I have long been an admirer of the brilliant French baker and author Richard Bertinet, who has a cookery school, The Bertinet Kitchen, which is based in Bath. I have attended the cookery school and enjoyed Richard’s dry sense of humour, great entertainment and instruction, so when I decided to search for a special mince pie recipe, Richard was my preferred go-to option.
Now I hadn’t made mince pies since I ran The Essex Cottage on the Isle of Wight back in the day. My darling wife Diane suggested that I make some with a buttery, crumbly Viennese topping, which was the classic recipe used for many years when I was a catering lecturer at the Isle of Wight College. To be honest, I was never keen on the idea, as I found them rather dry and unappetising. The idea, however, had got me thinking.
I had a quick browse online and found French Master Baker Richard Bertinet’s great recipe for Frangipane Mince Pies. Interestingly we had a home in France until a few years back and never once saw mince pies during the festive period – it is just something that the French don’t do. The French go for Galette des Rois. Just look around the patisseries and supermarkets in France at the beginning of January, and you can’t miss the special ‘gateaux’ prepared for the Fête des Rois.
A ‘fève’ (originally a bean but now tends to be a plastic trinket) is baked inside the cake and the cake is shared around the table. Whoever receives the fève is then crowned king or queen for the day and has the much coveted opportunity of bossing the rest of the family about! That same person can also choose someone to be their king or queen.
According to tradition, the cake should be cut into as many slices as there are people present, plus 1 extra. This extra slice is called either, the ‘part du Bon Dieu‘ (God’s slice), the ‘part de la Vierge’ (the Virgin Mary’s slice) or the ‘part du pauvre‘ (poor man’s slice) and should be offered to the first poor person who pops in!
HOWEVER – I digress! Frenchman Richard Bertinett does make exceeding good mince pies and the end product of his recipe is an amazingly light, multi-textured and flavoured Christmas treat. As Richard says “I had never seen anything like mince pies when I was growing up in France, but I absolutely love them. My only complaint is that they are often made with too much pastry in relation to the (amount of) filling, so one Christmas I experimented with covering the pies instead with frangipane (almond cream) flavoured with rum and topped with flaked almonds. They went down such a treat that we now make batches of them to sell in our bakery in Bath, and also in the Saturday shop at the cookery school, and I can barely keep up with the demand.” I have to agree wholeheartedly with Richard’s thinking.
I have the greatest respect for Richard’s baking expertise and I will happily get down on my knees and bow to his superior knowledge and ability as one of the UKs best bakers, however, he has some unusual methods of doing things and I am rather an ‘old school Brit’, but I guess that’s a cultural thing, and do things the way I was taught at college back in the 60s. Now when it comes to making the pastry for this recipe, Richard’s method (P136-137 ‘Pastry’ 2012) is no doubt a real winner, but as we are using a Thermomix, our respective methodologies matter little, so for the sake of the good old Anglo/French – Entente Cordiale we will agree to disagree on methodology.
Once you have tried these mince pies however, you will have an outstanding benchmark for all future pretenders and your friends will (hopefully) be begging you for the recipe.
The recipe below will produce 48-60 mini mince pies, 24-30+ shallow mince pies or 24 deeeeeep tray mince pies!
For the sweet pastry
- 350g flour
- 125g butter – room temperature – cut into 1.5 cm dice (squares)
- 125g golden caster sugar
- 2 medium eggs + 1 medium egg yolk
- pinch of salt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- butter – melted for greasing the tins
- 500 – 600g luxury mincemeat
- icing sugar for rolling pastry
For the almond cream
- 250g unsalted butter – cut into cubes – room temperature
- 250g golden caster sugar
- 50g plain flour
- 250g ground almonds
- 3 medium free range eggs
- 2 tbsp Kirsch or Jamaican rum
- flaked almonds – for decoration
- icing sugar – for dusting
To make the pastry
Pass the flour and salt through a fine chinois (sieve) into the TM mixing bowl and add the butter, sugar, eggs & yolk and vanilla extract and mix 20 sec / speed 6.
Turn the dough out onto your work surface and work and turn it a few times to bring it together into a smooth, clear paste. Wrap in cling film and rest it in the fridge for around 30 minutes.
Lightly butter three 12-hole tart tins or one 12-hole deep tart tin. For deep pan tarts, you will need to do a second bake, unless you have 2 deep tart tins.
Lightly dust your work surface with icing sugar and roll out the pastry 2mm-3mm thick – and no thicker! Using a round cutter or tumbler just larger than the holes in the tin, cut out circles of pastry to line your tins. I find that a 9cm cutter works great for deep pan pies and 6 to 7cm for mini pan pies. Rest in the fridge for 30 minutes (not essential if you’re in a hurry!).
To make the almond cream
Place the butter and sugar in your TM mixing bowl and mix until soft and creamy on setting 10 Sec / Speed 5 – Mix in the remaining ingredients on setting 20 Sec / Speed 4.
If you don’t have a Thermomix – Beat the butter until very soft, preferably in a mixer. With the motor running, add the sugar and ground almonds and mix. Add the flour, eggs and alcohol and beat fast for a few seconds.
Transfer your frangipane to a small bowl, cover with cling film refrigerate for a minimum of 15 minutes. If you refrigerate for longer, the paste will appear quite firm, but will return to its original consistency after it has been out of the fridge for a while.
Remove your tart tin/s from the fridge and preheat your oven to 180oC.
Half-fill the pastry cases with mincemeat, then pipe or spoon about a heaped teaspoon of almond cream over each one for the shallow tray method and a good tablespoon if you are using deep pie tins.
Sprinkle with a few flaked almonds. I just love the flavour of lightly ‘toasted’ flaked almonds – the additional flavour and texture burst this gives to the end product is in my opinion well worth doing.
Bake for about 20 minutes (shallow) or 30 minutes (deep), until golden brown. Leave in the tins for about 30 minutes, allowing to cool, then lift out and cool on a wire rack, over a similar sized baking sheet.
When cooled, dust with icing sugar and serve.
I have a few friends who I give these to at Christmas, so I start baking them in November and freeze them. They will hold nicely in your freezer for 2 or 3 months layered up in plastic freezer boxes between sheets of greaseproof paper or in Ziploc bags depending on the space you have available in your freezer. They can then be defrosted and warmed at 170ºC for around 6-7 minutes to heat through, or eaten at room temperature.
If you want to use without freezing, then I suggest that you layer them in an airtight container between sheets of kitchen paper. This helps to absorb any ‘mositure’ and keeps the pastry nice and crisp.
If you overwork the pastry, then you might find it challenging to roll out perfectly first time around. If this happens, you may need to fold the the rolled out pastry over on itself, then roll it out a second time on a lightly dusted surface. The thinly rolled out pastry gives you a lovely, crisp shell, so the extra work rolling out is definitely worth while.
Don’t screw-up surplus pastry, rather fold each piece neatly on top of it self and form into a small brick shape, wrap with cling film, label and refrigerate or freeze.
If you love baking or want to learn to bake, it is well worth booking on one of the courses at The Bertinet Kitchen. If you want to do a course with Richard teaching, then be prepared to pay a premium, but even at over £200 for a one day course, it is well worth the money for the experience alone. People fly in from around the world to be taught by Richard and I have to say that I totally loved the experience.