Week 3 of Festive Food and it’s a forest of sweet treats! The previous two recipes have, if I’m honest, been more ‘suggestions for tweaking regular recipes’ than anything overtly Christmassy. That’s all gone out the window this week, however, with these edible, snow-covered Christmas Tree Cakes!
A lot of the traditional sweet treats over the holiday period are rich with dried fruit and spices, and whilst I love them, I can also appreciate that not everyone is a dried fruit fan, especially children. These cakes are a fabulous way for your table to sing Christmas in a non-fruity way.
But first you have to make a decision. I opted for a cake mixture that I knew I liked and which produced a moist and flavoursome cake, the Gateau Nantais – deliciously almond-y and with the slight hint of rum to get into the festive mood. Unfortunately, the Gateau Nantais texture is a little less robust than I had hoped, so great care is needed in removing the cakes from their cone wrapping. I must confess I broke more than one tree ‘tip’ off- however, it’s not the end of the world – the decoration and icing will hold everything together/disguise any mishaps, and the flavour of the cake really is worth all the Faff™.
Then again, you could dispense altogether with my recipe and go with a personal favourite. My suggestions would be for the sturdier kind of plain cake – a Madeira cake or Lemon Drizzle – in order to minimise Cone Breakage™.
To be honest, deciding on the cake mixture was probably the least of my worries, because the Tricksiest part was getting the cone shape to work and stay upright during baking. The method I opted for in the end was a real work-around, based on the equipment I had. If you’re imaginative, and can work out an easier way to do it, I’m all ears!
Christmas Tree Cakes
First, the preparation for baking the cones:
- If you have cream horn cones:
- Awesome. Although this method is about this >< much easier than the other method. The cakes will be baked using the INSIDE of the cream horn tins for support/shaping. The hard part is getting the cones to stay upright during baking.
- Remove oven shelf and place over your sink.
- Tear pieces of foil large enough to wrap around your cone tins AND leave ehough to create a wide foil ‘fuff’ around the top (see pic)
- Wedge the cones between the bars of the oven shelf. I have two different sets of cream horn tins and both are too slim to stay between the bars without the use of the tin foil.
- Crumple the foil collars over the bars as added security.
- If you don’t:
- Wrap the cardboard insides from rolls of toilet paper in foil, then add the foil collar as above.
- Fix securely to the bars as above
- Cut circles of parchment paper of diameter 20cm to line your support shapes. Make one cut from the edge of the circle to the centre and then wrap the parchment around itself to create a cone.
- You can just drop the parchment cones into the supporting shapes and they won’t unravel (much), but if you want to keep them secure, use a couple of paperclips on opposite sides, just to keep the paper from slipping.
For the cake:
200g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter – softened
60g plain flour
200g ground almonds
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
20ml dark rum
100-150g icing sugar
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Grease and line with parchment a round 24cm spring-form tin, or a square 20cm loose-bottom tin.
- Whisk the softened butter and sugar together till light and fluffy – this will probably take about 10 minutes.
- Add the flour and ground almonds and stir to combine.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each one is fully whisked in before adding the next.
- Add the rum and the vanilla.
- Spoon the cake mix into a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain tip (or no tip – the piping bag is just to make filling the cones simpler.
- Pipe the mixture into the paper cones. The mixture doesn’t rise hugely, but still,leave about 2cm of paper cone free of cake at the top.
- Carefully lift your baking shelf from the sink and slide into your oven. Remember, the cones/cylinders extend below the shelf as well as above, so make sure the rail height you choose leaves enough space both above and below.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the centre is firm to the touch.
- Slide the whole shelf out of the oven and place over the sink once more for the cakes to cool.
If you are making these ahead, this is an ideal place to stop and freeze. It also put me in mind of how to overcome the fragility problems of the cooked cones.
- Let the cakes cool completely in the cones – warm cake is notoriously delicate and mucking about with them whilst still warm runs the unnecessary risk of them breaking apart.
- When cold, slide the paper cones out of the support and freeze. Don’t unwrap the parchment, just freeze them as is.
