Saturday 21 February 2009

Audrey's Almond Tart

Audrey Rayner, champion baker, on her wedding day.
My late mother-in-law Audrey Rayner (née Morgan) was a wonderful cook, entirely self-taught, with a particular talent for pastry and cake making. She had a lightness of touch, a fine palate and an innate understanding of good ingredients.

She was also an entirely English cook, producing the sort of fine traditional food that makes grown men weep: the tartest fruit pies, flans and crumbles, the most succulent roasts, the tastiest gravies, the lightest biccies and steamed puddings.

Here is her recipe for Almond Tart, a simple but sublime formula consisting of a light shortcrust pastry, a spreading of excellent home-made raspberry jam and a topping of almond frangipane.

You will notice that this recipe calls for Stork  (a South African margarine or vegetable shortening designed for baking). Audrey wasn't a margarine eater - the very idea of putting it on toast would have appalled her - but she always insisted that vegetable shortening made the lightest and best pastry. Use butter if you like, but Stork is best.

I hesitate to tamper with this recipe, but I have two things to add to it.  One, roll your pastry out between sheets of cling film (and I bless Rachel Allen for this excellent tip), which makes it so easy to handle.

I wanted to show you the whole tart, but my family polished
off most of it before it had even had a chance to cool.
Two: Although Audrey never baked this pastry case blind, you might want to do so if you want a crisp dry bottom on your pastry.

Audrey's Almond Tart

For the pastry:

250 g cake flour
150 g cold Stork margarine, or similar vegetable shortening, or butter, cut into small cubes
about 100 ml ice-cold water (see recipe, below)

For the filling:

100 g soft butter
100 g caster sugar
1 large free-range egg
2 Tbsp (30 ml) self-raising flour
70 g ground almonds
5 ml (1 tsp) natural almond extract, or almond essence
5 Tbsp (75 ml) raspberry jam, slightly warmed

Heat the oven to 190° C. 

First make the pastry. Put the flour and the margarine into a bowl, and rub together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the cold water, bit by bit, until the pastry just holds together. Knead lightly with your fingertips and press into a ball. (You can do this quickly in a food processor fitted with a metal blade: use the pulse button to process the flour and margarine, and add the cold water in splashes, through the tube of the jug, until the pastry comes together and forms a mass. Don't over-process the dough).

Wrap the pastry in clingfilm and put it in the fridge while you make the filling.

Using a whisk or electric whisk, cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk in the egg, self-raising flour, almonds and almond essence. Set aside.

Now roll out your pastry. Place a long piece of cling film on a marble slab, or your counter top. 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 20 cm in diameter, and about 2 mm thick.

Grease an 18-cm-diameter flan or pie dish.

Peel off the top layer of cling film. Now flip the pastry over and drape it over the flan dish, without peeling off the upper layer of cling film. Gently ease the pastry into the dish, getting well into the corners, and letting its edges drape over the rim.  When the pastry is sitting comfortably in the dish,  run a rolling pin firmly over the rim to slice away any overhang.   Peel off the top layer of clingfilm and pull away the excess overhanging pastry.

Prick the base of the pastry all over with a fork, and press down on it a circle of baking paper or tin foil cut to about the same size.  Fill the paper with 2 cups of rice or dried beans, and bake blind at 190 °C for 15 minutes, or until the outer rim feels somewhat dry when you tap it with a finger.  Gently remove the paper with the rice, and return the dish it to the oven - turned down to 180 °C - for a further 10-15 minutes, or until the base of the pastry is a light golden colour, and dry to the touch.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Spread the raspberry jam all over the bottom of the pastry case. Place big blobs of the almond filling on top of the jam, and smooth the surface with a spatula, making sure to bring the mixture right up to the edges of the pastry case and form a tight seal, to prevent the jam from bubbling up.

Roll the remaining scraps of pastry into a long rectangle (again, between sheets of cling film) and then cut into thin strips. Put the strips in a criss-cross or lattice fashion across the top of the tart (you can twist each strip first, if you like.)

Bake at 190° C for 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is golden and puffed up. Delicious warm with cream or vanilla ice cream.

Makes one 18-cm tart.

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