An English Baked Custard Tart, A Taste of Yellow
For LIVESTRONG DAY
Barbara over at Winos & Foodies is running an event called A Taste of Yellow in conjunction with:
LIVESTRONG Day, Lance Armstrong Foundation's (LAF) grassroots advocacy initiative to unify people affected by cancer and to raise awareness about cancer survivorship issues on a national level and in local communities across the country. LIVESTRONG Day 2007 will occur on Wednesday, May 16.
Those of you who know Barbara, will also know that she has cancer. One day she hopes she will be able to call herself a cancer survivor. Nothing would make me happier. Earlier this year, after having my first mammogram at the age of 40 I had to have an operation to have a lump removed from my breast. Luckily for me, it turned out to be benign. Barbara has not been so lucky, but despite her own suffering, she never failed for one second to be a positive and unfailing support to me throughout my own ordeal. Even though I have never met her! Barbara sent me assurances and advice through email and via google chat. She was my guiding, golden star. To support Barabra's own efforts to raise awareness is the least I can do, especially since it gave me an excuse to make a glorious English-style Baked Custard Tart that was the best I have ever tasted.
English-style Baked Custard Tarts
From reading I have done on the internet (who knows if it is to be trusted), the English have been making custard tarts at least since Medieval times. Growing up in Britain, commercially-made individual custard tarts that looked like this, were ubiquitous in every neighbourhood bakery. I have to confess, that although I loved the eggy, nutmeg-speckled filling of these little tarts, I detested the often-soggy, pale insipid shortcrust pastry that held the custard in place.
I started doing some research, online, into custard recipes and came across this charming video of Marcus Wareing making "The Perfect Custard Tart". (Although after double-checking with a couple of experts that there wasn't some new-fangled idea I wasn't aware of, I believe that putting pie weights inside the shell in a plastic bag would probably not be the smartest move. Correct us if we are wrong.) Apparently - Wareing's tart recipe won the BBC's The Great British Menu dessert and was served at the Queen’s 80th birthday lunch. If its good enough for her Majesty, then it is good enough for me! (Although Wareing does note in this interview, that "I don’t want to be remembered for a custard tart when I’m gone!")
Although he tendered the intial inspiration, I didn't actually use Wareing's recipe to make my fabulous tart. I had some pate sucree, rich pastry containing almonds, eggs and sugar, in my freezer (from my favourite Pierre Herme recipe in The Cooks Book) and I used that for the shell. I baked it blind for 10 minutes before removing the beans, brushing it with beaten egg and then baking another 10 minutes to form a glaze that word deter the custard from leaking through the dough. I use pate sucree all the time when it is not called for. Why? Because I love it the most. Who cares if you are meant to use soggy shortcrust for Bakewells and Custard tarts? I don't like shortcrust nearly so much, so I am going for the decadent pate sucree every time instead, so there.
Once the shell was ready, I followed good old Delia's instructions for the filling. After 30 minutes in the oven I had a fine specimen of wobbly, nutmeg-dredged, custard tart that I could hardly wait to cool down and try. I don't know if you have ever had an English-style baked custard tart and I am not sure if you would like it. It's not too sweet, it's extremely eggy (like a quiche, almost) and the nutmeg isn't exactly subtle. It's rustic, wholesome and it has substance, which is how I happen to like desserts. Maybe it doesn't look that pretty or fine, but the real pleasure is delivered at the moment you don't really care what it looks like any more. Mmmmm...
Update May 1st
A few hours after I published the above post I had a telephone call from England with some very bad news. My childhood best friend, the free-spirited, unconventional Sheena to whom I was practically glued to as a teen has just found out she has got cancer. It has taken several months of her being fobbed off by the NHS about what has been making her so ill before finding out this terrible news. She has to wait a little longer for more details, but in the meantime I would appreciate anyone who can send her some positive thoughts to Wales, where she lives. Thank you. Below is the only photgraph I could find of us together. It was Christmas 1986 so please forgive us our fashion faux pas. Plus you have to understand, we were two little hippies back then...