Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Pimp my Cooking. No. 2 - Shortcrust Pastry (and a Yorkshire Curd Tart)

"...along with flat caps, whippets and flat vowels, curd tart is one of the things I miss the most now that I'm down in London again..."

The wait is over and the moment you've all been waiting for has arrived - Pimp my Cooking number 2! It has been quite a while since I posted the last one and I imagine ardent fans out there must have wondered whether I had forsaken them, but obviously that is not the case, and here I am ready to go. The topic for this edition is one close to my heart. Making pastry is something that my Mum excels at, so I had a pretty good grounding in the basics, which I am going to pass on to you, the lucky reader.

Making pastry is something that people seem to be, if not afraid, then certainly wary of. I sometimes make a flan to take into work for lunches and colleagues always seem slightly incredulous (and impressed) when I say that I've made everything even the pastry. But I don't really know why, because it isn't particularly difficult provided you get your measurements right, follow a few simple rules and don't worry too much if you mess things up on the first go. You don't even need a rolling pin - I used a wine bottle to roll out the pastry for the recipe I'm going to give you here.

In some senses, I'm not even sure I should be shattering the illusion of how simple it is, as I won't continue to get the kudos that my efforts have previously warranted. But being altruistic to my very core, I'm going to first let you in on a few little secrets which will ensure that you too can receive the admiration and respect of friends, family and colleagues as a result of your flans, pies and tarts, and then provide you with a killer recipe for a curd tart:

  1. The basic recipe is very simple, half the weight of fat to flour and a little water to bind. Remember that and you can't go too wrong.
  2. Make sure the butter is cold (i.e. straight from the fridge) when you start to make the pastry. If it is too warm the results won't be half as good.
  3. After rubbing the fat into the flour, add the water a little at a time. If you add too much it will get very sticky and you'll have to add more flour which adversely alters the texture of the pastry.
  4. Handle the pastry as little as possible. A brief knead to bring it together is all that is required, any more than that and it will toughen up.
  5. Rest the pastry for at least half an hour in the fridge before rolling it out.
  6. When rolling the pastry, always roll away from you and turn the pastry a quarter turn between each couple of rolls.
  7. If the pastry tears whilst you're putting it into the flan case, don't worry, just use the off-cuts to patch it up, jigsaw style. 
  8. If you are making a tart or flan, ensure you "blind bake" the pastry for long enough so that it is essentially cooked before adding your filling.
  9. To blind bake, put the pastry in the flan case, line it with grease-proof paper and weigh down with rice or baking beans or something like that, then put in a medium oven for about 20 minutes.
  10. If you are worried about the pastry shrinking while it is cooking, don't fully trim the edges until after you have blind baked it and that should avoid the problem. 
Blimey, that seems like a boat load of tips, maybe it is more complicated than I thought! But, of course it isn't, this is just every little thing I could think of and even if you bear a couple of them in mind you'll be well on the road to success. 

So now that you're armed with my secret hints and tips, to the recipe. This is one using a sweet pastry, but I will provide some ideas for using savoury pastry below (there is already a recipe on the blog for an Asparagus and Parma Ham Flan which details how to make savoury pastry here).

Curd tart is one of my favourite dishes of all time and a proper Yorkshire speciality. You don't really get it anywhere outside God's Own County (that's Yorkshire if you were wondering), and along with flat caps, whippets and flat vowels, it is one of the things I miss the most now that I'm down in London again. It really is delicious and also something that is a little out of the ordinary, so please give it a shot. And if that isn't enough, a spoonerism of 'curd tart' is 'turd cart', which never fails to amuse me. 

Yorkshire Curd Tart:

The pastry

180g plain flour
90g butter
30g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten OR few tablespoonfuls water to bind

The filling

50g butter
50g caster sugar
1 egg
400g curd cheese
zest of 1 lemon
75g raisins
1 tsp nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees / Gas 4. You'll also need a 10 inch flan case
  1. Start off with the pastry and bearing in mind the tips outlined above, rub the fat into flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs and then stir in the sugar. 
  2. Add the egg or water and mix the pastry into a dough. Here, pay heed of my tip number 3 and add the liquid a little at a time as you don't want it to be too wet.
  3. Knead the dough very briefly, wrap with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up.
  4. When you're ready to roll out the dough, place it onto a floured work surface and roll into a round, aiming for the thickness of a pound coin. The obvious thing to do is use a rolling pin, but I've just moved flat and forgot the new one didn't have one, so I resorted to a bottle of Portuguese red wine, which did the job nicely.
  5. Place the dough in your flan case and prick the bottom with a fork. Here you can either trim the pastry or as I say above (tip number 8) leave this til after it has blind baked.
  6. Line the pastry with some grease-proof paper and fill with rice or ceramic baking beans to stop it rising while it's cooking.
  7. Place in the pre-heated oven and blind bake for about 20 mins. When you take it out it needs to be cooked, so it doesn't go soggy when you add the filling.
  8. While the pastry is cooking you can make the filling. Just beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy, then carefully whisk in the egg and add the curd cheese, lemon zest, nutmeg and raisins.
  9. When the pastry has blind baked, take it out of the oven and carefully pour in the filling. Now return to the oven and bake for between 30 and 40 mins. 
  10. Take it out of the oven when it is golden brown on top and the filling still has a bit of a wobble to it - you don't want it rock hard. 
  11. Eat it warm or cold, with some cream if you're serving it as a dessert.
You can just about see the bottle of wine I used to roll the pastry!

So now that you have your pastry recipe, what else can you do with it? Well of course sweet pastry can be used for all sorts of desserts, the classics being French style fruit tarts. So why not have a go at a tart au citron, or try making that English classic, a Bakewell tart. One of my favourites is a tart with a frangipane (almond paste) filling, to which you add figs and a drizzle of honey. It's a taste sensation! These are only a couple of ideas and there are more than you can shake a stick at, so no excuses!

On the savoury front there are possibly even more options - flans / quiches, pies, pasties et al. I can't possibly list them all, so just a couple to start off with. There's already a recipe on the blog for an asparagus flan, and that method of using a savoury egg custard with a few additions can be subjected to endless adaptations - cheese and bacon; new potato, feta and mint; spinach and ham; cheddar and leek (I have a soft spot for this one as it was one of Mumsy's regulars); red onion and goats cheese; salmon and broccoli; smoked haddock etc etc...

As for the pies and pasties you'll just have to come up with your own ideas! But I'll let you in on a little secret, my favourite is a chicken and tarragon pie...


  1. Love the 'pimp my cooking' series and very pleased to see a Yorkshire Curd Tart...my boyfriend is from Doncaster so I'm sure this will put a smile on his face :-)

  2. From Donny, he must be a bit dodgy! Glad at least one person still reading t'blog after my 3 week 'break'!