FOOD

The sen­sa­tional Felic­ity Cloake’s de­fin­i­tive ver­sion of some clas­sic tra­di­tional dishes

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They are the ul­ti­mate recipes for some of the world’s clas­sic dishes, and over the next three weeks you can en­joy Felic­ity Cloake’s un­beat­able cre­ations in our de­li­cious new se­ries. She’s rig­or­ously tested recipes from all the greats – from El­iz­a­beth David and Delia to Nigel Slater and Jamie Oliver – then pulled to­gether the best bits from each to cre­ate her own per­fect ver­sions. Now try them yourself

I make no apolo­gies for the name – this isn’t some homely thing, gen­er­ously filled with sticky lemon curd, but a proper piece of Parisian pâtis­serie, with all the airs and graces that sug­gests. Crisp, wafer-thin pastry filled with a wob­bly, del­i­cate yel­low cus­tard, it’s a restau­rant clas­sic that’s sur­pris­ingly easy to recre­ate at home.

The Roux broth­ers are said to have pop­u­larised the dish out­side France, but I find their ver­sion, as passed to Marco Pierre White, slightly dis­ap­point­ing: the rich­ness of the lemon cus­tard fill­ing, with its egg yolks, su­gar and dou­ble cream, seems to mute the pure, sharp flavour of the fruit it­self. Jane Grig­son gives a recipe in her Fruit Book sup­plied by the lo­cal doc­tor in the Loire vil­lage where she and her hus­band owned a ‘cave-cot­tage’, with an un­usual fluffy, ground al­mond fill­ing. The sweet­ness of the nuts works well with the sour fruit, but it has too much of a whiff of the Bakewell about it for me.

Much more to my taste is the lemon curd used by mac­aron man Pierre Hermé, made by rub­bing to­gether su­gar and zest into an un­usu­ally fra­grant pile of yel­low snow, then adding eggs and lemon juice and cook­ing the lot slowly over a pan of sim­mer­ing wa­ter un­til it’s as thick as Bird’s cus­tard. He then beats in a ridicu­lous amount of but­ter, but the re­sults are worth it: silky smooth, and in­tensely, shock­ingly cit­ric, it’s the kind of dessert best served in el­e­gant sliv­ers. All I had to do to make it per­fect was to tone down the su­gar slightly, to fur­ther ac­cen­tu­ate the lemon flavour.

Mak­ing your own pastry is a worth­while en­ter­prise here: you need a crisp, del­i­cate pâte su­crée rather than a crumbly short­crust for this most re­fined of desserts, and that’s not easy to buy in. It’s pretty easy to make, though – and per­fectly com­ple­mented by Grig­son’s top­ping of can­died lemon slices, which are both ut­terly de­li­cious and make the tart look even pret­tier on the ta­ble. Al­most too good to eat – but not quite. Put the flour, su­gar and a pinch of salt into a food pro­ces­sor and pulse briefly. Dice the but­ter, add to the pro­ces­sor and pulse un­til com­bined. With the mo­tor still run­ning, add the yolks, and pulse un­til the mix­ture comes to­gether into a dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in cling­film and chill for about an hour, un­til it’s pli­able but not sticky to the touch.

Grease a 22cm (8½in) fluted tart tin. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured sur­face un­til it’s about 5mm (¼in) thick, and use to line the tin. Chill un­til firm.

Pre­heat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas 5. Line with grease­proof paper and bak­ing beans, and blind bake for 15 min­utes, un­til the edges are golden. Re­move the paper and beans and brush the base with egg white. Bake for a fur­ther 8 min­utes, re­move and set aside to cool.

Bring a small pan of wa­ter to the boil. Finely zest 5 of the lemons into a heat­proof bowl which will sit over but not touch the wa­ter, then add 225g (8oz) of the su­gar and rub the two to­gether with your fin­gers.

Stir the eggs and juice of 3½ lemons into the su­gar, then put the bowl over the pan. Heat, whisk­ing gen­tly but con­tin­u­ously, un­til it thick­ens to the con­sis­tency of lemon curd. Take off the heat, leav­ing the pan of wa­ter where it is. Al­low the fill­ing to cool for 10 min­utes, then stir in the but­ter and ei­ther whizz with a hand blen­der or beat with a wooden spoon un­til smooth. Pour into the tart case, flat­ten the top and al­low to cool com­pletely.

Cut the re­main­ing un­zested lemon into del­i­cate slices and re­move any pips. Soften the slices in the pan of sim­mer­ing wa­ter for 10 min­utes. At the same time, put the re­main­ing 50g (1¾oz) of su­gar into a wide pan with 50ml (2fl oz) wa­ter, stir to dis­solve then bring to the boil. Add the drained lemon slices and sim­mer for 10 min­utes. Re­move with a slot­ted spoon and ar­range them on top of the cooled tart. Brush the lemon slices with more syrup, and chill to set be­fore serv­ing.

Serves 8

For the pastry 180g (6¼oz) plain flour 90g (3¼oz) caster su­gar 90g (3¼oz) un­salted but­ter, plus ex­tra to grease 3 egg yolks and 1 egg white

For the fill­ing 6 un­waxed lemons 275g (9¾oz) caster su­gar 4 eggs, beaten 300g (10½oz) un­salted but­ter, diced

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