Category Archives: Sweet Tarts

Simple Strawberry Tart (Finally, Something Good About the English Summer)

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I have been living in England for many years now, and I have enthusiastically adapted to most aspects of life here. I now queue diligently, I drink tea like it’s going out of fashion, I have learnt to bake scones and I even pop into Marks & Spencer every now and then. But try as I might, I still cannot get used to the English Summer.

It seems that for every glorious day where you can eat outdoors,  wear a sundress and do other lovely, summery things,  you have to endure weeks of barely mild temperatures, wind and rain.

Warm, sunny days, when they do happen, seem to arrive out of nowhere and there is this sense of urgency about them because you know that if you don’t cancel whatever your plans were for that day,  and quickly adapt to the unexpected appearance of the sun,  your barbecue may just remain in the garage for another year and your sundress will languish in the wardrobe until the next foreign holiday.

There is one pretty marvellous thing about English Summers though : berries. The mild, wet weather makes for juicy, sweet , delicious strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and all their berry cousins.

My local fruit and veg shop stocks local berries during the season and they are a real joy. Recently, I bought some delicious, plump strawberries. Not the shiny, identically shaped, designer strawberries you find in supermarkets; no, these were the real thing, all different shapes and sizes and some of them oddly misshapen, just like the ones I used to pick in my grandmother’s garden.

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Inspired by this bounty, I suddenly fancied a strawberry tart. A simple one, with just a buttery, sweet pastry (or pâte sablée in French) and strawberries on top. No crème pâtissière needed with strawberries this good. The only thing I added were some roughly chopped pistachios because I think they look nice and add a bit of crunch, but really you can leave them out and your tart would still be delicious.

The proportions for the pastry come from Michel Roux’s Pastry , which I highly recommend (and unfortunately no one pays me to say this).

You will need :

For a 26 cm Ø tart tin:
250 g plain flour
200 g butter, cut into small pieces and slightly softened
100 g icing sugar, sifted
A pinch of salt
2 egg yolks

600 g strawberries
20 g chopped pistachios (optional)
2 tbsp strawberry jam, to glaze

Method :

For the pastry, put the flour in a mound in a wide, shallow dish or directly on your worktop. Make a well in the middle and add in it the butter, sugar and salt.
Rub the butter and sugar together between your fingertips until combined. Add the egg yolks and combine, still with your fingertips. Gradually start drawing in the flour from the sides until it has all been added. Knead the dough 2 or 3 times then pat it into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Flour the tart tin. Roll out the pastry carefully on a well-floured surface into a round 3 to 4 mm thick. Use the rolling pin to help you lift the pastry into the tin. This pastry is very fragile and will probably tear when you try and lift it. The trick is to start lining the tin with as large a piece of pastry as you can manage, then fill the gaps with offcuts and gently press the edges down with your fingers to get a smooth pastry case.

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Refrigerate the lined tin while you preheat the oven to 180ºC / Fan 160ºC /Gas 4.

Cover the pastry with foil, add baking beans and bake blind for about 20 min (check your pastry frequently towards the end) then remove the foil and beans and bake for a further 5 min if necessary. You want a fully cooked pastry case with just a slight golden tinge.

Prepare the strawberries: wash them gently in cold water then leave to drain. Hull the strawberries, then either cut them in half and arrange them on the cooled pastry case in overlapping circles, or if you don’t have a lot of time, just use them whole (warning: this is much quicker but the strawberries will be rolling about when you slice the tart later).

Warm the jam in a small pan set over a low heat until it is liquid, then brush all over the strawberries. Scatter the chopped pistachios. Now expect some ooohs and aaahs when you bring this to the table.

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Mince Pies: The Taste of Christmas

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Mince pies are among my favourite Christmas treats. When I first came across mince pies, shortly after moving here from France, I was intrigued by the name: did these crazy Brits really eat sweetened meat? A quick Google search reassured me that this wasn’t the case anymore, and only the suet remained from what was originally a meat-based dish. Vegetable suet can of course be substituted if you prefer.

Baking mince pies has to be the best way to spend a cold December afternoon; it is a real joy to bring the lovely, golden pies out of the oven and it makes the whole house smell of Christmas!
This recipe makes more mincemeat than you need. Store the remainder in sterilized jars and keep for another baking session; or decorate the jars with pretty labels to make a lovely home-made gift!

You will need (for 24 mince pies) :

For the mincemeat:

250g Bramley apples, peeled and grated
100g sultanas
60g currants
70g dried cranberries
180g raisins
110g chopped mixed peel
30g chopped almonds (optional)
4tbsp brandy
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
170g dark muscovado sugar
120g shredded vegetable suet

For the pastry:

450g plain flour
230g cold butter, diced
Juice and grated zest of 1 orange
1 beaten egg
Icing sugar

Method:

Make the mincemeat:

In a large saucepan, combine the apple, dried fruit, peel, almonds, alcohol, zest, juices, and spices. Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the mix is fairly dry and the dried fruit has plumped up (this should take 45 min to 1h).

