A seasonal picnic with cake and tarts
Eating outside is one of life’s great simple pleasures, but too often proves a faff. Here are two triumphant recipes to prove picnics needn’t be ruined by unreliable weather and squashed, soggy food
Eating outside – picnicking in its loosest possible form – was a big part of my childhood in the summer. My sister and I would fill our rucksacks with packets of Twiglets, mini Twix bars, fridge leftovers and hurriedly made sandwiches (remember the dreaded sandwich spread?), for sustenance on our outdoor adventures.
Finding the right spot – preferably somewhere secret – was more important than the food. When I was about eight years old, we found a particularly magical place – a sunken stream surrounded by mossy banks and trees. We christened it The Grotto and returned to again and again. It was important to have something to eat once we got there, even if it was just a squashed peach or a sherbet fountain.
And that’s the thing about picnics. They’re a brilliant way to celebrate the summer, and the joy of being somewhere outside. To eat al fresco forces you to sit and savour. Not just your food, but your surroundings.
As Brits, the desire to eat outside as soon as the sun shines is hard-wired into our collective consciousness. Once we’ve slipped out of our jackets and eaten lunch on the grass, we’ve ticked the box on the first sign of summer.
Much as I love a picnic, however, I think they can often be a disappointing faff. There’s nothing like Tupperware and clammy weather to compromise food’s appeal. You have to be a little bit smart about what you make for a picnic – you don’t want to go to lengths to make beautiful food that’s going to get messed up en route to the rug.
We in Britain also know that the weather can’t be relied on; as . If it does start to rain, you want something easily portable that you can bundle under the nearest tree or smuggle into a pub. Simple is best – leftover roast chicken works well with a creamy celeriac remoulade or herby potato salad. Baked goods can be easily transported, and do well at room temperature. Little tarts are perfect picnic fodder, and can be easily made ahead.
The cheese, hazelnut and broccoli tarts below are a celebration of one of my favourite British cheeses, the creamy and gently sharp sheep’s milk cheese, Wigmore. Its high quality means it’s not something I can afford to buy a lot of, so these tarts make good use of a small amount. If you can’t get hold of Wigmore, use a mix of good farmhouse brie and pecorino.
For something sweet, I’ve put seasonal stone fruit to work in the cake below, which is a recipe I adapt according to the season. For summer, I make it with perfectly ripe cherries and flat peaches. I love how fragrant basil compliments the sweetness of the stone fruit. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the summer outdoors.
Flat peach, cherry and basil cake
What’s brilliant about this is how it relies on ripe, juicy fruit to keep it moist, but has a wonderful crunch from the flaked almonds. You will need one 24cm-diameter, loose-bottomed cake tin.
Makes 1 cake
To eat outside forces you to sit and savour. Not just your food, but your surroundings
Unsalted butter, for greasing 6 basil leaves 4 ripe flat peaches, halved and stoned 300g cherries, halved and stoned 30g flaked almonds 100g plain flour 200g ground almonds 2 tsp baking powder A pinch of salt 4 eggs 100g golden caster sugar 100ml whole milk 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp vanilla essence
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Thoroughly butter your tin and place the basil on the bottom of the tin. Cover with the peach halves and cherries and scatter with the almonds.
2 Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In another bowl whisk the eggs with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the milk, olive oil and vanilla
essence and whisk again, then fold in the flour and almond mix, keeping as much air in as possible.
3 Pour the mixture on top of the fruit in the cake tin, let it settle for a minute and then bake for 35-40 minutes, until the batter is golden and the fruit squishy. Remove and run a palette knife around the edge to loosen the pudding. Leave to stand a few minutes, then put a wire rack on top of the tin and flip it, removing the tin to let it cool on the rack.
Wigmore, hazelnut and broccoli tarts Makes 6 For the pastry
225g plain flour A pinch of salt 145g unsalted butter, chilled and cubed 3-4 tbsp ice-cold water 3 eggs, beaten 80ml double cream 80ml natural yoghurt 30ml whole milk A good grating of nutmeg 150g broccoli 200g Wigmore cheese A handful of toasted hazelnuts
1 Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour, leaving some substantial flakes.
2 Make a well in the flour and add 2 tbsp cold water. Mix to a rough dough. Add extra water if needed but don’t make it wet. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate for 20 mins.
3 Lightly flour a surface and turn out the dough, gently kneading until smooth. Form a rectangle and roll the dough in one direction, until about three times the width, creating a marbled effect with the butter streaks. Try and keep edges as even as you can.
4 Fold the top third down to the centre, then the bottom third up over that. Turn the dough 90 degrees, and roll out again to three times the length. Fold as before, cover with clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour.
5 Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas mark 1 and lightly grease six 10cm loose-bottomed tart tins. Remove the pastry from the fridge, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 3mm and line each tin with it. Prick with a fork, cover the shells with pieces of baking parchment and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 45 minutes, until the pastry is turning golden. Remove from the oven, remove the beans and parchment, paint with 1 beaten egg and bake for a further 10 minutes. Remove from the oven. Leave to cool while you make the filling. Turn the oven up to 160C/325F/gas mark 3.
6 Lightly whisk the eggs together in a bowl and add the cream, yoghurt, milk, nutmeg, a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper. Cut the broccoli into florets, reserving the stem and trimming off the tough outer edges. Slice up the stem too.
7 Fill the tart cases with the broccoli, cheese and hazelnuts and pour over the cream mix, adding a few extra cheese slices on top. Tuck these in around the broccoli, leaving some of the cheese exposed. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until set. Remove from the oven and leave to cool and settle for at least an hour before eating.