Retro Tarts

Some time ago *waves hand vaguely* I introduced you to an all-butter pastry which I had adapted from an old Victorian commercial baker’s book. The crust for my Cheese and Potato Pies has about 25% cornflour, which makes it fantastically silky-smooth to handle and which also bakes beautifully crisp and dry.

The recipe this week is for a sweet version, also from the same baking handbook: slightly different flour/butter proportions and enriched with the yolk of an egg, it is both more crisp and more delicate than the savoury version and a perfect foil for the three sweet fillings I’ve lined up for you, because I thought it rather a cheek to give you just a pastry recipe this week and let you get on with it. Plus I couldn’t get a lump of pastry to look tempting all by itself, so here we are.

The fillings are very much variations on a theme of dark muscovado sugar and I’m really pleased with the three differing flavours that resulted. The Butterscotch is really dark and very much a ‘grown-up’ flavour – you could even add a slosh of real scotch to ramp it up to dinner-party level. The Toffee is very child-friendly in flavour – almost mild – and a real comfort food. The Gypsy Tart is a 2-ingredient classic that harks back to memories of school dinners. There are many recipes for the filling ‘out there’, most of which generally have too high a proportion of sugar and too much milk, resulting in gigantic pies of tooth-aching sweetness. This version makes for a light and frothy filling with just the right balance of flavour and sweetness. It is the only one of the three that needs any further cooking once poured into the pre-baked pastry shell, but at just 20 minutes in a cool oven, these too are ready in a flash.

I’ve left all three unadorned, but you could add embellishment if you like – unsweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche rather than more sweetness in a chantilly or buttercream, is my recommendation. A smattering of chocolate sprinkles for the toffee tart, perhaps? Your call.

Cut Retro Tarts
Cut Retro Tarts Dark Butterscotch (left), Toffee (middle), Gypsy Tart (right)

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry

This quantity makes enough for one large tart or 4-8 individual tarts.

170g plain flour
56g cornflour
125g unsalted butter
15g caster sugar
1 large yolk

ice water to mix

  •  Put the flours, butter, sugar and yolk into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Roll out thinly and line your greased tart tin. If making smaller tarts, cut the pastry into 4 and roll out individually.
  • Leave the excess pastry hanging over the side of the tin/s and chill in the fridge for another 30 minutes. The pastry will shrink as it chills and then you can trim the excess. If you trim it first, the pastry will shrink down inside your tart cases, probably unevenly, and your pastry cases won’t have a nice finish.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180ºC Fan.
  • Prick the bottom of the tart/s with a fork to prevent blistering, line with baking parchment and fill with beans/rice/beads.
  • Bake for 10 minutes for small tarts, 12-14 minutes for a large tart.
  • Remove the parchment and beans and bake for a further 3 minutes for small tarts, 5-8 minutes for a large tart, until fully baked.
  • Allow to cool.

Butterscotch filling

170g unsalted butter
170g dark muscovado sugar
35g plain flour
100ml milk

  • Melt the butter and sugar in a pan, stirring.
  • Make a paste of the flour with a little of the milk, then stir in the rest of the milk.
  • Pour this milk mixture into the butter mixture and whisk vigorously.
  • Continue whisking until the mixture comes to the boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring, to ‘cook out’ the taste of the flour. The mixture will thicken.
  • Remove from the heat. Add a little extra milk – or scotch! – if it seems too thick, then pour into the bake pastry case/s and allow to cool.

Toffee filling

Warm the golden syrup before measuring it out, it will be much easier to pour accurately.

100g butter
40g plain flour
250ml milk
60g dark muscovado sugar
100g golden syrup

chocolate sprinkles (optional)

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour. Whisk until frothed and starting to darken.
  • Warm the milk and sugar together and pour into the butter mixture, whisking briskly.
  • Keep stirring over the heat until the mixture thickens, then remove from the heat and stir in the golden syrup.
  • If the mixture seems too thick, add a little extra milk to loosen it.
  • When you’re happy with the consistency, pour into the pastry shells and set aside to cool.
  • Scatter over the chocolate sprinkles, if using, before serving.

