It’s a tired cliche: English girl abroad, starts to miss proper English cooking, stocks up on armfuls of Earl Grey and crumpets when back in London.
When nostalgia hits hard, sometimes she puts treacle directly on her porridge for a double hit of home.
In the end, girl combines a French recipe for a molasses tart – really a simple custard tart that gets a bittersweet kick and a mahogany shine from the black syrup – with the Italian-inspired, London-based River Cafe’s pastry, then adds a handful of pecans and takes it to her first American Thanksgiving, in Paris.
The tart is a jumble, a hybrid of traditions where the sum is better than the parts. It is nowhere near the candied nature of an actual English treacle tart – here treacle is the only sweetener in a filling that is made silky with cream and eggs. The pecans are good for crunch, but are not the stars of the show. The pastry is sturdy, with a shortbread crumble when bitten into.
Together, it makes a happy whole, both bitter and sweet [insert another cliche about living away from home].
The Americans approve of the culturally confused pie. Since in itself, it is not overly sweet, it goes very well with liberal amounts of icecream and leftover cranberry sauce.
* Molasses is a by-product of refining white sugar – the brown in brown sugar if you will. Treacle, from what I understand, is ever-so slightly sweeter, lighter, since it is made of molasses blended with a sugar syrup. They both have the same dark, bitter profile though molasses will produce a stronger effect. However, “trick or treacle” tins with scary pumpkin faces on are adorable. Make your choice accordingly.
Treacle and pecan tart
makes one 30cm tart, enough for 6-8 people – alternatively, for a higher filling-crust ratio, try a deep 22cm tart ring (although there will be pastry left over)
1/2 tsp salt
175g butter, cold, cut in small cubes
100g icing sugar
2-3 tbs cold water
2 egg yolks
1/4 tsp resh grated nutmeg
In a food processor, blend the flour, icing sugar, salt and cold butter. When there are only pea-sized lumps of butter, add the egg and water. Pulse several times until it starts to form a dough. Add an extra tablespoon water in necessary. Bring it together with your hands, then squash into a flat disc. Wrap in clingfilm and freeze for 15 minutes or until hard but not yet frozen.
Butter a large, deep tart tin and grate the dough over it, using the largest holes on the grater. Push the pastry up the sides of the tin and gently press to flatten, until roughly even. Save a walnut sized lump for repairing any cracks. Freeze tart for half an hour (helps to avoid shrinking).
Heat oven to 175C. Line tart tin with paper and fill with baking beans – bake for 20 minutes. Remove paper and beans, fill any cracks with leftover dough and put back in the oven for five minutes to let the bottom get a little colour.
Meanwhile, whisk eggs, yolks, cream, treacle and nutmeg until smooth. Pour into tart shell, sprinkle over pecans and pop back in the oven. Bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the filling puffs up and feels slightly springy when you press it.
Let cool – the filling will deflate a little – and serve at room temperature with lots of icecream.