It seems that while I’ve been consumed by packing boxes and suitcases the world has gone a little bit mad. Liz Taylor is dead; the West is enacting an assault on Libya; and Japan is bravely recovering from a catastrophic earthquake. It certainly makes one pause.
But my week hasn’t been doom and gloom—on the contrary, I got my ass down to London with as few clothes as possible and availed myself of my parents’ hospitality. The sun is shinning; the boy is loving his new job; and I got to meet my new colleagues. On Monday I return to the usual working day, and since I doubt I’ll be rising at 5am just to make pastry, I thought I’d take advantage of my final days of freedom for a long run and some late morning pastry action.
The joy of pastry-making for me lies in the butter; smooth, creamy and, in the quantities I use, ever so naughty. It’s very therapeutic creaming the flour, sugar and butter with your fingertips. But perhaps not for the impatient type—making pastry does take time.
Different cooks used different cheats to ensure their pastry is well-textured. Tamsin Day-Lewis uses cream, or sometimes a tablespoon or two of iced water. I’ve enjoyed success with flakes of frozen butter to ensure the mixture doesn’t become too soft. Today, I was being guided by an Angela Hartnett recipe so opted for an egg and three tablespoons of iced water.
Too much mixing and you can overwork the dough; Hartnett cautions against this by instructing gentle mixing and kneading. If the dough feels a little wet add some flour; knead it, and wrap in cling film. The dough should chill for at least and hour – soft dough just makes hard work when it comes to rolling out.
It’s at this point I made my big mistake. Hartnett makes no mention of blind baking the pastry, but I was convinced this was essential to my tart. Little did I know the pastry walls would collapse, leaving a smaller area for my almond and sugar mix to fill. Onwards and upwards, I say. Using the leftover pasty scraps, I pasted the cracks, and ploughed on.
Another 200g of butter to cream with the sugar. Conversely, this stage does not benefit from overly chilled butter, it’s much harder to cream. Two eggs, and 200g of ground almonds follow. The final paste is thick, creamy and extremely tasty.
The end stage is assembly. Originally, I had wanted to make a plum or apricot frangipane, but neither are in season; the shops are flooded with crazy deals on berries at the moment, and the weather is behaving much like summer, so summer fruits replaced autumnal ones. I filled the tart case with frangipane and covered with assorted berries.
As always timings depend on oven and tart size. Bake for 30-40 minutes (15-25 minutes for the tartlets), or until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown and the fruit looks tender. Allow to cool, drizzle with cream and enjoy.
Recipe, adapted from the BBC
For the pastry
375g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
225g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 free-range egg
4 tbsp ice-cold water
For the frangipane
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
2 free-range eggs
200g ground almonds
4 tbsp ice-cold water
For the tart topping
2-3 punnets of berries of your choice
whipped cream or crème fraîche
For the pastry, sieve the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Tip the cubed butter into the bowl. Rub the butter and the flour between your thumb and fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. In a jug or small bowl, beat the egg together with four tablespoons of ice-cold water. Pour into the flour mixture.
Slowly bring the ingredients together with your hands to form a dough, being careful not to overwork it. Knead the dough lightly on a clean, floured work surface, then wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour. (You can also freeze pastry for up to a month.)
For the frangipane, beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Crack the eggs into the bowl one at a time, beating well to incorporate. Add the ground almonds and mix well until
Preheat the oven to 180C. Dust your work surface with flour and roll the chilled dough out thinly. Use it to line one large 10in tart ring or 6-8 individual tartlet rings. Use a knife to carefully trim off the excess pastry.
Spoon the frangipane into the tart case so that it comes about halfway up the sides. Smooth over the surface with a spatula and cover with berries. Bake for 30-40 minutes (15-25 minutes for the tartlets). Remove and leave to cool. Serve with cream or whatever your preference.