For many years, I’ve had a quiet obsession with riciarelli, which I first came across, flavoured with orange flower water, in Betty’s tea rooms in York. Betty’s only seem to sell these wee macaroon-y treats in Spring for some reason, so I had to persuade Tom (who does not need much persuading where baking is concerned) to try his hand at them. He soon devised a delicious version, which I always enjoy. A few weeks ago he had the genius idea of combining his riciarelli with that perennial festive favourite – the mince pie. He feels – as do I – that pastry can sometimes dominate your average mince pie. What’s brilliant about these riciarelli pies is that excess pastry is replaced by moist nutty deliciousness, the fragrant flavour of which beautifully complements the rich, festive mincemeat. He’s made several batches of these pies to test and improve the recipe, experimenting with both hazelnuts and almonds. Their sample tasters have included the UPS delivery man (“gorgeously chewy”), next door neighbour Brenda (“fab – 10/10”) and neighbours Niall and Mairi (“delicious and well balanced”). Everyone seems to prefer the almond version and I may be biased (as an ardent fan of both nut-based treats and Tom’s cooking) but I honestly think they are the best mince pies I’ve ever tasted. So chewy! So orangey! So almond-y! Anyway, we thought you might like to test my wild assertion, so the recipe is below.
We are hunkering down this weekend while some serious weather rages. This latest batch of pies were cooked up in the midst of the torrential rain and gale force winds of “Storm Desmond”, so Tom’s named the recipe after him.
Desmond’s Mince Pies
recipe by Tom Barr
(makes 24 pies)
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon lemon juice
200g / 7oz icing sugar
200g / 7oz ground almonds
grated peel of 1 orange
1/8 teaspoon orange blossom water
60g / 2oz Flaked almonds (toasted)
Sweet shortcrust pastry
280g / 10oz plain flour
140g / 5oz cold salted butter (cut into small cubes)
4 level tablespoons golden caster sugar
2 egg yolks
2-3 tablespoons cold water
454g / 1lb good quality mincemeat (shop bought or home made)
1) Separate the whites from 2 eggs, setting the yolks aside to make the pastry.
2) Add the lemon juice to the egg whites then whisk until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold in the ground almonds and icing sugar then add the grated orange peel and orange blossom water. Place in a covered bowl and transfer to the fridge for 2-3hrs.
3) Put the flour into a large bowl and add the butter. Rub together with your fingertips until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. If, like me (Tom) you have hot hands, use a food processor to rub in the butter.
4) Add the sugar, then the egg yolks and mix using a cutlery knife (or food processor). Add enough cold water to bring the dough together then gather into a ball and knead briefly until smooth.
5) Divide the dough into two equal balls, flatten them into two discs, wrap each in grease-proof paper and transfer to the fridge to chill for 1hr.
6) Lightly grease two 12-hole shallow non-stick bun tins.
7) Remove the pastry from the fridge and let it stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.
8) Roll out the pastry discs on a lightly floured work surface until 3mm thick, then cut into 8cm / 3in circles using a ring-cutter.
9) Gently press the 8cm pastry circles into the greased bun tins and lightly prick the bottom of each with a fork. Return to the fridge for 20 mins whilst you prepare the ricciarelli topping.
10) Lightly toast the almond flakes in a dry, hot heavy-based pan for 2-3mins over a medium-high heat until golden and fragrant. Set aside and leave to cool.
11) Set the oven to 190°C / 170°C fan / 370°F / gas mark 5.
12) Remove the ricciarelli mix from the fridge and roll into two 15cm / 6in logs on a work surface lightly dusted with icing sugar. Cut each log into 12 equal rounds.
13) Lightly dust one side of each round with icing sugar, then gently press the moist side into the toasted almonds. Gently press with the end of a rolling pin until each round is wide enough to cover the top of each pie.
14) Remove the prepared pastry cases from the fridge and place a level tablespoon of mincemeat into each. Top each pie with a ricciarelli round, with the almond coated side face up.
15) Bake in the pre-heated oven for 22-25 mins until crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10mins. Transfer to a cooling rack and dust with icing sugar. They can be stored in an airtight tin for up to 3 days.
You’ll find more of Tom’s recipes in our new book, Buachaille: at home in the Highlands which will be available very soon.