Portuguese Custard Tarts

Secret 2nd Dessert from my August 8th Supper Club

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Read any recipe that involves puff pastry and you’ll likely be reassured to learn that the laborious and Byzantine of making your own puff pastry is entirely unnecessary – a roll you buy from the supermarket is just as good.

Whoever wrote that recipe is a liar. They are a liar who doesn’t want you to enjoy really good puff pastry. They lied to you twice: first when they told you making puff pastry is difficult, and then again when they told you that premade pastry is an acceptable substitute. You can learn how to do it yourself in under six minutes by watching this video and even if you screw it up, it will probably still be the best puff pastry you’ve had in your life. That’s how much better it is when you make it yourself.

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These custard tarts are the opposite of the almond shortcrust tart I blogged about in June, where I blind baked the shortcrust pastry until it was done and then poured in hot custard and put it back in the the oven turned all the way down to slowly bring the custard up to the temperature where it would set without further browning the pastry. For the Portuguese custard tarts, which can’t be blind baked, the challenge is to brown the pastry without overcooking the custard. Start with cold custard (you can even assemble the tarts the night before and put them in the freezer, cooking them straight from frozen.) Turn the oven up hot – 230-250 C (depending on your oven). The pastry, which is in contact with the metal of the tin, will respond faster to the heat, and will brown and puff up within 5-10 minutes. You want the custard to set to a unctuous, gooey consistency, and this will depend on how deep the tarts are filled and how cold they were when you began, but once the pastry is cooked you can turn the oven down and finish them off slowly.

Finally, sprinkle a little brown sugar on top of the tarts and caramelise it with a blowtorch. If you don’t have a blowtorch, try dousing the sugar with a teaspoonful of brandy (or burbon) and lighting it. Brandy certainly isn’t going to make these little beauties any worse.
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Strawberry Custard Tart

Served as part of my June Supper Club menu, on the 5th and 13th of June.IMG_0652IMG_0831

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This last photo is from Medley Manor Farm, on the inside of a rustic little shack where you weigh and pay for your pick-your-own strawberries. It’s a quote on the topic of strawberries from Reverend John Fuller, circa the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and it reads “Doubtless God could have made a better berry. But doubtless God never did.”

What more can you say?

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Picking your own strawberries is one of the more agreeable ways to spend a sunny afternoon in June. However if you spend as much as a whole afternoon picking, you’re liable to end up with an infeasibly vast amount of strawberries – these are quite literally easy pickings and 15 or 20 minutes is long enough to snag a kilo or so (about 2 large punnets).

There’s not much of a saving in picking strawberries yourself compared to buying at the supermarket. The real benefit is in quality. Strawberries are at their sweetest and most flavoursome when they’re perfectly ripe – but they don’t pack or travel so well at this point because they’re so soft. As such, to look good on a supermarket shelf, strawberries are bred and picked for firmness over flavour. Fresh from the field you can handpick and lovingly transport home only the reddest, ripest, juiciest, most yielding and tender berries, and the few that get bruised on the way home are acceptable jammy casualties for the privilege of what you’re about to eat.

My strawberry custard tart is my attempt to celebrate the berry that God did not trouble Himself to improve upon. I blind bake an almond shortcrust pastry shell – first with beans until it will hold its shape and then open and empty until golden brown, at about 190 C. With the tart shell still in the oven, I pour in hot custard from a jug right up to the brim, and turn the oven right down to 100 C and let the custard slowly cook, without browning the pastry any further, until it sets with only the barest wobble to indicate the creamy unctuousness below its surface. The strawberries, hulled and quartered, are sprinkled with caster sugar and just a few drops of balsamic vinegar to macerate in their own juices for a hour or two until the tart has cooked and cooled down, and then arranged across a slice like a bright red slash with a few leaves of basil or mint from the garden to garnish. I also use this combination of strawberries, basil and balsamic vinegar in one of my favourite ice cream flavours. I make a basil ice cream by infusing the cream with fresh-cut basil for three days. I cut strawberries quite small and drizzle with balsamic and sugar before roasting them gently in the oven to dry out and concentrate the flavour. After churning the basil ice cream until almost completely set, I swirl in way, way too many of the diced strawberries, and reserve in the freezer for a few hours. Sometimes there’s even some left by dinnertime.

Gold Bar

IMG_1568People are surprised to learn that I don’t watch a lot of cooking television these days, but four years ago when I was in Sydney I had a real soft spot for Masterchef Australia. One episode had contestents running around New York to cook three different dishes from three different multi-Michelin starred restaurants. This challenge was the first time I ever heard of Paul Liebrandt or ever saw Gold Bar, and it’s been stuck on my mind ever since.

The recipe was never revealed on the show, not even if you pause the video and advance it frame by frame, but I did find a blog post by a kindred (ie: lunatic) spirit who had tried to recreate the dish from the list of its elements. Gold bar is:

  • A pressee biscuit base layer
  • A layer of salted dulce du leche caramel
  • A layer of chocolate cremeaux
  • A coating of chocolate glacage (aka: chocolate mirror icing)
  • A pair of cocoa dentelles
  • And a few flecks of edible gold leaf

Continue reading “Gold Bar”

March Supper Club

This is an update and review of my March Supper Club, held on the 7th of March.
The next supper club date is Friday the 17th of April (changed from Monday 6th). To attend, please email me at smokeandthyme@gmail.com, letting me know how many guests you’d like to bring, a contact phone number and any special dietary requirements I need to be aware of. The menu changes every month and the price is pay-what-you-want.

