For the last few months, while I was writing the book, I gave up ironing. It wasn't much of a change, I was hopeless at it and if it were a paid job, I'm sure I would have been fired. Mr NQN being a modern man whose mother never owned an iron or an ironing board didn't seem too bothered at first. After all he has two perfectly good arms that he could iron with. I felt like I had somehow managed to juggle things without losing any points and I scored myself a couple of hours time that I would have spent ironing and I used them to work on the book some more.
As the year goes on and things get busier coming up to Christmas (arrgh it's coming like a steamtrain!) I am often finding sneaky ways to try and juggle housework with actual work. I have a real aversion to mess whereas Mr NQN can't see it at all and will happily sit on top of piles of paper and have melted ice creams lying about in uncovered bowls overnight. I often say that he is in need of a butler or a maid-and that I'm neither. However when I announced that I was about to do the first lot of ironing in a while he actually looked delighted and asked if I would iron his shirts. Le sigh.
One thing I'm not quite willing to give up is making pastry. I do have a stash of the frozen stuff from the supermarket in the freezer but I prefer to make my own. The Forrest Gump saying "Life is like a box of chocolates" applies somewhat here. "Life is like a pastry buffet" it should say and I am forever trying to find the "perfect" pastry. This tart is from the Phaidon Recipes From An Italian Summer cookbook I was sent. It is a collection of recipes gathered by the Italian The Silver Spoon authors. As soon as I saw it I was taken by the photos of the berries on the tart.
In my haste to make it, I hadn't read over the instruction simply asking Mr NQN to pick up some raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. Once I stood in my kitchen and read through the recipe I was wary. The pastry didn't seem to need to be rested and the consistency of it wasn't quite rollable. And baking creme patissiere was new for me. Wouldn't that make it hard and rubbery? I thought custard tarts used freshly cooked custard in a fully baked shell. The dimensions of the tart didn't seem quite right either and they called for a 40cms tart tin which is absolutely huge. Mine was a mere 22cms and that produced a sizeable enough tart to feed at least 8-10 people.
I followed the instructions-somewhat. They were a tad vague which was a bit annoying although they are correct in that the dough doesn't need resting as it is so buttery it is pretty much like a shortbread biscuit and barely shrinks. It is also absolutely delicious-bake any extra dough to eat as is! I did defer to sense and rolled the dough between two sheets of baking paper as it was just too soft and buttery-perhaps that was because it is so warm here but it just stuck to the rolling pin otherwise. And I baked the creme patissiere custard. I held very little hope for this. To me this was going to be a failure tart. The pastry job you can see was ugly and I just didn't have much motivation to correct it given my struggles with it and the heat.
I topped it with berries and brought it to my parents' place for dinner telling them that it was a "Fruit of the Forest _Failure _Tart". I sliced into it-the pastry was nice and crisp which was a good sign but I still didn't hold much hope for it. I served it up and took a bite. The pastry was buttery and gorgeous with a lovely light lemon flavour and the custard wasn't hard at all, it still retained a smoothness and a good custardy texture. The fruit and icing sugar complemented the sweetness and buttery quality with a touch of tartness and I'm pleased to say that I was proved wrong and this tart was renamed the Fruit of The Forest Fabulous Tart. Now about that ironing...
So tell me Dear Reader, what is your most loathed household task?
Fruit Of The Forest Tart
Adapted from Recipes from an Italian Summer by Phaidon $59.95
For the creme patissiere
500ml/18 fl oz milk
100g/3.5 ozs caster or superfine sugar
3 egg yolks
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
for pastry dough
300g plain flour
150g butter plus extra for greasing tart pan
120g caster or superfine sugar
grated zest of 1 lemon
3 egg yolks
For the decoration
1 small punnet of blueberries
1 small punnet of raspberries (or whatever berries you like)
1 tablespoon icing sugar
You will also need a buttered 22cms loose bottomed tart tin
Step 1 - To make the creme patissiere, pour the milk in a pan and stir in the sugar, egg yolks. lemon zest and cornflour. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly with a flat bottomed wooden spoon. As soon as it comes to the boil, beat the mixture vigorously, boil for a few more seconds, then pour into a bowl and add the rum. Cover the creme patissiere with cling wrap directly over the top to prevent a skin forming.
Step 2 - Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/ Gas mark 3. To make the pastry dough, sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, lemon zest and egg yolks and knead together adding some water to bind it if necessary. Cut off one quarter of the dough, wrap it in cling film and set it aside. Shape the remaining 3/4 of the pastry into a ball and flatten the top. Take out two large sheets of greaseproof paper and roll out the pastry between them. Carefully lift off the top sheet and place the tart tin on top and flip it over. It may break, this is a delicate dough (but oh so yummy) but that's ok. Patch up any bits. And let it be known that it is easier to transfer from the paper to the pie tin if you do refrigerate it for an hour. Mine fell apart at many places but the custard and fruit will hide most patch work. Dock the base with a fork and line with greaseproof paper and fill it with ceramic baking beads or uncooked rice or beans.
Step 3 - Bake the pastry for 30 minutes, then remove the paper and beads from the oven and bake for another 10 minutes. Leave to cool.
Step 4 - Preheat the oven again to 160C/325F/ Gas mark when the tart is cool. Spread the creme patissiere evenly over the bottom of the pastry. Then roll out the remaining 1/4 of the pastry and cut into strips and lay them in a pattern-stripes of lattice or words, whatever tickles your fancy. Bake for 30 minutes until the strips of pastry are golden brown. Remove the tart and leave to cool. Once cool, decorate with berries and dust with icing sugar.