Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mad about Tarts

I think tarts are just so elegant, both savoury or sweet. Oh except in Bridget Jones Diary. I must say, that movie kinda messed with my appreciation of tarts as an elegant pastry. You remember the scene, right? The one in which Renee Zellweger shows up at what she thinks is a 'tarts and vicars' costume party in a bunny-girl outfit (you know, like a playboy bunny) not realising of course that the theme had been scrapped. Yeah, so now every time I hear the word tart, I think of her slightly plump person in that costume. Funny scene, funny movie but not a terribly elegant image. 

Ok, I need a minute to get that image out of my head. Today, we're talking about pastry. Tarts. 

I love tarts. I especially love how tart pastry is so buttery and delicate that it literally crumbles once it's safely in your mouth (not before, God forbid). I also love how versatile a tart can be. Add some sugar in the pastry and fill it with fruit or custard or chocolate and it's a perfect dessert. You can also add cocoa into the pastry in which case you get a chocolate-crusted tart. Or coconut, even. Alternatively, for a savoury tart, mix in herbs, spices or cheese for a delicious tart crust that's extra tasty. 

This weekend, I went tart-mad! I made one large batch of pastry and five different savoury fillings to go in them. 

There are two components to making a good tart: the pastry and the filling. 

First: the pastry. Making short crust pastry isn't difficult. Gently rub cold butter into a bowl of flour (generally the ratio of flour to butter is about 2:11/4) until it resembles crumbs; add just enough ice cold water to bind the mixture together to form a ball of dough. Chill. Roll and bake. For sweet tarts, you'd add a little bit of powdered sugar to the flour; for savoury tarts, add some salt: a large pinch will do. 

That's he basic recipe which I learnt to make years ago. Since then, I've come across variations to the recipe, some that have worked amazingly, others that weren't too spectacular. Basic variations include swapping the ice cold water for ice cold milk. Or, you could replace about 1/4 of the flour with ground nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds or peanuts). Or, replace 1/4 of the plain flour with wholemeal flour or oats. Adding a couple of tablespoons of cocoa to the flour. Add a little more flour and an egg yolk to the dough. These are the variations that I love. 

Today, I added toasted caraway seeds into my pastry and it was fantastic. 

Next: the filling.

I had a few ingredients to play around with: beetroot, ricotta cheese, Gruyere and cheddar cheese, organic mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, parsnip and cauliflower. I mixed and I matched and I came up with five different fillings. Some worked — the Mushroom and Cheddar Tarts, the Zucchini, Ricotta and Parsnip Tart and the Peppers and Cauliflower Tarts and some needed more work (the Beetroot and Ricotta Tarts). 

I'll include the recipe for the Mushroom and Cheddar Tart.

(makes 30 mini tarts)
120g plain flour
65g cold butter, cut into cubes
pinch of salt
2 − 3 tbsp ice cold water
11/2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted. 

Mix the flour, salt and caraway together. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into flour mixture, gently lifting the mixture up as you rub. Once the mixture begins to look like breadcrumbs, add the water (a tbsp at a time) and bring the crumbs together to form a ball of dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 mins. Once it has chilled, roll the dough gently but swiftly and mould it into the tart tin. Using a fork, poke holes on the base of the tart to allow steam to escape (this way your pastry won't shrink when you pre-bake it). Bake it in a preheated oven (170C) for about 15 mins. (You don't need to add pastry weights since you have poked holes all across the base). 

1 cup cauliflower florets
1/2 cup milk
1 cup mushrooms (I used oyster), diced
1/2 cup cheese, grated (Gruyere and/or cheddar)
chives, chopped small
olive oil

Toss the cauliflower in some olive oil and bake for about 20 mins (170-180C) or until the florets start to get golden. Remove and place in saucepan with 1/2 cup milk. Cook on low heat until the milk starts to boil and the cauliflower gets soft. Season with salt, pepper and chilli flakes. Remove from heat and puree till smooth. 

Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and gently saute the mushrooms till they are lightly browned. Season. 

Mix the pureed cauliflower, half the mushrooms and half the cheese together.

Assembling the tart
Spoon the cauliflower puree to fill half of the pre-baked tart case. Top with the remaining mushrooms and then the cheese. 

Bake for 10-15 mins. Remove and garnish with chives.

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