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not a treacle tart, not a pecan pie

17 Dec

trick or treacle

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.

Also buys two tins of treacle, because of their cutesy Halloween “trick or treacle” faces, because in France treacle is non-existent and molasses is found only in health-food shops.*

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)

pastry comes from the River Cafe, filling adapted from Bruno Loubet

350g flour

1/2 tsp salt

175g butter, cold, cut in small cubes

100g icing sugar

1 egg

2-3 tbs cold water


4 eggs

2 egg yolks

200ml cream

135ml treacle

1/4 tsp resh grated nutmeg

100g pecans

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.

quince and marzipan tarte fine

22 Oct

She pulled down the branches and I twisted them from their stalks, one two three too many to hold. I dropped some into the unruly grass. When the tree was bare we came back to the kitchen with our haul and put a couple of the hefty quinces and some sugar in the pressure cooker, to test.

Then immediately forgot about them.

We had made quince mush; they had totally disintegrated. Lovely. My mother set about resurrecting it, and I started on a tart. (It was an incredibly nice moment, stepping around each other in the kitchen as we made dinner together. Not dictated by time or recipes, free to use the fresh ingredients we had picked from the garden and, uh, supermarket.)

The mush turned out beautifully in the end: mixed with almost equal quantities of jam sugar and boiled for barely five minutes, it became a stiff jam with a faint scent of citrus besides that particular quince taste. We filled three jars (fresh from the dishwasher, no need to sterilise) and turned them upside down to seal. Delicious both on toast or porridge in the morning, and with cheese in the evening like the Spanish membrillo.

The tart too was better than expected: since we sliced the quinces thinly and popped them straight into boiling sugar and water, they were poached in under five minutes. Then, a circle of puff pastry, ready rolled, and a smaller circle of marzipan on top. The quinces arranged in a delicate spiral into the centre, each slice overlapping slightly, covering the marzipan and leaving a border of pastry to puff up in the oven.

And that was it, simple. Except that in the course of baking, the plain quince pieces blushed pink, ranging from a golden rose to a autumn orange. The very edges charred black, turned up like the dry leaves carpeting the lawn. It was beautiful, more so when brushed shiny with the leftover poaching syrup.

If my mother hadn’t been there, I probably wouldn’t have attempted a quince dessert – too much hassle, I thought. As it was, it was both easy and delicious: the fruit tender and perfumed, the pastry crisp, the marzipan just a thin layer of sticky sweetness to bind it all together.

Obviously, I could have made it with apples (no need to poach first) just as you could make rabbit stew or jugged hare with a chicken breast, but I would have missed out on something special, something seasonal.

Quince and marzipan tarte fine

adapted from an apple tart recipe by Bruno Loubet

2 large quinces (about 800g total)

200ml water

100g sugar

225g puff pastry, all-butter ready-rolled

100g marzipan

Heat the sugar and water in a deep frying pan to a gentle simmer. Peel, core and slice the quinces one at a time and drop the slices in the syrup immediately so they don’t go brown in the air. Throw the cores in as well for extra flavour. After 4-5 minutes they will go tender and a little translucent, fish them out and spread out on some paper towel to drain. Repeat with the rest of the quinces, add more water/sugar if necessary. Save the syrup, discard the cores.

Heat oven to 180C.

Unroll the puff pastry, hopefully already in a circle, onto a large baking sheet lined with baking paper. If not cut the biggest circle possible. Score a smaller circle about 3-4 cm from the edge using a plate as a guide. Roll the marzipan out very thinly to fit this smaller diameter and lay inside the scored mark.

Pat the quinces totally dry with more paper towel, and arrange them on top of the marzipan, not on the border of puff pastry, in overlapping spirals.

Bake for 30 minutes or so, until the pastry has puffed up around the edges and the quinces just start to go brown at the tips. Brush immediately with the leftover poaching syrup.

Serve warm with crème fraîche or vanilla icecream.

goat’s cheese, walnut and chutney tartlets

2 Aug

For a summer evening by the lake in the artificially natural Buttes-Chaumont park. Little tartlets laid out on a tea towel, shoes kicked off. A panzanella salad to go with it. Ten minutes prep time, hours to lie on the grass.

Really just a mouthful of goat’s cheese, no frills. Make sure to use a rich, sticky-sweet chutney – mine was date and ginger.

