If you fancy making a romantic effort for your nearest and dearest, you could spoil them with a fancy-schmancy, gourmet meal, and spend the next three days shopping/chopping/baking/caking/slaving.
Or you could make these pastry hearts, using a recipe you already know and love, and a filling you know s/he loves. They are neither complicated nor elaborate, but last time I checked, stress in the kitchen was not an aphrodisiac.
The pastry is a regular sweet shortcrust, with a little food colouring added to the iced water used to mix it together – a shade a little lighter than red wine in the water makes for this lovely pastel pink once mixed. If inclined, you could even make 2 or 3 batches, each of a different shade of red/pink for an eye-catching jumble of hearts.
I chose a filling of vanilla pastry cream, made with real vanilla bean and firmed up with a little gelatin for ease of piping. If your loved one has a favourite sandwich filling then go with that – Nutella, peanut butter, banana, Banoffi-pie caramel, slices of apple, all of the above….
Don’t limit it to sweet flavours. If your Valentine has a savoury tooth, fill his/her hearts with sausage, cheese, omelette, bacon, all of the above…
- Divide the chilled pastry in half. Roll out each half thinly (2-3mm) and cut into twice as many squares as you require of around 10cm in size.
- Turn half of the squares so that one corner is pointing toward you and pipe/arrange your filling in heart shapes onto the pastry. Be sure to pile up the filling quite well, in order to give substance to your ‘hearts’.
- Using a pastry brush and water, dampen the edges of the pastry around the filling.
- Lay a second piece of pastry over the top and smooth it down and around your filling, making sure its fully enclosed. Try to make sure there’s no air trapped inside, as this may cause your pastry to burst during cooking.
- Using a sharp knife, trim the excess pastry, leaving a border of 1cm around each heart.
- Transfer the pastry hearts to a baking sheet lined with parchment. I didn’t poke holes in the pastry, but I did get a bit of the filling oozing out on one or two. To avoid this, you could poke some vent holes in the tops in a decorative pattern.
- Chill in the fridge while the oven heats up.
- Heat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Add a glaze if liked – milk and caster sugar for sweet, egg-white for savoury. I did experiment with both of these, but decided the unglazed puffs were more visually striking.
- Bake for 11-12 minutes, turning the baking sheet around half-way through.
- Cool on a wire rack.
- If sweet, dust lightly with icing sugar to serve.
After six years I decided to revisit the Apple Rose Tarts I created for Season 2 of The Great British Bake Off.
These are essentially the same tarts, but with a bit of a make-over for the apple decoration. Looking less like roses, but still with a floral semblance, these variations are formed from a swirl of poached apple slices on top of a set apple compote.
You can, of course, use the filling from the originals, but this simplified variation means that these tarts can be prepped in advance, and then assembled just before serving, something that was possible, but rather tricky, with the rose tarts.
I also experimented with using puff pastry. The above shells were created by draping puff pastry over the back of a star-shaped tart tin. The shell on the left was made from pastry cut with a six-petalled cutter. The form on the right was made using a large circular piece of pastry. In order to ensure they kept their shapes, a second tin ‘sandwiched’ the pastry inside, and a wire rack place on top to hold them in place. They were baked at 220°C, 200°C Fan for 15 minutes.
600g Bramley apples
200g caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon
sweet shortcrust pastry, cornflour pastry or ready-rolled puff pastry
red-skinned dessert apples as required
1 litre apple juice
250g caster sugar
red food colouring (optional)
- Use the pastry to line and fully bake whichever tartlet shells you prefer.
- Allow to cool on a wire rack.
- When cooled, if not using immediately, store in an airtight container until required.
- Peel, core and chop the Bramley apples.
- Put them in a saucepan with the water and lemon juice. Cover and simmer over medium low heat until they become fluffy.
- Stir briskly to remove any lumps, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
- Continue to simmer until the mixture has thickened. Set aside.
- Prepare the dessert apples. If you have a mandolin that can cut 2mm slices, core the apples and slice them with that. You will need to cut these slices in half before using them. Otherwise, cut the apples in half from top to bottom, remove the core and cut into exceedingly thin, semicircular slices, 2mm if possible.
- Pour the apple juice into a saucepan and submerge the apple slices as you cut them , to prevent discolouration.
- Simmer the apple slices gently for 10 minutes or until tender – You need the apples to be soft enough so that you can roll them, but not so soft as to fall apart.
- Lift the apple slices from the syrup with a slotted spoon and allow to drain/cool in a sieve.
- When cool enough to handle, lay out the apple slices as follows.
- The slices should be laid exceedingly close together, so there is only about 3mm of each slice visible.