- Once frozen, you can put them in a zip-lock bag and keep them until required, OR you can decorate for (almost) immediate consumption. It struck me that freezing the cakes makes them more sturdy, and so they can be removed from their wrappers and decorated, then left to gently thaw out and the Cone Breakage™ will be significantly reduced.
Exact quantities will depend on the size of your cakes, but the following will be sufficient for even the largest of batches.
200-300g white chocolate – melted
100g Pistachio nuts – finely chopped
Icing sugar and rum/lemon juice/water to mix
Icing sugar for dusting
Silver and gold balls for decoration
seedless raspberry jam for decoration
piping bag and tiny plain piping tip (if using jam for decoration). Alternately, a syringe medicine dropper is ideal
- Scatter the chopped pistachios onto a plate.
- Unwrap a frozen cone cake from its parchment and paint it with melted white chocolate.
- Roll in the chopped pistachios to coat. Set aside.
- Mix together some icing sugar with the liquid of your choice and use to ‘glue’ silver and gold balls onto your trees as decoration.
- If you’re using jam, warm it and maybe add a little water to thin it slightly, in order to make the piping easier. The dots of jam should be tiny.
- Once decorated to your satisfaction, top each tree with a cap of icing ‘snow’ and dust with icing sugar to finish.
Week Two on the Festive Food, and it was inspired one of my followers on Twitter (@BakesALotSue). In response to my call for Festive Food requests, she asked for something for a Boxing Day buffet that could be made ahead and then baked on the day.
So here we have my Sausage Wreath – with the bonus that if it all goes pear-shaped, you can nail it to the front door as a symbol of your seasonal Joyful Mood. H0. H0. H0.
Its basically a riff on sausage rolls, which always seem festive to me, especially when they are in one-or-two-bite sizes. A central sausage pie ‘dome’ is surrounded by a ring of help-yourself, tear-off-and-scoff mini sausage rolls. If you are Cunning, then you can mix and match fillings so that the dome has a separate filling, possibly even vegetarian, which would make this a great two-for-one special. It tastes great hot or cold, so it can stay on the table or sideboard for the rest of the day, for nibbling on. Not directly, of course – get a plate. We’re not animals here!
I’ve made mine circular, but you could make it any shape you like – a square or rectangle would probably be the most space-efficient. Your only limit is the size of the baking sheet your oven can cope with (and also freezer, if you intend to make ahead).
A word of caution: if you make the dome pure sausage-meat, it will take quite a bit longer than the rolls round the edges to bake. This means that, once cooked, the edges will need to be covered with foil to prevent them burning, until the central dome is cooked through, which you can check by using a digital thermometer. An alternative would be to make the middle filling something less dense, such as a mixture of (for example) salmon/cooked rice/spinach/hard-boiled eggs, similar to the Russian Coulibiac. Alternatively, you could use something along the lines of the Picnic Pie filling. Be creative. Go wild!
The additional flavourings are purely optional, but have the added benefit of making the filling much more interesting and allowing the ingredients to stretch even further. These instructions will cover the use of sausage-meat for the whole pie since, as already mentioned, it requires a little extra care in the baking.
800g good quality sausages
2 sharp apples – Braeburn, Jazz or Granny Smith
Onion to taste
Chopped fresh sage and parsley to taste
Salt and pepper
2 x 500g blocks of puff pastry 
1 large egg for glazing
- Remove the skins from the sausages and put the meat into a bowl.
- Peel, core and chop/grate the apple and add to the sausage meat.
- Chop the onions finely and add to the bowl with the herbs.
- Season well.
- Mix all together.
- Check seasoning/flavourings by cooking a little of the mixture in a pan and tasting. Adjust accordingly.
- To assemble the pie:
- Remove the bowl and cut slits in the sides of the dome to let out the steam.
- Decorate with any leftover pastry.
- If you’re making this ahead of time, stop now. Freeze on a baking sheet, and when frozen, wrap in foil and plastic to prevent freezer-burn. Thaw thoroughly.
- To cook:
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Whisk the egg with a little water and brush over the pastry to glaze.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the rolls on the rim are cooked through and the pastry golden. NB The filling and the pastry are both rich with butter/fat,so you might want to bake this on a wire rack to let the excess drain off.
