For a little gathering I was asked to make something, and tarts of any kind are always the show stoppers. I think it has to do with the perception of difficulty involved in making them... I suppose it does seem crazy when you can buy beautiful ones from farmers markets, delis and maybe even a supermarket. For me there is huge enjoyment in making a tart from scratch, pastry and all. It is frustrating, nail biting and satisfying, pretty much what all baking or making feels like. There is also a huge sense of achievement when it comes out just right. My great aunt once said to me that with cooking it is always "hit and miss", I often think she's right and certainly when it comes to things involving pastry. I would definitely suggest giving it a go, perhaps even practicing it but absolutely don't give up because it's fantastic when it works.
This post includes the recipe for shortcrust pastry but if it feels like a challenge too far then a good quality shop bought one will do just fine. The key to really fabulous shortcrust pastry is that it needs to be 'short' in its crumb, meaning it must be really light and flakey in texture. This is best achieved by using a combination of fats (butter and vegetable fat) and the dough not being overworked. The fats should also be as cold as possible and maintained that way. You can make the pastry by hand, which works well but you will need to work quickly in order to keep the fats from melting. The best and easiest way is to use a food processor. With any tart one of the most important aspects is to cook the pastry properly whether home made or shop bought. The pastry shell should be well done, golden and cooked through before putting any fluid into it. Nobody likes a soggy bottom!
These sorts of things can always go horribly wrong but it's challenging and fun, so why not try this out for a light lunch or supper this weekend. Served with a simple salad, it's a thing of triumph and beauty.
300g plain flour
75g vegetable fat
(you can use 150g butter if you don't have vegetable fat)
2-3 tbsp cold water
pinch of salt
Place flour, salt and fats in a food processor and blitz until the mix resembles bread crumbs. Add water and blitz again until the dough just comes together. Over mixing causes the dough to become tough and rubbery. If you are working by hand, cut or grate fat into a bowl with the flour. Work the fat in quickly until the mixture has no lumps in it. Add the water and mix into a dough. In both instances, remove dough from the bowl and knead briefly to bring together. Form into a ball and flatten into a disc. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This allows the dough to settle and firm up before rolling out. The dough will keep in the fridge for up to a week and can also be frozen for up to a month.
Recipe (serves 6)
300ml double cream
2 whole organic eggs and 1 yolk
Salt and black pepper
The ratio between pastry and filling is an important one, I prefer a thin base and more filling rather than the other way round. The pastry is just as special but you want your filling to really come through.
Roll out pastry to about 3mm in thickness and line a 25cm tart/flan tin, making sure the sides are well pressed into the corners and there are no bubbles on the base. Using a rolling pin, gently roll over the top to cut excess pastry off the sides. Lightly prick surface with a fork. Cover the whole thing in cling film and freeze for an hour. Preheat oven to 190C. Remove pastry case from the freezer, remove cling film. Line with baking paper and fill with baking beans or regular beans, these act a weight to keep the pastry from rising. Bake for 20-25 mins until the sides are a light golden colour, then remove beans and paper and return to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes until the base is golden and cooked through. This process is known as blind baking. The pastry will shrink away from the tin slightly.
In the mean time, wash and wilt the spinach and then squeeze out any excess water from the leaves. Roughly chop or pull apart. Crumble feta. In a bowl mix together cream eggs and yolk, season with salt and pepper. Once you have finished blind baking the pastry case and removed it from the oven. Reduce oven to 180C. Fill the pastry case with a layer of spinach topped with feta. Carefully pour in cream mixture without spilling over the sides. Add another good grind of the pepper mill over the surface. Return to the oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until puffy and golden. Remove and allow to cool for the filling to settle. Serve at room temperature.