Signature Bakes: Master the art of making tarts
In his September column for Velvet, Cambridge’s Great British Bake Off finalist Ian Cumming shares recipes for a pair of seasonal tarts, one savoury and one sweet
This month I have decided to produce a pair of tarts that use up some of the most plentiful produce that is around at this time of year - courgettes for the savoury bake and blackberries for the sweet. By September the initial thrill of producing courgettes in the garden might be starting to wear thin, so often you can see tables of them outside houses being sold for next to nothing. Further afield the hedgerows should be bursting with blackberries. Some bushes might only produce miserly little tough berries whilst others will give fat juicy berries that stain your fingers a delightful purple. I have put mine in a frangipani tart which I think is one of the most adaptable tarts there is, as you can put all sorts of fruit in it. Raspberries, plums, greengages, pear, apple - they all work.
Courgette, Feta & Mint Tart
For the pastry:
250 plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
125 unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk (save egg white for egg wash)
30ml (2 tablespoons) cold water
For the filling:
200ml double cream
2 large eggs
few sprigs of thyme
about 10 mint leaves
200g feta cheese
salt & pepper
2 x 200g courgettes (ideally yellow & green)
drizzle olive oil
Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into small cubes and then rub in with your fingertips until it disappears. Many recipes call for the butter to be cold from the fridge, but I find it can be too hard - let it warm in the room for a few minutes beforehand. Crack the egg over a cup or bowl, saving the egg white for later and put the yolk along with 30ml of water in the flour. Using a knife, cut it through the flour - this will slowly but steadily mix it evenly so you shouldn’t have any lumps. Bring the dough together and briefly knead. Flatten it into a disc about an inch thick and wrap it in plastic (I use recycled cereal packets for this). Chill in the fridge for half an hour or longer.
Take the pastry out the fridge and leave it a few minutes for it to warm and soften a little, then roll out to about the thickness of a £1 coin. I use a tart tin that is 28cm wide and about 3cm high. Roll the pastry around your rolling pin and gently unroll it into the tin. Trim the edges. Line the tin with the pastry and then prick it lightly with a fork before leaving it to chill in the fridge for half an hour or longer.
Preheat the oven to 190C. Blind bake the pastry by lining the tin with baking parchment and then put baking beans on top. If you haven’t got any baking beans then you can use rice (something which many bakers prefer). Recently I was in a very remote cottage in Scotland and had neither so just used some small stones from the beach and they worked perfectly! Bake it for about 15 minutes before removing the parchment and baking for a further 10 minutes. At this stage it shouldn’t be too dark as it will be going back in the oven again later. Take it out of the oven and brush over the egg white - this will help seal it. Bake for a couple more minutes and then set it aside to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. In a mixing bowl briefly beat together the double cream with the large eggs, thyme leaves and finely chopped mint leaves. Crumble the feta and mix it in along with salt and pepper. For the courgettes it is best to use the mandolin slicer that you often get on the side of a grater, otherwise you can use your finest knife skills to cut them into 2-3mm slices. Pour the cream mixture into the tart case. You can then either lay out the courgettes in circles, a spiral or just chuck them in - up to you, your time, inclination and creative skills! Drizzle with olive oil and then bake for about 20 minutes at 170C or until just turning golden brown. Best served warm.
Blackberry Frangipani Tart
For the jam:
200g jam sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
For the pastry:
120g room temperature unsalted butter
70g icing sugar
Large pinch of salt
25g ground almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste (or extract)
230g plain flour
For the filling:
180g unsalted butter
180g caster sugar
large pinch of salt
3 large eggs
180g ground almonds
1/2 to 1 teaspoon almond extract
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
A good handful of blackberries
For the glaze (optional):
2 teaspoons apricot jam
1 teaspoon water
This is the sort of recipe that you can skip some of the steps - you could buy the jam, buy the pastry or even buy a pre-made pastry case. However, I really recommend starting off with a good walk in the countryside and doing some blackberry picking as you go. Homemade jam is always going to beat shop jam not only in satisfaction but definitely in flavour - and it works up an appetite for an extra slice too!
Start with the jam. First of all put a plate in the freezer. Then put the blackberries and lemon juice in a pan and gently bring to the boil. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes until the fruit is soft. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve it. Turn the heat up to high for 10 minutes. Turn it off and put a small blob on the plate in the freezer. Leave for a minute. It should feel sticky like jam but if not turn the heat back on for a couple of minutes and try the plate test again. Repeat until the jam is done.
The pastry is what is known as a Pâté Sucrée - a French version of sweet shortcrust pastry. I made it on Bake Off five years ago and the only change I have made is to use 230g of flour instead of 220g - not exactly a big change! I’ve learnt a lot since those crazy days but the fact that I basically haven’t changed the recipe says a lot. So start by putting the butter in a mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon just bash it around until it is nice and soft. Add the icing sugar and salt and using the wooden spoon mix it together until it is smooth again. Add the ground almonds and do the same again. Add the vanilla paste and the egg and beat once again with the wooden spoon. It will look very unpromising like bad scrambled eggs but don’t worry! Add the flour and mix it once again. Eventually it will come together into a scraggy ball. Briefly knead it before making it into a disc about an inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 20 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and, if necessary, allow the disc to soften little. I use a tin which is 28cm wide and 3cm deep. Loosely roll the pastry around the rolling pin and then unroll it into the tin. Trim the edges. I then use the excess pastry to make some jam tarts with the jam I have made. Prick the case all over with a fork and return to the fridge for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 190C. Using the same method described in the previous recipe, blind bake the pastry for about 10 minutes or until the top edges are just starting to colour. Remove the parchment and baking beans before returning to the oven for just a few minutes more. You only need a little colour in the pastry at this stage as you are going to cook it again once the frangipani filling is in.
Meanwhile start on the filling. Preheat the oven to 170C. Beat the butter, caster sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time before folding in the ground almonds, almond extract and vanilla extract. Spread your jam over the tart case - you won’t need it all but cover the base as if you were generously spreading it on toast. Put blobs of the frangipani all over the jam and then smooth them out carefully so it is flat. Sprinkle over the handful of blackberries. Bake for about 35 minutes or until golden brown.
After the tart has been out of the oven for about half an hour, make the glaze. I find it best putting the apricot jam and water in a small cup and microwaving it for about 20 seconds. Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the jam over frangipani. Allow the tart to cool and serve with crème fraîche.
Pictures by Ian Cumming - icimages.com
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