- Remove from the oven and wrap the edge in foil to prevent the pastry from burning. Return to the oven until the dome is cooked. The internal temperature should be at least 71°C when measured by a Thermapen or equivalent. Depending on how firmly you packed the filling, this could be an additional 20-30 minutes or even longer.
- To serve:
- Run a knife around the edge of the dome, cutting a circle in the pastry, allowing both the rolls to be pulled away easily and slices of the pie dome to be cut neatly.
- Garnish with some sprigs of curly parsley.
- Step back briskly two paces as the stampede begins. :D
 Depending on how onion-y you like things, you could use chives, spring onions, shallots, brown onions, white onions or Spanish onions.
 2-3tbs each of fresh, chopped – or half this quantity if using dried.
 Or you can make 2 batches of the quick puff pastry recipe method here. Replace the cocoa with plain flour obvs. and use 250g butter for each batch.
 It is possible to cook from frozen, but I haven’t, and considering the trickiness of getting this evenly baked, with the different cooking required of pie and rim, I think it might be unnecessary hassle – NOT required at this time of the year. If you feel confident, though, go for it.
Look, I know it’s early, but I suddenly realised that if I don’t get started soon on Festive Food I’m going to run out of weeks. Also, people might want to plan ahead, practice, etc. etc. So I’m buttoning my lip on grumbling about it being too early for either the C-word or X-word and here we go!
First out of the gate some cute little brioche rolls with festive holly decoration. The crust, if you can even call it that, stays wonderfully soft, and although enriched, they aren’t especially sweet, and so can be used for practically any meal of the day.
These rolls are also a great way to get ahead with your Festive Food planning, as they can be baked and then frozen until required. A little extra care is required in the freezing, so that the decoration doesn’t get damaged, but nothing too precious.
I have Festive Food ideas lined up for the next five weeks, but will also try and help with any food ‘emergencies’ if I can – just leave a comment here on the blog.
Christmas Brioche Buns
The extra eggs and butter in enriched dough mean it takes longer to rise that ordinary dough, so the easiest approach is to spread the making over two days. Mix the dough in the evening and set to rise overnight in the fridge, then shape and bake the rolls the following morning.
1 sachet fast-action yeast
600-700g plain flour
170ml evaporated milk
60ml warm water
85g butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs
75g caster sugar
0.5tsp vanilla extract
zest of half a lemon
flat leaf parsley and dried cranberries for decoration
1 large egg for glazing
- Mix the salt, yeast and 500g of the flour.
- Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour into the flour.
- Mix thoroughly to a smooth dough.
- Add the remaining flour until the dough is soft but knead-able.
- Knead for 10 minutes – I use a food mixer and dough hook.
- Set aside to rise for one hour.
- Gently knock back the dough to release the air and fold it in half twice (like a napkin).
- Put the dough in a greased bowl and cover with cling film.
- Set to rise overnight in the fridge.
- Next day, tip the dough onto the work surface and pat down gently.
- Cover with cling film and allow to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Divide the dough into whatever size rolls you require. I usually make 16 rolls from a batch this size.
- Shape the dough into balls and set onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Cover lightly and set aside to rise until doubled in size.
- Prepare the parsley for decorating the buns. I find keeping three leaves attached as a sprig is much easier to handle.
- Whisk the egg for glaze with a little water.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Brush the risen rolls GENTLY with the beaten egg wash.
- Lay the flat-leaf parsley sprigs on the top to look like holly leaves, then brush over the leaves with the egg wash. This will help keep them stuck to the surface of the rolls and also protect their bright green colour from the heat of the oven.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until puffed and golden.
- Remove from the oven and cover with a clean cloth. This keeps the steam in and thus the crust soft.
- Once cooled, you can finish the decoration
- Press dried cranberries into the tops of the buns to make little clusters of berries nestled between the holly leaves. NB DON’T do this if you’re going to freeze them, do it when thawed, warmed and just before serving.
- To freeze:
- Arrange buns side-by-side in a zip-lock bag.