Gypsy Tart filling

1 x 170ml tin evaporated milk – chilled
120g dark muscovado sugar

  • Chill the tin of evaporated milk in the fridge overnight. Do not skip this step. It will not whip up to its frothy perfection unless the milk is thoroughly chilled.
  • Get rid of all the lumps in the sugar by pounding it in a pestle and mortar. Work a little at a time rather than trying to get the whole batch lump-free in one go. It’ll give you something to do while the milk chills.
  • Put the sugar and the chilled milk into a bowl and whisk for AT LEAST ten minutes. You want the sugar to dissolve and the milk to increase in volume and become light and frothy, like half-whipped double cream. You can test whether the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the mixture between finger and thumb – it should not feel grainy at all. If you have a stand mixer and a balloon whisk attachment, this might take a little less time, but not much.
  • Preheat the oven to 120°C – NO FAN
  • Pour your mousse-like mixture into your pre-baked pastry case/s. It will not rise much in baking, so you can fill them pretty full.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or until the filling has set: no wobble when gently shaken.
  • Set aside to cool.

Goathland Treacle Tart

Goathland is a tiny village – population less than 500 – tucked away in the North York Moors National Park, just south-west of Whitby. It looks an absolutely delightful place, and Harry Potter fans will recognise Goathland Station as doubling for Hogsmeade (the station nearest Hogwarts) as well as Aidensfield from the popular TV series Heartbeat.

In the 1930s, Mrs Arthur Webb was commissioned by the BBC to visit farms throughout the UK “in order to secure something that was characteristic of its cooking and preparation of food.” In much the same way as her contemporary, Dorothy Hartley, would – Mrs Webb tramped around the countryside conversing with farmers wives and watching them cook in their own kitchens, frequently with awe and respect.

I looked at the fireplace. I watched the flames travelling under the oven.
“How do you manage to keep the heat going – you burn coal, of course?”
“Oh no” the answer came swiftly; “I never trust coal or anything else than wood for my baking. I understand wood better and I know exactly what heat it will give.”
“Do you ever have failures?”
“Failures? Of course not. I know exactly what I want and I make it.”
“Well, how do you manage to arrive at such delicious pies as these?” and I pointed to the laden table. “Do you weigh the ingredients?”
“Never. I could not spare the time. I just know how much the flour, butter, lard, milk, water and eggs will make.”

Luckily for us, Mrs Webb was able to jot down the ingredients for this fantastic tart, which I have only tweaked very slightly in converting to metric measurements and adding cooking times/temperatures. I’m curious to know which farm in this peaceful area was the origin of such a flavour-packed bake.

As you can see from the photograph. it bears little resemblance to the traditional British, tooth-achingly sweet, open-topped Treacle Tart made with golden syrup and fresh breadcrumbs. Whilst still containing breadcrumbs, the filling for this double-crust tart is packed with fruit both fresh and dried, actually contains treacle, and is much closer in taste to a traditional mincemeat, although blessedly fat-free. Along with the dried fruit and spices, the filling is given some fresh zing with chopped apple and lemon zest/juice. The dry breadcrumbs absorb any apple juice during cooking, resulting in a tart with a firm, fruity filling, no soggy bottom, and packing a huge wallop of flavour. The lack of fat in the filling means that the taste is bright and fresh and never cloying or overly rich.

I’ve chosen to wrap this in my favourite cornflour shortcrust, as its dry crispness when baked is the perfect foil against which the filling can really shine.

Sidebar: Mrs Webb’s notes tell us merely to “cover with another pastry” – which is all well and good, but pays little attention to the presentation which is, after all, usually the first thing that tempts us with a dish. I’ve made a conscious decision to try to present dishes, no matter how humble their ingredients, in the most appetising and eye-catching way. If I may paraphrase the great William Morris “Serve nothing from your oven that you do not know to be delicious or believe to be beautiful.”

Tart top
Tart top

Which is all well and good, except that when it comes to decorating, I usually have the patience and finesse of a potato. But I also have a little imagination, so I created the above decoration for the tart lid, in the best traditions of housewives across the years, with what I had to hand: namely, a teaspoon, an apple corer and a skewer.

The pastry was crimped by laying the pastry lid so that the edges lay vertically against the sides of the tin. Insert the handle of a teaspoon between the outer edge of the pastry and the tin and your finger and thumb against the inside of the pastry. Press inwards with the spoon handle as you pinch the two pieces of pastry together. I had intended only to hand-crimp the tart edges, but the imprint of the teaspoon handle has made a pretty design, so I’m going to run with it. *lying* I totally meant to do that.

The pattern was made firstly by gently pressing an apple-corer into the lid – enough to mark, but not enough to cut all the way through the pastry. Then I used a wooden skewer to poke holes in lines from the centre ring to each of the surrounding rings. Lastly I  added a line of holes between each of these lines.

