Damson frangipane tart
We are well on our way to autumn, a season that I have decided shall mark the beginning of a new relationship. I have high hopes for this relationship. It will be a beautiful and fruitful union. It is a relationship…with pastry. For at the moment, I can deal with pastry; I can work with it, just about, and intrepidly. But I am no master. Moreover, I don’t just want to beat pastry into submission, I want us to be a team. Cook and dough, together as one. Clotherthanthis. I reckon this mastery will look more like a happy friendship and less like a domination. So I hope that over the autumn we will see lots more recipes with pastry in it. And thus commences the first: a damson and frangipane tart. Small windfall plums combined with frangipane, a sweet and slightly spongy french filling made with almonds, baked on a sweet shortcrust base. See the end of the ingredients for several other ideas you can substitute for the damsons, to make whatever tart takes your fancy.
I’m sure there’s a pun in there somewhere.
For the sweet pastry (taken from Leith’s baking bible):
- 6 oz plain flour
- 3.5 oz butter
- pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp ice water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 egg yolk
For the tart:
- 3 oz butter or margarine
- 3 oz golden caster sugar
- 3 oz ground almonds (I used about 40g, it was fine!)
- 1/2 tsp almond essence
- 1 egg
- 200-400g damsons * (I didn’t weigh mine, see alternatives)
- 1-2 tbsp cognac, if desired
- 2-3 tbsp sugar
If you don’t have any damsons, substitute plums, peaches, cherries or any other soft fruit that takes your fancy! Estimate about a punnet’s worth.You could also substitute thinly sliced apples, though the thickness will determine whether they soften enough during baking. Or alternatively, spread a generous layer of jam on the tart base instead of fresh fruit, and just spoon the frangipane on top – hey presto, an easy bakewell tart.
So pastry lesson numbero uno: the trick here is to do as little work as possible, and keep everything SUPER cold. You need to cut in the fat into the flour with as little contact as possible. Pastry and hands are not friends; the more work you do to it, the stickier the dough becomes, and the tougher the finished product is when baked. As you add flour and liquid together, strands of gluten are formed (this is what makes eg bread stick together and gives it its texture). We add fats to pastry to slow down the gluten formation however, which in pastry sort of knots the dough together, making it tough. The more gluten the pastry develops, the tougher it becomes. And the more the dough is overworked, rolled out, played with, the more gluten develops. So slow hands are bad, mmkay?
Rich sweet shortcrust pastry: This recipe makes enough for the tart tin pictured above plus a little more. Sift the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Use two knives to cut the butter into the flour, until it is the size of small peas and coated in flour. Next, use just the tips of your fingers to rub the butter into the flour until you have fine breadcrumbs. My home ec teacher always told me a sigh of good technique is to have flour only on your fingers, not anywhere else on your hands when finished (eg palms). Now, whisk together the egg yolk and water in a mug. Next add to the pastry crumbs, and use a KNIFE to start to bring the dough together. Finally use your hands to bring the dough into a ball. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and need only 2-3 times to bring the dough together. Wrap in cling film and chill for an hour or two (the more the merrier, you could even do the day before). In the meantime preheat the oven to 200 oc / gas 6.
When ready, grease your pie tin. Take the cold dough and roll out onto a floured piece of cling film or baking paper. Make sure to flour the rolling pin. Be gentle but time efficient. Try not to break the dough – every time you reroll your pastry will become tougher. Roll out until a large circle about 3-4″ diameter larger than the tin. Use the paper/cling film to lift onto the pie case. Ease the pastry in gently until it fits the shape of the tin. Trim off the excess pastry, leaving enough to fold inwards to give a thicker crust (see picture 1 above). Roll the pin over the top to even out the top. Prick with a fork all over, line with baking paper (scrunched and opened out to make it change shape easier), and fill with baking beans. Bake for 15 mins, then take out, remove paper and beans, and pop back in the oven for another 10-15 mins until the pastry is golden. Voila!
Now for the rest of the tart. You can either do one of two things: cut up most of your fruit of choice finely to mix with sugar / alcohol to spread on the base of the tart, and save some for placing on the frangipane as decoration (picture 3 above)…or you can use some relevant jam on the bottom, and save the fruit just to place on top the tart, for example thinly sliced segments of peaches. If the former, de-stone your fruit and place in a bowl with the sugar, and alcohol (if using). I think Schnapps could work quite well with peaches; I went for brandy with the damsons. And more or less sugar to taste. Save some neatly-cut fruit to dot over the top. Spread the fruit-sugar mix (or jam if going for option 2) over the surface of the tart. Next mix together the butter and sugar till creamy, before adding in the egg yolk, almonds and essence. It’ll look a bit like cake mix (well, it sort of is). Spread this over the top of the fruit (picture 2 above) and even out. Finally, dot slices of fruit on top of the frangipane, pressing in slightly. The frangipane will rise a little around the fruit and will be a nice golden colour when done. When finished prepping, place the tart back in the oven for around 20-30 mins, until the frangipane looks done and the edges of the tart are golden.