- Slide a baking sheet underneath the bag (so they lay flat in the freezer) and freeze.
- Once frozen, remove baking sheet and keep the buns somewhere where they won’t get bashed by anything – the parsley leaves will just crumble.
- Thaw flat.
- To serve: lay on a baking sheet and cover with foil.
- Warm gently in the oven.
- Decorate with cranberries and serve.
Here’s an example of how a passing comment I read turns into something delicious – which I find even more enjoyable for it being over 250 years old!
William Ellis was a gentleman farmer in Hertfordshire for most of the early 18th century. He was passionate about agriculture and husbandry and wrote extensively about his life and experiences. His reputation seems to have suffered somewhat both during his lifetime and afterwards, as his efforts to make money by writing about his knowledge of country matters was looked down on by ‘true’ gentlemen. Nowadays, his work is regarded in much higher esteem.
Ellis’ The Country Housewife’s Family Companion (1750) is delightfully scatty, wandering off on digressions and anecdotes at every opportunity.The inspiration for this recipe came from the final paragraph of a section on puddings, vinegars and savoury pies (I told you it was scatty!).
The original mentions a mixture of pumpkin and apples, however, it wasn’t pumpkin season when I first read it, and what I had on hand was an early season butternut squash, so that is what I used. Paired with some fluffy Bramley apples and just the slightest amount of sugar, this pie is light and refreshing, moist enough to hold it’s shape, but not so soggy as to ruin the pastry. Since modern Bramley Apples are probably much juicier than those available in the 18th century, I have included a little cornflour to thicken any excess liquid.
When it comes to the pastry, you have several options – obvs! The first time I made this I used a butter puff pastry, top and bottom. This decadence worked deliciously against the, lets face it, rather spartan filling – but the sharpness of the apple, the sweetness of the squash and the flaky crispness of the buttery pastry were truly a delight to savour. You could extend this flaky buttery-ness by opting for filo pastry. Alternatively, as in the photo above, mix-and-match with a shortcrust pastry for the bottom and sides and a puff pastry lid. If you’re planning a deep dish pie, then this would be your best option, as the shortcrust will hold the sides up better than puff – a large, flat pie is ideal for using butter puff pastry.
Apple and Butternut Squash Pie
Rather than have a list of vague quantities to cover all the pastry and pie size options, I’ve decided to go with the deep dish pie, as there are a couple of details that require a little attention in order to get the very best results.
300g butternut squash – peeled and chopped, or shredded on a mandolin
300g Bramley Apples – peeled, cored and chopped, or shredded on a mandolin
3tbs caster sugar 
1 sheet all-butter puff pastry
1 batch sweet cornflour shortcrust pastry – from here
egg-white for brushing
milk and caster sugar for glazing
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Roll out the pastry and line a 24cm tart tin.
- Prick the bottom of the tart with a fork to prevent blistering.
- Line the pastry with baking parchment and weigh it down with rice, dried peas or baking beans.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the parchment and weights.
- Brush the inside of the pastry with lightly beaten egg-white and bake for a further 5 minutes.
- Set pie aside and raise the heat of the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan.
- Toss the apple and squash together.
- Mix the sugar and cornflour together and sprinkle over the filling and toss again.
- Add the filling to the blind-baked pastry case and press down firmly – there will be some shrinkage during cooking, especially when using Bramley Apples, and you want to try and minimise any possibility of a huge gap opening up between the pastry lid and the filling.
- If your butternut squash is rather mature, and doesn’t seem very moist, add 2-3 tbs water over the filling before you add the pastry lid.
- Damp the edges of the pie and lay the sheet of puff pastry over the top. Press together firmly and crimp the edges.
- Trim the excess pastry.
- Cut a 1.5-2cm steam vent in the centre of the pie – I find a plain, metal piping nozzle is the best/neatest way to achieve this. This will also help indicate whether the pie is cooked, as the filling will be visible through the hole and a shred or two extracted and tasted if necessary.
- Decorate with pastry scraps as appropriate.
- Brush the whole lid with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
- Put the pie onto a baking sheet and bake in the hot oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 170°C, 150°C Fan and bake until the filling is cooked, 35-45 minutes more. NB The juice will be visible bubbling through the vent hole when cooked. If the lid is browning too much, cover it with a sheet of either foil or baking parchment.
