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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Give Sultanas A Swirl!

There are some things that just don’t do it for me & that includes anything with really over-dried fruit in it – shop bought mince pies, heavily laden fruit cakes that are more fruit than cake (that’s just plain wrong), & anything with shrivelled up sultanas in it.  Scones, buns, cakes or fruit bread should all be graced with sweet, sumptuous fruits & nothing dried of any description.

Sultanas have always intrigued me since I was a child.  In those days, those wrinkly, chewy chunks were picked & flicked from whatever pastry they had dared to adorn!  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them & always found them to be hard, chewy & just not very nice!  In the history books, a Sultana is depicted as a beautiful bejewelled Queen, so it’s hard to associate such a regal sovereign with this dried delicacy.

My Mum & Grandma taught me to show the sultana some respect & give these fabulous fruits a bit of a pre-bake pampering.   Before I bake anything with sultanas in, I give them a good soak in a fragrant warm tea bath, sometimes with a splash of Brandy or Sherry in it.  One of my favourite teas for doing this is Chai, especially at this time of year because of it’s heady, spicy scent.  The sultanas soak up all this luscious liquid to make them plump & pretty again.

There are a variety of treats you can rustle up with these little beauties & on a Sunday morning, if my Husband isn’t making croissants (his speciality), I will make my Sultana Swirlies.  They’re pretty much twirls of enriched dough with squishy sultanas in a swirl of sugar, butter & cinnamon.  If you don’t have the time to make the dough, use pre-made all butter puff pastry (the good stuff) instead.  So get your apron on & here’s the recipe!

What you need:

1lb 4oz Strong White Bread Flour (plus extra for dusting)
Half an ounce of Fresh Yeast (or dried equivalent)
Half a pint lukewarm water
1 large Egg
A quarter of a teaspoon of ground Sea Salt
2oz Vanilla Sugar (plus another ounce for sprinkling)
1oz melted Butter (salted)
Ground Cinnamon for dusting (only a tiny bit – a little goes a very long way!)
2-3 tablespoons Milk (for brushing on at the end)
1 Chai Teabag
Quarter of a pint of boiling water
1 handful of Sultanas (about 2 or 3oz should be sufficient)

What to do:

Firstly, soak your fruit: put the sultanas in a small bowl or a large coffee cup along with the tea bag, pour on the boiling water & stir well.  Put a lid on it (a saucer or small plate will do) & leave to one side for a couple of hours at least.  If you want them to really plump up, do this just before bedtime the night before & leave them until you’re ready to use them (I’ve left them for 24 hours before, so they will be fine).

While the sultanas are soaking in their bath, get the dough made!  Put the yeast into a measuring jug, pour over the lukewarm water & stir with a fork until the yeast has dissolved.  Crack in the egg & give it a quick whisk with the fork until fully combined.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl, add the salt & mix in with your hands, making a well in the centre of the flour.

Pour in the liquid & using the fork, draw the flour into the liquid centre, stirring well.  Then get your hands in & bring it all together to form a dough, leaving the bowl almost clean.  Tip the dough onto a flour dusted worktop & sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of the bowl you just used (you’ll need it again in a few minutes).

Knead the dough for ten minutes by hand (free mini-workout! Yay!).  If you’ve never kneaded dough before, simply push it firmly away from you with the heel of your hand then pull it back over, turn it to the side a quarter turn & repeat.  Be careful not to tear the dough, you just want to stretch it so that it will rise later.  Once you’ve finished kneading, the dough will be noticeably smoother & more elastic.  The more effort you put in now, the more risen your dough will be when you bake it, plus you’ll have lovely toned arms.  Pop it into the floured bowl, cover with a bit of oiled clingfilm (use a pastry brush, it’s easier) & place on a tray in the airing cupboard to prove for an hour.

While the dough is proving & your sultanas are soaking, relax.  There’s not much you can do here, so put the oven on to 220*C, put the kettle on & make yourself a cuppa.  Prepare your baking trays – brush with butter & flour them, or line them with greaseproof paper.  I’ve used pizza tins for this & they work quite well.

Once the dough is ready, your sultanas will be too.  Your dough will have almost doubled in size & have a domed top (your hard work will have paid off!).  Scrape it out of the bowl & onto the worktop, then knock it back – give it a quick knead & throw it onto the worktop a couple of times.  This knocks out any large air bubbles.

Strain your sultanas thoroughly using a sieve, giving them a good shake to remove any excess moisture.  Leave them to sit in the sieve & put this over the bowl they were in (to catch any drips).

On a lightly floured worktop, stretch your dough into a rectangular shape, dust with a little flour & roll out to about a quarter inch thickness.  The dough will snap back, just be patient & if it needs a little more flour underneath, dust some sparingly just to prevent it sticking to the worktop.

