I kid you nata

Cus­tard tarts, those ir­re­sistable lit­tle morsels, are trick­ier than you might imag­ine to make your­self. The sub­lime Por­tuguese pas­tel de nata is hard to beat, but this vari­a­tion on a trusted St John recipe man­ages to do just that ...

The Guardian - Cook - - King Of Puddings - Jeremy Lee Jeremy Lee is the chef­pro­pri­etor of Quo Vadis restau­rant in Lon­don; @jere­myleeqv

Ah, the glo­ries of cus­tard tarts. They are quite ir­re­sistible, aren’t they? One age-old rule ap­plies, how­ever: that they be good. This, I have learned, is eas­ier said than done.

I used to rather like the nurs­erystyle recipe culled from The Con­stance Spry Cook­ery Book, but the clipped tones of that be­at­i­fied writer seem to have haunted the recipe through the decades, un­til it be­came a cowed and sad­dened ver­sion of a once-promis­ing won­der. It is cu­ri­ous that some recipes, like some wines, do not age well.

The Por­tuguese pas­tel de nata are so won­der­ful that it is al­most point­less try­ing to repli­cate, let alone bet­ter them. That never stopped me try­ing, although my failed at­tempts even­tu­ally did. Quite sim­ply, they were never as good! Even Fabrico Pro­prio: The De­sign of Por­tuguese Semi-In­dus­trial Con­fec­tionery, an ex­tra­or­di­nary book I ac­quired on a visit to Leila’s Shop in Lon­don’s East End – which has a nata adorn­ing the cover, no less – could not aid this cook in cross­ing the win­ning line.

But on Bri­tish soil, the cus­tard tart taken to giddy heights by Fer­gus Hen­der­son at St John left every other at the start­ing post, star­ing af­ter this cham­pion so en­dowed with eggs and cream within a crust so dark that all other pre­tenders were left far be­hind.

Sadly, a lunch at St John is a very rare treat for a Soho cook. I do not get to scoff this almighty won­der of­ten enough. I have a great fond­ness for it and sigh might­ily when pass­ing by – though an oc­ca­sional, more por­ta­ble, madeira cake from their bak­ery calms the pas­sions very well en route.

Still, there are times only a cus­tard tart will do. Par­tic­u­larly when pon­der­ing a treat on a blus­tery day, when one is feel­ing list­less and the day with­out is of in­tem­per­ate hu­mour, stymy­ing thoughts of do­ing very much at all ... then mak­ing a tray of cus­tard tarts is rather a pleas­ing prospect. They may well serve as a pud­ding with much charm, as long as they are kept out of reach of out­stretched arms. Or just a lovely af­ter­noon treat.

Care is re­quired when rolling pas­try, not so thick as to set the cus­tard into bounci­ness, but not so thin as to be frag­ile, crack­ing and burst­ing its banks, weep­ing scented tears of cus­tard while in the oven (hardly a great shame, but a pity none­the­less).

The cus­tard? Ah, it is a de­li­cious mix­ture of eggs, cream and sugar, c’est tout. And, as it is al­ways the best and ever at hand, here is the recipe from Fer­gus Hen­der­son’s St John Cook­book. I love them best un­adorned with just a sprin­kling of nut­meg atop, but should a bowl of bram­ley ap­ple com­pote just hap­pen to be at hand then spoon it on with some cream … That recipe? Ah, a story for an­other day.

The very cus­tard tarts

I con­fess to us­ing quite an­other pas­try, but the orig­i­nal St John fill­ing re­mains my go-to. The pas­try is best made the day be­fore, time will­ing. You will need two patty tins – enough for 20 tarts.

Makes 20 lit­tle tarts

500g plain flour 100g ic­ing sugar A pinch of salt 300g un­salted but­ter 1 whole egg 2 egg yolks 1-2 tbsp ice-cold wa­ter

For the cus­tard

1 vanilla pod 800ml dou­ble cream 9 egg yolks 100g caster sugar 1 whole nut­meg

1 Sift the flour, ic­ing sugar and salt into a bowl. Cut the cold but­ter into small pieces and tip into the flour. Deftly and swiftly rub to­gether into a fine crumb. 2 Crack the egg into a bowl, add the yolks and mix with a fork. Add this into the flour and but­ter with a pinch of salt and the ice-cold wa­ter. Knead into a dough and shape into a roll. Slice in half. Shape each piece into a disc. Wrap each disc in cling­film and re­frig­er­ate.

3 Cut one disc into four pieces. Roll out one quar­ter un­til only slightly thicker than a pound coin. Use a cut­ter to make lit­tle pas­try discs to line your tart trays. This is a pleas­ant task re­quir­ing a mod­est amount of pa­tience and is best per­formed un­rushed if at all pos­si­ble. Re­frig­er­ate the whole tray and re­peat with the re­main­ing pas­try. You should have enough for 20 lit­tle tarts. (The scraps are rather good for mak­ing lit­tle jammy turnovers – just a thought).

4 Make lit­tle discs of sil­i­con pa­per and line each tart case with them. Fill with rice, beans or some such weighty mat­ter. Bake at 180C/350F/gas 4 un­til the pas­try is golden brown; even a lit­tle darker – say 15-20 min­utes. Re­move the trays from the oven. With much pa­tience, re­move the pa­per discs filled with rice and/or beans. Re­turn the trays to the oven for a few min­utes to en­sure the bot­tom is well baked.

5 For the cus­tard, split the vanilla pod length­ways. Scrape the seeds into a heavy-bot­tomed saucepan, toss in the pod, and add the dou­ble cream. Gen­tly bring slowly to a sim­mer, stir­ring of­ten.

6 Put the yolks in a large bowl. Add the sugar. Stir well, then pour on the in­fused cream. Re­move the vanilla pod. Let the cus­tard set­tle for a minute, then spoon away any froth on the sur­face. De­cant into a small jug.

7 Put one tray of tarts in the oven for a minute. Pulling the shelf out care­fully, fill each tart from the jug, re­plen­ish­ing as needed. Once all the tarts are filled, bake them un­til set, for 15-20 min­utes, or un­til only the wib­bli­est wob­ble dis­turbs the sur­faces when ag­i­tated. Re­move from the oven and sit the tin upon a cool­ing rack and re­peat with the next tray.

8 Once all the tarts are cooked, scrape the nut­meg gen­er­ously over the tarts in a fairly even shower. Once the tarts have cooled – af­ter 10-15 min­utes, or maybe longer – gen­tly start to loosen each tart from the tin and sit upon a tray. Once all are done, sit all upon a hand­some board or tray or plate, then boil the ket­tle …

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.