Goat’s cheese, walnut and chutney tartlets

makes 12 bite sized tartlets

1 pack puff pastry (220g or so)

180g log of goat’s cheese

50g walnuts, broken into pieces

3 tbsp favourite chutney

2 eggs

1 tbsp milk


Preheat oven to 200C.

Roll out the puff pastry as thin as you can. Stamp out 12 circles with a large glass. Gently line a 12 hole cupcake tray with the pastry. Add 1/2 tsp of chutney to each, top with a few walnut pieces and a fat slice of goat’s cheese. Whisk the eggs with the milk and a bit of pepper, pour just a little over each tart. Enough to stick it all together, not as much as for a quiche. Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the pastry is puffed and brown, the cheese melted.

galette des rois méditerranée (king of pizza pies)

7 Jan

The new year for anglophones normally involves less food, extra exercise, shiny gold resolutions. Earnest lifestyle changes kick in, as they mutter about pounds gained over Christmas. Also normally, by mid-January all motivation has seeped away with the draughts of cold air, and biscuits are allowed back  in the kitchen.

The French make no pretence at such deprivation. On the first of January, they polish off the last of the Christmas log, pack away their candied chestnuts and promptly start munching on a galette des rois, a circle of puff pastry sandwiching sweet almond cream. Anyone who might dare to hint at a diet is tempted with a fat golden slice, told to join in the fun.

For the galette is also a game: whoever gets the bean (or lucky charm) hidden in sweet centre is king for a day, as demonstrated by their paper crown. Supposedly for the Magi, it ought to be eaten on January 6th. Not to do things by halves, the French eat buttery slabs of royal tart for a whole month.

Which means lots of almond cream for me to make at the patisserie – equal parts soft butter, sugar, ground almonds and eggs, whisked together in that order, livened up with a splash of rum. We have pistachio and chocolate and… I’m sick of them already.

But this, this I have been dreaming about. The savoury version, still with its burnished bronze crust and crinkly edges, still with the all-butter pastry. that hides a proper surprise and not just a fève (the magic bean). Inside are layers of ricotta, swirls of tomato, spikes of pepper, with a sprinkle of olives and basil for good measure. And of course, melted mozzarella. With the spirals cut into the top, it’s the prettiest most delicate interpretation of pizza you ever saw.

There was an almond hidden inside. But I’m not sure if I’m sharing, so I guess I’m king by default. Divine right and all that.

rRuTHa on Make A Gif, Animated Gifs

Galette des rois méditerranée, or King of Pizza Pies

serves 4

2 packets all-butter puff pastry (about 200g each, preferably already a circle)

for decoration:

1 egg + 1 whole almond

for filling:

100g ground almonds

200g ricotta

50g grated parmesan

1 egg

salt and pepper

1 tube concentrated tomato puree (about 125g)

1/2 ball mozzarella (75g)

1/2 red pepper, cut in long strips

handful black olives

some leaves of fresh basil OR dried oregano

In a small bowl, mix ricotta, egg, almonds, parmesan; salt and pepper to taste. Slice the pepper and mozzarella, halve the olives. Crack the other egg into a mug with a pinch of salt, whisk to combine.

Cut two 25cm circles of puff pastry. Put one in the fridge. Brush some egg wash around the edge of the other: about 2cm. Leaving this as a border, spread the ricotta mixture in the middle, thickly and evenly. Now use the tube of tomato puree to draw a thin spiral starting from the centre (you won’t need the whole tube).

Scatter over pepper slices, mozzarella, olives and torn basil leaves. Don’t forget the almond to play King! Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper. Gently place the other circle over the top. Press down firmly on the border, while using the back of a knife to push in scalloped edges. This will help keep it tightly sealed. Put in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Prepare a tray with baking paper. Heat the oven to 180-200C, depending on how fierce it is. Remove galette from the freezer and flip upside down (place tray and paper on top and turn everything over). Generously brush with egg wash, then with the tip of your sharpest knife, score in a pattern or design, without breaking the surface. Stab with a skewer to let the steam out, then pop in the oven.

Cook for 40-45 minutes til the pastry is a very dark brown on top. Peek underneath to see if looks cooked as well. Let cool for 15 minutes or so, then dig in!


tarte aux pommes

28 Oct

Normandy is like Hereford. Apple trees everywhere, hemmed in by tall hedges. Black and white houses. Tractors that lumber past, farmers that raise a hand curtly to thank you for waiting. Bed and breakfasts on every corner.

