This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the technical challenge for week three (tart week) of series three: a lattice-topped treacle tart.
Treacle tart, a classic British dessert, bears some of the strange hallmarks of traditional British baking and cookery. To start with, like many traditional sweets, its unpromising-looking ingredients list is based on breadcrumbs, joining old-fashioned dishes like brown bread ice cream and Queen of Puddings. It’s safe to say that treacle tart eclipses both, however, in the popularity stakes – while the other two may have a sort of ‘retro favourite’ status, to taste them you’ll probably have to make them, whereas treacle tart is accessible commercially: it appears in almost every museum cafe, doubtless selling for £4.50 a flat slice, but it can also be easily purchased in even the smallest of supermarkets.
Secondly, treacle tart is one of the British linguistic oddities which can seriously throw non-native speakers, inasmuch as the titular ingredient – treacle – makes no appearance in the tart. Perhaps the original tarts were made with this coal-black, iron-tasting sweetener (one of those sugar-based products which inexplicably taste like they’re good for you), but it’s long been superseded by very sweet, light-coloured golden syrup, which gives treacle tart its agreeable sunny colour.
Mary Berry’s treacle tart is well-balanced: enough breadcrumbs to soak up the syrup and give the dessert some ballast, but not so many that it’s heavy and dry: the filling has a touch of agreeably sticky fluffiness. There’s enough lemon to balance out the aching sweetness of four hundred grams of golden syrup without turning it into a tarte au citron (avec chapelure). The only annoying thing about the recipe is weaving together the lattice top, for which she offers no real method. There are those, like the studiedly-unpretentious Simon Hopkinson, incidentally, who critique the lattice top as unnecessary, but actually a bit of additional plain, unsweetened pastry is no bad thing as a foil against the intensity of the filling.
A tip: Mary Berry would have you spoon your breadcrumb filling straight from the saucepan into your pastry case, to top immediately with the lattice, but of course the heat of the still-warm syrup made the pastry start to ooze. While it wouldn’t be practical to go to the other extreme and let it cool down completely (the golden syrup would solidify around the breadcrumbs and make it impossible to shift), I recommend letting it cool a little before filling the tart case.
I’ve mentioned a few times the unmitigated sweetness of the tart and, in the interests of further balancing this out, I urge to eat your slice drizzled with a good puddle of unsweetened double cream, or a good thick dollop of the clotted stuff.
The recipe and method (including actual steps on making a lattice top) is below the jump.
Lattice-topped treacle tart
The recipe and instructions are Mary Berry’s, with some amendments by me. This guide on how to weave a lattice was invaluable and my directions are based on it, with gratitude!
For the pastry
- 250g plain flour
- 130g cold butter, cut into small pieces
- 2-3 TBS cold water
- Measure the flour into a large bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs (alternatively, this can be done in a food processor).
- Gradually add about three tablespoons of cold water and mix to a firm dough. Pat it into a disc, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
For the filling
- 400g golden syrup
- 150g fine fresh white breadcrumbs
- Two lemons, zest and juice
- One free-range egg, beaten, to use as egg wash
- A little soft butter, for greasing
- Preheat the oven to 200C and put a heavy baking tray in the oven to heat up. Grease a deep 18cm loose-bottomed fluted flan tin with butter.
- Remove about 150g of pastry from the main ball and set aside for the lattice top.
- Roll the rest of the pastry out on a lightly floured work surface and line the prepared flan tin with the pastry (Mary actually specified to roll the pastry out ‘thinly’ but based on the amount of pastry she recipe makes, in my view the base is actually on the thicker, homelier side. This is not a bad thing! I love pastry).
- Prick the base with a fork, to stop the base rising up during baking. Set aside in the fridge while you make the filling.
- Place the reserved pastry for the lattice top on cling film and roll out thinly. Egg wash the pastry and set aside to chill in the fridge (the cling film makes it easier to move about). Do not cut into strips at this stage. Do not egg wash the strips once they are on the tart as it will drip into the treacle mixture.
- To make the filling, heat the syrup gently in a large pan but do not boil. Once melted, add the breadcrumbs, lemon juice and zest to the syrup. If the mixture looks runny, add a few more breadcrumbs. Let it cool a little, until no longer steaming.
- Pour the syrup mixture into the lined tin and level the surface. (I didn’t do this but I’d actually be tempted to refrigerate the tart now before proceeding)
- Remove the reserved pastry from the fridge and cut into long strips, 1cm wide. Make sure they are all longer than the edges of the tart tin.
- Egg wash the edge of the pastry in the tin, and start to make the woven laying lattice pattern over the mixture.
- To make the lattice, lay out the strips of pastry with a 1.5cm gap between them vertically. Fold back every other strip. (Don’t worry about the neatness of the edges of the tart or if the strips overhang at this stage; you will tidy this up later).
- Now lay another strip of pastry perpendicular (horizontally) to the parallel strips across the tart at the point where the strips are folded over. Unfold these strips over the perpendicular strip.
- Take the strips running underneath the perpendicular strip and fold them back over each other (this is where the whole thing gets melty and messy if your filling is hot). Lay a second perpendicular strip (parallel to the first one you laid out) underneath, leaving a gap between it and the first strip. Unfold the folded-over dough strips from over this strip.
- Continue this weaving process across the top and bottom of the pie. Once the lattice is in place, press the edges of the strip into the pastry rim to ensure they are properly joined. Use the edge of the tin to trim off any excess pastry hanging over the sides by pressing down with your hands to create a neat finish – or, if preferred, trim the edges using a small, sharp knife.
- Bake on the pre-heated baking tray in the hot oven for about 10 minutes until the pastry has started to colour, and then reduce the oven temperature to 180C. If at this stage the lattice seems to be getting too dark brown, cover the tart with tin foil.
- Bake for a further 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling set.
- Remove the tart from the oven and leave to firm up in the tin before unmoulding. (I unmould tarts by placing them, once the tin is cool enough to handle, on a tin of tomatoes or suchlike and gently pressing down on the edge of the tin so it falls away, leaving the tart on the loose base, then very carefully easing the tart onto a serving plate).