Sunday, December 4, 2016

More baking! Mastering a tart

I have an ambivalent relationship with pastry: I love eating it, but get very nervous making it. A couple of weeks ago I found a long-lost recipe for apple tart, and decided I'd use it for a dessert I was taking to dinner with friends. It was a great success, because it tasted terrific (filling recipe another time) and the texture of the pastry was very good - light, crisp and cuttable. BUT the tart case didn't look great, with the edges fallen away altogether in places and crumbly in others, plus it was a bit over-baked around the edges.

One other problem: the recipes all seem to be for a relatively small 23 cm tart tin, and that really isn't big enough for six to eight people. My tin is 28 cm. So I have to juggle the recipes a bit to fit.
     This week, wanting a lemon tart for dinner here, and determined to do better, I had another go. I consulted various authors, tweaked the recipe a bit, worked out how not to over-bake the edges, and hey presto - it worked. A bit of shrinkage (despite leaving it in the fridge before baking) and one small dip in one side, but otherwise - much better. The filling was very easy and worked well, though I reduced the original sugar a little - I like it a bit more lemony. And now you lucky people can have the benefit of all this mucking around.

Lemon tart
(After Mary Berry - she gives excellent handling tips - with tweaks from Dean Brettschneider)

A 28 cm, loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin
Baking paper, foil, ceramic baking beans or dried beans
Cream for whipping and serving with the tart

350g plain flour
200g cold butter cut into small pieces
50g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
2 free-range egg yolks
2 Tbsps cold water (ice water is good)

Put the flour, butter, icing sugar and pinch of salt into a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
Add the egg yolks and 1 Tbsp water. Pulse again until the mixture comes together into one big clump, adding more water if necessary. (It never clumps in my processor. I need to gather a handful up and press it together to see if it’s ready. If not, I add a tiny bit more water and process again.)
Knead the pastry for just two or three times to make it smooth. Wrap the lump in clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
Lay a piece of baking paper (I need two overlapping pieces, as it isn’t wide enough) on the work surface. Remove the base from the tart tin and lay it on the paper. Using a pencil, draw a circle onto the paper 4 cm bigger than the tin base. (Once you get used to making this you don’t really need to draw the circle, you can guess.)
Dust the base of the tin with flour. Take the pastry out of the fridge and remove the clingfilm. If it’s very firm, leave it to dechill for a few minutes.
For a 28 cm tin, take two-thirds of it, round into a new ball and place in the centre of the tin base, sitting on the paper. Flatten it out slightly. 

Roll out the pastry, still on the base and paper, so that it reaches evenly out about 4 cm all around the base (to the circle if you've drawn one). As you are rolling out, turn the pastry by turning the paper. 
Gently fold the pastry surrounding the tin base in towards the centre. Carefully lift the tin base off the work surface, drop it into the tin, then ease the pastry into the corners and up the sides of the tin, leaving a little overhang on the rim and then gathering it up to form a firm edge which rises a little all around above the top of the fluting. If the pastry cracks anywhere, press it together to seal. (If necessary you can grab a little bit more from the rest of the original ball to fill any awkward bits. Then put the leftover lump back into clingfilm and freeze for later use, such as little mince pies.)
With a sharp knife, trip off the edge all round to form a neat flat top edge. Lightly prick the base with a fork, but not quite all the way through. Place the pastry-lined tin in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170C fan bake (or 190C without the fan). Line the pastry case with a rough circle of foil, dull side up, sticking up all around the fluted sides and hanging over the top edge a little. Fill with ceramic baking beads or dried beans.
Bake blind for 12-15 minutes, until the pastry is set, then lift out the tin and remove the foil with the beans in it. Put the tin back and bake for another 5-10 minutes (watch it very carefully) until the case is pale golden and completely dry. Leave aside to cool as you make the filling. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C fan-bake (160C without fan).

5 large free-range eggs                                    
150ml cream (half a small 300ml bottle)                             
200g caster sugar
4 large lemons, zested and juiced:
     150ml of lemon juice
      2 Tbsps zest
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
Fruit for decoration (optional) – strawberries, raspberries, thin slices of lemon glazed in sugar syrup

Break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk together with a wire whisk. Add cream, sugar and lemon juice. Beat together well. Stir in the zest. 
Pour filling into jug and fill cooled tart case, but not quite full. Pt tart into the oven and finish filling it when it is safely inside. (This can be a bit tricky - you may well need a smaller jug to do this last bit - but it does avoid any spills getting the tart into the oven.)

Bake until filling is just set – 30-35 minutes.
Take out tart and leave to cool until pastry comes away from the sides of the tin. 
To remove the tart from the tin, place the base of the tin on an upturned bowl and let the outer ring fall to the bench. 
Place the tart on a serving plate and serve warm or cold, dusted and/or decorated as you wish – or not, plain is fine.  (In my case I always leave it on the base, it's too nerve-racking to try removing it – you may be braver. If it is still on the base, put a paper napkin or piece of paper towel under the tart on the serving plate to prevent a sudden dramatic slide as you carry it to the table.)

Well, it wouldn't win any A & P show prizes, but you must admit it was a much better effort than before. Most importantly, it tasted wonderful.

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