If you’re in any doubt whether or not to try this tart – and I really hope you will – let me just say that I’m seriously considering using this as my mince pie recipe this year.

Just sayin’.

Goathland Treacle Tart

Pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour or rice flour
140g butter
ice cold water

  • Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface, knead smooth then wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut off two thirds. Put the remaining third back into the fridge.
  • Roll this piece out to a thickness of 4-5mm and use it to line a greased 18cm pie tin, loose-bottomed for preference, making sure there is enough pastry overlapping the sides of the tin to allow for joining the lid.
  • Chill while you mix the filling.

Filling

60g dry breadcrumbs [1]
60g currants
60g sultanas
30g candied orange peel – diced
30g candied lemon peel – diced
1 small cooking apple – peeled, cored and chopped/grated
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground mixed spice
30ml treacle
30ml milk

  • Mix the breadcrumbs, dried fruit, candied peel, spices and lemon zest in a bowl.
  • Warm the treacle by placing the open can in a saucepan of water over a low heat. As it warms, it becomes less viscous and easier to pour.
  • Pour out the required amount of treacle and mix with the lemon juice, then add the milk afterwards. NB Don’t mix the lemon juice with the milk first, otherwise it will curdle.
  • Add the liquids and the chopped apple to the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Add the filling to the chilled pastry case and smooth over.
  • Roll out the remaining pastry to make the lid.
  • Wet the edges of the pastry with water, and lay the pastry lid onto the filling. Ease the edges together as per the diagram above. Make sure there’s no air trapped underneath the lid – in the oven this air will expand in the heat and may cause the lid to lift away from the filling.
  • Use the back of a knife (so as not to scratch your non-stick tin) to trim away the excess pastry, then crimp the edges as described above.
  • Decorate as desired.
  • Brush with beaten egg, or with milk and then sprinkle with a little caster sugar. (I used just egg).
  • Bake for 30 minutes, turning the tin around after 20 minutes to ensure it colours evenly.
  • Set aside to cool.
  • After cooling for 10 minutes, if you’ve used a loose-bottomed tin, the tart can be gently removed  and served, or set onto a wire rack until cold.

[1] These must be really dry. Definitely not fresh. If you have none to hand, nor any stale bread, make breadcrumbs of 3 slices of bread and lay them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dry (without browning) in a 120°C/100°C Fan oven for 20-30 minutes.

Mince Pies Royale

Here is a great recipe for stretching a small amount of mincemeat into 30+ rich and delicious seasonable bites.

It is adapted from a recipe by Eliza Acton, and I’ve taken the opportunity to pair it with another of her recipes which she refers to as “Superlative Mincemeat”. Taking as an example my adaptation of Hannah Glasse’s Lenten mincemeat, I decided to try making this recipe suet-free. Now I still absolutely love Hannah’s recipe, but I also love discovering new things as well.

The mincemeat recipe is a delight for anyone who loves citrus fruit. It’s also a delight for anyone who loves a healthy slug of booze in their mincemeat. I’ve actually toned down the quantity of brandy because the alcoholic haze rising from the first test batch made my eyes water. Unusually, this mincemeat includes two boiled lemons, chopped finely, which add a real zing to the overall flavour. Once the lemons have been prepared, the method is very similar to the original fat-free mincemeat.

A portion of this mincemeat is then enriched and sweetened with sugar, fresh lemon, egg yolks and butter and used to fill pastry-lined mini tins. The pastry I’ve used is the sweet version of the cornflour shortcrust, flavoured with orange zest, and cut out using a flower cookie cutter. After an initial baking, the pies are topped with meringue and then baked for a further few minutes until nicely browned.

These little pies are extremely rich, which is why baking them in a mini muffin pan is ideal. The filling sets into a dense cross between Christmas pudding and Christmas cake and the crunchy meringue is a great contrast. This quantity makes about 30 mini pies, perfect as petites fours or to serve with coffee. You can keep them in a tin, but the meringues will go a little soft after 24 hours.

You can, of course, use any mincemeat and pastry you have to hand instead.

