Timing isn’t a strong point. I first made croissants on a bread making course some years ago on one of the only blisteringly hot days on record in the Scottish Borders, and now here I am trying to make fancy custard tarts when the thermometer is tipping 30. Working with butter and soaring temperatures do not go hand in hand, not to mention the slight inconvenience of having the oven on.
Nursing a sporting injury which is currently preventing me from doing all but the most rudimentary exercise it seemed like a good weekend to get some jobs done in the house. When I use the phrase “jobs done in the house” I generally mean “messing about in the kitchen”, and armed with enough jewel like fruit from my pink currant bush to enhance a fancy tart but little else I set to work.
Not every job in the kitchen must be completed in the minimum time. On occasion it’s alright to move at a leisurely pace and enjoy the process. There is a difference between functional cooking and recreational cooking and establishing which frame you are in is important. Something tasty emerges either way but the journey bringing you toward it is infinitely more comfortable.
Talking of comfortable, this morning it isn’t. Even with the bi-fold doors wide open the house is warm and airless. Perfect for making custard..hmm.
I am a big fan of custard but an even bigger fan of those wonderful little Portuguese tarts, Pastel De Nata. But I want shortcrust pastry instead of puff and I am adding a little compote made from the modest harvest of pink currants.
In a pan I put my fruits, there must be 200g or so. I add a little sugar, probably a dessert spoon and a splash of water. I then bring it to a gentle boil on the hob until the fruits break down and begins to reduce. There is a lot of natural pectin in pink currants so its easy to get the quick jam to set a little. When it will coat the back of a spoon I push the fruit through a fine sieve and leave the clear pink jam to cool.
For the custard I break three eggs and put the yolks in a bowl with 120g of caster sugar and beat them in the electric mixer. You can use a hand mixer or, if you are feeling mightily energetic, a whisk. Whichever you choose keep going until the sugar and egg mixture is pale yellow. Then mix in 2 tablespoons of cornflour until you have a thick paste.
In a saucepan heat a mixture of 300ml double cream and 150ml of milk into which you have added half a vanilla pod. When it is just approaching a boil take it off the heat. Add a splash of the hot milk/cream to the egg mixture and whisk like crazy to incorporate. Then add the rest of the milk/cream and whisk again. Put the mixture back in a pan and heat gently until the custard thickens. It will take ten to fifteen minutes depending on the pan. If you have a thermometer you are looking to heat the custard to somewhere around 85 celsius. Don’t overheat it and don’t stop stirring it otherwise you’ll have scrambled egg custard which is not what we want, no no no, not at all. When its thickened take it off the heat and put the pan in a bowl/sink of cold water to stop it heating. Keep stirring until the temperature stabilises. Then cover with cling film or baking paper making sure the covering touches the custard or you’ll have an unpleasant skin form on the top.
To make the pastry measure out 180g of plain flour and 25g of caster sugar into which you add 100g of cold butter cut into small pieces. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until you have a mixture resembling breadcrumbs. You can do this in seconds in the food processor but a bit of gentle rubbing in flour and butter is hugely therapeutic. Put some nice music on, or treat yourself to some silence and just feel the textures on your hands. When its all rubbed in add a scant tablespoon of cold water and mix together with a knife, then push it into a clump with your hands. Clingfilm it and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
When you come to cut out your pastry make sure you liberally grease your tin or tins. I made six small tarts but you could just make one large one if the fancy takes you.
Line your tin(s) and blind bake for 10 minutes at 180 celsius (Gas Mark 4). If you don’t have any baking beans use dried beans. I use the chickpeas that I always forget to put onto soak when I want to make hummus, so at least they have served some sort of purpose.
Take your tarts out of the oven and first add a layer of the fruit jam (you could use any jam here, even some bought from a shop if you aren’t as obsessed as I am. You could also leave the jam out altogether but that’s no fun is it? You just made a custard tart, anyone can do that so, come on, live a little.) and then fill them with custard to just below the top. You might get a rise in the oven but it will flatten out again, so half filled tarts will result in, well, half filled tarts.
Bake in the oven at 180 celsius (Gas 4) for around thirty minutes, or until they look as if they are beginning to scorch a little on the top.
You’ll probably be alarmed at how quickly they disappear after all the time you spent making them. The good news is that you probably have enough custard left for a few more and, if you don’t let on, you can eat them all yourself, out in the garden, under the stars, especially if summer has popped into visit you like she did us.
200g Pink Currants (Blackcurrants, Redcurrants would work fine)
1 dessert spoon of sugar
Splash of water
300ml double cream
2 tablespoons cornflour
3 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
180g plain flour
25g caster sugar
100g cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon cold water (the less water you get away with the crumblier the pastry)