AN OLD-FASHIONED TREACLE TART STILL HAS PLENTY OF APPEAL, SAYS STEVE CUMPER.
DO YOU EVER
wonder what it would be like eating a pudding that people enjoyed more than 100 years ago? I do and several sweet treats spring to mind — Victoria sponge, spotted dick and jam fancies. No list would be complete, however, without that most venerable of British puddings, the treacle tart. My grandmother, Gramma Alvina, lauded in my previous columns for her prowess at making apple pie and her ability to balance a smoldering rollie on her lips while working the pastry, used to bake it occasionally. She always managed to sneak a little ‘Alvina magic’ into her efforts and, in this case, she would add a pinch of baking powder to the pastry. Too young to comprehend the chemistry, I agreed with contented mouthfuls that she had an intuitive lightness of touch when it came to making pastry. Nevertheless, Gramma’s treacle tart was a triumph, as she balanced the crumbly texture of the filling with a sturdy outer shell that fractured easily with a gentle nudge from a spoon. For years, Gramma Alvina’s treacle tart was my benchmark and the thought of not being able to produce a tart of this calibre thwarted any attempts to make it. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I gave it a crack and featured the esteemed tart on the sideboard of daily cake offerings in the café. To my surprise and relief, it looked and tasted great. And, more importantly perhaps, it sold briskly and people even asked when they could expect it again. I learnt two lessons from this exercise. Firstly, food fashions come and go but classics will always remain, and secondly, a simple tart done well is a perennial favourite. So the treacle tart began to make regular appearances under the heavy glass domes on the cake counter, while I tried to balance satisfying my customers’ requests for it with keeping demand alive by featuring it sporadically. (With this admission I’ve given you, dear reader, a brief insight into the dark arts of the cake display. However, in my case it’s more prudence prevailing than Machiavellian mischievousness!) So what is the secret to the enduring popularity of the treacle tart? Personally, I love the simplicity of it: pastry, sweet filling and a crumbly texture. All it needs is a good dollop of heavy cream with which to enjoy it. However, I do find the traditional treacle tart a tad sweet, which is why my recipe includes orange marmalade (although any citrus marmalade will do). The marmalade counters the cloying sweetness of the golden syrup, the main ingredient in the filling. The funny thing is, my embellishment is actually a throwback to the tart’s first incarnations, where marmalade was sometimes substituted for golden syrup if the tin was empty. It’s incredible to think that this recipe has changed so little since the late 1800s that people of Victorian times would instantly recognise the treacle tart we enjoy today. Now that’s something to ponder.
Steve Cumper is a chef and funnyman who lives in Tasmania and dreams of one day owning a fleet of holiday vans called Wicked Cumpers.
TREACLE TART Serves 8
1 tablespoon caster sugar 1⅓ cups golden syrup 1½ cups coarse breadcrumbs (made from day-old bread) ⅓ cup orange marmalade 2 lemons, rind finely grated, juiced 1 egg, whisked extra golden syrup, to serve (optional) thick cream, to serve
4 cups plain flour ¼ teaspoon baking powder 250g cold butter, diced 1 cup sour cream To make pastry, combine flour and baking powder in a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub butter into flour until mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in sour cream until just combined. Shape dough into 2 discs, 1 slightly larger. Wrap in plastic wrap. Place in fridge for 30 minutes or until firm. Grease a 25cm round fluted tart pan with a removable base and dust with caster sugar. Roll out larger pastry disc on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick and use to line prepared pan. Trim excess. Place in fridge for 20 minutes to rest. Meanwhile, place golden syrup in a medium saucepan over a low heat for 2 minutes or until warm and runny. Do not boil. Remove from heat. Add breadcrumbs, marmalade, lemon rind and ½ cup of lemon juice, and stir until well combined. Preheat oven to 180°C. Roll out remaining pastry until 3mm thick. Cut into 1.5cm-wide strips. Spoon golden syrup mixture into pastry case, spreading evenly. Brush edges of pastry case with egg. Arrange pastry strips over tart, weaving them over and under to form a lattice pattern. Gently press pastry strips to edge of pastry case and trim. Place in fridge for 30 minutes to rest. Brush pastry lattice with egg. Bake tart for 40–45 minutes or until pastry is golden and crisp. Stand for 10 minutes. Transfer tart to a serving platter and drizzle with a little extra syrup, if desired. Serve with cream.