Leave to cool, then mix in the suet and muscovado sugar.

Make the pastry:

To make by hand, rub the flour into the butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, add the zest and juice and bring together into a ball ( add a bit of iced water if necessary).
Alternatively use a food processor: mix the flour and butter until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then add the zest and juice and mix again until it comes together, adding a bit of iced water if necessary. Knead lightly a couple of times.
Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 to 20 min.

Assemble the mince pies:

PrehEeat the oven to 190*C/ fan 170*C/ Gas 5. Cut the pastry into 2 pieces, about one third to two thirds.
Roll out the larger piece (leave the other piece in the fridge) on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 3 mm. With an 8 cm round fluted cutter, stamp out 24 bases and use them to line 2 12-hole mince pie tins, or patty tins ( you will need to re-roll the trimmings).
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Fill each pastry case with about 1 tbsp mincemeat.
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Roll out the rest of the pastry as before, and cut out 24 lids with a 7 cm cutter.
Brush the edges of the pastry cases with water, then press a lid down on each base, sealing well.
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Make 3 slits in each pie top with a sharp knife, then brush with some beaten egg and bake for about 20 min or until nice and golden.
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Cool for 10 min in the tins, then remove to a wire rack and dredge with icing sugar.

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Filed under Bakes, Cakes, Christmas, Desserts, Pastry, Pies, Sweet Tarts

Let’s Start 2013 In Style: Chocolate Orange Tart

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If you want to impress the in-laws, or your best friend, next time they come for dinner, but you are not sure what to make, read on…

When I first produced this tart at the end of a meal, it was greeted with “ooohs” and “aaahs” and guests saying that really, I shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble, it looked fabulous, etc. In this situation, and regardless of how many hours you have been slaving away in the kitchen, social etiquette demands that your response should be along the lines of: ” oh, it was no trouble at all, it is actually very easy to make, really!”.  Which is pretty much what I said to my guests that day; but you know what? I wasn’t even lying!

This tart is really easy to make. The filling just needs mixing before baking, so no risk of curdling egg yolks while trying to make a custard-based filling. The pastry demands a little bit more care, as it is closer to a cookie dough than to traditional pastry, but as long as you keep it nice and chilled it should behave obediently enough.

I have borrowed the recipe for the pastry from Jamie Oliver’s “Fifteen Chocolate Tart” recipe. I love this chocolate tart more than words can express, but as I am still in a bit of a post-holiday chocolate hangover, I decided to go for something a bit lighter and fresher than chocolate on chocolate. I have evolved the filling from a lemon tart recipe I copied out years ago; I obviously replaced the lemon with oranges, upped the juice content a bit and added zest for a stronger citrus flavour.

The chocolate decoration is just there to make it look a bit fancier (and it works!), I just wish I had a steadier hand when wielding a piping bag; the picture below is proof that I am no artist… 🙂  New resolution for 2013: practice my piping.

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You will need (for 6 to 8 people):

For the pastry:
325g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
Pinch salt
565g plain flour
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
3 large eggs
65g cocoa powder

For the filling:
5 eggs
140g caster sugar
150 ml double cream
100 ml freshly squeezed orange juice (from about 1 1/2 oranges)
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated.

Optional: 50g dark chocolate, for decorating.

Method:

Butter a 28 cm Ø loose-bottomed tart tin.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and salt, then fold in the flour, eggs, zest, and cocoa powder (you can do this by hand or with a food processor, but this makes quite a lot of pastry so your food processor needs to be a large one).

When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, gently bring it together until you have a ball  of dough. Do not knead it too much or it will become chewy. Flour the dough lightly, then wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Remove from the fridge, roll out to the desired size, and carefully line your tart tin with it (any tears can be easily repaired by patching up with offcuts, lightly brushed with water then pressed down over the cracks). Put the lined tin in the freezer for 30 min.

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/ fan 180ºC/ Gas 6. Bake the pastry for around 12-15 minutes or until it is firm and almost biscuit-like, then remove it and leave to cool while you make the filling.

Turn the oven down to 160ºC/fan 140ºC/Gas 3.

To make the filling, beat all the ingredients, except for the zest, together. Sieve the mixture into a large jug, then stir in the zest.

Pull the middle shelf half-out of the oven, and place the tart tin on it. Carefully pour the filling into the pastry case, taking care that it stops a few millimetres below the edge of the pastry. Gently push the shelf back in. Bake for 30-35 min until just set.

Leave to cool to room temperature, then carefully remove the tart from the tin.

For the decoration, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water (take care that the bowl doesn’t touch the water). Immediately transfer the melted chocolate to a piping bag fitted with a nozzle with a small, plain opening, and pipe criss-crossing patterns onto the tart. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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Filed under Bakes, Christmas, Desserts, Sweet Tarts