Very belatedly is one of my Bake Off recipes that didn’t get much screen time, compared to the Apple Rose Tarts – but it might actually edge ahead of them in the taste stakes. This post is for my beautiful and talented sister Georgina, who’s been waiting patiently for this recipe ever since Tart Week. Go follow her on Twitter ( @Georns ) – she says/tweets cool stuff!
When the Bake Off began airing, I was interviewed by the local BBC radio station, and was asked what my favourite food from childhood was. My answer was the Butterscotch Tart we had for school dinners. (I should point out at this stage that my mother was Kitchen Supervisor at the central kitchens that supplied the meals for all the schools in the local area – a fact which earned me by turns admiration and resentment at school, depending on the menu of the day – and occasionally both at once when the menu was particularly divisive.) I also had a great fondness for Butterscotch Angel Delight, although its appearance on the dinner-table was rare, because it was everything our regular puddings at home weren’t. Packed to the gunnels with flavourings, colourings and preservatives and – most deliciously decadent – it came out of a packet! Such a NORTY pudding! *sighs wistfully*
ANYHOO – These tarts are very simple – a pastry shell filled with a flavoured custard. For the Bake Off, however, I jazzed it up a little by adding pecans to the pastry, and just a drop of scotch to the filling, which really turns this nursery pudding into something altogether more grown up. As a final flourish, I decided to brulee the tops to add some crackly crunch. Now bruléeing caster sugar with a blowtorch can be tricky – it only takes a second to go from caramelised to burnt, so I was really pleased to discover ‘Brulée Sugar’. It sounds really fancy, but it’s easy enough to make yourself. and involves the alchemy of sugarwork!
There’s a theory out there *waves hand vaguely* that one of the characteristics of sugar is that it yearns to return to its previous form – which goes a long way to explaining why it is important to wash the sugar crystals off the side of your pan with a wet pastry brush when boiling sugar. It doesn’t take much for the whole lot to crystallise and then there’s no recovering – you just have to start again.
SO – going along with this theory, if the end result (brulée) is essentially melted sugar, then isn’t starting with sugar in crystals (granulated or caster) just making life difficult for yourself? If you started with a sugar that used to be melted, it would be so much easier to return it to that state, because that is the state it would ‘want’ to be in! It might sound bonkers (sentient sugar!?) but I was impressed with the speed at which it dissolved into golden caramel under the flame of the blowtorch. So here’s how we do it!
- Sprinkle some caster sugar into a heavy-bottomed pan – exact quantities aren’t important, what you’re aiming for is a thin, even layer.
- Heat gently until the sugar melts and turns a dark golden brown. NB It won’t melt evenly, so a certain degree of swirling is needed. DON’T STIR – or it’ll crystallise (see above)
- When all the sugar crystals have melted and you have just a clear caramel, pour it out onto parchment or silicone sheets and leave to cool and set.
- When completely cooled, break up into small pieces and either blitz in a spice grinder/food-processor or pound in a mortar. The texture doesn’t have to be completely smooth powder – a few chunks here and there add a nice texture to the finished brulée.
- Keep it in a small jar, making sure the lid is secured tightly – moisture will make it harden into a solid lump.
This is a great make-ahead dessert, because you can just assemble it all at the last minute: pour the custard into the cooked pastry shells, sprinkle with brulée sugar, apply flame and serve at once. However, if there’s going to be any length of time between making and serving, consider also chilling the custard-filled tarts in the fridge, uncovered. A slight skin will form on the custard, and this will form a barrier between the custard and the Brulée Sugar. I didn’t do this when making these tarts to photograph, and as you can see from the picture (if you look closely), I faffed about so much taking the pictures, the moisture from the custard is causing the sugar of the brulée to dissolve, and the custard is starting to show tiny cracks.
Butterscotch Brulée Tarts
215g plain flour, plus additional for work surface
50g finely ground pecans
3.5 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
190g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
- Combine flour, ground pecans, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Blitz briefly to mix.
- Add the butter and process until like breadcrumbs.
- Add water until the pastry comes together
- Knead gently into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour.
90g unsalted butter
100g dark Muscovado sugar
100g Demerera sugar
120ml double cream
- Place butter and brown sugar in a heavy bottomed pan.
