Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Old World and New

It's been...what...a month since my last post? Life has a habit of making itself known, and with deadlines, vacations and sundry other events, there just hasn't been time. Even when it comes to my Daring Bakers' post.

But I've taken my machete to the overgrowth of obligations, and carved a swath of time to post now. Hopefully, my DB license won't be revoked.

For the month of June, the DB Challenge (hosted by Jasmine and Annemarie) was the storied, historical Bakewell Tart, also known as a Bakewell Pudding, though the two are rather different from each other. I quote liberally from our hostesses:

Bakewell Tart History and Lore

Flan-like desserts that combine either sweet egg custard over candied fruit or feature spiced ground almonds in a pastry shell have Mediaeval roots. The term “Bakewell pudding” was first penned in 1826 by Meg Dods; 20 years later Eliza Acton published a recipe that featured a baked rich egg custard overtop 2cm of jam and noted,

“This pudding is famous not only in Derbyshire, but in several of our northern counties where it is usually served on all holiday occasions.”

By the latter half of the 1800s, the egg custard evolved into a frangipane-like filling; since then the quantity of jam decreased while the almond filling increased.

This tart, like many of the world's great foods has its own mythic beginnings…or several mythic beginnings. Legend has it in 1820 (or was it in the 1860s?) Mrs. Greaves, landlady of The White Horse Inn in Bakewell, Derbyshire (England), asked her cook to produce a pudding for her guests. Either her instructions could have been clearer or he should have paid better attention to what she said because what he made was not what she asked for. The cook spread the jam on top of the frangipane mixture rather than the other way around. Or maybe instead of a sweet rich shortcrust pastry case to hold the jam for a strawberry tart, he made a regular pastry and mixed the eggs and sugar separately and poured that over the jam—it depends upon which legend you follow.

Regardless of what the venerable Mrs. Greaves’ cook did or didn’t do, lore has it that her guests loved it and an ensuing pastry-clad industry was born. The town of Bakewell has since played host to many a sweet tooth in hopes of tasting the tart in its natural setting.

Bakewell tarts are a classic English dessert, abounding in supermarket baking sections and in ready-made, mass-produced forms, some sporting a thick sugary icing and glazed cherry on top for decorative effect.

For this quintessentially Old-World dessert, I decided to pair it with the fruits of the New World. Recently, my husband and I had the incredible pleasure of visiting Glacier National Park in Montana. Situated along the Continental Divide, no place could more represent the bold pioneer spirit of America than this incredible glacial valley, with its snow-topped mountains, its cold, deep lakes, its evergreen and deciduous forests. In addition to spectacular scenery, this part of the country is known for its wild huckleberries. They grow in such abundance, you can find huckleberries in just about everything: jam, jelly, preserves, candy, muffins, lotion, candles. I bought myself a jar of huckleberry preserves (admittedly in the Kalispell airport, since I ran out of time during the trip itself) with the express interest of putting them in my Bakewell Tart.

Home again, I made the tart post-haste. In order to achieve an authentic, Old-World appearance, I baked tartlets in pastry rings. As they baked, the apartment filled with the exotic but comforting aroma of almonds, and, once removed from the oven and the pastry rings, I couldn't contain my pleasure. The tartlets looked gorgeous--exactly like the kind of pastry someone would have eaten a hundred and fifty years ago.

And the taste? Z. is often vocal with his praise of my baked goods, but he declared the Bakewell Tartlets to be "wonderful." He's never said that before. And I had to agree. The short crust was flaky, the huckleberries provided some New World zest and life, and the almond frangipane baked up into a luscious golden sponge with perfect tooth and light, but substantial crumb. Z. announced that the tartlets were "a keeper," and I fully intend to make them again. The Old World and the New coexist perfectly within the realm of the oven.

Bakewell Tart

Makes one 23cm (9” tart)
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin

One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour
250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz)) jam or curd, warmed for spreadability
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Assembling the tart
Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll. When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes. [ed. note: I baked the tartlets for a total of 25 minutes] Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film

225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

[ed. note: after I had chilled my dough, I cut it into smaller pieces and rolled them to fit my pastry rings]


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula

125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy. Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine. After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.