Normandy is also like Mongolia. One particular bed and breakfast boasts four authentic Mongolian yurts, decorated with traditional rugs and even a fur hat. But the fur is unnecessary – the gas heater made the round tent stifling hot. All the novelties of camping in greenery, complete with genuine rooster alarm, but with a bed and a duvet and a picture of a camel.

Normandy is a piece of England, whence William the Conqueror, the first king to really organise our tribal country and to record our history, our defeat colourfully embroidered along 70m of the Bayeux tapestry. It is also a little piece of the war, the second, in a way that England will never be. Concrete bunkers and lookout points pockmark the countryside, intrude on the flat empty beaches.

For me, it was a lot of apples. The little homely ones in huge piles waiting to be made into cider or calvados (apple liqueur). Also the tarte normande, a simple apple tart with as much variation as the region itself. Neat slices overlay a crème pâtissière base. Or great chunks of apple under a light almond crumble. Or my favourite, the tarte fine: wafer thin slices snake across buttery puff pastry, just dusted with brown sugar.

This is the pastry school version: to start, all you need is good, light pastry. Then delicious apples – not flabby, floury ones. Not supermarket ones. Interesting ones.

Cook one of them with sugar and lemon juice to a perfumed mush and spread over the bottom of the uncoooked pastry. Slice the rest thin and overlap them closely – they will shrink a little in the oven.

Sprinkle with just a little crunchy granulated sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes at 180C. Serve with cider, whipped cream and a real fire. (Or a gas fire – in your yurt!)

pastry for an apprentice pâtissière

25 Oct

Things I have learned as an apprentice pâtissière:

  • how to cut onions without crying blue makeup tears: peel them, put them in the freezer for five minutes, then slice
  • how to make a rose out of almond paste
  • how to beat a flan into submission with only minimal injuries


  • to shake hands with bakers to say hello and good-bye, none of that fancy-pants kissing
  • how to win a free croissant/pear-praline tart: say mmm, that looks delicious, though you will quickly long for a plain apple
  • only knead your pastry three times

Proper tart pastry: the first thing they taught us at pastry school, aptly enough. (It still annoys me how much prettier “pâtisserie” sounds in French than the bland all-purpose pastry or bakery in English.) Just gently rub the butter and flour between your palms. Knead it three times only. Chill before rolling. Carefully lift into the tart ring. Press firmly around the edges so that you could tip it upside down (our grumpy teacher tested a few unlucky students whose pastry collapsed onto the counter).

Now fill with whatever takes your fancy, and bake. Apple slices with a shiny glaze brushed on afterwards? Frangipan with blueberry? Walnuts and dried apricots with a maple-brown sugar-butter syrup?

Simple tart pastry (pâte a foncer)

250g flour

15g icing sugar

125g butter

1 egg

30g water

pinch of salt

Sieve flour and sugar together onto worktop. Cube the butter and start rubbing into flour mix with fingertips until mostly broken up. Then rub between palms with minimum pressure, letting it fall back down again. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (so the butter is more or less evenly distributed, but don’t be too fussy) stop and make a big well in the middle.

Whisk the egg, water and salt so the salt dissolves then tip into well. Mix in with thumb and two forefingers. When the mxiture ressembles a loose ball, knead it three times. Flatten into a neat square, 1 cm thick, clingfilm and chill.

Roll it out on a floury surface, applying even pressure. Keep shifting the pastry, flouring underneath if necessary, to avoid sticking. Roll up around rolling pin and lift into (pre-buttered) tart pan, gently press around the sides.

Prebake it for a ganache filling. For a classic apple tart or tarte amandine, add your almond cream or apples before baking.

sucrée / salée : salade de pêches au basilic; tarte de pêches, jambon et mozzarella

3 Aug

Squeezing peaches feels somehow illicit. A tray of furry backsides waiting to be delicately palpated. Are they ripe yet?

The French word for a peach is very close to un péché, or a sin. And to fish, pêcher. (Can someone who likes etymology enlighten me before I make a bad pun?) (And if I do make a bad pun, does that mean I am finally French?)

