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 showstopper challenge for week three (tart week) of series three: a designer fruit tart.
Last week, Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins made some waves with an article he wrote sneering at the idea of learning languages in school as a general, rather than specialist, skill, unimportant compared to learning about history, culture, the economy, and even urban planning. As Jenkins and his editors no doubt planned, the social media backlash (and subsequent linking to his article) was robust: the article was decried as ‘stupid’, ‘foolish’ and ‘narrow-minded’. Proponents of language-learning pointed out that learning languages is inherently linked to learning culture; expands our worldview and horizons; develops the intellect; and is, often, still, even in a world in which English is often spoken globally, a very practical skill.
I work with a lot of academic researchers, and I’d like to be one myself one day, and many, many people I know would not be able to do the research they do without speaking one or more languages. The relative dearth of language skills among British scholars in my own discipline of history is considered pretty crippling by some people I know. But in addition to such lofty considerations, learning a language gives us an everyday understanding of the world that adds so much colour and interest. For example, the etymology of the word ‘gooseberry’: in English, one theory for the name of these tart, hairy green summer fruits is that they were served as a sauce with roast goose, and that this marriage was so commonplace, so ordinary, that the link became embedded in language. This theory becomes ever the more tantalising once you know that in French these berries are called ‘groseille à maquereau’ – mackerel berries – because gooseberries have often been served as a tangy, sharp foil to rich, oily mackerel. (I have tried this before – it is delicious and surprising).
The gooseberry in English cooking – sweet cooking, anyway – is almost always wedded to its seasonal partner, the fragrant elderflower, most often present in cordial form. There’s no harm in this partnership, but once I knew I wanted to make a gooseberry tart, I quickly decided the berry must have the opportunity of a dalliance with other flavourings. I embarked on extensive, slightly panicky research in which I contemplated various states of creamy, custardy fillings. However, I have a very slight aversion to the rich egginess of many custards, while loving the mouth-filling silkiness and delicate vanilla flavour of creme patissiere. I had more or less settled on the final recipe when I got the brainwave to make an almond creme pat – cue more frantic research until Michel Roux’s unparalleled book ‘Pastry’ showed me the way.
The stern injunction when announcing this showstopper challenge in series three was that it had to be the kind a top French patissiere would be proud to sell in his (or her) shop. You’d be hard-pressed, I think, to consider my offering a ‘designer’ fruit tart ‘fit for a top quality patisserie display window’. My creation is more of a paragon of elegant simplicity – even possibly leaning towards rusticity – than, say, a rose-scented tart topped with macarons as baked by eventual series three finalist (but not winner) James Morton. And yet – perhaps because I have been reading Elizabeth David recently, and enjoy her terse, bright prose much more than when I was younger – I can’t help but feel that there is something right and true about this tart, with its crisp, not-too-sweet pastry, substantial filling, and generous portion of fruit. It is unpretentious without actually being humbled for it. It cuts cleanly and showcases the bright sharpness of this seasonal fruit – and is absolutely killer with a substantial mountain of cream. But what isn’t?
Gooseberry almond cream tart
This tart illustrates the patchwork way in which a recipe is developed and how any claim to absolute ownership can only ever be shaky. The tart as a whole is my recipe, but the pastry is Kate Young’s; the creme pat and almond cream filling is based on Michel Roux’s recipes.
This is a multi-step affair, for all its rusticity, but almost every step can be done well in advance and assembled later, at leisure.
I used a quite deep 23cm loose-bottomed tart dish with a high, fluted edge which took plenty of filling. You could use a larger, shallower or a smaller one if that’s what you have, but adjust the cooking time to suit.
For the pastry
- 250g plain flour
- 30g icing sugar
- Pinch salt
- 125g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 TBS cold water
- Combine the flour, salt and icing sugar in a bowl. Toss the butter cubes through the flour mixture to coat and rub together with your fingertips, or cut in with a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse, rubbly breadcrumbs with the occasional larger flake of flour-coated butter.
- Mix in the egg yolk and cold water until the pastry comes together. If you need to, add a little more water, but do so only gradually, when you’re sure the liquid you have isn’t enough.
- As soon as the pastry has come together, pat it into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for an hour.
- After the pastry has chilled, roll the pastry between two pieces of baking paper until large enough to fit the tart tin with a small overhang. Gently lift the pastry on your rolling pin and drape over the tart tin. Ease it over the sides. Tear off a small bit of pastry from the overhang and roll it into a ball. Use this ball of pastry to press the pastry into the edge of the tart (using the pastry ball to press in the pastry is more delicate and makes it less likely to tear than if using fingers). Press the pastry into the ridges (you can use fingers, pastry ball or even the end of a wooden spoon for this).
- Using a small, sharp knife, trim the edges of the pastry. Prick the base of the tart with a fork evenly. Line the tart case with a sheet of baking paper and fill with baking beans. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200C and place a baking tray in the oven to warm up.
- Bake the tart on the baking tray for 15 minutes; after this, carefully remove the baking paper and beans and return the pastry to the oven for an additional five minutes, until the base is dry and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
For the creme patisserie
- 2 egg yolks
- 45g golden caster sugar (divided into 15g and 30g)
- 15g plain flour
- 180ml whole milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Whisk the egg yolks and one third (15g) of the sugar together until it reaches a ribbon consistency (with such a small quantity this is not the easiest thing to assess but you will get there!). Whisk in the flour until thoroughly combined.
- Heat the milk with the rest of the sugar in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. As soon as it reaches the boil, remove it from the heat immediately and pour it onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go to avoid scrambled eggs. Mix well to combine.
- Return the mixture to the pan and bring to the boil, whisking continuously. Let the mixture bubble for two minutes, then remove from the heat and decant into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract.
- To prevent a skin forming, dot small flakes of butter over the surface of the creme pat; refrigerate only once cool.
For the almond cream
- 100g icing sugar
- 100g ground almonds
- 100g unsalted butter, softened
- 20g plain flour
- 2 eggs
- 2 TBS dark rum (strictly speaking this is optional, but the rummy depth was delightful)
- Sift the icing sugar (to remove lumps) and mix with the ground almonds.
- Using a large wire whisk, beat the soft butter until creamy (it really needs to be soft/at room temperature for this – it simply will not work if it’s cold). Whisk in the icing sugar/almond mixture and the flour.
- When thoroughly incorporated (it will likely seem somewhat dry), whisk in the eggs one by one, combining thoroughly between additions. It should now resemble a smooth, light cream. Stir in the rum.
- To refrigerate, cover the surface of the cream with clingfilm. However, leave it at room temperature for half an hour before using.
- 300g gooseberries, topped and tailed. I also halved any truly enormous ones so that they were all relatively the same size.
- Preheat the oven to 190C.
- Mix together the creme patisserie and almond cream thoroughly
- Put the cream mixture into the blind-baked pastry case and smooth the surface.
- Dot the gooseberries into the mixture: to space them evenly, I pushed them in concentric circles.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until the mixture is set and looks dry on top.
- Remove from the oven and let cool before easing the tin from the pastry case.
- Dust with icing sugar if you really wish, but I think it made it look a little dusty. Serve with a huge, generous dollop of plain whipped double cream.