Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tarty Lady!

Taking inspiration from Darina Allen’s piece in last week’s Sunday Times (Ireland supplement, dated 1st April) I really think I need to make some pastry. We’ve a busy family Easter ahead – 9 adults and 8 children – and I will, as usual, be on dessert duty. Easter Sunday is easy enough, they are an easy lot to please and pavlova is a sure-fire winner (even if I don’t eat it myself; hmm, maybe that’s a bonus actually, after Dad’s roast dinner calorie overload!) but we’ll need something for Friday and Saturday as well. I had been planning a crumble, but after reading that article I think now it’s time to get back to good old Irish TART. Dad has loads of fresh rhubarb in the garden, so it seems a crime not to take advantage. The beauty of it is, I can make the pastry in advance, then on Friday all I need do is roll it out and get some willing helpers to chop the fruit for me. Then any leftovers can be happily consumed after lunch on Saturday, much better than a shop-bought biscuit.

Now, for my first recipe! Here’s how I make my pastry – it’s mostly Delia’s recipe, but Delia and I disagree on a couple of points. Firstly, my top tip is that the fat should be COLD. Rock hard cold from the fridge. Also, Irish flour is a very different beast to the flour you buy in the UK. We mill our flour much more finely here in Ireland. As a result, this drastically changes how much water you need to bind the pastry. Delia suggests 1 tablespoon, I suggest half a cup!

For a regular sized tart, I use 8oz of flour and 4oz of fat, half lard and half butter for an 8’ round tart tin
·         8oz plain flour
·         2oz cold lard (I use Cookeen or any own brand “baking lard” from supermarket)
·         2oz cold butter
·         Cup of cold water, with a couple of ice cubes if you like

1.       Add the flour to a large mixing bowl
2.       Get your regular cheese grater, and using the regular coarse side, hold it up high and grate in first the lard (as it gets soft quicker) and then the butter – this allows as much air as possible to circulate through the flour, as air is basically another ingredient in the recipe
3.       Once all the fat has been grated in, then use your fingertips and continue to “crumble” the fats into the flour, so that the entire mixture looks a bit like breadcrumbs. You want to move quickly, making sure not to overwork the pastry. Use just your fingertips to achieve this. And continue to hold it high, again aerating the mixture
4.       Add the water – it’s hard to quantify, as each milling of flour is different and will absorb different amounts; however, for this amount of flour, about 200ml would be the max. Add it bit by bit, bringing the mixture together with a metal spoon (I use the heel of my hand, actually) until the dough leaves the bowl virtually clean. If you think the mixture is too sticky, add a tiny sprinkle more flour
5.       Pop the pastry into a plastic bag or clingfilm and leave in the fridge for a minimum of 20mins, to allow the glutens to stretch and making it much easier to roll. I often make it a couple of days in advance. Pastry also freezes brilliantly, so I often make double and leave half in the freezer
When assembling the tart, cut the pastry in half and roll out a disc for the bottom of the tart – making sure to roll the pastry as thinly as possible for this bottom piece, to allow it to cook thoroughly. No need to bake it blind; just fit it in neatly to the tart tin and fill with fruit. When you think you have enough fruit in it – add more. There is never enough! Fill it to the brim of apples (Bramley – regular cooking apples – are best) or rhubarb, remembering that they really do melt down to a lovely, velvety pulp. For apple, I like to add a few cloves or a sprinkle of cinnamon to give extra flavour.
Roll out a lid to fit the tart, allowing an overhang. Brush the lower lid edge with a sparse amount of water, fit the lid and trim (I use a scissors, v handy) and crimp in a tart-type fashion.
Prick all over the top with a fork (to allow the steam to escape) and pop into an oven pre-heated to about 190°C for about 30 minutes. I don’t usually bother, but you can brush the top of the tart with a little milk or beaten egg, to glaze it. PS, if it’s a rhubarb tart, it might be worth sitting the tart on a baking tray, as the juices can bubble out. Here's a picture of the finished article - it was a big one, and really tasty.

In other news, I have also made Nigella’s Easter Egg nests for the kids. We’ll have an Easter Egg Hunt in Dad’s garden after mass and a big breakfast, but they need to come down to something on Easter morning, see the picture below – they are just too cute! Anyhow, I reckon it’s the only way I’ll ever get the girls to eat Shredded Wheat…

This recipe is from Nigella Lawson, “How to be a Domestic Goddess” and is fantastically easy and a fabulous Easter treat to make with you little ones – just make sure to let the melted chocolate cool a little if making it with the budding cheflettes in you life, you don’t want them to burn their little fingers.
·         Melt 100g milk chocolate, 25g of dark chocolate and 25g butter over a double boiler or in the microwave (Nigella suggests 2 mins on medium)
·         Mix with 100g of crumbled shredded wheat
·         Form into about 5 little nests of about 7cm diameter, and leave to harden on a baking tray lined with oiled parchment paper (I use the zero cal spray oil and a plastic pastry brush to spread it on, it’s so handy for greasing any tin as you can just stick the pastry brush in the dishwasher)
·         Once hard, fill with about 4 or 5 mini-eggs

Good luck and enjoy, Sarah xx


  1. Well done with your first post.

    1. Many thanks - I was proper nervous, but relaxing into it now