven). 

Cut the pears into small cubes - you don't need to bother peeling them, but discard the core. In a bowl, mix them with the mincemeat, lemon juice and pecan nuts. Divide them between four 200ml ramekins (or if you don't have ramekins, just make a single large cobbler in a baking dish) and place in the oven for 10 minutes until the fruit has softened and released quite a bit of juice.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and a pinch of salt. Add the butter and rub it in with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the brown sugar. Mix in the yoghurt or buttermilk until you have a thick, scone-like dough. 

Remove the ramekins from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Divide the dough mixture between the ramekins, dolloping it roughly on top (it doesn't have to cover all the fruit - in fact, it looks nicer when you can still see some luscious fruit bubbling up through the top). Sprinkle with the demerara sugar.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the cobbler is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before serving with vanilla ice cream.

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  1. A little fruity dessert sounds like a good idea!

  2. I'm not a major mincemeat fan but I think these have enough other delicious things inside for me to give them a go! I know how you feel with all the Christmas feasting, although we're still going strong - probably won't start being healthy til 1st January :-)


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