Summertime is approaching... In London we've had the most ridiculous weather and it's that time of year when British produce starts to show it's metal... Berries, rhubarb, broad beans, asparagus and peas are amongst my favourite things to eat of all time and for few months every year they are in such abundance that it seems rude to not eat at least one of them in every meal. 

I've eaten so much asparagus this year already I think I've evolved from just producing "asparagus-wee" to sweating it out through my pores (asparagus, not wee, of course). Not that it'll stop me eating it. But I digress - following on from my last post, we are focusing on ways to maximise your berry-eating - top tip: prepare them in different ways so that you can cram them in in a more efficient manner.

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Today's post more or less appeared in a vision to me one day and I still don't know whether queen of tarts is a real thing (well it is now for sure) but it started with the idea of queen of puddings and the fact that whilst sound in principle, I just don't buy the idea of breadcrumbs thickening custard over a layer of jam (I hate bakewell tarts / puddings / anythings, by the way). But pastry, custard, summer fruits and meringue? No worries.

So there we have it - sweet pastry, creme patissiere, fresh berries or poached rhubarb and topped with torched italian meringue. Fit for a queen!!

Queen of Tarts

Recipe (makes around 12 individual tarts depending on size)

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

100g unsalted butter

60g unrefined caster sugar

230g plain flour

1 egg

 

For the creme pat:

500ml full fat raw milk

100g unrefined caster sugar

1 vanilla pod

120g egg yolks (around 6 yolks)

35g plain flour

15g corn flour

 

For the Italian meringue:

75g egg white

200g unrefined granulated sugar

50ml water

A sugar thermometer - ideally a digital one

A blow torch - get a proper catering one (a head attached to an interchangeable canister - the refillable cook's ones cost far more and are frankly a waste of time)

 

To serve:

Fresh or poached seasonal fruit. We used fresh strawberries and raspberries, and rhubarb poached until soft in a light syrup

 

Method:

First make the pastry

1. Beat the egg in a small bowl and put it in the fridge to chill.

2. Place all the other ingredients for the pastry into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on a low speed until the butter has been rubbed into the flour and the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. With the mixer still running, add the chilled egg and continue to mix just until the dough comes together. Turn out onto your work surface and bring the dough together with your hands - working it only just enough to get a nice, quite smooth piece of dough without too many cracks in it. Wrap and chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

4. Once your pastry is chilled, roll it out to about 2-3mm thick and cut it to size to line your tart shells - we have catering ones that exactly fit a 90mm round cutout, but you can line yours with excess pastry and trim the edges if that's easier. Chill the lined shells in the fridge until firm.

5. Preheat your oven to 160C - line the chilled pastry cases with scrumpled up baking paper and fill with baking beans or dried chickpeas. Gently press it down to make sure the case is filled and weighed down. Blind bake the shells for around 10 minutes then remove the beans and lining to cook the base - for a couple more minutes. The main objective is to cook the pastry ready for filling when cooled so you wanted it to be fully cooked sides and bottom. I like my pastry with a good deep golden colour (colour means flavour!) rather than bland and insipid looking but that's up to you.

6. Let the shells cool for a few minutes and set,  then take them out of the tins and leave them to cool fully on a rack.

 

For the creme pat

1. Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla pod (split it and scrape out the seeds, add these along with the pod) in a saucepan and heat on medium until just boiling - turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

2. Meanwhile, mix the flours and remaining sugar together in a bowl and set aside.

3. Place the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Whisk in the flour / sugar mix and make sure well incorporated and there are no lumps. 

4. Now add the hot milk, whisking all the time, in a slow and steady stream - making sure you mix it well and don't add the milk to quickly and cook the eggs. 

5. Rinse and wipe out the saucepan and return the custard mix to the pan. Set over a low / medium heat and whisk continuously until it starts to thicken. Bring to the boil and once it bubbles for 20-30 seconds remove it from the heat and strain it into a container. A sieve would be OK but w fine sieve or chinois would be better. You may need a ladle to help push it through. 

6. Cover the surface of the custard with cling film to stop a skin forming and chill it in the fridge until totally cold and it has firmed up considerably.

 

For the meringue

1. Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Set over a low heat until the sugar dissolves then turn up the heat to rapidly boil to the right temperature.

2. Have your egg whites ready in a heat proof bowl or bowl of your stand mixer, with whisk at the ready.

3. Once the sugar syrup reaches around 112C start whisking the egg whites - the aim being to have them at soft-medium peaks when the syrup is at the right temperature.

4. When the syrup reaches 120C, remove from the heat and slowly pour into the egg whites whilst you whisk on a high speed. Make sure you pour the syrup onto the egg whites being whisked rather than down the side of the bowl. Once all the syrup is in, keep whisking for another minute or two until the mixture cools down a bit (feel the bowl with your hands, it should go from hot to warm) - you should end with a glossy, stable meringue.

To assemble:

1. Pipe or spoon a generous mound of custard into your pastry cases.

2. Arrange your fruit on top to your liking - I'm a purist so I do single fruits in each tart :)

3. Fit a piping bag with a noxxle of your choosing for the meringue. Pipe into a nice pattern on top of the tarts - again this is up to you - I go for concentric circles of little peaks.

4. Fire up your blowtorch and carefully fire it at the meringues - take care not to burn it or catch the pastry.

Best served immediately but you can keep them in the fridge for up to one day - after that the pastry will go soggy!

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