- Stir continuously over a medium heat until sugar is completely dissolved.
- Cook mixture to rolling boil only (about 5 minutes) 106°C
- Remove from heat and immediately stir in 120ml cream and set aside to cool.
50g dark muscovado sugar
2 tbsp flour
3 large egg yolks
1 tbs whisky (optional)
Extra thick double cream – although ordinary double cream is just fine, as is no cream at all – depends how firm you like the custard to be.
- Heat milk.
- Mix yolks with sugar and flour.
- When milk is hot, remove it from the heat and pour onto the egg/sugar mixture, whisking vigorously. NB A whisk really is the best utensil for this job – the wires agitate the mixture whilst the gaps allow it to move through the liquid without (too much) sloshing over the sides of the bowl.
- Pour the mixture back into the pan and continue to heat, whisking, until it thickens.
- Stir in 120ml butterscotch. Add 1 tbs scotch (whisky)
- Cover with plastic wrap. Cool
To serve, fold in cream if required.
- Make pastry and blind bake tart cases – 200°C, 180°C Fan. If you’re using muffin tins, then bake for 10 minutes with beans in (use plain white paper muffin cases to hold the beans – I used patterned cases once, and the colours on the outside of the cases bled into the insides of the pastry caes – Lawks!), then 5-10 minutes without. Larger shaped tarts will take slightly longer for each baking.
- Make butterscotch.
- Make custard filling.
- Fill tartlet cases, chill
- To Serve: sprinkle with brulee sugar and blowtorch until melted and caramelised.
 I use this mixture of sugars because I like the dark butterscotch taste it produces – which might not be to everyone’s taste. Think of it as the butterscotch equivalent to 70% cocoa chocolate and milk chocolate. If you think this might be too intense a flavour, use 200g (total) of Demerera sugar instead.
Just to complete the hat-trick, now that you’ve made your Candied Peel and used it to rustle up some Guilt-Free Mincemeat, it’s time to bake some Mince Pies! Of course, you can use a jar of your favourite brand too – it’s all good – just don’t BUY mince pies! They’re never as good as home made.
Now to my mind, mince pies come in two sizes. There’s the small, Christmas party/buffet size – gone in a couple of bites, no need for a plate, more of an appetiser/nibble. One of the down-sides of this size of mince pie, however, is the danger of not rolling the pastry thin enough, resulting in thick, claggy pastry forming the greater part of the pie. Due in part to the difficulty in making such small pies and also to eliminate the danger of the filling bursting out, there’s a tendency to err too much on the side of caution, and consequently they frequently contain just a miniscule amount of mincemeat inside.
Then there’s the mince pie made in a bun tin, which is much more my kind of pie – larger, more substantial, easier to shape, fill and decorate. As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really have a sweet tooth – but Christmas isn’t Christmas without a mince pie, so I like to eat just one, but make it an extra special one.
Many moons ago, I found a recipe by Jocelyn Dimbleby for Deluxe Mince Pies – it was in a little paperback book entitled Cooking For Christmas that I borrowed from a friend. This decadent confection had a short, orange-flavoured pastry and topped the mincemeat with a tiny amount of sweetened cream cheese – so that when the pie was cooked ( or indeed warmed just prior to serving), the cheese-cake-like mixture melted and mingled with the rich mincemeat to make a very indulgent mouthful. I thought they were amazing.
I’ve since managed to track down a copy for myself *vaguely scans the bookshelves* – OK, so I’m not 100% sure where exactly my copy IS at the moment, but I do have a copy somewhere! It must be popular, because it’s also ‘out there’ on various web pages if you search.
ANYHOO – I was eager to see how the Guilt-Free Mincemeat performed in my favourite mince pie recipe, so I rustled up some test pies with great anticipation. Alas, I was disappointed. The pastry was frustratingly difficult to work with, and when cooked, was overly sweet, too greasy and very fragile – too fragile to hold the shape of the pies.
Maybe it’s my own tastes that have changed, but I was still convinced that the mince pies could be amazing if only the pastry could be improved. So I headed to the kitchen to experiment and finally came up with the recipe below. You might think it a bit of a faff to bother tweaking pastry, but I really wanted the WHOLE mince pie to be delicious to eat, and not just the filling. The bonus is that, now I have a great sweet shortcrust variation, I shall be using this pastry again in other sweet bakes. For those interested in the reasoning behind the ingredient choices I made:
Butter: For flavour – 50% of the fat content. All-butter pastry tastes great, but it is extremely rich and very delicate once cooked.