- Remove cooked pie from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Eat warm or cold.
 This is the very minimum amount to still achieve a sweet pie. If your apples are especially sharp, add more sugar, but remember, the sugar will also draw out the juice from the apples, so add a little more cornflour as well to compensate.
The recipe I have for you this week is infinitely customisable, rich, classic, timeless……and made up 2 weeks ago.
Yes – confession time – I have LURED you in with the promise of an authentic, resurrected classic biscuit by using a shamelessly ambiguous title.
For these are not Heritage Florentines due to their authenticity and observance of a meticulously researched recipe. No – they are named after Stuart Heritage who said something nice about me in The Guardian newspaper.
THE GREATEST GBBO CONTESTANT OF ALL TIME, FOR ALL TIME, TILL THE MOUNTAINS FALL AND THE SEAS RUN DRY.
I paraphrase, but I think that was the general gist.
Go me! :D
In gratitude, I sent him a bumper-fun Box O’ Bakes, which included these Florentines.
Reading the – frankly hi-LARIOUS – article, I noticed a certain wistfulness about him wanting-to-but-never-quite-getting-fired-up-enough-to bake stuff. Quite by coincidence, an article on “How to bake the perfect Florentine” was published on the same day as I made these. However, those all turned out to be a whole lot of Faff™, what with the butter and the sugar and the cream and the flour…..yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. SO! I rustled up this recipe for the faff-hating foodie! I’ve no idea whether he’ll have a go at them, but the recipe is here if needed.
I used a silicone cupcake mould to ensure a small, rounded shape to each biscuit, and also to prevent them spreading to side-plate proportions with accompanying tooth-shattering caramel. The mix of fruit and nuts is entirely customisable to a) what you like and b) what you have in the cupboard. Keep the fruit large/whole, so that the variety in the baked biscuit can be both seen and appreciated, rather than become an anonymous blob. Incidentally, this recipe is an amazingly efficient method of spring-cleaning the cupboard and using up all the half-opened packets you’ve got lying around.
*poker face* Not that I’d ever do that.
Hope you enjoy this fast, fuss and gluten-free riff on a classic.
Written in deliberately faff-free language. For a delicious variation, use caramel condensed milk, aka Banoffi Pie filling.
1 lot of sliced almonds
1 lot of coconut ribbons/cornflakes
2 lots of dried fruit
1 (397g) tin sweetened, condensed milk
- Get a mug – doesn’t matter which size, really – big if you’re peckish, small if not really, proper measuring cup if that’s how you roll.
- Fill mug/cup with sliced almonds.
- Bung them in a bowl.
- Fill mug/cup with coconut ribbons and bung in the bowl. Don’t like coconut? Use cornflakes instead.
- Fill mug with dried fruit that you love. Throw in more nuts if you like.
- Bung it in the bowl.
- Repeat as above (for a total of 2 mugs of fruit).
- Open tin of sweetened condensed milk.
- Bung it in the bowl.
- Turn oven on to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
- Put spoonfuls of mixture into cupcake tin. NB Using bendy silicon is probably easiest, but non-stick metal works too. To help retrieve the biscuits easily after baking, put a square of baking parchment into the bottom of each one and spoon mixture on top. NNB Up to 2cm of mixture will make a crispy Florentine, more than 2cm will make chewy/gooey Florentine. Either way, they will be nice and round and not burnt at the edges.
- Bake for 10 minutes.
- Take the tray out and turn it around 180 degrees.
- Look at your Florentines. If they’re already starting to brown, bake for a further 2-3 mins. If they’re still pale, bake for a full 5 more minutes.
- Leave to cool in the tin.
- Melt some chocolate.
- Dip the bottom of the cooked biscuits in chocolate.
- Put biscuits on parchment to set.
Haven’t done one of these for a while – it’s Deja Food!
Softly spiced vegetable ‘meatballs’ in a rich and creamy onion gravy.