- The overall length of the strip of apple slices needs to be at least 15cm in order to be curled round into a form that will sit inside a single, cupcake-sized pastry shell.
- Cover the strips of apple slices until required.
- Add the sugar to the apple juice and stir until dissolved.
- Simmer over medium heat, until the juice has thickened into a syrup.
- Add a little red gel food colouring to tint the syrup, if liked.
- To assemble the tarts:
- Warm the apple compote and spoon 1-2 tablespoons into each pastry case. Allow to cool. As it cools, it will firm up and give support to the apple decoration.
- For each strip of apple slices:
- Lift the strip from the board and stand it on the flat base of the slices.
- Curl one end of the strip around in a circle until it meets the other end of the strip.
- Check whether the form is small enough to fit into the pastry shell. If not, ease the slices round into a tighter circle.
- Place the curled slices into the pastry shell. Keep a hold of the form with one hand until you’re sure it has all fitted inside. A cocktail stick is handy here for tucking in the ends of any sticking-out slices.
- When everything is tucked inside, you can stop holding the form, as the pastry case will support it.
- Use the cocktail stick, if necessary, to tweak the apple slices into place. I particularly like the subtle variations in the finished patterns, depending on the number and curl of the apple slices – see below.
- Brush the apple slices generously with the apple syrup, and serve.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: Jane Newton’s mini chicken & bacon pies!
In food, there’s nothing new under the sun. It’s really difficult to be original. Whatever blinding flash of inspiration you think you’ve had, I promise you that it has been done before; usually better, sometimes worse. If it hasn’t been done before, then that’s usually a good indication that it’s not such a great idea (i.e. it was done before and discarded because it wasn’t fab at all). If it was fab, we’d have heard about it in the last 5000 years. This goes for top-level chefs as well as for the humblest baker.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking a recipe and putting your own spin on it. Tweak it enough and then you can claim it as your own (and acknowledge the inspirational recipe, but it’s surprising how many people seem to forget this bit).
Example: Ian Dowding and the invention of Banoffi Pie. Except, of course, he didn’t invent it, he readily admits that it evolved by adding bananas to a recipe for Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie brought back from the US by Russell the chef, with whom Dowding worked in a restaurant in Berkshire. Read all about it here.
And so to this week’s recipe. I recently watched an episode of a food show from the US and one of the items shown was a Goat’s Cheese and Blueberry Pie with fresh basil. I liked the unusual combination and re-watched the clip several times in order to jot down what looked like the quantities/ingredients. It took a couple of tries to get the sweetness and texture right, and my overall verdict was: No. The goats cheese was odd. The tart lacked zing. The fresh blueberries were OK, but had no pop of flavour, and so I set my notes aside.
Until I had a brain wave a couple of weeks ago with: blackcurrants! I resurrected my notes and swapped in blackcurrants for blueberries and it was amazing (she said modestly). The fresh basil is very reminiscent of the aroma of blackcurrant leaves and the amazingly tart pop of flavour from the berries was just what had been missing from the original. After guarded compliments from friends after the first attempt, I swapped the goats cheese for cream cheese and found I didn’t miss the lack of tang at all. – it was creamy, but not so dense as to push it into cheesecake territory (although it’s close!). Disliking unnecessary waste, the surplus egg-white from the filling ended up in the topping, along with butter instead of margarine, which all made for a crunchy variation to the original. Finally, there was a need to balance out the basil: the boldness of the blackcurrant flavour meant a larger quantity was needed in order for it not to be lost in the background whilst avoiding being too heavy handed and tipping it over into a borderline savoury tart. Luckily, the perfect amount was almost exactly the quantity of leaves you get in a 28g pack of fresh basil in the supermarkets.
Interesting Fact: I read recently that blackcurrant is, for the most part, an unknown flavour in the US, due to a ban in the early 20th century when it was thought to harbour a disease harmful to the logging industry. All can say is: you’re missing out, my friends across the water, and it’s high time you invested in blackcurrant bushes in order to enjoy all the wonderful things you can do with them. Exhibit A: this pie! If you’re lucky, you will be abe to find frozen berries in your supermarkets and farm shops until your bushes bear fruit themselves.
So yes, I did not conjure this fabulous tart up out of thin air, I evolved it from something else. That doesn’t mean it’s not fabulous and you should all rush out and get some blackcurrants immediately. If nothing else, for the vitamin C, doncherknow.
“But where!? It’s March!” I hear you wail. If you’re not lucky enough to have some in your own freezer from the bounty of last summer, then (in the UK) some supermarkets have them in the frozen fruit section. You can also find them in farm shops that have large chest freezers, alongside other berries and fruits in a kind of scoop-your-own setup.