Citrus mincemeat

Makes about 1kg of mincemeat
2 small lemons (about 170g)
The weight of the lemons in raisins, currants and chopped dates
85g candied orange peel, chopped small
85g candied citron peel, chopped small
30-50g caster sugar
60ml  brandy
60ml apple juice
0.5tsp salt
1tsp grated nutmeg
0.5tsp ground mace
1tsp ground ginger

  • Put the lemons into a small saucepan and cover with cold water.
  • Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Drain the water and scrub the sides of the pan to remove the bitter lemon oil.
  • Rinse the lemons also.
  • Repeat 3 times, until the lemons are tender and a clove can be pushed through the skin.
  • Cut open the lemons and remove the pips.
  • Dice the pulp and rind finely.
  • Put the lemons and the rest of the ingredients into a small pan over a low heat.
  • Cover and allow the fruit to plump up. Stir occasionally.
  • If the fruit seems a little dry, add more liquid – your choice whether it’s alcoholic or not.
  • If the mixture seems too wet, uncover and allow the excess to evaporate.
  • Set aside to cool.

Orange Cornflour Pastry

225g plain flour
60g cornflour
140g unsalted butter
85g caster sugar
zest of 1 orange
1 large egg

  • Put everything except the egg into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Whisk the egg and, with the motor running, gradually add to the mixture until it comes together in a ball. You might not require all the egg, or you might need additional liquid if the mix looks a little dry. If you have extra egg-white, tat would be ideal, otherwise use water.
  • Knead the pastry smooth and wrap in plastic.
  • Chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or until required.

Eliza Acton’s Mince Pies Royale

225g mincemeat
3 large eggs
30g clarified butter
juice and zest of 1 lemon
40g caster sugar
pinch of salt
caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Separate the eggs.
  • Mix together the mincemeat, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice and the sugar.
  • Warm the butter until just melted and stir in.
  • Grease a large (24 cup) mini muffin pan.
  • Roll out the pastry very thinly. It is easier to work with either 1/3 or 1/2 of the pastry at a time.
  • Cut out pastry and use it to line the mini muffin pan. For a lovely, neat edge to your pies, I recommend using a flower-shaped pastry cutter. The petals help to avoid the dreaded folds which can sometimes be an issue with the pastry for mini tarts.
  • Add a teaspoon of the enriched mincemeat mixture to each tartlet.
  • Bake for 7-8 minutes until the middle has set and the pastry is cooked.
  • If you’ve got filling and pastry left over (and you probably will), use them up first by making a second batch of tartlets before making the meringue. Arrange the cooked tartlets on a baking sheet, ready for the meringue.
  • While the tarts are baking, make the meringue.
    • You won’t need to use all of the egg white, so I suggest using just half.
    • Put a bowl onto your scales and set them to zero.
    • Pour in the amount of egg-white you will be using and make a note of the weight.
    • Measure out an equivalent amount of caster sugar.
    • Whisk the egg-whites with a pinch of salt until soft peaks.
    • Whisk in the sugar, a spoonful at a time until the meringue is firm and glossy.
    • Spoon the meringue into a piping bag. You choose what style of nozzle to fit.
  • When all the tarts are baked and arranged on a baking sheet, pipe the meringue on top. Make sure the meringue covers all of the filling and goes right to the edge of the pastry.
  • Return the tarts to the oven for 5-7 minutes until the meringue is nicely browned.
  • Cool the tartlets on a wire rack.

Orange Blossom Tart

Here’s a wonderfully aromatic and delicious dessert that I have adapted from a recipe that appears in Hannah Glasse’s “The art of cookery, made plain and easy”. It must have been popular, because Hannah gives no fewer than four recipes for Orange Pudding, each slightly different. Copyright infringement back then being rife, it is highly likely that Hannah is not the original author of this recipe, but I have yet to find an older version with these particular ingredients.

Hannah calls this a pudding – and indeed it is certainly something that you might eat after lunch or dinner, but it is in fact what we would term a tart, and I can honestly say it is unlike any tart I’ve ever tasted before, for the very best of reasons.

The most striking aspect is the flavour – a mixture of Seville orange, orange flower water, rosewater and white wine. Rather surprisingly, the word that popped into my head when breathing in its aroma was ice-cream – and that was before it was cooked! Once cooked and chilled, the flavours mingle together and taste extraordinary – the only way I can think to describe it is like plunging your face into a bunch of fresh flowers – but in a good way! This isn’t soapy/perfumed – it’s light and fresh and rounded. None of the flavours overpower, it’s just fantastically floral.