In any case, no sin here. Maybe a little ambiguity. Two simple recipes that can’t decide if they are sweet or savoury. The peach and basil salad would be equally delicious with a wedge of gruyère as with some vanilla icecream. The tart combines the salty attack of Parma ham with the sweetness of roast peach, all covered with a subtle blanket of mozzarella.*

Use ripe, juicy peaches since they are the star of the show. And squeeze gently.

Peach and basil salad

at least 4 ripe peaches

several leaves of basil

a glug of olive oil

juice of half a lemon

salt and pepper

Cut the peaches into thick slices or chunks. Tear the basil into small shreds. (Tearing apparently releases the flavour better than cutting.) Toss with the olive oil and lemon then season with a little salt and pepper. Let it stand for a hour so that the flavous meld.

Note: Rosemary can also perfume this salad, except that the spines are less pleasant to eat.


Peach tart with prosciutto and mozzarella

(simplified from Victoria O’Neill’s soon-to-be published debut cookbook)

1 quantity puff or shortcrust pastry (bought or homemade)

1 packet of Parma ham / prosciutto crudo / air-dried ham

1 or 2 balls fresh mozzarella

at least 4 ripe peaches

fresh herbs (thyme is good)

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle or circle. Grease a large baking tray or tart pan and gently lift the pastry onto it. Cover with a single layer of ham slices. Cut the peaches into thick wedges (6-8 per peach) and line them up in rows or circles on top of the ham. Tear the mozzarella into chunks and scatter over peaches. Finally sprinkle over some thyme (or other herbs) with salt and pepper.

Bake in the oven until the pastry is brown and the cheese bubbling. Leave it to cool a little, then cut into wedges and serve just warm.

*Please excuse the overblown mixed metaphor. It’s very hot today.

sunburnt red pepper tart

9 Apr

Hello, trite simile. Welcome, the winner of the most banal food poetry prize:

My dinner looks like a sunset.

An oversized scalloped sun, coloured a glorious orange – more than orange, a saffron-stained red. Seriously. It didn’t matter if I ate it or not, I could just admire it. I couldn’t draw it, the colour was too intense.

Once I did finally taste it though, the flavour matched the colour perfectly. The deep red, the charred sweetness of roasted peppers was just slightly muted by the sour creamy bite of creme fraiche. The flecks of basil and nutmeg added a little intrigue. The pastry stayed crisp and perky in its scalloped pan. But most of all, the smooth custard filling – like quiche, but better – tasted of enhanced roasted peppers and of distilled colour.

Make it just for the visual effect – one giant sunny tart next to a bowl of green leaves, a mess of grated carrot salad, a nutty brown crust of bread.

sunburnt red pepper tart
(adapted from Roast chicken and other stories by Simon Hopkinson)

serves 3-4 people as a light supper

110g plain flour
50g butter, cold, cubed
1 egg yolk
some water

4 large red peppers
150ml creme fraiche
2 eggs and 1 egg white
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
dash of dried basil

Make the pastry: rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and several spoonfuls of water and stir roughly with a knife until the doughs starts to come together. Push it into a ball with your hands – adding more water if necessary. (This can be done in a food processor, of course.) Try to handle it as little as possible. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for half an hour.

Now roast the peppers: place the whole peppers on a lightly oiled baking tray, to prevent sticking, and bake in a very hot oven (250C) for half an hour or so. They should be just starting to collapse with a few black spots. Then put them in a large bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm. The steam will make it easier to skin the peppers. Gently prise each pepper in half with a knife and your fingers, and pull out the stalk with the seeds attached. If you can be bothered, you can also skin the peppers.

Meanwhile, roll out the pastry dough to fit a 20cm tart pan. Without a rolling pin, I like to roll the pastry between two sheets of baking paper with an empty wine bottle. Arrange in the tart dish, prick the bottom and bake for about 20 minutes at 180C until just golden-brown.

Drain any liquid from the roasted peppers then blend them with the remaining eggs and egg white and the creme fraiche until smooth. Add the nutmeg, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the pepper filling into the prebaked tart shell and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. (There will be some filling left over which you can bake separately in a little dish sans crust.)

When the tart is firm to the touch and just starting to crack, remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes or so. Serve with something green for colour contrast.

Notes: The original recipe – which looked much richer – used 6 egg yolks instead of 2 eggs and 1 white and double cream instead of creme fraiche. I also forgot the clove of garlic which was supposed to be blended into the filling.

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