EPICURIOUS: A BITTERSWEET SURPRISE

Published March 19, 2023
Photo by the writer
Photo by the writer

As anyone who has ever watched an episode of The Great British Bake Off can attest to, no one does desserts like the British. Their mix of indulgent tarts, biscuits, scones and puddings are every sugarholic Pakistani’s dream. Who doesn’t have a hankering for lemon tarts with chai? Or who wouldn’t love to dunk a digestive biscuit into their cup of tea? Yes, the British have got very little right historically when it comes to food, but their desserts are the exception.

The Bakewell tart — unlike its cousin the lemon tart — isn’t about that tricky balance between the sweet and the sour, but the bitter — from the almond-based frangipane filling — and the sweet. All good desserts don’t simply indulge in sweetness but add some nuance and complexity with other flavours such as bitterness, umami or sourness, and this is what this classic English tart does so well.

Named after the town of Bakewell in England, the tart evolved from the Bakewell pudding, which was apparently created by mistake at the town’s White Horse Inn in the 1800s. The owner had asked for a jam tart but the cook misread the recipe and made a paste of almonds and eggs spread on top of the tart instead of incorporating it into the crust. The result was a new kind of dessert, the Bakewell pudding, which proved very popular with the inn’s clientele. Bakewell tart replaced this paste with frangipane and became a popular dessert in the 1900s.

Mini Cherry Bakewell Tarts

This is a time-consuming dessert but well worth the effort. Cherry Bakewell Tarts have a glazed icing but if you want your tart to be less sweet, skip the icing. The traditional topping is a cherry (you should be able to find canned cherries in the market) but it’s always fun to just add any topping of fruit that is in season or decorate with a dusting of chopped or ground almonds.

An English classic that will speak to your inner sugarholic

I prefer raspberry jam (because it isn’t too sweet) but feel free to experiment and add whatever jam is in season or is your favourite (apple, strawberry, mango) — you can’t go wrong. Don’t want to waste time making the shortcrust pastry? Just buy some from your local bakery.

Ingredients

For the pastry

1 ¼ cups flour ¼ cup icing sugar ½ teaspoon salt ½ cup cold butter 2 egg yolks ½ teaspoon vinegar

For the frangipane filling

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened 1/3 cup sugar 2 eggs ¾ cup almonds, ground ½ teaspoon almond extract ½ teaspoon vanilla extract ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ cup jam (any jam you prefer)

For the icing

1 ¼ cups icing sugar 2 tablespoon water ½ teaspoon almond extract

Method

First make the pastry dough. Cut the butter into small pieces. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then add butter a little at a time, kneading it together into a dough. Add the egg yolks and the vinegar and mix again. Add ice-cold water, a little at a time till the dough forms.

Split the dough into two, roll into a ball and then flatten into a round shape. Cover with cling film and let it cool in the fridge for at least an hour. Please note that the dough has to be cold so the butter doesn’t melt too quickly when you bake the pastry.

After the dough has chilled for more than an hour, roll it out into mini pastry shells. Lightly dust a flat surface with flour. Roll out the dough till it is 1/8 inch thick and use a three-inch cookie cutter to cut out circles. Mix any remaining dough together and repeat — you should get around 24 circles. Grease a cupcake tin with butter and flour. Press the dough circles into the cups of the tin and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

While the pastry dough shells are chilling, start working on the filling. Beat the eggs and sugar together until fluffy. Add a little butter at a time until the mixture has a creamy texture. Add the salt, the extracts and the ground almonds. Stir well. Cover the bowl with cling film or a lid and let it cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Spoon half a teaspoon of jam onto the chilled pastry shells followed by a teaspoon of the frangipane filling. Make sure not to overfill and leave space between the edge of the cups and the filling.

Bake for 20 minutes or until it is done.

Make the icing while the tarts are baking. Whisk the ingredients together until a thick mixture forms. Once baked, let the tarts cool for 10 minutes or so before adding the icing. Top with halved cherries or any other fruit in season, or sprinkle with chopped almonds.

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 19th, 2023

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