Working as a pastry chef in restaurants like Rockpool didn't require making much in the way of Christmas treats. It wasn't until I opened Six Seven Ate in Sydney's Chippendale with fellow chef George Sinclair that the opportunity arose to develop my skills in the festive department.
We soon discovered a demand for good Christmas items; George made the savoury goods and a dynamite Christmas pud, while I made the Christmas cakes and fruit mince tarts. I wanted to put my own twist on the them and thought a combination of puff and shortcrust pastries would create an interesting texture; I found the usual use of the same pastry for the shell and lid a bit monotone. After lots of research and testing, I settled on this recipe using puff pastry and shortbread. Customers from Six Seven Ate still appear at Lorraine's at Christmas to buy the tarts, so I think it was the right move.
At Yellow, in Potts Point, the tarts became so popular that many customers expressed their regret when I took a two-year break. They said Christmas just wasn't the same without my mince tarts - I was touched. So, here's a recipe that will hopefully bring joy to you, your family and friends.
Prepare early... but not too early
The best approach is to prepare early, but I make the mince no longer than a month in advance so it still tastes fresh - the acid from the juices won't drop off and it remains zingy, fruity. This is also enough time for the alcohol to settle in and for the flavours of the spices to develop. Use whatever alcohol you prefer; I've opted for golden rum here. I like to use classic dried fruit such as sultanas and raisins; currants are also lovely. The addition of fruit such as dried fig and ginger, however, adds another dimension, so feel free to put your own twist on the filling. I love using my own candied orange because it tastes fresh and delicious, but shop-bought glacé oranges also work well.
Fresh suet is the key to keeping the fruit mince moist. It can be prepared ahead of time, too. Ask your butcher to order it for you, then first soak it in water to release the blood before picking over it to remove the sinew. Drain it and either finely mince it or chop it, and then freeze it in a plastic bag until you need it.
The same goes for the pastry
You can also make the pastry weeks in advance; roll and cut out the discs and freeze them between sheets of Go-Between, then defrost them before using. I make my own pastry, but a good butter puff such as Carême is fine. The shortbread can be made three weeks in advance, rolled into sheets and stored in the fridge or freezer separated and covered with Go-Between. An hour before baking the tarts, transfer the shortbread sheets to the freezer to firm up (if they've been in the fridge), then remove the top sheet of plastic and cut out your desired shapes (I like hearts) to top the tarts.
You can even bake them ahead of time
Store the baked tarts in an airtight container in the fridge (because of the butter in the pastries) for up to three weeks. Before serving, refresh them for 10 minutes in an oven at 150C. When cool, dust them with icing sugar and serve. Merry Christmas from Lorraine's Patisserie.