Lard: 50% of the fat content. All-lard pastry is very hard and crusty and sometimes has something of an aftertaste, but tempered with the butter, makes for a deliciously crisp crust that holds its shape well.
Another reason for using the pure fats listed above, is ease of removal from the tins. I’ve used pastry made with hydrogenated oils and blended fats and been plagued with having bakes stick to the tins. They never have when I’ve used ‘pure’ fats. Just sayin’……
Sugar: For sweetness – although it’s a good deal less than in traditional sweet shortcrust.
Almonds: For crunch and crispness. They lighten the pastry and help keep it crisp.
Orange zest and juice: Makes for a lovely orange flavour to the pastry that really compliments the citrus in the mincemeat. I’ve opted to use orange juice as the sole liquid to bring the pastry together.
I also reduced the amount of sugar and added lemon juice to the cream cheese mixture to bring out the flavour of the mincemeat. It’s amazing how a little bit of lemon can lift the flavour of a whole dish. Feel free to omit the cream cheese topping – the mince pies will still be awesome!😀
Luxury Mince Pies
Makes 12 deep and decadent mince pies (plus 3-4 small ‘cooks perks’ pies)😉
Orange and Almond Shortcrust pastry
200g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds 
juice and zest of 1-2 oranges 
500g of mincemeat (or 1 batch of Guilt-Free Mincemeat)
Cream Cheese Luxury Topping (optional)
200g cream cheese
zest and juice of 1 lemon
milk & caster sugar to glaze
- Put the flour into a food processor fitted with a blade.
- Cut the fats into 1cm cubes and add to the food processor.
- Blitz until mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Add the sugar and ground almonds and pulse a couple of times to mix.
- Add the zest of both oranges and the juice of one and run the mixer to combine. I the mixture doesn’t come together into a ball by itself, squeeze the juice from the second orange and add gradually, pausing between each addition, until the mix comes together.
- Wrap the ball of dough in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Make the cream cheese topping (if using)
- Beat the cream cheese in a bowl or using a mixer until smooth.
- Add the zest of the lemon.
- Add half the lemon juice and mix until combined. You don’t want the mix to get either too sharp or too runny.
- Sweeten to taste with icing sugar. Don’t add too much – 2-3 heaped tablespoons is plenty. Just enough to take the edge off the lemon flavour without making it too sweet.
- When the pastry is suitably chilled, remove from the fridge, cut it in two and return half to the fridge. Why? It’s much easier to work with a smaller piece of pastry than a larger. You want to be able to roll this pastry nice and thin, but if you’re flinging around a huge sheet of the stuff, there’s going to be tears (and you can read that two ways!).
- Roll the pastry thinly (3mm-ish) and cut out the bases of your pies. Make the circles of pastry large enough to fill the whole base of the tin and overlap the rim by about 1cm. Make sure your tin is well greased and lay in the pastry circles. NB Be careful not to accidentally push holes in the pastry when you’re easing it into the tins. Re-roll the trimmings if required.
- Put 1tbs of mincemeat filling into each pie and pressdown.
- Spoon 1tsp cream cheese topping onto the mincemeat.
- Put the tray of pies into the fridge while you roll out the rest of the pastry and cut the lids. Make sure the lids are large enough to overlap the holes by about 1cm.
- Wet the edges of the lids and press them onto the pies. Make sure the edges are well sealed by pressing firmly. You can make pretty crimping patterns by using the tines of a fork, but I like to make a nice, neat plain edge by using a plain, round cutter once the lids are on and in the tin (which is why the bases and lids need to be cut on the large side). As well as making the pies nice and neat, it seals the lids onto the pastry bases and helps prevent the filling from oozing out.
- Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle with caster sugar. The milk will brown the pastry and the sugar will melt and form a lovely crunchy top layer.
- Cut a small slit in the top to let out steam.
- Bake in a hot oven – 200°C, 180°C Fan – for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
- Gently tip out of the tin and set to cool on a wire rack.
- Best served warm.