I’ve opted for a pastry crust, but you could just as easily use a cheesecake-like, biscuit-and-butter crumb instead. Fresh basil is a must – don’t even think of trying to fudge it with dried.
It goes without saying – but I shall say it anyway – that, obviously, you can sub back in all the stuff I took out and try it for yourselves and make it YOUR own. 😀
Blackcurrant and Basil Tart
1 x 20cm shortcrust pastry case, blind baked (or biscuit base of your choice)
300g cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
1 large yolk
60g caster sugar
15g fresh basil leaves, shred finely (from a 28g bunch/pack)
300g blackcurrants – frozen is fine
50g caster sugar
1 large egg white
50g flaked almonds
50g melted butter – cooled
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Whisk the cheese until smooth, then add the egg, yolk, sugar and cornflour and mix thoroughly.
- Stir through the shredded basil and the blackcurrants. The blackcurrants can be used frozen, just make sure they’re not all stuck together in a big lump.
- Pour the filling into the prepared tart case.
- Whisk the sugar and egg-white together, until frothy, then stir through the almonds. Add the cooled butter and mix thoroughly.
- Pour the topping evenly over the filling.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes until almost set, and the topping is golden brown. Allow to cool, then chill thoroughly before serving.
In case you missed it:
This week on DejaFood.uk: A super quick, fruity Soda Cake from 1835
I’ve decided to go all autumnal this week with this comforting, root vegetable tart. It was inspired by a recipe from 1604 for parsnip pie.
It can make the basis of a light lunch or be served as an accompaniment to a main meal.
Its simple flavours are enriched by generous use of butter, with which both carrots and parsnips become glorious. And by generous, I mean about 50g, less than two ounces in old money, so hardly extravagent either budget or health-wise.
And yes, I’ve hopped onto the current ‘spiral tart’ craze to provide the impressive appearance, but I would argue that it is only a development of the apple rose tart, so neeners!
Like the apple rose tart, and unlike most of the current crop of spiral tarts, this tart also has a filling beneath the decorative vegetable ribbons – the remains of the vegetables carved up for the decoration are steamed and then mashed together with lashings of butter and pepper. They give the tart both substance and richness.
I don’t usually mention cooking equipment, mostly because my kitchen is too small to have much of anything, but I heartily recommend this kind of saucepan set:
The top two tiers are steamer pans, over a regular saucepan. You can cook all the side dishes for a Sunday lunch in this – potatoes in the bottom and up to four vegetables in the steamer baskets – at the same time, on one burner/ring on the stove, removing the baskets from the stack as the contents are done. I use mine daily.
Other vegetables you might like to try with this recipe: beetroot, turnip, swede, butternut squash, courgette.
Carrot and Parsnip Tart
1 x 20cm partially blind-baked shortcrust pastry tart shell
5 large parsnips
5 large carrots
salt & pepper
- Peel the carrots and parsnips, then cut into ribbons. I find a Y-shaped peeler is best for this.
- Cook the ribbons in a steamer basket over boiling water for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Chop the remains of the vegetables into cubes and steam over the boiling water until tender. The parsnips will probably require more cooking than the carrots, so have them in separate steamer baskets so you can remove them when done. Even though they will be mashed, you don’t want them mushy.
- Mash the cooked vegetables together. Don’t be too thorough with your mashing – it’s nice to be able to see flecks of both vegetables in the mix, and it gives a mottled, almost marbling effect. Add 30g of the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
- When cold, spoon the mashed vegetables into the tart shell and smooth over.
- Arrange the ribbons of vegetables in alternating circles on top. You can begin in the middle or on the edges of the tart.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Melt the remaining butter and brush lightly over the top of the vegetable ribbons.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then cover lightly with a foil tent to prevent the vegetable ribbons from burning, and bake for a further 10 minutes.
- Cool in the tin for 10 mintes before removing and serving.
Still on a French theme, but from a different source than the one I had planned.
This is an adaptation, albeit very slight, of a recipe by Madeleine Kamman in her gastronomic memoir, When French Women Cook. Aside from the originality of the recipes, each has a wine recommendation – how fab is that?
Wandering through the Fresh section of the supermarket, (the orange one, in case anyone’s curious) I was reminded of this recipe when I spotted some baby Brussels Sprouts – endearingly cute, grape-sized morsels. Now I know they’re not everyone’s favourite, but this recipe might turn even the most vehement opponent.
You don’t have to use mini ones at all, of course – full-sized are fine – but the mini ones have a charm ( much needed in certain circles, when Brussel Sprouts are mentioned). You could also make this with broccoli instead of sprouts, but I’d urge you to try it as is, just once.
