Saturday, 24 August 2013

custard tart

A custard tart is certain joy in my house. Custard is true alchemy in the kitchen, as the uncooked egg and cream mixture transforms into something wobbly but sliceable. A wobbly pleasure in a crisp crust, or even with a soggy bottom. We aren't discriminating. This is not a tart to be thrown, but to be eaten. 

I have always loved the type of custard tart that you often get in sandwich shops or greasy spoon cafe as well. I mean the supersized for one person type, with piped custard, about the size of a clenched fist. That kind of custard tarts doesn't use egg custard, but rather a very low tech version of creme patissiere, using some kind of gelling agent, often a rather violent yellow. It isn't a health food.

Baked custards are a high protein high fat food, supposedly easy to digest, and used to be a go to food for invalids. No chewing needed. It's also a way to use lots of eggs, I am looking forward to getting some new chickens, once we have sorted out the fox proofing. However, I am not making custard tart for anyone's health. I am not sure it counts as a health food when you are getting plenty of protein etcetera from the courses preceding it. 

So, why custard tart now? Well, I had some left over pastry, and friends were coming to share a meal provided by Bhavna Sweet Mart, our local South Indian. Our usual fare, bhel poori, dahi vada and a couple of vegetarian curries, along with veg samosas and a tub of their delicious fresh chutney. I felt I needed to make a bit of an effort, show willing. And as the other half of the pudding was plums from the neighbours' tree (I'm allowed), I thought I'd make a custard tart instead of going labour free and buying in ice cream. Ok, I could have made ice cream, but custard tart beckoned.

So the debate began, milk or cream for the custard? Most recipes seem to favour cream, it is all in the name, it makes the mixture richer, or indeed creamier. Having carefully bought too little (it looked like a large pot to me), I added some butter to my mixture. It worked okay in terms of flavour and texture, but the purist in me blames the bubbles in the final tart on the butter. Or it might have been my putting the oven on a bit high, so hard to tell. You can make a great custard with milk and eggs, however it might be an idea to increase the egg content.

Feel free to make your own mistakes, if only to comfort me a little. Even with basic culinary errors and other types of carelessness, a custard tart is hard to mess up if you take it step by step, and rewards the eater. Of course, if you don't want a soggy pastry bottom you can avoid this completely by cooking your custard in pots, in which case to help the heat be distributed evenly, use a bain marie.

If you use a dish with sloping sides, I think it looks better... I didn't have one to hand. Also, it may sound obvious, but don't overfill the pastry case, it is amazing how much spills as you walk towards the oven if you do. Not that I would know. 

If you are baking your pastry blind, pinch the edges of the pastry, to give it a thicker lip. This helps keeps the custard in and it adds a welcome crunch when bitten into.


you'll need a 9"/22cm pastry case which has been baked blind

set oven to gas mark 5 375F/180C

Ingredients for the custard
3 large eggs, plus two egg yolks
1 pint/500ml single cream
2oz/50g caster sugar (call it two flat tablespoons of sugar)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1tsp grated nutmeg

  • Sprinkle a couple of pinches of nutmeg over the prepared base.
  • Put the cream into a pan and heat it until it is almost simmering, and leave to cool a little.
  • Put the eggs and yolks together with the sugar in a heatproof bowl or jug.
  • Beat the egg mixture gently, making a loose mixture, pour on the warmed cream, mixing gently, adding the vanilla essence and a healthy pinch of nutmeg.
  • Pour the custard mixture into the pastry case, and sprinkle the remainder of the nutmeg over the top of the tart.
  • Move the tart carefully and put into the preheated oven.
  • Cook for 35 minutes, until the mixture is a golden colour, and firm to the touch in the middle.

You can eat the tart hot or cold, as you like. Enjoy the wobble. You can share it with 3-5 friends, depending on how much they like it.

Oh, and by the way, I have made this without heating the milk or cream and it works just fine.

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