Next, brush on the melted butter all over from edge to edge using a pastry brush.  Sprinkle the sugar evenly all over the buttered dough, followed by the sultanas.

Then comes the fun part – rolling it up to form a big spiral, sultana-filled sausage.  It doesn’t really matter which way you roll it, towards you or away from you, but it just needs to be rolled carefully so you don’t lose your fruit.  Gently roll the filled dough, until you have a long, sultana-filled sausage.

Using a sharp knife, cut the sausage in half, then cut each half in half again.  You should be left with about 16 slices, each one about an inch thick.  Lay them in a circle on a prepared baking tray to make a flower shape, leaving about an inch gap between them.  Press them down slightly to flatten them a bit.

Cover loosely with greased clingfilm to protect them, then leave them on a draught-free worktop to prove again for about half an hour.  They will have doubled in size again & filled the tins completely.

Bake them in the centre of the oven for about 12-15 minutes until golden brown & risen.  When they are ready, gently ease them out of the tin onto a wire cooling rack – to test if dough is cooked, give it a tap on the bottom & it should sound hollow.

While they are still hot, brush with cold milk & dust sparingly with ground Cinnamon, plus another sprinkling of vanilla sugar, before leaving to cool.

These fragrant, fluffy swirls taste great as they are, but I like to make some glacé icing & drizzle it over the top, filling the curves like a little icing path to the centre.  You can use freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice to make your icing instead of water & give it a zesty zap.  They make lovely lazy breakfasts (you’ll burn off all the sugar by lunchtime), or a gorgeous snack with coffee.  However you have them, just remember to treat your sultanas like a Queen.  Stay hungry 😉 A x

 

 

 

 

 

Good Pie, the Blackberry Way!

It’s that time of year, when the hedgerows are bursting with delicious, deepest dark purple blackberries, just waiting to be plucked from their brambles.  There’s something satisfying about picking fresh fruit that instantly transports me back to childhood – I would pick apples, blackberries, raspberries & cherries for my Mum to turn into the tastiest treats, carefully carried home (usually in my skirt turned inside out & filled with berries that stained – sorry Mum!).  I’ve always grown blackberries in the garden – they are really easy to grow either in pots on the patio or along a hedgerow & the more fruit you pick, the more they seem to produce.  Plus they have the prettiest little white flowers that the bees adore, so I’m doing my bit for them too!

One of the best ways to enjoy blackberries is encased in pastry, adorning slices of crisp apple & making them pink with their juice (although, I like to freeze a few & pop them in Prosecco to make blackberry bubbles!).  Pastry making used to elude me.  It is one of those voluptuous little vehicles that carry fabulous fillings into your mouth.  Yet, despite it’s beautiful taste & crumbly texture, it can be a bit of a nightmare to make your own – mine used to resemble tasty cardboard!   There are so many different types to choose from, then there are all the rules you should follow – keep your hands cold, only use your fingertips, don’t handle it too much, only roll it out once 28 degrees north while standing on one leg, blah blah.  It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

Although I would never attempt to make my own filo pastry, I have made my own puff pastry in the past (it’s like making the croissant dough – lots of folding, plenty of butter & leaving to rest for a bit).  It does take time, but it is absolutely worth it & I know exactly what’s in it!  Shop-bought pastry of any kind can be nice, however I’m pretty sure that all those added little extras they put in are not good for us (don’t get me started on unnecessary & unpronounceable ingredients!).  Plus, when it says “all butter” on the packet, it doesn’t necessarily mean just butter (have a look next time you go shopping).

Sometimes a recipe will say “bake blind”.  That does not mean tie your apron over your face & wander around your kitchen blindfolded (apparently).  It means that once you have lined your tin with pastry, put a sheet of greaseproof paper on top, along with a layer of ceramic baking beans to hold the paper down & allow the pastry to cook a little before you fill it.  Baking beans can be found at most supermarkets or good baking supply stores – I got mine from Nisbets Catering Supplies (they are on Fletcher Gate in Nottingham – it’s an Aladdin’s cave in there).  In an emergency, you can use dried pasta shapes – they can be reused a couple of times, however they tend to break after that.  Once you have baked your pastry case, then it’s ready to be filled or frozen for when you need one!  If you are making a fruit pie like this one, you don’t need to bake it blind as your filling isn’t going to be too wet.

For sweet dishes, the basic pastry I make is just butter, flour, sugar & eggs.  One of the best tips I’ve discovered is to use icing sugar – your pastry will be smooth, silky & really easy to roll.  Depending on the filling, sometimes I’ll add a bit of orange or lemon zest (or both!).  It’s always fabulously fluffy in the middle, with that melt-in-the-mouth buttery taste.  I have used this recipe for all kinds of pastry delights & it is easy to adapt, so you can change it up as you need or leave it simple & let the filling do the talking.

