Baking with Tony: treacle tart

Another day another tart.

Tart cravings have broken the Richter scale this week, maybe due to rereading Tamasin Day-Lewis’s book ‘Smart Tart’. My salivary glands go haywire as I read her description of the crisp buttery pastry, the creamy, melt-in-the-mouth filling, the blob of clotted cream on the side. Treacle tart, in particular, has been gnawing away at my mind like a teenage infatuation with the archery instructor while on a family activity holiday (I do not believe that was only me who went through this). These cravings reached a new level of desperation last week when I was faced with a pop-up market in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Slowly wandering between the stalls I noticed a table groaning under the weight of cakes, brownies, pies, tarts – treacle tarts… In a moment of sugar withdrawal-madness I purchased a treacle tart and scoffed it merrily. I must quickly add it was a mini tart, so don’t picture me gorging a pastry the size of a plate.

Still not 100% satisfied after this spontaneous treat I convinced my unofficial baking partner, Tony, that it is essential we make treacle tart. Always eager to bake (my favourite kind of person) he whole-heartedly agreed.

treacle tart with clotted cream

Tart making and baking is often a daunting prospect. After my first week at Leiths, I had become imbibed by ‘The Pastry Fear’ – quite possibly a real condition as so many people claim they cannot make pastry. Numerous factors contribute to unsuccessful shortcrust pastry – too much liquid, not enough liquid, your ingredients aren’t cold enough, your hands aren’t cold enough, your bowl isn’t cold enough, you haven’t chilled it for long enough – resulting in an operation so daunting it’s a relief to buy a roll of ready-made pastry from the chilled-foods aisle.

In a world with food processors consider yourself blessed that you don’t have to make pastry by hand, or in the Leiths way, with two cutlery knives. Yes, dear reader, you read correctly. Let me divulge. Your bowl is full of flour and cubed chilled butter. Using the knives in a scissor-action you rhythmically slice through the bowl’s contents until the butter resembles breadcrumbs. The kitchens at Leiths were filled with the sound of clunking and crashing as over-zealous knives repeatedly hammered the sides of the metal bowls. After that first class of vigilantly slicing my butter into my flour, adding the precise 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons of liquid and finding my pastry was as dry and crumbly as a cracker, I was gripped by ‘The Pastry Fear’. My quiche shortcrust the following week fell apart on contact with the tin causing me to spend what felt like an infinite amount of time cautiously easing minuscule pieces of raw pastry into the many cracks and crevices. ‘The Pastry Fear’ had me in its clutches and I served brittle tarts and shrunken quiches.

Now, I’m not writing this to scare off burgeoning pastry-pros! The only solution to improving your pastry technique is practice. And a food processor. No matter how tempting that roll of ready-made pastry is, it’s worth pulling out the Magimix and whizzing up some flour and butter. In a matter of minutes you’ll have a ball of dough ready to be chilled, and the tart will, no doubt, eventually emerge from the oven, tender and buttery because it was made quickly, efficiently and with little handling thanks to the processor’s cool blades. Since Leiths, I have practiced shortcrust regularly thanks to daily custard tarts and quiches for pastry-loving customers. (There is nothing more pressing to ‘The Pastry Fear’ than a paying customer. Basically, you have to get over it.)

My raw pastry case journeyed to Tony’s in a plastic bag (they don’t call me classy for nothing). The baking commenced with me rummaging around his kitchen cupboards for a baking beans substitute. To his confusion I pulled out uncooked rice and, on discovering it wasn’t enough, gram flour. Lining the pastry case with parchment and then filling to the brim with flour ensured the pastry was weighed down during baking, preventing air pockets. Once the base was cooked, golden and sandy, we could progress to the best part – the sticky treacle filling.

First though, there was a low point on discovering there was no pastry brush – yes, I know, most people don’t own pastry brushes, I forget these things – and no kitchen roll, I applied egg wash to the pastry with my fingertips (my burnt fingers are testament to never repeating this and, rest assured, they were clean). Baked to a shiny crust the pastry was ready for the syrupy centre, now at less risk of a soggy bottom.

Tony enthusiastically whisked – I’ve never seen better whisking – and we combined golden syrup with lemon zest, coarsely grated apple, cream, eggs and butter before tipping in the breadcrumbs and gently pouring it all into the pastry shell. The last bake was a frustrating wait, the room filling with the sweet scene of syrup, but at last it was steaming on the counter, the custardy filling soft yet with a crisp bite of breadcrumbs. I carved out slices and we gobbled them eagerly with lashings of cream and a couple of nostalgic episodes of Jonathan Creek, savouring the lemony freshness and the hideous nineties fashions.

With tarts like this, my tart addiction is doomed to remain. Looks like my pastry practice will never end.

Treacle Tart

Adapted from Smart Tart by Tamasin Day-Lewis

treacle tart

For a 28cm tart tin

250g plain flour
125g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
3 tbsp icing sugar
1 egg yolk, and another for egg wash
2 tbsp ice cold water
450g golden syrup
3 tbsp double cream
2 eggs
30g unsalted butter
Zest of 2 lemons
100g wholemeal bread blitzed to breadcrumbs
1 grated tart apple – I used Granny Smith

  1. Sieve the flour and pour into your food processor with the butter and whiz until fine breadcrumbs. Add the icing sugar and quickly combine before tipping in the egg yolk and 1 tbsp water. Blast the food processor for a couple of seconds then feel the flour – if dry add a splash more water. Whiz again and it should all come together as a dough. Tip out and quickly bring together with a short knead. Flatten to a disc, wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Lightly flour the work surface and your rolling pin. Gently ridge your dough with the rolling pin by pressing down making indents from top to bottom. Turn the dough 90° then repeat. Once the pastry is pliable start rolling, constantly turning it 90° to stop it sticking and to keep it a circular shape.
  3. When it is the thickness of a £1 coin, flip the pastry over your rolling pin, lift it over the tart case and gently lower it backwards. The underside should now be facing up. Quickly line the case by easing the pastry into the corners, trying not to break it. If you do, rip off a little excess and patch up any gaps.
  4. Scrunch up a large piece of baking parchment then flatten it out and push it into the edges of the pastry case. Fill to the brim with baking beans or equivalent and bake for 30 minutes. To check if done look at the base – if gold and sandy it is cooked. If slightly grey it needs longer. Take out some of the baking beans to allow the heat to reach the base.
  5. Beat the second egg yolk and spread all over the tart with a brush (not your fingers…). Bake for another 10 minutes until shiny.
  6. Heat the golden syrup so it thins.
  7. Whisk the cream and eggs, add to the syrup along with the lemon zest, grated apple and breadcrumbs. Stir briefly and pour into the tart base. Return to the oven for 40 minutes. I checked mine after 20 to rotate and stop the pastry from burning.
  8. Allow to cool slightly before removing from the tin and cutting up into big slices and eating with cream.


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