Monday, 18 January 2010

Treacle tart a la Blumenthal

Probably the first thing you heard about Heston Blumenthal was "snail porridge" or "bacon & egg ice cream". They are both great dishes, but to the man in the street it seems more shock & awe than cooking. So a couple of years back when the BBC commissioned "In search of perfection" I tuned in. The first thing I saw was his treacle tart program. Him & his research chefs made a vast array of syrups, from scratch and then tasted them and came to the conclusion that "The one in the familiar green tin"1 was the best. That pretty much sealed my fate, after all how many 3 star chefs after experiment say buy the ingredient from the local co-op !

So when I got the book of the series I enjoyed reading it and started to look for a recipe I could give a reasonable go to, after the burgers the tart looked like a good bet, I was aware that some step would be given in an offhand manner, which to the home cook would take hair-pulling, teeth gnashing fury. I didn't expect it quite so early though. Here are the pastry ingredients.
 Yes that is a lot of butter & its about to cause me some grief & the most work of the entire recipe. The pastry is 400g of plain flour & 400g of unsalted butter (yup co-op's finest there). The recipe gliby says "you may have to add the butter in batches" The reality is you absolutely have to add the butter in batches, rubbing it in is going to take an hour or so, keep ice water to hand so you don't overwork the pastry. Once you got it down to bread crumbs you make it even richer with icing sugar, 2 yolks, 1 egg, the zest of a lemon and the seeds of a vanilla pod.

It seemed quite sticky at this stage, but prior to letting it rest in the fridge (for at least 3 hours, making my fingers thankful) I weighed it. 1.1 kg of pastry, and a vanilla & lemon scented kitchen. Good stuff. Only 2/3rds of this monstrous ball of pastry are going to be used according to the book, but that's not how it happened in my kitchen. The next issue was breadcrumbs, they are horrifically difficult to make by hand, in fact so difficult I had to go and cadge some food processor time off my neighbour. Back to the now rested pastry time to roll it out. The recipe tells you to do this between floured sheets of greaseproof paper which does make life a little easier, I'm sure I seen another TV chef credit Heston with this, but it seems a bit unlikely. Rolled out dropped into a buttered flan dish /tart plate (or in my kitchen 2 medium ones) and back to the fridge, this is some well rested laid back pastry. Half an hour later its back out the fridge, prick over the base, load up with greaseproof and baking beans (or whatever you use (HB suggests coins)) and take it back to the fridge for another rest. Time to pre-heat the oven. Once that's happened & the pastry has rested (30mins later) in go the tart cases to bake blind.

Lets have a look at the filling. Ok eggs & cream, then salt & vanilla. Quickly whip up a buerre noisette.strain & filter it and put it in a pan with your 2 tins of golden syrup (that's just under a kilo of refined sugar goodness ( A quick aside, treacle tart is even in its meanest incarnations a rich dish, if you are counting calories, don't make this)).
The heated syrup is a lot easier to work with than cold syrup.

This gets combined with the bread crumbs, some lemon zest & juice and the  egg & cream mixture. This then gets transferred to a jug to fill the tart case(s). There is a puzzling instruction at this point. "Fill the case with 2/3rds of the mixture transfer to the oven & then pour in the remaining mixture" The quicker witted amongst you will know why, I found out. Its so you don't slosh treacle mix everywhere. Time to relax while a nice slow oven works its magic on the treacle mix. An hour later and viola a treacle tart, or maybe 2. Having had little luck getting dry ice, I skipped the ice-cream, made a cocktail out of the egg whites & lemon juice and sat down with the neighbours (only fair since they lent me the food processor) and dug into still warm tart.

Oops, didn't quite get the pastry flat, but its vanilla/lemon scented goodness lifts the tart beyond the mundane, before you get anywhere near the filing. As you can see there is a crust over sticky goo, this is exactly how treacle tart should be. The top is on the edge of crunchy, and not dry in the slightest. Is it perfect ? Well with the burgers its very difficult to find a good burger in these parts, treacle tart however is easier, and I've eaten my fair share. From WI tart to corner bakery varieties, from cheap no frills to taste the difference. This is the best, everything about it is right, when I make it again, I'll be using slightly more chopped lemon zest, but that's about it. Oh yes the quantities, Heston does overshoot, and I can see several reasons why. The book says 8-10 portions. I'd say its more like 12 & then you can use the spare pastry & treacle mix to make individual tarts for deserving co workers.

To see more photos go here
The cocktail recipe will appear shortly
1 For those of you unfamiliar with the BBC they have to be quite careful about brand names, the tin in question is the familiar (to most of the UK)  green Tate & Lyle golden syrup tin. Yes that is a dead lion, and no those are bees not flies.

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