What you need:

12oz Self-Raising Flour
4oz Salted Butter, room temperature (slightly softened)
4oz Vanilla Sugar or Vanilla Icing Sugar (make your own – just pop a Vanilla pod in a jar of sugar overnight, or add 1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Extract if you don’t have time)
2 large Eggs

Prepared filling – peeled, cored & thinly sliced apple or pear (you only need about three or four regular sized apples/pears for a 12″ pie); washed & drained blackberries or raspberries
2 tablespoons Vanilla Sugar (for the filling)
2 tablespoons of Milk for brushing on top

Optional ingredients:

Zest of an Orange or a Lemon (or half of each mixed) – wash & dry them first to remove any wax or dirt (try to get unwaxed fruit if you can)

Ground Cinnamon (if you are using apples, a dusting of this fragrant spice will enhance the flavour)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 190*C.   Prepare your baking tin(s) – there is enough pastry here to make a large 12″ pie or a dozen small ones with lids, so it’s whatever size you are making.  To prepare your baking tins, wipe the inside with butter using a piece of greaseproof paper or just your fingers, then dust with flour to coat the butter.  This will make them non-stick & your pastry will pop out easily.  If you are making a large pie, try using a loose bottomed pie tin (easier to transfer from tin to plate), or lay a couple of long, wide strips of greaseproof paper across each other in the bottom of the pie tin & hanging over the edge by a couple of inches (once cooked, simply lift your pie out).  For smaller tartlets or pies, I’ve used patty tins & the silicone cases – they actually work quite well.  Whatever tin or case you use, always place it on a baking tray for extra support & ease when removing from the oven later.

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl & then add the butter, eggs & 4oz of vanilla sugar or icing sugar.  If you are using orange & lemon zest, add that too.  Get your hands in the bowl & start mixing, squishing everything together to distribute evenly & make a pliable ball of pastry.  Dust a worktop with flour & place the dough on top.  Dust your rolling pin too (you don’t want the pastry to stick to it!).

Cut the pastry ball in two & set one aside (this will make the top of your pie).  Take the other pastry ball & roll it out, turn it & then roll again.  If it’s a bit sticky, add another dusting of flour underneath before rolling – use a pallet knife to slide underneath if necessary.  Try not to add too much flour to the worktop though, because it will combine with your pastry & become dry.   Once rolled, transfer it to the prepared baking tin, making sure that there is no air between the pastry & tin.  Use a floured finger to press it gently into all the corners or curves if using a fluted tin, or the dusted handle of a wooden spoon works really well.

Once your pie case is prepared, add the filling.  I use regular, uncooked ripe apples or pears that have been peeled & cored, then sliced thinly & fanned out over the bottom of the pastry case.  Top with a few luscious blackberries, dusted with a little cinnamon & a good sprinkling of vanilla sugar.  Don’t over-fill your pie case – just one layer of sliced fruit & a few berries is sufficient – too much filling will make it soggy underneath (never a good look!) & the pastry won’t cook.

Roll out the pastry top slightly larger than the base, then use your rolling pin to lift it & gently roll it over the pie.  Pinch & press the edges together into a pretty pattern using your fingers, all the way around until it is sealed up nicely.  If you feel like being a bit creative, cut out shapes with the trimmings to decorate – add after brushing with milk, then brush them too.  When I’m making a pie with blackberries in, I like to decorate with flowers, because they look a bit like blackberries & sometimes I’ll add pastry leaves too.  It’s just to use up any leftover pastry trimmings – no need to throw them away, just create some pretty shapes for the top.

Brush with a little milk, then prick holes in the top with a sharp knife or a fork.  Sprinkle a little vanilla sugar over the top.  Bake it in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, until it is golden & the filling will be all bubbling out of the tiny holes you made.  Don’t worry about the little pools of filling – they will bake into the pastry in the oven & it will be crispy, golden & lovely.

After baking, remove your pie from the oven & place on a cooling rack. Leave it in the tin for a few minutes, as it will be easier to remove once it has cooled down a bit.  Even if you are going to eat it hot, you don’t want to be burning your mouth – fruit fillings especially will be like molten lava & tend to be hotter than the sun, so give it a moment & save yourself (& your guests) some pain!  If you’re going to eat it cold, just leave it to cool completely in the tin before cutting it.

If you’ve used a loose-bottomed tin, just push the base up from underneath & ease your pie onto a serving plate or board.  Slide a pallet knife gently underneath the pie to separate it from the actual tin base.  If you’ve use the greaseproof paper method, simply lift it out & transfer to a plate, then slice, serve & share!

So next time you have an abundance of blackberries, forget the crumble & pack them in a pie!  A x