I’ve made four, individually-sized tarts, but you can make a large one and bake for just 10 more minutes.
They make for a lovely light lunch, but can also serve as a side dish.
NB: Don’t eat these hot from the oven. The flavours are distinctive, but delicate. Allow the tart(s) to cool to just warm before serving.
Two Choux Tart
225g plain flour
60g cornflour or rice flour
ice cold water
- 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, knead smooth.
- Divide the pastry into 4 and roll out thinly (5mm). Grease and line four individual tart tins with the pastry. Alternatively, line one large (20-24cm) tart tin.
- Leave the excess pastry overhanging the edges of the tin(s), cover with cling film and chill in the fridge until required.
1 small cauliflower
500g baby Brussels sprouts
salt and pepper
30g plain flour
225ml vegetable blanching water
100ml low fat crème fraiche
freshly grated nutmeg
160g ham, diced small (8mm)
- Cut the cauliflower into small florets.
- Remove the outer leaves of the sprouts and trim the stalk.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil.
- Cook the sprouts and cauliflower for 4 minutes.
- Drain, retaining the cooking liquid.
- Melt 20g butter in the pan and add the drained vegetables, salt and pepper.
- Toss gently, cover and cook over medium heat for a further 5 minutes.
- Remove the lid and allow any liquid to evaporate.
- Remove the vegetables and set aside to cool.
- In the same pan, melt the rest of the butter.
- Add the flour and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Gradually add 225ml of the vegetable cooking liquid and the milk.
- Whisk until smooth and thickened. Adjust seasoning and add a good grating of nutmeg.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Remove the pastry-lined tin(s) from the fridge, trim the excess pastry and crimp the edges.
- Arrange the cauliflower and sprouts in the pastry cases and scatter over the ham.
- Pour over the white sauce and allow to settle into the gaps.
- Spread a thin layer of crème fraiche over the top of the tart(s).
- Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is crisp. If the top seems to be browning too quickly, lightly cover with a sheet of baking parchment.
- Allow to cool until just warm before serving.
A great little recipe from that classic baking institution: Be-Ro.
Thomas Bell founded his grocery company in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1875. Amongst other items, he manufactured and sold baking powder and the world’s first self-raising flour under the brand name Bell’s Royal.
After the death of King Edward VII the use of the word ‘Royal’ in business was prohibited, so Thomas shortened each word to just two letters, and the Be-Ro brand was born.
To encourage the use of self-raising flour, the company staged exhibitions where visitors could taste freshly-baked scones, pastries and cakes. This proved so popular, and requests for the recipes so numerous, the Be-Ro Home Recipes book was created. Now in it’s 40th edition, the company claims that, at over 38 million copies, its recipe booklet “is arguably one of the best-selling cookery books ever.”
I’m not sure which edition my Be-Ro booklet is, as it’s undated, but from the appearance of the smiling lady on the front it definitely has a 1930s feeling; it’s pictured on the Be-Ro website, with a deep red cover.
These little tarts are a beautiful example of how the simplest ingredients can be given a subtle twist and appeal by both their appearance and the ease with which they are whipped up. In essence, these are a Bakewell Tart with cream, but a little tweak turns them into sweet ‘oysters’.
I’m not a fan of almond flavouring, so I’ve used lemon zest to brighten the almond sponge and used a seedless blackcurrant jam inside. Adding the jam after baking (unlike the method for Bakewell Tarts) circumvents cooking the jam for a second time, and so it retains its brightness of flavour as well as colour. The pastry is crisp and dry and a perfect contrast against the moist filling. I’ve opted for an unsweetened pastry, but feel free to use a sweetened one if you prefer.
You could customise these tarts by swapping the ground almonds for almost any other nut, and matching the jam accordingly. Here are a few that occurred to me.
- Almond with orange zest, and orange curd as the filling.
- Coconut and lime curd, with a little lime zest in the filling.
- Hazelnuts or pecans, with a praline paste or Nutella in the filling.
- Walnut and a little coffee icing
Have fun with them!
225g plain flour
70g unsalted butter, softened
70g caster sugar
1 large egg
zest of 1 small lemon
85g ground almonds
200g cream cheese
200ml whipping cream
1tsp vanilla extract
1-2tbs icing sugar, plus more to sprinkle
120g sharp jam
- Put all the pastry ingredients except for the water into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Gradually add the water, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together in a ball.
- Knead smooth, then roll out thinly. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge to relax.
- Preheat the oven to 170°C, 150°C Fan.
- Beat the butter and sugar for the filling until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes to get as much air into the mix as possible.
- Add the egg and whisk in thoroughly.
