‘Pies have a top and tarts have a bottom.’
Harold Goodyer to my grandpa, but overheard by my Mum in about 1956.
I have to confess that when I was about 10 years old tarts became infinitely more interesting and even more delicious, when I, like my Mum, began to understand the other meaning of the word tart! An inadvertant lesson from my aunty May.
May, my granny’s sister, had a very orange rinse, a big and generous heart and a sharp often wicked tongue. She always worked hard but liked nothing more than putting her feet up with a nice strong cup of tea, maybe a custard tart and having a good gossip and gasp about this and that, a tut and ‘have you heard?‘ Mostly it was talk of births, illness – lots about illness – and death, but occasionally there was news of ‘them,‘ people who ‘aired their dirty laundry in public‘ or ‘That blousey tart who lives at No 16 Turner street.‘ My granny used to blush and giggle with encouragement at such conversations before remembering herself and whispering disapprovingly ‘Our May really! Not in front of the children.‘
I would concentrate on biting the crimped edges off my individual custard tart, stare at my tea or busy myself with something or other and pretend my ears weren’t flapping madly. Which of course they were, ‘dirty washing, Blousey tart, blousey tart’ I turned the words over in my head, negotiating them, putting two and two together, a delicate, frilly edged custard tart and the tart at No 16. I may not have understood the full implications of it all, but I got the drift. I even fancied that I knew who they were talking about. My ears burned, my mind raced.
I also knew it was all terrible gossip, that custard tarts would never be the same again and that – rather naively – I’d rather be called a tart than a pie. Maybe it wasn’t so naive after all, I’d still rather be called a tart than a pie, or a crumble for that matter, who wants to be called a crumble?
I am extremely fond of them; a slice of my Granny’s quivering egg custard tart dusted with nutmeg; a wedge of treacle tart, which is not treacle at all but Lyles golden syrup spiked with lemon and thickened with breadcrumbs; a piece of the apricot tart my mum used to make for ‘Dinner parties’!, the one with apricot halves nestled in a pale custard; an individual Bakewell tart, Bakewell pudding really, from the bakery in Bakewell; a thin, rumpled, glazed slice of fanned apple tart; a bright yellow triangle of lemon tart; an individual jam tart made from the scraps of pastry; quince Crostata from the bakery in Trastevere; a simple, elegant, dark chocolate tart.
For all my talk and gossip of tarts, I have only started making them recently, since the beginning of January actually, when I finally overcame my phobia of making (not eating I should hasten to add) sweet pastry. Since then, being mildly obsessive and convinced making double quantities of pastry is easier, I have been making a tart a week. Lemon ones to start, then two ricotta ones which were good but need practice and then for the last three weeks, three chocolate tarts.
The first chocolate tart I made was Simon Hopkinson’ recipe from ‘Roast chicken and other stories’ the book I might choose to ‘cook my way through from start to finish in the julie and julia sense‘ if I was so inclined, which I’m not. It is a lovely recipe, a sweet – but not overly so – pastry case filled with a wonderfully rich and intense dark chocolate, butter, egg and sugar filling. I liked it very much, we all did, but I’d imagined something a bit more velvety, a filling rather like another Simon Hopkinson recipe, quite possibly the richest and most delicious little pot of chocolate cream you will ever eat, his dark elixir of heavy cream, dark chocolate, sugar and eggs, his Petit pot au chocolat.
I kept looking at the two recipes which are just a page apart, back and forth, back and forth, thinking if only and what a shame. This continued for about a week – rather like our now deceased cat Oswald when he sat staring blankly at the cat flap waiting for someone to open the door- until it finally dawned on me that I could try using recipe for the petit pot au chocolat as a filling for the pastry case of his chocolate tart.
It works beautifully.
You make your pastry case and bake it blind until it is pale biscuit-coloured and cooked through – Simon Hopkinson doesn’t suggest using any baking weights or greaseproof paper topped with butter beans so I didn’t and it worked perfectly, three times!. Next you make your filling, the petit pot recipe; you warm the milk and cream (or mascarpone if – like me – you can’t find good heavy cream) gently and then add the chopped chocolate and sugar and stir until you have a thick, glorious shiny, dark, gloop not unlike the chocolate river in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the one Augustus Gloop falls into. You let the mixture cool a little before stirring in a beaten egg
You pour the dark cream into the tart case and bake it for about 15 – 20 mins minutes until the filling has set but with a slight wobble at the center. Then you let the tart sit for at least a couple of hours when it will settle and firms up into a delicious velvety fudge.
A dark, rich, delicious tart which invites gossip.
If you do keep the tart in the fridge bring it out an hour or so before you want to eat it.
Notes;, Do roll the pastry thinly, which I know can be a fuss if your pastry decides to misbehave, it makes all the difference when you have a thin, delicate, golden crust. The tart will puff up in the oven, do not be alarmed, it is ok and the tart with sink back down when it cools. Very last thing, I think (finally) having a good, basic, loose bottomed tart tin is great.
8 generous slices or 12 modest ones,
For the pastry
- 130g butter (at room temperature)
- 65g icing sugar
- 1 medium-sized egg
- 225g plain flour
For the filling
- 250g mascarpone cheese or heavy cream
- 2 tbsp whole milk
- 200g dark, high quality, cocoa butter rich bitter chocolate. chopped.
- 40g caster sugar
- I medium-sized egg
To make the pastry; put the butter, icing sugar and egg in a bowl (or food processor) and work together quickly. Blend in the flour and work together into a homogenous paste. Wrap the dough in cling film or a tea towel and chill for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 180°/350F
Roll out the pastry on a well floured board as thinly as you can and then carefully lift and tuck it into an 8″ tart tin (ideally with a loose base), the pastry will be delicate, don’t panic if you need to press and patch it a bit. Bake the tart case blind for about 20 minutes, until it is cooked through and a pale golden biscuit colour.
To make the filling; In a small pan, warm the mascarpone/cream and the milk gently over a gentle flame and then add the chopped chocolate and sugar and stir until the chocolate has melted and the sugar dissolved and you have a dark thick, silky mixture.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little before adding and carefully incorporating the beaten egg. Pour the mixture into the tart case.
Carefully slide the filled tart back into the oven for 15 minutes or until the tart has set but still had slight wobble in the center.
Allow the tart to sit for a couple of hours before serving.