Oyster Tarts

A great little recipe from that classic baking institution: Be-Ro.

Thomas Bell founded his grocery company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1875. Amongst other items, he manufactured and sold baking powder and the world’s first self-raising flour under the brand name Bell’s Royal.

After the death of King Edward VII the use of the word ‘Royal’ in business was prohibited, so Thomas shortened each word to just two letters, and the Be-Ro brand was born.

To encourage the use of self-raising flour, the company staged exhibitions where visitors could taste freshly-baked scones, pastries and cakes. This proved so popular, and requests for the recipes so numerous, the Be-Ro Home Recipes book was created. Now in it’s 40th edition, the company claims that, at over 38 million copies, its recipe booklet “is arguably one of the best-selling cookery books ever.”

I’m not sure which edition my Be-Ro booklet is, as it’s undated, but from the appearance of the smiling lady on the front it definitely has a 1930s feeling; it’s pictured on the Be-Ro website, with a deep red cover.

These little tarts are a beautiful example of how the simplest ingredients can be given a subtle twist and appeal by both their appearance and the ease with which they are whipped up. In essence, these are a Bakewell Tart with cream, but a little tweak turns them into sweet ‘oysters’.

I’m not a fan of almond flavouring, so I’ve used lemon zest to brighten the almond sponge and used a seedless blackcurrant jam inside. Adding the jam after baking (unlike the method for Bakewell Tarts) circumvents cooking the jam for a second time, and so it retains its brightness of flavour as well as colour. The pastry is crisp and dry and a perfect contrast against the moist filling. I’ve opted for an unsweetened pastry, but feel free to use a sweetened one if you prefer.

You could customise these tarts by swapping the ground almonds for almost any other nut, and matching the jam accordingly. Here are a few that occurred to me.

  • Almond with orange zest, and orange curd as the filling.
  • Coconut and lime curd, with a little lime zest in the filling.
  • Hazelnuts or pecans, with a praline paste or Nutella in the filling.
  • Walnut and a little coffee icing.

Have fun with them!

Oyster Tarts

60g cornflour
225g plain flour
140g butter
ice-cold water

70g unsalted butter, softened
70g caster sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1 small lemon
85g ground almonds

To serve
200g cream cheese
200ml whipping cream
1tsp vanilla extract
1-2tbs icing sugar, plus more to sprinkle
120g sharp jam

  • Put all the pastry ingredients except for the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Gradually add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  • Knead smooth, then roll out thinly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge to relax.
  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Beat the butter and sugar for the filling until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes to get as much air into the mix as possible.
  • Add the egg and whisk in thoroughly.
  • Fold in the lemon zest and ground almonds.
  • Grease a 12-hole shallow tart tin.
  • Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut out 12 circles. Line the prepared tin with the pastry.Add about a tablespoon of filling to each tart. I use a small ice-cream scoop but 2 spoons will also work.
  • Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the tin around after 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.
  • Transfer the cooked tarts onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
  • Whisk the cream cheese, vanilla and cream together until firm. Gently stir through a little icing sugar to slightly sweeten.
  • When the tarts have cooled, slice off the top of the filling with a sharp knife and set aside.
  • Add a teaspoon of jam and either spoon or pipe a little of the cream mixture into each tart.
  • Set the ‘lids’ back on the tarts at a jaunty angle, so as to appear like a half-opened oyster.
  • Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Dundee Cake

This recipe is fabulous – and this recommendation is coming from an until-recently Dundee-Cake-Disliker. The crust is crisp but delicately thin, the insides delicately moist and buttery, rich with the sweetness of sultanas and the tang of candied orange peel.

The modern Dundee Cake has an iconic appearance: the carefully laid-out pattern of whole, blanched almonds immediately distinguishes it from other fruit cakes. For many years I’ve not been a fan, based on the Dundee Cakes I’d been served as a child: dry, crumbly, tasteless, overly-fruited masses with burnt nuts on the top and, horror of horrors, glacé cherries studding their depths.

After a bit of digging around in the cake history books, it turns out that the Dundee Cake known today is quite a few steps removed from the original. So I had high hopes that with a little experimentation I could, as with other recipes I’ve managed to rehabilitate from childhood dislikes, bring Dundee Cake back to its former glory and once again make it a teatime favourite.

Dundee Cake was first made by the Dundee-based Keiller company, as an off-season sideline to their marmalade business, as a way of using up excess peel generated by the marmalade manufacturing process. By gentleman’s agreement, no other bakers in the city made the cake. Keiller’s were also responsible for popularising their creation under the name Dundee Cake, described by Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food as light, buttery delicacy stuffed with sultanas, almonds and candied orange peel.