- Fold in the lemon zest and ground almonds.
- Grease a 12-hole shallow tart tin.
- Remove the pastry from the fridge and cut out 12 circles. Line the prepared tin with the pastry.Add about a tablespoon of filling to each tart. I use a small ice-cream scoop but 2 spoons will also work.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, turning the tin around after 10 minutes to ensure even cooking.
- Transfer the cooked tarts onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
- Whisk the cream cheese, vanilla and cream together until firm. Gently stir through a little icing sugar to slightly sweeten.
- When the tarts have cooled, slice off the top of the filling with a sharp knife and set aside.
- Add a teaspoon of jam and either spoon or pipe a little of the cream mixture into each tart.
- Set the ‘lids’ back on the tarts at a jaunty angle, so as to appear like a half-opened oyster.
- Dust with icing sugar and serve.
Sometimes the best-tasting food is also the simplest. This recipe was yet another from one of my many dusty W.I.pamphlets from the mid 20th century. It was so brief it barely qualified as a paragraph, let alone a recipe, so I’ve added some detail below to help things along. In essence, you can count the number of ingredients in this pie on one hand: pastry, egg, bacon, seasoning. The pie in the picture above also contains diced tomato, which I thought would add freshness; it did to a certain extent, but not to the degree I was hoping, and in fact, the ‘plain’ bacon and egg pie was tastier. Alas, my cross-section photo for this pie (see below) wasn’t as visually arresting as the one above, so I decided to lure you with the picture above, then set the record straight. You can choose whichever version appeals most.
Also, I’ve mentioned them before, but I just LOVE my small cake/tart tins I found at my local The Range (4 x 10cm diameter pans for £2.50). They have a small lip on the side, which makes them great for tarts or, in this case, for firmly attaching the pastry lids of pies. This is not a paid endorsement – I just think they are a bargain and am sharing.
You can be as pro-active or as lazy as you like with these pies – make everything from scratch or buy it in if you’re pressed for time. Personally, I like to hover, metaphorically, between the two: make the pastry for the base, but buy a sheet of ready rolled puff pastry for the top, onna count of life too short etc, etc. The cornflour shortcrust is dry and crisp, and the buttery, flaky, puff pastry is both delicious and a fantastic contrast. Once the pans are lined, sprinkle over a little cooked bacon, crack in a whole egg and add the lid and you’re done!
OK, yes, you should add a sprinkling of fresh parsley too.
And pepper. Of course pepper.
Well OBVIOUSLY crimping the edges is a good idea.
And yes, egg-yolk wash will give both colour and shine.
I’ll come in again.
Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as….
Oops! Wrong sketch.
Once the pans are lined, sprinkle over a little cooked bacon and some fresh parsley, season with black pepper, crack in a whole egg, a little more parsley and pepper, add the lid, crimp the pastry edges, wash over with beaten egg and you’re DONE!
The quantities are up to you and however many you’re catering for. The suggestions below are for 4 individual pies. Any excess pastry, of either sort, can be frozen for later, as can the cooked pies, for up to a month.
Bacon and Egg Pies
1 batch cornflour shortcrust – scroll down on this page
1 roll puff pastry
100g lean bacon
4 large eggs
4-6 tablespoons of chopped, fresh parsley
coarse-ground black pepper
4 tomatoes – skinned, de-seeded and diced finely – optional
1 large yolk – for glazing
- Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
- Roll out the shortcrust pastry to a thickness of 5mm.
- Grease and line your tart tins with the shortcrust pastry, making sure to ease the pastry into the bottom edge of the pan, not stretch it. Leave excess pastry hanging over the sides of the tin and chill in the fridge until required.
- Chop the bacon into small dice and cook until just done. No browning. Drain on kitchen roll.
- Remove pies from fridge.
- Scatter the bacon in the bottom of the pies.
- Add a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a little back pepper. No need for salt, as the bacon is salty enough. Add the tomatoes if using.
- Crack an egg into each pie. If you want the yolk to be dead centre, you could clear a space amongst the bacon, but it’s not really necessary.
- Add more parsley and black pepper.
- Cut four squares of puff pastry, large enough to cover the pies.
- Brush the rims of the pies with water then lay over the puff pastry squares.
- Press firmly around the edges, then trim the excess pastry with a sharp knife.
- Crimp the edges of the pies for a decorative effect.
- Whisk the yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush the pie tops liberally.
- Cut three or four small vent holes, NOT in the middle – you don’t want to break the yolk inside.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is puffed and golden and the underside crisp.
- Enjoy warm.
 NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Least of all my husband who read all of the above with a blank expression then said “I don’t get it.” *sigh*