Every shelf in my local supermarket is brimming with South African summer fruits, and this week the loveliest of them all are plump nectarines in glorious sunset colours. They're delicious eaten raw, but equally good cooked in a rustic, fruity tart filled with a lightly brandied frangipane.
When I say 'nicked', I mean that I read it in a cook book, tried it, and liked it so much that I typed out the recipe (using an actual typewriter, as we did in those days) and stuck it in my recipe file. I must have made this thirty or forty times over the past two decades, using apples, pears, apricots and plums, and it comes close to what I regard as a perfect recipe. I'm sorry now that I didn't make a note of whose recipe it was, because I would like to shake that person firmly by the hand. (Nowadays, when I write down a recipe, I always make a note of whose recipe it is, and what book it came from.)
In its original form, this was a recipe for (and I recorded at least this part of the recipe) a Normandy Apple Tart. This is a classic French recipe using a crisp pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry), a frangipane of almonds and eggs, and very thinly sliced apples.
Although at first glance this recipe may seem technically demanding - as does any recipe that calls for home-made pastry - it's actually very easy to make, provided that you follow the instructions to the letter.
Before I give you the recipe, here are my top tips and tricks for making light, short, good-looking pastry.
Pastry tips and tricks
1. Use a food processor fitted with a metal blade, if you have one, and forget all this nonsense about using your fingertips. Food-processor pastry produces excellent results because it doesn't have a chance to heat up, is not touched by warm fingers, and is mixed in a jiffy. But don't over-process the pastry.
2. Use very cold butter. A good tip is to place your block of butter in the freezer for an hour or so before you make your pastry, and then grate it onto a pre-chilled plate.
3. Add just enough iced water to bring the mixture together into a crumbly ball, and let the ball turn round no more than six times in the food processor.
4. Don't overwork your pastry. Don't knead it, bash it, pound it or stretch it. The very most you should handle it is to push it together with your fingertips and then pat it out into a little circle. Dip your fingertips in iced water first.
5. Do rest your pastry, covered, for at least half an hour in the fridge.
6. Roll (and you are going to love me for this tip, which comes from Rachel Allen) your pastry out between two sheets of clingfilm. If the clingfilm sheets are too narrow, join several pieces together
7. Use light but firm rolling motions, in all directions. What you want is a smooth, even sheet about 3mm deep, and about 5 cm larger than the size of the tart pan.
8. Use a marble-sized ball of dough to press the pastry well into the corners.
9. Don't trim the edges, but allow them to drape over the sides of the pan; this prevents the pastry from shrinking at the edges. Trim the excess away with a knife when you've finished baking the tart.
10. Prick the base all over, using a fork, in about 40 places, before baking blind.
11. When baking blind, line the pastry with a sheet of proper baking paper (not foil or wax paper) and large lentils or ceramic baking beads. Avoid rice, as it inevitably spills and embeds itself in the pastry.
12. If you're adding a very wet filling (such as soggy apples) brush the bottom of the pastry with beaten egg before you blind-bake it.
13. Watch the tart like a hawk while it is cooking. If the edges are browning too quickly, cover them with narrow strips of foil.
Nectarine Frangipane Tart
For the pastry:
200 g flour
200 g cold butter
a pinch of salt
1 large egg yolk
2-3 T (30-45 ml) iced water
For the filling:
100 g softened butter
100 g caster sugar
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp (10 ml) brandy
2 T (30 ml) flour
100 g ground almonds
½ tsp (2.5 ml) almond extract or essence
6 just-ripe nectarines, stoned and sliced
Preheat the oven to 180° C. First make the pastry. Put the flour, butter and salt into a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, then add the egg yolk. With the motor running, add the cold water in tiny trickles, until until the pastry just holds together. Remove from the processor, press together into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to rest for half an hour.
Grease an 22 cm non-stick flan or pie pan. Place a long piece of cling film on your countertop. Put the cold pastry ball on top, and cover with another piece of clingfilm. Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry into a rough circle about 5 cm bigger than your pan, and about 2-3 mm thick.
Peel off the top layer of cling film, wrap the pastry over your rolling pin, and centre it, pastry-side down, on the pie dish. Gently peel away the clingfilm and, using your fingertips and a ball of left-over pastry, lightly press the pastry into the dish. Allow the edges to drape over the sides of the dish.
Prick the base all over with a fork, cover with a piece of greaseproof paper and fill with lentils or baking beans. Bake blind for about 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Using a whisk or electric beater, cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Combine the egg and egg yolk in a small bowl, and then add the egg, a little at a time, to the butter mixture. Add the brandy, flour, almonds and almond extract and stir well to combine.
Tip the frangipane into the cooled pastry case and smooth the top with a spatula. Arrange the nectarine slices in overlapping rows or circles on the filling, pressing them down slightly. Bake at 180° C for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle lightly with caster sugar, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling cooked through. Allow the tart to cool a little, then trim away the excess pastry with a knife.
Serve at room temperature, with whipped cream or vanilla icecream.
Makes one 22 cm tart.