Kick Start Your Tarts!

Here we are in the middle of a perfect July & let’s face it, Summer has been a long time coming!  Due to the magnificent mini-heatwave we’re having, all the pretty pots of plants are sprouting with lots of lovely flowers & fruit.  Sitting on the patio having coffee early in the morning is one of the best feelings, just relaxing & starting the day with a little sunshine.

Although I love rich, comforting food as much as anyone, it’s time to lighten up & let loose with the luscious array of amazing produce available to us right now.  One of the best things about Summertime is that we have a rainbow of fabulous fruits & vegetables coming into season, all ready to inspire us into cooking something fresh & exciting.  Bright berries & vivid vegetables to fill you with inner sunshine, giving you a well-deserved boost after being wrapped in woolly pullys for so long (that’s sweaters if you don’t know).

Food shopping is part of the anticipation of cooking & I shop like a butterfly, flitting from shelf to shelf, selecting colourful choices & deciding what to transform them into as I go (most people have a list, I have a recipe agenda in my head).  Thanks to the temptation of my local shops, I recently stocked up on some beautifully fragrant fruits & vegetables, perfect for pairing with pastry!  Forget those overloaded, soggy-bottomed, smudgy layered mouthfuls of the past (that’s where they should stay).  Savoury or sweet, tarts should be sumptuously satisfying & stuffed with just enough filling to keep you happy.

Now just to clarify, a fruit tart should be a fruit tart & not a hidden layer of custard or crème patissière under a pile of fruit!  I’m not a fan of custard & especially surprise custard!  As a child, I remember excitedly biting into a sweet, strawberry laden pastry, only to get a mouthful of cold custard (it didn’t end well).  An attentive boyfriend in my early 20s used to bring me a strawberry tart for our mid-morning coffee breaks & would always ensure they were custard-free, so I didn’t have to relive the horror.  Obviously, I make sure my own home-baked versions are definitely free of custard too.

This particular recipe is for a delectable apricot tart called Crostata di Albecocche, which is bursting with plump, peachy-blush tinted apricots.  Tinned apricots are beautiful too, but there’s something spectacular about the flavour of fresh ones!  They taste of Summer for me, all golden glorious sunshine wrapped in a soft velvet skin, delicately perched on a pastry blanket.  This tart is great as a tea-time treat or as a relaxed dinner party dessert, just add great company.    Ready to get baking?  Aprons on, hands washed!

What you need:

For the filling:
1 punnet of fresh Apricots
1 jar of Apricot Conserve or Jam (use a nice thick jam for this recipe)

For the pastry:
12oz Self-Raising Flour, plus extra for rolling out
4oz Vanilla Sugar (stick a vanilla pod in a jar of sugar & leave for a couple of hours or overnight, then you’ve got vanilla sugar)
4oz Salted Butter (plus a little extra melted for lining your tin)
2 large Eggs
Zest of an Unwaxed Orange & Lemon (optional, but very nice)
2 teaspoons of Ground Almonds
2 tablespoons Milk (for brushing pastry with)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.

Prepare your tin.  You don’t need a fancy pie tin for this – I use a pizza tin, but you can use a loose bottomed one if you like.  Brush the inside & outer lip of the tin with melted butter (you can use your fingers for this too, whatever you find easiest).  Sprinkle with a little flour & shake it all around the tin, tipping out the excess onto your worktop.

At this point, you can always add a disc of greaseproof paper in the bottom (or criss-cross a couple of long strips of greaseproof paper & hang over the edges by a couple of inches).  I’ve baked this tart so many times over the years, both with & without greaseproof, so it’s up to you if you want to add this extra lining.

Sprinkle with the ground almonds & ensure the bottom of the tin is completely covered.

Now to make the pastry!  Into a large mixing bowl, add all the pastry ingredients together – the flour, eggs, sugar, butter & some zest.  Get your hands in & squish everything together to form a silky soft ball of pastry.

