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25 Days of Shanghai Christmas: Dec 12 Fruit Mince Tarts and the Chinese Furnace

Are you baking up a frenzy for Christmas? Same here. Only I bet your oven actually, you know, works. That is, you can turn it on, set a temperature, and be reasonably sure that that temperature you dialled up will be delivered. On the other hand, I am dealing with the Chinese Furnace from Hell, known to turn cakes to charcoal in under 45 seconds. So the Christmas baking is not going quite as smoothly as I’d like.

You see, Chinese people don’t do a lot of home baking, so to them, ovens are a mystery – they’re expensive, they take up a lot of space, and foreigners use them to cook odd foods, very, very slowly (according to my landlord). The gas oven that came with our house looked the business, very new, very silver, and went by the name of The Gold System. Promising, I thought. But the first time I used it the knobs melted, then the heat-resistant seal around the door caught fire. Not a good sign.  

So I asked the lovely landlord to fix it, if he could. He was totally perplexed about my need to have more than one temperature setting, but he humoured me and replaced a few parts, but no improvement

I called him back to demonstrate, with the help of an oven thermometer, that in fact 410C was a little too hot for baking, and also posed some sort of fire risk to the wooden cupboards either side of the oven. And the rest of the house, for that matter. No problem! He said. He simply pulled the oven out from the wall and turned the gas supply down with a large,red lever. Well, why didn’t I think of just pulling the half-ton oven out from the wall and turning a big fat gas lever to control the temperature, huh?

But I have finally mastered the bastard. Now I have my own Gold System for temperature control, settings 1-3:

1. Full blast – just turn it on and go. Great for pizzas, which cook in 1.2 minutes, or for heating the house.

2. Medium blast – this can be achieved by turning the oven to full blast, and then lighting one of the large hotplates on the stovetop, thus diverting gas from the oven, without pulling it out from the wall. Pretty good for cakes, but requires a vigilant eye and frequent door opening.

3. Low blast – as for medium blast, but this time light two hotplates on the stove top. Slow braises cook like a dream, and you can use the stovetop to make 10 litres of soup while you wait.

Thank god the fruit mince tarts survived the furnace, is all I can say.

Fruit Mince Tarts

Shortcrust Pastry


  • 180g butter, chilled
  • 240g plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

  • coarsely grate chilled butter
  • combine with flour and castor sugar, then gradually add water to form a dough
  • refrigerate for 30 minutes before using

To Assemble Fruit Mince Tarts


  • 1 quantity of sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 400g fruit mince (recipe here)


  • preheat oven to 180C (medium blast)
  • roll pastry to 3mm thickness
  • using a 6cm circular cutter, cut pastry circles and line an individual tart tray
  • fill each tart with 1-2 tsp fruit mince
  • top with a pastry star if desired
  • bake for 12-15minutes, until lightly browned
  • when cooled, dust with icing sugar
  • makes 40 tarts