Sunday, 6 February 2011

PASTRY WITHOUT TEARS

I learnt to make pastry in cookery class at school, in the days when cookery was called Domestic Science, though the only vaguely scientific thing we did in class was make a roux sauce (I still use this method). My cookery teacher was a lady called Miss Loveday, who had a big round face like a Dutch cheese and who was love with the shy art teacher, Mr Skinner. I never really enjoyed cookery classes at school: I found the recipes mostly dull or "wrong" (i.e. you do NOT make trifle with Angel Delight!), probably because I was helping my mum cook far more interesting things at home. If my mother did not approve of a recipe (see aforementioned school trifle) she would write a note to the teacher, pointing out the correct version, something I found cringe-makingly embarrassing.

However, there are a couple of methods I did learn in cookery class which have stayed with me and which I still use today. We did all kinds of pastry - basic shortcrust, puff/flaky, hot-water crust (for making pork pies etc) and choux (for eclairs and profiteroles).

Some years ago, I acquired a cookbook by Tamasin Day-Lewis (sister of brooding actor Daniel) called The Art of the Tart (a truly irresistible title!), which, as the name suggests, is all about tarts, savoury and sweet. And for a few weeks, I made all manner of tarts and perfected my pastry-making skills. Then, I lost interest and went back to making Tarte Tatin only.

Last week, I planned to make Chocolate Tart for pudding for supper on Friday. Usually, I use Jus-Roll Sweet Shortcrust pastry but my local Tesco did not have it and I reckoned it would be quicker to make my own pastry than schlepp into Kingston to buy the pastry at Waitrose. Using a recipe for a sweet butter pastry from the Moro cookbook, it was all done in 5 mins in the food-processor, and, happily wrapped in clingfilm, was resting in the fridge. The end result was delicious: it was delightfully crisp and deliciously buttery, and was the perfect foil for the rich chocolate filling. And the best part? The tart came out of the tin without a hitch, with a perfect crust.

This is the recipe I used. I have adapted the method slightly, as I like Jamie Oliver's suggestion that you put the prepared tin in the freezer for half an hour before you cook it. This avoids the necessity to "bake blind".

Sweet Pastry

Makes approx 250g (sufficient for a 23-24cm tart tin)

140g plain flour
30g icing sugar
75g chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk

Sift the flour and icing sugar together. In a food-processor, or by hand, blend the butter with the flour-sugar mixture until you have a texture similar to breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and the mixture should gradually come together into a ball. If the pastry looks too dry, add a splash of milk or water. Shape into a ball, wrap with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of an hour.

When you are ready to make the tart case, remove pastry from fridge and grate it coarsely into the prepared tin. Push the pastry into the tin and around the edges. Prick the bottom and then place in the freezer for 30 mins.

Preheat oven to 220C. Put the pastry case into the oven straight from the freezer (no need to bake blind). Cook until golden and crisp. Chill before using.

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