As the Starks are so keen to tell us, Winter Is Coming. And they’re not wrong, but first we have my favourite season of the year to enjoy: Autumn. For the next few months plums in the UK are at their prime and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and flavours and colours. There are tiny, intensely sweet greengages or plump, juicy Black Amber and Denniston’s Superb varieties or dark indigo-blue damsons with their sharp, distinctive flavour. One of the most commonly available plums in our shops and supermarkets is the Victoria plum. Oval in shape and red or yellow in colour, Victoria plums are sweet and have a firm texture so are perfect both eaten straight out the fruit bowl or used for baking.
Almonds are a perfect pairing with the sweet and sharp flavour of plum, so a frangipane tart seemed like an ideal way to incorporate this seasonal fruit into some baking. Frangipane is a sweet filling used in cakes and pastries, which combines ground almonds with butter, sugar and eggs, and sometimes a little flour or flavourings like vanilla or alcoholic liquors. When cooked in a tart frangipane puffs up in a most satisfying way to create a light, moist filling.
I first made this tart a couple of weeks ago, and by happy coincidence the following weeks Great British Bake Off episode (only the best television show ever amirite?) was pastry themed, and what did they have to make in the first challenge but frangipane tarts. This inspired me to add a layer of jam between the pastry and frangipane filling when I made the tart again last weekend. The addition got a resounding thumbs up from the lucky taste-testers. Finally, since frangipane requires a fairly long bake, there’s no need to blind bake the pastry first. Of course, we don’t want any soggy bottoms here, but we also don’t want burnt pastry. Paul Hollywood would not be happy, and that thought is scary enough, let alone imagining Mary Berry’s disapproving face.
One year ago:
– Dark chocolate mousse
Ingredients (makes a 28cm tart) 500g shortcrust pastry 12 small Victoria plums (about 400-450g) 100g unsalted butter, softened 100g caster sugar 2 eggs, beaten 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp plain flour 100g ground almonds Optional: 2-3 tbsp plum jam
Crème fraiche to serve
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Roll the pastry on a floured surface until it is just bigger than the tart case and about half a centimeter thick.
2. Carefully place the sheet of pastry into the tart case – drape it over your rolling pin and use this to lift it up and over. Gently, but firmly press the pastry into the case. I tear a little pastry from a corner, roll it into a ball and use this to press the pastry into all the edges, so that my nails don’t puncture the delicate pastry.
3. Trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife, prick the base with a fork and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Last Friday we travelled up north to a beautiful little cottage at the Lake of Menteith to begin the hen weekend celebrations for Abi, the most gorgeous of brides-to-be. The journey was eventful, to say the least. My train was late which in turn made us late picking up the (funky) hire car, half of us got lost on the drive up (due to misdirection, not our own fault of course), we were unexpectedly faced with a pot-hole ridden single track road snaking up the side of a mountain and the airbag light in Kirsty’s car kept coming on. However, good things come to those who wait and once we had finally made it to the cottage, unpacked and put “Now That’s What I Call A Wedding!” on the sound system, it was all worth it. What ensued was a night of food, cocktails, games, onesies, surprises, shots, more cocktails and extremely enthusiastic singing. It all began with an afternoon “tea” – I say “tea” because instead of pots of tea we had pots of Pimms. It’s how it should be done.
The girls had whipped up finger sandwiches, vanilla cheesecakes and red velvet cupcakes, and my personal offering was mini lemon curd tarts. I needed something that would keep well for 2 days and would also travel well. So instead of baking the lemon filling into the tart cases, I made separate tart cases and a pot of lemon curd. All that needed to be done at the cottage was to spoon the curd into the cases and adorn each one with a raspberry. Simple.
This is my grandmother’s recipe for lemon curd and it is delicious. As in, eat-it-from-the-jar-with-a-spoon mouth-wateringly delicious. It reminds me of spring because she, and now my mum, would make it around Pessach (or Passover) time when there is an excess of egg yolks leftover from the Pessach baking. The pastry recipe is a sweet shortcrust pastry from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook. This book is the bible in our kitchen. Although this description in The Telegraph’s obituary for Katie Stewart refers to a different one of her cookery books, the exact same applied to ours: “Unlike some recipe books from the early 1970s, Katie Stewart’s book remains timelessly useful. Alongside the glossily pristine compendia of Gordon Ramsay, Sophie Dahl, Ottolenghi et al, The Times Cookery Book is almost always recognisable from its broken spine and pages dog-eared and stained with the oil and gravy of many years’ service. Clean replacements are hard to find.”. Never have truer words been spoken.
The golden rule of pastry is “Cold, cold, cold”. Keep everything in the fridge until you need it, run your hands under the cold tap and perhaps even open a window. If you don’t have white cooking fat, then just use all butter, but it will enhance the flavour and crumbly texture of the pastry. I wanted my curd to be very set, so took it to a fairly thick consistency. Be careful when doing this as you don’t want the mixture to curdle.
Ingredients (makes 12 tarts, with a little pastry and a half jar of lemon curd to spare) 4 tbsp cold milk 25g caster sugar 100g butter 15g white cooking fat 225g plain flour
A pinch of salt
100g butter 150g caster sugar 3 lemons, zested and juiced
3 eggs, well beaten
Method 1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Mix the milk and sugar together and put in the fridge.
2. Chop the butter and fat into small squares and put this in the fridge too.
3. Weigh out the flour and add the salt.
4. With cold hands combine the fats with the dry ingredients, rubbing the ingredients together until you have a “breadcrumb” texture (similar to what we did for the crumble topping).
5. Add the milk and sugar and use a knife to bring the ingredients together, using a splash more milk only if absolutely necessary. Tip out onto a floured surface and shape into a ball with the minimal amount of kneading possible. Cover in cling film and rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry until about 5mm thick and cut circles to line 12 holes of a muffin tray. Prick the bases with a fork, line with small squares of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. If you don’t have ceramic baking beans then any dried bean or rice will do the job.
7. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the baking beans and paper and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
8. Melt the butter in a bain marie (or bowl over a pan of water to you and I) making sure the water in the pan does not touch the bottom of the bowl.
9. Add the sugar and mix. Add the eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice and mix well. At this point I like to use a whisk.
10. Stir over a very gentle heat until you have achieved the consistency you want – usually this is when the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remember that the mixture will thicken a little more once cool.
11. Spoon the curd into two small jars or a single large one. Leave to cool and then keep in the fridge for up to 10 days. If you can keep your hands off it for that long.
12. When ready to serve, spoon the curd mixture into the tart cases and top with a raspberry or redcurrants.
We still have a little lemon curd leftover, which is gorgeous spread on top of toasted crusty bread and served with coffee for breakfast.
I had a fantastic time at the hen do and now can’t wait for the wedding to roll around in just over 3 weeks’ time. Better get dress shopping…eek!…