Dust the worktop & your rolling pin with a little flour (dust, not drench!), cut off two thirds of the pastry & roll out carefully, gently lifting & turning it then rolling again, until about half a centimetre thick & slightly bigger than your tin.  Dust more flour underneath as you go, so that it doesn’t stick.  If it’s too moist, roll it up & reshape, then start again.  Because the weather is warm, you might experience this – don’t worry, it will be fine (just go steady with the flour dusting, as you don’t want to use too much or it will alter the recipe & not in a good way!).

Lay the pastry carefully over your rolling pin & slide the tin underneath the pastry, laying it loosely onto the tin.  Push gently into the edges of the tin, being careful not to poke your fingers through.  Trim the edges off the pastry base & put back in the bowl (you’ll need these for decoration later).

Wash the apricots in cold water & gently pat dry.  Run a paring knife along the natural line around the middle of each fruit, then twist as you pull them apart (the riper the fruit, the easier this is).  The stone/pit will stick in one side, so just prise it out with your fingers & discard.  Continue until you have stoned all your fruit.

Cut each half apricot into half again, so you have apricot quarters & leave to one side.

Spread the jam gently all over the pastry case & then start adding your apricots in a pretty pattern, until the base is completely covered.

Now to decorate the top.  Take the leftover pastry & roll out into about half a centimetre thick.

Cut into strips about the same size – if you’ve got a pizza or ravioli cutter, use this & make life easier for yourself.

Take a pastry strip & pinch or twist it carefully, so you don’t break it, then lay it across the middle of the tart.  Brush the ends with a little milk & attach to the edge of the pastry base.

Do the rest of the strips in the same way, then do the same with more strips going over the top.

Gently brush a little milk on all the pastry edges & place on a baking tray in the centre of the oven for about 25 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.

Once the pastry has turned lightly golden & puffed up, the tart should be ready.

Remove from the oven & place the tin on a cooling rack to rest until thoroughly cooled (you don’t want to eat it hot, it will be like lava).

 

Once cooled, serve generous slices with a splodge of silky smooth cream – whether clotted, whipped, poured or iced, they all work well with this dessert (although clotted is my fave).

If there is any left, wrap in greaseproof paper & take it to work for a little treat the next day (probably best not to tell anyone at the office though, or it might evaporate).

This fabulous fruit-filled pastry can be made a few hours in advance & stored in the fridge on a serving plate until dinner (slide a pallet knife under & gently lift it out of the tin).  I can’t tell you if it freezes or not, because none has ever lasted that long, but I have frozen the pastry before & it always comes out perfectly.

So next time you see a punnet of peachy petite apricots, turn them into something special & kick start your tastebuds with this tasty apricot tart!  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Afternoon Tease!

Beautiful blue skies & big blossom trees in full bloom must mean Summer is finally making her grand entrance & I for one am rather pleased!  The last couple of months have been a rollercoaster of rain, sunshine & hailstorms, giving us all wardrobe issues (you go out in the morning dressed for freezing rain & by lunchtime it’s sweltering sunshine!).  It’s May Bank Holiday weekend & although it’s probably not shorts & scanty vest weather just yet, hopefully it will be soon (fingers crossed though, this is the UK remember).

May always evokes fond memories of when I was a young girl, running around the lawn barefoot in the warm sunshine, the scent of tiny pink Dianthus filling the air & lovely long Lupins, standing tall in the flowerbeds with their umbrella-like leaves.  The anticipation of indulging in various delectable delicacies was always exciting, as I could hear the faint clinking of china cups & saucers, as plates were piled high with treats & loaded onto the table, one after another.  My Mum would spend all morning baking up a storm in the kitchen & filling the house with the heady perfume of pastries & cakes!  It was bliss!

