Sometimes you make a mistake. In trying to fix it, you only compound the error.
Soon, your hair is six inches shorter, from a desperate effort to even up the left hand side. Your cake looks like it has been attacked by a rabid horde of neon fruit, which is trying to cover the blurry squiggle of chocolate… that was supposed to cover the uneven cream.
That is to say, I had my final patisserie exam. I wished my efforts had been shinier.
Then I called my Granny to recount the whole thing. As cheerful and encouraging as she is, I had to tell it with a positive spin. And felt better as a result.
To celebrate, I baked a tart. (Twenty four hours later, when the shock had worn off.) This time too, I made mistakes. I could feel them. The butter wasn’t properly cold. An extra-large not a medium egg. The poppy flour was a fingers-crossed-no-scales guess. The pastry, not yet chilled, was sticky and recalcitrant. It got pushed into the pan anyway.
I poached some pears with a star anise. They turned soft and sweet and scented. In a rush to get outside, I forgot to pat them dry. Into the oven went an uneven tart shell, finger marks all over it. Pear juice threatening to run overboard.
Out of the oven came
“it’s a star!”
my friend said. A five-legged pear starfish nestled in almond cream, in a stony grey poppy shell. It was pretty. Definitely rustic. Like a classic French pear tart, but with a touch of spice. The earthy base of poppy seed flour adds colour and a indefinable nutty taste,
said the same friend, searching for an appropriate simile. (Don’t listen to her, she had three slices.)
Sometimes you make a choice. You rush to get outside in time for sundown over the canal. Sometimes it turns out just right anyway.
Pear and poppy tart
for six – or two as a main course! I think ground walnuts would give a similar flavour and texture if you can’t get hold of poppy seed flour
3 small pears, unripe
250g caster sugar
1 star anise
for the pastry:
160g plain flour
40g Mohn – poppy seed flour
80g caster sugar
100g butter, cold
1 medium egg
for the almond cream:
50g butter, softened
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
1 medium egg
for decoration: poppy seeds
Peel, halve and core/destalk the pears. Place in a large pan with the sugar, water and star anise. The water should just cover the pear halves. Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer until tender – 15 minutes or so. Leave to cool in the liquid. (Remove the star anise if you leave them for longer than a few hours, it will be too strong otherwise.)
Make the pastry: mix the flours and sugar. Cube the butter and rub in lightly with fingertips to form a breadcrumb texture. Work in the eg and bring the mixture into a ball. Add a teaspoon of water if too dry. (You can do this in the food processor, if you like.) Flatten into a disk, clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Make the almond cream: whisk the softened butter and sugar until white and fluffy. Stir in ground almonds, then the egg a little at a time.
Preheat oven to 175C. Grease a 22cm tart tin or thereabouts. Roll out the pastry with a little flour, press into tin. If it is too sticky to roll, press it in with your fingertips. (There will be some leftover.) Smooth the almond cream over the pastry.
Drain the pear halves and pat dry carefully with a paper towel. Slice them very thin horizontally. Arrange each half on the almond cream, keeping the slices together like spokes in a wheel. (I could only fit five halves, so I ate the last one!)
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the shell is crisp and the almond cream set and turning golden-brown.