Actually, the ‘gravy’ is worth making by itself – it’s SO creamy and SO flavourful, I could eat it as is with bread to dip and a crunchy salad – Nom!
Many Malai Kofta recipes have the cheese grated and mixed with the vegetables and potatoes. I prefer to have a cube of sharp-tasting cheese in the middle to act both as a surprise and to cut through the richness of the sauce. The downside of this approach, of course, is that without the cheesy ‘glue’ to hold them together, the vege-balls are a little less sturdy. Chilling in the freezer and gentle handling whilst cooking on the pan should reduce the possibility of them falling apart. Alternatively, grate the cheese and fold in with the rest of the ingredients.
This recipe is perfect for using up leftover vegetables and potatoes, yet glamorous enough to pass off to the family as a freshly-created dish.
*poker-face* Not that I’d ever do that.
The recipe can be adapted to whatever vegetables you have to hand. Suggestions for alternative ingredients are given in the recipe.
Originally published in The Guardian Readers’ Recipe Swap: Meatballs.
Cheese-Stuffed Malai Kofta
Serves 4 children, or 4 adults as a starter, or 2 hungry adults as a main course, or 1 peckish adult and 2 ravenous children, or a family of 4 as a side dish, or….you get the gist.
For the kofta:
400g mixed cooked vegetables
200g cooked potato (1 large)
0.5tsp coarse-ground black pepper
0.5tsp garam masala
0.5tsp amchoor (dried mango powder) or sumac or 1-2tsp lemon juice
1 heaped tablespoon cornflour
60g cheshire/feta/goat cheese or paneer or vegetarian cheese – cut into 12 cubes
3tbs oil for frying
- Chop the vegetables.
- Grate the potato.
- Mix together with the salt, pepper, spices and cornflour.
- Divide into 12 x 50g balls.
- Make a hole in each ball and press in a cube of cheese.
- Mould the vegetables around the cheese and shape into a ball.
- Put the koftas onto a plastic tray and place in the freezer to firm up while you make the sauce/gravy.
For the gravy
2 large onions
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
60g cashew nuts
60ml plain yoghurt
1tsp dried fenugreek leaves
2tsp garam masala
60g tomato paste concentrate
1tsp chilli powder (optional)
250ml double cream or crème fraîche or unsweetened evaporated milk
- Peel the onions and the ginger and blitz to a puree in a food processor.
- Make a puree of the cashews and the yoghurt with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
- Heat the oil in a pan.
- Add the onion mixture and fry over a low heat for several minutes until translucent.
- Add the cashew mixture, spices and tomato paste. Stir for 2-3 minutes until thoroughly combined.
- Add the cream and milk and stir thoroughly.
- Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
- If you prefer a smooth sauce, give it a quick blitz either with a stick blender or in a liquidiser. Additionally, if the sauce is a little thick, add water to thin it to the right consistency.
- Return to the pan and set aside to keep warm while the koftas are cooked.
1. Heat 3tbs oil in a wide, shallow pan.
2. Add the chilled koftas and brown them on all sides. Toss gently, otherwise they might break apart.
3. Ladle the sauce into a warmed serving dish and arrange the koftas on top. Alternatively, go crazy and arrange the koftas in the warm dish and pour the sauce over the top.
4. Serve with naan breads to mop up all the sauce.
Something very different for you all this week, that I discovered on my shiny, SHINY new favourite recipe source – Coquinaria – an online resource of Dutch Medieval recipes.
Now is the season for Quince and whilst I love their fragrance perfuming the house, and the two-for-one recipe combination of ruby Quince Jelly and aromatic Quince Paste (membrillo) that you can make from just one batch of fruit, I’ve made them both for the past five years. I was looking for something different to use these fabulous fruits and this is the treasure I found.
It comes from the Manuscript UB Gent 476, which dates from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and which corresponds roughly to the end of the Wars of the Roses and the start of the Tudor reign in England and Wales.