One of the challenges when adapting old recipes, is that specific quantities are sometimes a bit of a challenge. This recipe is a good example, because amongst other things it calls for “the crumb of a halfpenny loaf”. Although food prices were relatively stable before the industrial revolution, wheat, and by extension bread, was especially subject to price fluctuations due to harvest yield. So much so, specific laws were created concerning the manufacture and sale of the various types of bread (The Assize of Bread) and books of tables drawn up specifying the size of loaves depending on the cost of wheat.

Even with the Assize of Bread tables to hand, it’s still not clear which loaf the crumb should come from: white, wheaten or household. Household bread was the coarsest, and therefore unlikely, I reasoned, to have been used for such a delicate dessert. That left either white or wheaten and at just over 6oz and 9oz for a penny loaf, the difference in the quantity of crumb was going to be significant. The only solution was to make two tarts, and try each to see if one quantity was more suited than the other.

The photograph at the top shows the result. The slice on the left was cut from a tart made with 150g fresh white breadcrumbs. The slice on the right from a tart made with just 100g. Personally, I prefer the one on the left – the texture is like baked cheesecake, but not heavy and cloying. The slice on the right has a much softer consistency – if you’re a fan of baked custards, then this is the one for you. For an even more delicate texture, you could even try with just 50g of breadcrumbs – do let me know if you try this!

This is a wonderful springtime tart and I really hope you’ll give it a try.

Orange Blossom Tart

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
225g plain flour
140g butter
60g cornflour
85g caster sugar
1 large egg
grated zest of 1 lemon
ice cold water
egg-white for glazing

  • Put all the ingredients except the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • If the mixture is too dry, add some ice cold water 1 tablespoon at a time until the pastry forms a ball.
  • Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
  • Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  • Grease a 22cm fluted, deep, loose-bottom tart tin – a lemon meringue tin if you have one, is ideal.
  • Remove the chilled pastry from the fridge and place on a floured surface.
  • Roll out thinly (7-8mm) and line the prepared tin, gently easing the pastry into the sides.
  • Let the excess pastry hang over the sides of the tin for now.
  • Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork and put the lined tin back into the fridge to chill for another 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Remove the tart from the fridge and trim the excess pastry. Don’t remove too much – allow 3-4cm to overhand the side of the tin – this keeps the pastry from shrinking back into the tin and can be trimmed after cooking.
  • Line the pastry with baking parchment and fill with baking beads/beans/rice.
  • Bake for 12 minutes, then remove the parchment and beads and bake for another 5-6 minutes until the pastry is cooked through.
  • Brush the inside of the pastry with lightly beaten egg-white and return to the oven for 5 minutes. This seems like a faff, but it will ensure you pastry is both cooked AND resistant to the wetness of the filling until it is cooked. *lying* I deliberately undercooked the pastry on the left in the photo to demonstrate.

Filling
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
250ml double cream
75g caster sugar
5 large egg yolks
60ml white wine [1]
1 tablespoon orange flower water [2]
1 teaspoon rose water [2]
zest and juice of a Seville orange [3]
70g clarified butter – melted

  • Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and set aside to let the flavours mingle. It will have the consistency of porridge.
  • When the pastry base is finally cooked, turn the oven down to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
  • Cover the top edges of the pastry with tin foil, to prevent them from burning.
  • Pour the filling into the cooked pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling is set. There should be a slight joggle to the middle of the tart, but nothing too fluid.
  • Set aside to cool for at least 1 hour.
  • When cold, trim off the excess pastry, remove from the tin and place on a serving plate.
  • Eat slightly warm or at room temperature. Alternatively (and my own personal preference) chill thoroughly in the fridge for at least 5 hours.

[1] The original recipe called for sack, a fortified wine similar to sweet sherry. You could use sherry, madeira even marsala if you like. Whilst I love the flavours of all three, I thought them a little rich for this recipe, so I chose a regular white wine. A sweet and aromatic dessert wine would also be delightful.

[2]Both of these fragrances are available in the baking aisle at the supermarket. They also tend to vary greatly in strength and aroma according to which brand you use. The original recipe called for equal quantities of both, but the rosewater I use is rather strong. In contrast, the orange flower water that I use is rather lightly perfumed, so I used slightly more. if you use different brands, my advice is to use just 1 teaspoon at a time and taste as you go until you’re happy with the flavourings.

[3] If, like me, you made Seville orange ice cubes with the zest and juice back in January, then all you need is one cube. If not, then use the zest only of a sweet orange, together with the zest of either a lemon or lime for added sharpness.