Here is a tale of two tarts. The savoury one is a cheats’ tart, and the sweet one is a tarts’ tart. Tart no.1, the savoury one, is perfect ‘girly’ food, the ideal answer for a light lunch, tart no.2 is for tart bores, it is a bit of a labour of love but oh so satisfying once made! So tart no. 2 requires patience and time, tart no. 1 is instant gratification. Take your pick.
I quite like tarts – I used to make a lot but now as mother to the little people I spend most of my time perfecting my dinosaur roar as opposed to perfecting my pastry! Liberated (as in not working) and spoilt as I am, chasing little people around the house, garden and countryside, something has to give and sadly that is homemade pastry – at least some of the time. You see I have discovered a rather genius substitute – all butter puff pastry. Something in the label gives it away – lets call it the butter! It really is rather good and hence why this tart is such a cracker when juggling with dinosaurs and cooking for the stream of gorgeous people who traipse through our kitchen.
Tart no 1 is ‘courgette, gorgonzola and thyme’, but that’s because we have a glut of courgettes and ends of gorgonzola, the week previously it was ‘butternut and goats cheese’, the week before ‘slow roasted tomato and ricotta’ – the filling is really whatever you have to hand – the point being one should not be tied to the filling ingredients, what you do need to have is ‘all butter puff pastry’, cream and eggs, and baking beans – not that you are going to eat those. Now for Tart no 2 – the labour of love, you will have to love baking and probably have to have a heap of people to feed to justify making this one. It is a proper Autumn tart, a sweet pastry base baked blind filled with almond frangipani and meltingly sweet figs. Served with a little clotted cream, creme fraiche or nutmeg mascarpone it is rich, indulgent and as sweet as sweet, just as puddings should be.
There is an old wives tale in the kitchen that you either have pastry hands or bread hands! I don’t know if I really believe this but I do know pastry is temperamental, sometimes it works like a dream, sometimes it’s a horror. This sweet pastry recipe is from Skye Gyngell and I find it works extremely well. I made up half of what she recommends which more than amply fills a tart to serve 8 people with left overs to make biscuits for the little people. The lesson with pastry is to be patient with it, after all it needs a fair bit of resting (don’t we all) – so don’t embark on this if you are in a rush! After the pastry is made it needs to rest, after it has been rolled and lined the required tin, it needs to rest, it then needs to be baked blind – I told you it’s a faff, and this is before you even embark on making the frangipani!
I don’t know why I got obsessed by making a fig tart – maybe it’s just a need and desire to cook, or maybe I’m turning into my grandmother who had a wonderful sweet tooth to the exclusion of practically all other food. The fact of the matter is the fig tart was fantasized about, then a fair amount of recipe cross referencing took place trying to find the filling that appealed the most. I settled on one of Jamie Oliver’s, from his Italian cookbook, which strangely I rarely use, but it sounded good and importantly relatively simple. Again I cut the recipe in half which ended up being the perfect quantity for a narrow long tart tin. It was delicious, a really good pudding for an Autumn evening.
Puff Pastry Tartlets
1 packet of ‘all butter’ puff pastry
1 egg yolk and 1 egg
Salt and Pepper
The quantity above is for 2 tartlets – this will obviously leave you plenty of pastry left over for sausage rolls, more tarts, or just for popping in the freezer for another day.
1. Roll out the puff pastry to line your tart tins, not too thin , probably about 3 mm thick and leave a little extra over the sides. Puff pastry as the name suggests, puffs up in baking and hence shrinks, so do allow extra around the sides.
2. Having lined your tins, then pop a piece of baking parchment in the tins covering the pastry and now fill it with baking beans. The baking beans are key as they will keep the middle part of the tart from puffing up while blind baking the pastry.
3. Pop in the oven and bake at 180 for 15- 20 minutes till the sides have turned a golden brown and puffed up, now remove the baking parchment and pop the tarts back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes to dry out the middle, it will puff up a bit but don’t worry the filling with push it back down again!
4. Now for the filling, I like a good creamy, rich tart with lots of seasoning, my rule of thumb for 2 individual tartlets (as above) is 1 egg yolk, 1 egg, whisked together, followed by the equivalent quantity of double cream, a really good pinch of maldon sea salt, grind of black pepper and good grating of fresh parmesan. Herbs are always a great addition, thyme works well in most tarts as do chives. Left over ends of cheese also work, any kind of blue cheese, goats cheese, really any cheese at all! As for the actual filling, left over vegetables are always a winner, brocolli, butternut, tomatoes, roasted onions, courgettes, spinach, etc, the list is endless, I have previously added in left over bacon from breakfast, parma ham, smoked fish – but not all at once! The point being these tarts should be delicious but also serve the purpose of ‘dejunking’ the fridge.
5. Pop your chosen filling in the tart and pour over the cream and egg mix. Put your tart tins on a baking tray as it makes it easier to manoeuver them, and then put them in the oven at 180c for 15 – 20 minutes till the filling has puffed up, the egg and cream mix has risen and turned golden. Serve hot, warm or cold with a fresh green salad.
Suggested fillings that work well:
Roasted butternut, blue cheese and thyme
Courgette, goats cheese, chive, thyme, crispy bacon
Slow roast tomato, ricotta and thyme
Fig Tart – my labour of love!
250g plain flour, plus more for dusting
125g butter, chilled, cut into cubes
1 whole organic, free-range egg yolk
1 tsp sugar
A few drops of vanilla extract
1. Put the flour, sugar and butter into a food processor/ magimix / kenwood with a k- beater, and pulse until fine crumbs form.
2. Add the egg yolk and the vanilla essence, pulse a few more times and the mix should come together – if it is still a little dry add a few drops of very cold water and bring it together by hand. It should be softish and pliable.
3. Remove the pastry and make it into a ball – wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for 20 minutes to allow it to rest!
4. Now dust some flour on a work surface and roll out the pastry, try not to overwork it – roll it just enough to get the right thickness and then line your tin, I recommend 2-3mm in thickness. Now, back in the fridge for another 20 minutes of resting. Now turn your oven on at 180c. The tart tin I use is a rectangular one, measuring 10cm by 30cm.
5. Remove the tart case from the fridge, line with baking paper and fill with baking beans and bake in the oven for 20- 30 minutes till the pastry has just turned color and is looking cooked. At around 15 to 20 minutes remove the baking beans and let the bottom of the tart dry out and cook a little more. Now remove from the oven – have a drink as stage 1 is over!! But get cracking on the frangipane.
140g of ground almonds
25g of plain flour
125g of butter
125g of caster sugar
1 tablespoon of sweet wine
1. Blitz the butter and sugar together in a magimix till light and creamy, add in the almonds, egg, flour and sweet wine. Now place this mix in the fridge for 20 minutes to firm up.
2. Remove from the fridge, and press evenly into the baked pastry case. Now take your quartered figs and press them evenly into the tart.
3. Finally, bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until the frangipane has become firm and golden. Serve with clotted cream, creme fraiche or nutmeg mascarpone. If you have the energy glaze the tart with some syrup, a little simmered down jam and water, and start feasting.
Tart tin 10cm – 30cm
Baking Beans – I use the standard ceramic beans for blind baking that can be bought in any cookshop.