Cost: Pastry only £1.50 (using ground almonds & 2 oranges, December 2011)
 If you want to make this pastry nut-free, then just omit the ground almonds. It’ll not have the same crunch, but still be an improvement on plain shortcrust.
 This vagueness is due to the juiciness of the oranges and the water content of the flour – two oranges should definitely be juicy enough though.
As some of you may know, I made it into Series 2 of The Great British Bake Off. The show is currently being shown in the UK on BBC2 on Tuesdays at 8.00pm. Each episode has a baking theme, and this week it was tarts. For the final round, we bakers had to present 24 miniature sweet tarts, of two differing types – so two batches of twelve. My butterscotch brulée tarts in pecan pastry didn’t get any airtime (*sob*) – but my apple rose ones did, and so I thought I’d post about them.
There’s three separate elements to these – the pastry, the filling and the decoration. The pastry is a crisp sweet shortcrust, and the filling, a delicious apple custard, is based on several 18th and 19th century recipes I found. The crowning glory though, are the apple roses – slices of apple poached in apple juice and sugar and then rolled into a beautiful rose. I’ve included a little diagram I put together to help show how the roses are created.
When my daughter saw these cooling on a rack, she exclaimed “Oooh! Apple posies!” – which I am REALLY tempted to use as a name because they’re so cute!
A name for the tarts, that is – not as a name for me. I couldn’t pull off cute in a million years.
Anyhoo – on with the recipe!
Apple Rose Tarts
Sweet Shortcrust Pastry
250 g plain flour
125 g butter, chilled and diced
75 g caster sugar
1/2 lemon, grated zest only
1 egg, beaten
- Blitz the first 4 ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs
- With the motor running, pour in the beaten egg IN STAGES. This is important. Add about a tablespoon at a time and give the flour time to absorb the liquid. The mixture will comes together when sufficient liquid has been added.
- When the mixture has come together, tip it out of the processor and knead once or twice into a ball.
- Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.
8 red-skinned eating apples – as red as you can find – I used Pink Lady
1 litre apple juice
500g caster sugar
- Stir the sugar and apple juice together in a large pan until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Cut apples in half vertically.
- Remove core and cut into thin (semi-circle) slices.
- Put the slices into the apple syrup and simmer 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. Depending on how thickly you sliced the apples, probably no more than 15 minutes. You’ll find that the colour from the skins leeches into the syrup, and turns the flesh of the apples a wonderful dusky pink.
- 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.
-  Place 1 slice of apple on the left-hand end of your chopping board, flat side towards you.
-  Lay the next slice so that it overlaps the first by half.
-  Continue in this manner until there are 12 slices laid into a single strip
- Lay out 12 strips, one for each tart. Cover with cling film until required.
Apple Custard Filling
3 Braeburn apples – or apple of your choice.
120ml extra thick double cream
1tbs lemon juice
grated zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1-2 tbs cornflour
- Mix the sugar, cream, egg, yolks, lemon zest & juice.
- Peel, core and grate the apples finely over a sieve to drain off excess juice.
- Stir into the egg/cream mixture.
- Put the cornflour into a cup and add some of the apple custard mix to it. Stir until fully combined. Stir cornflour mix into the main mixture.
- Heat oven to 200ºC, 180ºC Fan
- Roll out the pastry thinly – about 3mm.
- Line the holes of the cupcake tin with pastry by whatever method you prefer – I quite like the gently folded creases created by using a round cutter and parchment, but for a neater finish you could use the template method suggested here.
- Spoon in filling, 1-2tbs per hole.
- Roll up the apple slices, starting from the left hand side of the board. The overlaps will help keep everything together. Drop the resulting roses gently into each cup.
- Cook for 10 minutes.
- Turn pan 180 degrees, then cook for another 10 minutes, until pastry is cooked and browned.
- While the tarts are cooking, simmer the apple/sugar mixture over a medium-high heat until thickened into a syrup.
- Remove tarts from the oven, leave for five minutes and then remove from the tins. Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
- Brush tarts with the apple syrup and sprinkle with a light dusting of icing sugar to serve.
NB Make apple custard tarts with any leftover filling and pastry – 10-15 minutes in the same temperature oven, or until filling is set. If making tarts larger than cupcake size, blind bake for 10 minutes to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom, then just 10 minutes with the filling!