All my friends know that I absolutely love making afternoon tea & on one occasion, I made cupcake shoes for my guests to take home.  Afternoon tea should be a lavish affair – all those miniature, elegantly decorated cakes, plump sumptuous sultanas embedded in fluffy scones, fragrant ripe fruit & berries perched on pastry cups & delicious dainty sandwiches, crustless with cream cheese & cucumber.   Of course, there’s the endless cups of Earl Grey tea, with wafer thin lemon slices floating like lilypads on the surface, sometimes accompanied by a flute of fizz (or two, because there’s no such thing as leftover fizz – it’s a myth, like leftover chocolate).

Because scones are synonymous with afternoon tea treats, I wanted to share a really easy scone recipe with you.  They take very little effort to make & always look rather impressive.  If you’re going to put dried sultanas in them, I suggest you soak them first to plump them up – nobody likes shrivelled sultanas in their scone, they’re just chewy & not very squishy!  Put a large handful of dried fruit in a large mug or a bowl with a tea bag (try Chai tea) & cover in warm, boiled water (let the kettle cool for a couple of minutes first).  Give it a stir, put a plate on top & leave it for an hour or two (overnight if you can) & then drain to reveal sumptuous, squishy sultanas!   Aprons on, hands washed & here we go!

What you need (makes about 12 scones):

8oz Strong Bread Flour (plus extra for rolling out)
4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 large Egg
100ml Semi-Skimmed Milk (approx)
2oz Butter (or Stork or Sunflower Spread) – room temperature is best
1oz Sugar
2oz Sultanas (optional – if you don’t like them, just leave them out)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 220*C & prepare your tins – simply line a couple of baking trays with greaseproof paper (which means no washing up, always a bonus!).

Into a large mixing bowl, sieve the flour & baking powder, then add the sugar & stir everything together.

Cut the butter into pieces & add to the dry ingredients in the bowl.  Using your fingertips, rub everything in together to form a fine, crumbly mixture (a bit like fine breadcrumbs).

If you are adding fruit, strain your sultanas & add them to the mixture, stirring well to combine.  Remember, these will add moisture to your mixture.

Crack the egg into a measuring jug & top up to a quarter of a pint with semi-skimmed milk, then beat together.

Pour most of the egg & milk into the mixture, keeping some back for brushing on top of your scones.

Mix everything together with a fork, until all the ingredients have formed a slightly sticky ball of dough.

Lightly dust your worktop with some flour & tip the dough out.  I like to knead mine gently for a moment, just to make sure everything is mixed in.

Roll out on the worktop (dust on top with a little flour if you need it) & get it to about a quarter of an inch in thickness.

Using a pastry or cookie cutter, cut into circles or shapes & place each one on the baking tray, leaving a couple of inches between each.  Repeat until you have used all the dough – any leftover bits can be gently rolled into a ball in your hands & pressed onto the baking tray.  We don’t waste anything & this one can be your taste test scone (Chef’s perks).

Using a pastry brush, lightly dip in the egg & milk you saved from earlier, then brush each scone on the top to glaze.  Don’t brush the sides, because it will stop them from rising properly.

Let them rest for five minutes – your scones will start to grow & rise slightly.

Bake in the centre of the oven for about 10 minutes, until risen & the tops have turned a gorgeous golden colour.

When cooked, remove from the tray & leave to cool on a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Once cooled, simply stack them on a huge plate, ready to be smothered with strawberry slices, juicy fruit-filled jam & splodges of cream (whipped or clotted cream is fine, whatever you like!).  They also taste fabulous eaten slightly warm, sliced in two & spread with a bit of softened butter, which melts into the scone beautifully.  Any spares can be stored in an airtight container (they will keep for a couple of days, but freshly baked on the day is always best).

If you’re doing them without fruit, why not add a few chopped nuts instead?   Of course, everyone likes scones their own way – my Son prefers plain or walnut scones (actually, he makes the best walnut scones!).

Treat yourself & a few friends to your own afternoon tea, while relaxing (hopefully) in the garden.  However you do it, afternoon tea should be frivolous, fabulous & fun!   Stay hungry 😉   A x