Sunday, November 22, 2009

A work of tart

Sue Lawrence is regarded as a bit of a goddess round our house. She was a Masterchef winner in the Loyd Grossman era and went on to write several straightforward, spirited cookery books including one about her native Scotland and my favourite, Sue Lawrence’s Book of Baking. She’s a member of the Guild of Food Writers, as am I, and although our paths have never crossed I am told that she is a) lovely, and b) very slender for a woman who writes such brilliant cake recipes.

On Saturday night we had our friends Bryony and Ric round for dinner. Nice to see them and all that, but basically it was an excuse for me to cook two recipes that I’ve had my eye on for some time. One of them is Tamasin Day-Lewis’s chicken Savoyarde, a creamy, tarragon-scented gratin that Hale and Hearty will no doubt revisit soon – it was delicious. The other one is Sue Lawrence’s chocolate-crusted lemon tart.

I’m usually unappealingly smug in the kitchen. Things don’t often go far wrong and if they do, I know how to fix them. Not on Saturday. Baby hormones have made me clumsy and short-tempered and I was miles behind. The tart caused trouble because I was too cack-handed to get the bloody thing in the oven without the filling overflowing the boundary of the friable chocolate crust and pouring out onto the baking sheet. So it was not perfect, but it was still good.

The tart is made with a chocolate pastry comprising plain flour, butter, equal quantities of cocoa powder and golden icing sugar, and an egg yolk. This could be a nightmare to work with, but the protracted resting time advised in the recipe – three hours minimum – took the edge off. After baking it blind, you sprinkle the hot pastry case with a generous amount of finely grated chocolate, so that it melts and forms a smooth’n’sultry layer on the pastry. Then it’s in with the filling – lemon zest and juice, eggs, sugar and double cream. Of course, I didn’t have time to let the case cool a bit before pouring the filling in, so the pouring disturbed the chocolate and bits of it floated to the surface. Then it all leaked. I was furious with myself, but surprisingly it lifted out of the tin like a dream and the recommended dusting of icing sugar hid the rest of my blushes.

As you can see from the picture, there’s a clear seam of gooey chocolate between the pastry (biscuity, although not quite pâte sucrée biscuity) and the lemon filling, and that’s what makes it a winner. Tim described it as refined and dignified, what with all the lemon and dark chocolate, and it did have a bit of the ‘Ambassador, you are spoiling us’ about it. The Scottish ambassador for cakes, that is.

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