Scallops with Bacon and Roasted Cauliflower Puree

Although this dish kicked off the meal, it was actually the last that I decided on. I’d kept the budget well under control for the main and dessert courses, so I had some room to splash out on this one. One of those ingredients that I truly love but can only occasionally afford are scallops.

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Though mild, scallops are often paired with very bold flavours. My former partner Finn had told me years ago about a dish he served with scallops and a cauliflower puree. When I worked at Borough Market, Shellseekers Fishmongers served scallops with bacon and onions in their own shells. After a quick test of roasting up and blending a cauliflower, I knew how I wanted to go – a dollop of spiced cauliflower puree in a scallop shell, a sautéed scallop and a garnish of diced crispy bacon and fresh coriander.

One of my guests suggested adding saffron to this dish. Although I’m not a great fan of saffron myself, I think in this case it would go really well in the roasted cauliflower puree. The other blindingly obvious addition that I can’t believe I forgot was a squeeze of lemon – both the scallop and the cauliflower would have been enhanced by this. Other than that, I think this dish both presents and tastes beautiful, and I’d definitely do it again.

 

Roast Beef with Blue Cheese Butter and Bone Marrow Mash

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I had bought a piece of beef almost a month ago to experiment with dry-aging. Good beef can be hung for anywhere between three weeks and two months, but it’s an expensive process because it loses weight and requires space and attention. The results however are well worth it.

Silverside isn’t one of my favourite cuts, but I got a bargain on a really well marbled piece. I kept it on a wire rack to help the air circulate and kept an eye on it until I thought it looked ready, which fortunately turned out to be right before the date for this supper club. Cutting off a slice and frying it up, I decided that it was a bit tough to do a steak, but the flavour was really good (a common tradeoff). So I decided to roast the beef and slice it extra thin, letting my knife rather than my guests’ teeth do the work.

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Choosing what to serve with the beef was less about coming up with ideas and more about narrowing them down. Bone marrow mash (from the Pitt Cue cookbook and sold on the name alone), blue cheese butter (a pick from Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection series), caramelised onions (because caramelised onions), and gravy made the final list. The picture in my head of the plate I wanted didn’t have anywhere for veg, but I decided a big bowl of braised cabbage on the table would finish things off nicely.

Verdict: I knew that this one was always going to be a crowd pleaser, but my concern was that it wouldn’t look or be sophisticated enough to fit with the rest of the meal. Turned out I needn’t have worried – this dish looked elegant and the flavours were comforting and traditional but still complex. I liked the table dish of cabbage – it kept the plate presentation delicate while adding to the community feeling of the night. I loved the slick of blue cheese butter on top of the beef, but I think that next time I might mix the blue cheese with the marrow and put those two great flavours right up front, and let the buttery mash stand for itself, or even substitute it for a parsnip dauphinoise or just some more of that fantastic cabbage.

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Mint and Candied Pistachio Ice Cream

When I’m looking for things that will go well together, I often try to find something in common that they share. This can be a flavour, a season, or a location, or in the case of this dessert, a colour. Pistachio and mint are not just green, they are famously green – they’re shades-on-the-Dulux-chart green. And in an ice cream parlour, they’re the green ones. This is what was in my head when I decided to try pairing them. I also decided that, rather than the homogenised and occasionally grainy texture of pistachio ice cream, I would preserve and enhance the crunchiness of the pistachios by coating them in a hard crack sugar syrup, rather like a boiled sweet

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Another thing that mint and pistachio share, at least in my mind, is a Middle Eastern connection. Baklava – the combination of nuts, sugar syrup and filo pastry, accompanies mint tea. Just a couple of weeks ago when I was cooking Paul Liebrandt’s Gold Bar dessert, I was struck by the crossover potential of one of the elements of the dessert – the crepe dentelles. These fine, flaky, brittle sheets are halfway between pastry and sugar work, taste like a super rich and buttery version of an ice cream cone, and a stack of flat squares perched atop a scoop of ice cream reminded me of baklava. The connection was irresistible to me – the dentelle would not overshadow the ice cream that I felt really deserved to be the star of the dish, but would enhance it and tease at the baklava connection that I had already made in my mind.

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After testing this dish out, frankly I just loved it. Elegant, simple, clever, sophisticated yet easy to make, this was probably the dish of the night for me. Immediately my mind was spinning off into other flavours of ice cream with a Middle Eastern theme – orange, cardamom and ginger, lemon, honey and pistachio, pomegranate and rosewater – watch this space.
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“Hedgerow” ice cream with apple crumble

Blackberry, rosemary, elderflower cordial and white chocolate chunks

Hedgerow Jaunty

The only thing better than food is free food. That’s why there’s no time of year quite like blackberry season. All along the banks of the river and at the borders of every park, hedgerows burst into fruit, and any walk is liable to leave me with crimson-stained fingers until I get home.

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This dish was inspired by the bounty that this season offers up for free: blackberries from Shotover park and Mesopotamia walk; elderflower cordial made from Warnford Meadow; apples from our garden and rosemary purloined from someone else’s

It’s also a little bit of a twist on the gastropub stalwart of blackberry and apple crumble with vanilla ice cream. I’ve never liked putting blackberries in apple crumble. The blackberry flavour diminishes in the cooking and you’re left picking seeds out from between your teeth.

This ice cream, with the rich, fresh blackberry flavour, is great on its own, but it goes perfectly with apple crumble. I’ve included a recipe for that as well, but there’s nothing new about it – I’ve cooked it the same way since I had to stand on a chair to reach the table.

Apples on the tree 2Hedgerow Ice Cream with Apple Crumble

Blackberry purée
Makes 200g-300g
400g (or more) of blackberries, washed and drained

Continue reading ““Hedgerow” ice cream with apple crumble”