Last Sunday was Mothers Day (as you may recall) and a blooming lovely day it was too – lucky mothers! Ours was a party of eight, which was the perfect number for lots of chatter and general merriment, but without being overwhelming on the catering front (hurrah for me). My husband, Matt, has recently developed a bit of a penchant for whiskey sours, thanks in large part to Pitt Cue Co in Carnaby Street, London, and seems intent to grab every opportunity to indulge this new-found crush with both hands…Sunday was one such opportunity. We had ‘welcome drinks’ outside in The Garden where everyone was treated to a Matt Sour Special (yes, I did consider re-wording that, but I’m sure no-one will notice), whether they wanted one or not. I enjoyed a moment away from cooking to catch up with my dear family and just chill out on our little patio. The sun shone and the clouds vacated for a while and I entered a little bubble of bliss – one that will stay with me for a while.
At this time of year the garden becomes like an extra room – one that we’d forgotten we had – and it feels great to welcome it back into our lives. Looking around I noticed how all the brown twiggy plants are starting to shoot out their new green leaves and the redundant bulbs I’d planted last autumn are finally making an appearance – it’s truly amazing what a difference it makes to the feel of the space. This is the time when I get the impulse to start planting, nurturing and harvesting! This all takes time, however, but herbs are a great starting place to satisfy this impulse. I shall therefore also take thyme (sorry…couldn’t resist) and use it in this recipe.
I’m not sure where the inspiration came from to make custard tarts, but it did come, as you can see. I never liked them when I was growing up, with their soft pastry and equally soft interior; I found them pallid and a bit dull. Given the choice, I’d always opt for a sugary jam doughnut or chocolate éclair…it was a no brainer to me. To be truthful, I can’t even recall eating them as an adult – childhood memories have a powerful influence I suppose.
However, I love proper custard (only proper custard though; not the neon yellow stuff from a can or the powdered variety– yuk!) and I also love pastry. I couldn’t see why I shouldn’t enjoy a custard tart! Obviously it would require some tinkering – after all, what’s the point in cooking something if not to make it the very best it can be? Passionfruit is a favourite ingredient of mine and a flavour I’ll always gravitate toward when it appears on a menu. I thought the sweet creaminess of custard would benefit from a zingy kick of passionfruit. But it needs a bit of colour, which is where the blueberry comes in. With no more ‘tartness’ required I decided against blackberries or even raspberries (which are probably my favourite berry) and opted for the nutritious blueberry instead. All that is good in a blueberry radiates when cooked – in my opinion (think blueberry muffin!) – and so this seemed like the perfect partner.
I didn’t want to confuse the custard flavour too much, so opted to use fragrant ‘out-doorsy’ thyme in the pastry instead. Paul Hollywood seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to all things bread and pastry, so I used his sweet pastry dough recipe as a base, with only a little herbal deviation. I was delighted with the result!
I tried a couple of different size and shape tins and concluded that the best results come from using a deeper muffin tin. Apparently you can buy a tapered cutter that prevents the dough overlapping and becoming too thick up the sides. I don’t have one of these, so just cut out small triangular sections of the excess dough and patted it back together. I even tried using a ramekin dish, which actually was the ideal size giving just enough width and depth for a soft wobbly custard (my preference) but the bake is definitely better with a metal tin. I shall keep an eye out for The Perfect Custard Tart Tin and pass on my findings at a later date. You can, of course, make a single large tart (durr) but I like individual portions…just because.
Sweet Thyme Pastry:
- 200g plain flour
- 100g unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
- 2 tbsp icing sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp chopped thyme
- 1 medium egg
- 2 tbsp cold water
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 400ml double cream
- 200ml whole milk
- 90g vanilla caster sugar (or plain caster sugar)
- 4 large eggs and 1 large egg yolk
- Juice of 5 passionfruit
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
Plus 100g blueberries
Begin by making the pastry.
Place the flour, icing sugar and thyme into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the chilled butter and cut into the flour using a round edged knife. When the butter is well coated in the flour start using the tips of your fingers to work the butter into the flour. Do this slightly above the bowl, so that the mixture falls through the air and lightens it.
Aim for the mixture to resemble breadcrumbs – this takes approximately five minutes (but obviously depends on how quickly you work, or how distracted you are).
When said ‘breadcrumb appearance’ is attained, whisk the egg with the water and lemon juice then add them to the flour. Use the blunt knife to stir briefly until the moisture is absorbed then use your hands to bring the mixture together to form a dough. (Incidentally, Mr Hollywood advises that the inclusion of lemon juice is to retard the activation of gluten, which can make the pastry tough. I do as I’m told.)
Knead the dough briefly and form a shallow disc shape then cover with cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
While the dough is taking the weight off, remove all the pulpy seeds from the passionfruit and pass them through a sieve to extract the vivid glowing juice (no seeds please). Pour the juice into a small saucepan, place on a low heat and cook for a few minutes to reduce the juice. This intensifies the flavour and gives it a sticky jammy consistency.
Leave it to one side to cool. This will be added to the custard mixture later.
Set your oven to 200 deg (180 deg FAN)
When the dough has rested, remove it from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface until it’s approximately 3mm thick.
If you’re using a muffin tin, use an 11cm round cutter (or the elusive tapered cutter) and line the indentations with the pastry dough. Pat the dough into the ‘corners’ so that it’s in full contact with the metal tin; this will ensure it bakes well and will also provide a good shape to fill with custard.
Place discs of baking paper on top of the dough then fill with baking beans (or uncooked rice…being mindful not to cook said rice at a later date…Matthew!). Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes.
After this time remove the baking beans and baking paper and return to the oven to cook for a further 8 minutes, or until the pastry is golden on the base. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Lower the oven temperature to 140 deg (120 deg FAN).
Now make the custard
Place the cream and milk in a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Meanwhile crack the eggs and yolk into a medium-large handled jug (or just a mixing bowl) and whisk with the sugar. Do this just before adding the cream and not too far in advance (otherwise the sugar ‘cooks’ the eggs which can make the custard lumpy and not in a good way). When the cream and milk has ‘scorched’ turn off the heat and pour into the sugary eggs, whisking continuously. Some people advise to strain the mixture through a sieve before adding to the pastry cases. I never do this (with any custard) and it always turns out smooth and lump-free.
Now stir in the passionfruit ‘jam’ until thoroughly combined.
The custard can now be poured into the pastry cases as you see fit. Some people advise doing this while the oven shelf is hanging out, to avoid spillage. My shelves, however, will never rest completely horizontally so this is not a good option for me. But do whatever pleases you. In any event a baking tray placed under the muffin tin is probably a good idea.
After the pastry cases have been filled with custard, pop in a few blueberries (thoroughly washed, naturally) and place gently into the now cooler oven. Cook for approximately 20 minutes, or until the custard has set slightly but with a discernable wobble. Again, this is a personal preference, but I like a soft wobbly custard. If you like it firmer then cook for longer (simple, yes?).
The Paul Hollywood pastry recipe I used is from his ‘Pies and Puds’ book.
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