As far as tweaking the recipe goes, I’ve added a pastry crust and a decorated pastry lid, sprinkled with nib sugar. Reasoning that fruit nowadays is probably much larger and better formed than that of five hundred years ago, I halved the number of quince required to just three and also cut down on the butter, egg-yolks and sugar – it’s practically health food! ;)
Actually, just a further word about the ingredients – you can treat the curd/almonds/raisins/egg quantities given as the midpoint on a sliding scale, depending on how you want your cheesecake to turn out. If you reduce them all to 60g and just use 2 yolks, then the flavour of the quince really comes through sharp and strong, and the texture is quite light. If you increase them all to 120g and add an extra yolk, then it’s very rich and complex, with no one flavour dominating, and a much firmer texture. The quantities given strike a nice balance, I think, but experiment!
Peering over my shoulder at the Middle Dutch original text, my husband commented that an accurate translation of the title would be something along the lines of Weird/Peculiar/Eccentric Tart, but that’s not going to get anyone excited, so I’ve opted for a name both tempting and recognisable.
For the pastry
225g plain flour
60g cornflour or rice flour
ice cold water
3 large-ish quince
85g curd cheese – drained
85g ground almonds
3 tablespoons white sugar
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
3 large yolks
60g clarified unsalted butter – melted
Apple jelly or apricot glaze
- For the pastry
- Put the flours and butter into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- With the machine running, gradually add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Tip the mixture onto a floured surface and knead smooth.
- Divide into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
- Take the smaller of the two pieces of pastry from the fridge and roll out until it it large enough to cover your intended tart tin. I used a 20cm loose-bottomed flan tin. This piece of pastry will be for the decorative lid. Don’t roll the pastry too thin, or the lid might curl up during baking – no thinner than 5mm. Slide the pastry onto some baking parchment.
- Take the tart tin you’re going to use and lay it upside-down onto your pastry. LIGHTLY score around it with the tip of a sharp knife. This will give you an outline for your decorations.
- Using a knife, or mini cutters if you have them, cut a design into the pastry lid. Don’t make the cutouts either too large or too close together – you still need to transfer it onto the top of the tart and whilst a lacy design is, without doubt, breathtaking, getting it from your work surface onto the tart would be a nightmare.
- Cover the lid with cling film and return it to the fridge to rest/chill while you prepare the filling.
- For the filling
- Bring a large pan of water to the boil.
- Remove the fluff from the quince by rubbing them over with a clean cloth.
- Gently lower the quince – whole – into the boiling water and turn the heat down a little to a gentle simmer.
- Simmer – uncovered – for 20-30 minutes until the fruit are tender (test with a cocktail stick). The motion of the hot water should have the fruit gently tumbling as they simmer, so they should cook evenly. The skins will split, but that’s fine, as long as the boiling isn’t too rough, they won’t fall apart.
- Lift the poached fruit out of the water and set onto a sieve to drain/cool.
- When cool enough to handle, remove the skin – it’ll peel off easily, like tomato skins – and cut away from the core all of the cooked and softened buttery-yellow flesh. The cores are larger than, say, an apple core, with the flesh closest to the core becoming quite gritty – you want to avoid using this gritty part.
- Mash/blend all the cooked quince to a smooth puree. I got over 450g from just three quince. If your fruit isn’t as bountiful, consider scaling down the rest of the filling ingredients.
- Add the drained curd, ground almonds, sugar and spices and mix thoroughly.
- Taste and adjust sweetness/spices if necessary.
- Stir in the yolks, raisins and the melted, clarified butter.
- To assemble the tart
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the larger piece of pastry from the fridge and roll out to a thickness of 4-5mm.
- Line your tart tin and use a fork to poke holes over the pastry at the bottom. Make sure there is enough pastry to hang over the edges of the tin.
- Line with baking parchment and beads/rice and bake for 10 minutes.
- Remove parchment/beads and reduce oven temperature to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
- Pour the filling into the partly-baked case and smooth over.
- Dampen the edges of the tart and slide the decorated tart lid onto the tart.
- Press the edges together firmly, crimp as desired, then trim the excess pastry.
- Brush the tart lid with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the filling has set and the pastry has browned.
- Brush the pastry lid with warmed jelly/glaze and sprinkle with nibbed sugar. I spend time fishing sugar nibs out of the lattice holes, but there’s no need to be so precious about it ;)