Quite when the cake was first made is a bit of a mystery, but it is mentioned in stories and novels of the mid-nineteenth century. An 1853 edition of The Lancet carries an advertisement for a Regent Street caterer, which includes Dundee Cake in its list of available cakes. This recipe is based on Madam Marie de Joncourt’s 1882 recipe, but tweaked to conform to the description of the original delicate and rich cake: more butter, almonds, sultanas and peel, no currants, no almonds on top. I’ve left off the distinguishing almonds, because they’re not mentioned in the original recipe, but you can make your own decision on that.

Dundee Cake

180g butter – softened
112g caster sugar
4 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
180g flour
150g sultanas
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 grated nutmeg
100g ground almonds
125g candied peel, cut into thin, 2cm slivers

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Grease a 20cm, deep (at least 10cm) loose-bottomed cake tin.
  • Line the base with a circle of parchment.
  • Tear off a long strip of parchment, long enough to wrap around the whole tin.
  • Fold the strip of parchment in half lengthwise.
  • Unfold, then fold in each long edge towards the centre fold.
  • Fold both halves together, making for four layers of parchment.
  • Line the tin with this 4-ply strip of parchment. Any fruit-filled cake needs protecting from the high temperatures that baking in a tin will generate.
    Grease the parchment on the sides and base of the tin.
  • Put the softened butter into a bowl and whisk until light and creamy.
  • Add the sugar and whisk until pale and fluffy.
  • Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Whisk for a good 3-4 minutes before adding the next egg.
  • Stir in the vanilla.
  • Gently stir the remaining ingredients together, then fold into the wet ingredients. Don’t over-mix, or you run the risk of deflating all the air you’ve just whisked into it.
  • Spread the mixture into the tin and level the top.
  • Bake for one hour, gently turning the tin around 180 degrees after 40 minutes.
  • Check for done-ness by inserting a wooden toothpick deep into the centre of the cake. If no liquid batter is clinging to it when removed, the cake is done.
    Cool for 10 minutes in the tin, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Store, wrapped in foil, in an airtight tin.

Hunter’s Biscuits

As you may know, I have one or two cookbooks lying around and I haven’t actually got around to making absolutely all of the recipes contained therein.

But I’m working my way through slowly – and it’s just fabulous when I discover little gems like the recipe this week, tucked away as it was in a nondescript little booklet from the 1940s.

For a start, I have all the ingredients in the cupboard. I just LOVE it when that happens. It s a great irritation to find something delicious to make, only to discover a trip to the shops is required. So these are a great ‘spur of the moment’ bake.

Second, the recipe doesn’t make a whole mountain of biscuits – I got just twelve out of this batch. And they’re so fast to put together – little bit of melting/warming of liquids, chuck in the dry ingredients and you’re done. Even taking the time to pretty their appearance up doesn’t take long, and with 12 minute cooking time, you can be dunking them in a cup of something hot in not much more than 20 minutes.

Also – oats.  LOVE oats in a biscuit – they make them it so crunchy and satisfying. Great energy snacks too. I can just imagine these biscuits being stuffed into pockets to snack on during invigorating afternoons tramping about the countryside.

And then we come to the main reason this recipe caught my eye. The lard. Yes – I did a double take too. But it works beautifully – and deliciously. And for me it also absolutely makes it a biscuit of country origin. Back in the day, not everyone could keep a cow – but most cottagers would have a pig, and once butchered for the winter, a ready and plentiful supply of lard. If you really can’t face it, you could try butter, but I haven’t tried it myself, so do let me know how it goes if you do.

Hunter’s Biscuits

56g golden syrup
56g lard
28g demerera sugar
56g plain flour
56g wholemeal flour
56g medium oatmeal
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground ginger
grated zest of a small lemon – or of half a large lemon
1/2 tsp salt
6 almonds – halved

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 150°C Fan.
  • Put the lard and the golden syrup into a small pan over a low heat to melt/warm
  • Mix all the other ingredients together.
  • When the lard has melted, tip in the dry ingredients and stir to combine. You’ll end up with a moist paste.
  • Divide mixture into 12. I have a small-ish ice cream scoop which was perfect at portioning out the mix. Roll into a ball then flatten slightly. Place half a split almond on each biscuit.
  • Put the biscuits onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake for 12 minutes, turning the baking sheet round 180 degrees halfway though the cooking time. The biscuits should be just browning around the edges when done. They might seem a little soft, but will crisp up beautifully as they cool.
  • Lift the biscuits from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.