Monday, 23 May 2016
Almond and brown butter tart with stewed rhubarb and crème fraiche
If someone ever asked me what the thing that I find the hardest when cooking is, my answer would without doubt be pastry. Specifically, shortcrust pastry. It always looks so effortless on the telly, when the beaming cook rolls out perfect, impossibly thin sheets, before casually lining their tin with the utmost precision. “Who needs to buy shortcrust pastry when it’s such a doddle?” they ask. They’ve clearly never experienced the crushing devastation of too-short pastry crumbling away at the merest suggestion of a rolling pin. The bottomless crevasses that appear from nowhere after blind baking. Or the brittle walls collapsing at the crucial moment of leaving the tin, spilling the filling to merge with the river of frustrated tears. Thankfully, practice (and a solid, reliable recipe) makes perfect, and after making pastry a few times recently, I decided it was time to cook something for this blog.
However, I deserve absolutely no credit for the pastry itself. The recipe that I used is broadly based on Felicty Cloake’s version that she used to make her Perfect Custard Tart with. I always find her column brilliant when approaching new recipes or needing inspiration, and so far the pastry has worked every time. It’s even got to the point where I no longer dread getting the rolling pin out.
Adding brown butter to puddings and desserts seems to be very popular in London restaurants at the moment. But unlike a lot of trends and fads, it well and truly lives up to the hype. By cooking the butter until it is almost maple syrup in colour, a deep, rich and mellow flavour is released, which works as wonderfully with sweet things as it does with a piece of turbot. I will definitely be experimenting further with this, as I love the sound of other desserts to which it has been added; custard tarts, ice cream, icing etc.
Although making pastry was largely stress-free this time, there still managed to be a kitchen cock-up whilst testing this recipe. I wanted to make a crème fraiche ice cream to accompany the tart, but midway through churning, with a foul smell, the machine abruptly decided to overheat and refused to play anymore. So good old crème fraiche, straight out of the tub, came to the rescue. And after all of that faff, I’m not sure that the frozen version was even missed.
For the pastry:
225g plain flour
115g cold butter
85g caster sugar
3 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg for brushing
For the filling:
300g unsalted butter
300g caster sugar
300g ground almonds
3 medium eggs
1 lemon, zest only
For the rhubarb:
4-5 sticks of rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp of caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
Start by making the pastry. Using your hands, rub the butter and flour together in a mixing bowl, until all of the butter has been incorporated and the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar, then the egg yolks. Work everything lightly until a dough is formed, then flatten slightly and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate for 1 hour 30 minutes to rest.
Use greaseproof paper to line the base and sides of a deep 9” tin with a loose base. Roll out the rested pastry on a lightly floured surface, then transfer to the tin. Patch any cracks, and use a spare piece of pastry to carefully edge the pastry into the corners. Leave the pastry overhanging the top of the tin. Wrap loosely with cling film and chill in the freezer for a further hour.
Preheat the oven to 180⁰C (160⁰C Fan).
Prick the base of the tart with a fork, then cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown around the sides. Remove the beans and paper, then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Crack the remaining egg into a bowl and beat with a fork. Brush the base and sides of the tart with some of the egg, then cook for a minute. Remove the shell from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
Lower the oven temperature to 150⁰C (130⁰C Fan).
Measure out the sugar and the almonds and combine in a mixing bowl. Tip the butter for the filling into a saucepan and melt at a medium-high temperature. When the butter bubbles away and turns nut brown in colour, take it off the heat and pour into the almond mixture, stirring well with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs one at a time, until emulsified. Spoon the mixture into the pastry shell, it should leave a gap of about 1.5cm at the top. Gently slide the tart onto the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until the filling has just set. Allow to cool slightly before carefully removing from the tin and slicing.
While the tart is cooking, add the rhubarb to a large frying pan along with the halved vanilla pod, the sugar and a splash of water. Bring up to a medium-low temperature, then cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb has softened. Allow to cool.
Serve slices of the tart with some of the stewed rhubarb and juices. Finish with a generous dollop of crème fraiche.