Dear Reader, a few weeks ago I sat for my final driving test. The one that would decide whether I could be a fully licensed driver with fewer speed or alcohol restrictions.
In preparation for the final test I tried studying the manual online only to get terribly bored by page 20. "Just go in and sit it," Mr NQN said. I had already postponed the test due once so I decided to take his advice. When I walked up to the counter the woman looked me up and down and said, "You have studied haven't you?"
I shrunk back down school age height immediately. "Ummm yes, no well sort of..." I answered. I may as well have been chewing gum and kicking the concrete playground with my school shoes. "Well you won't pass unless you do. Here's the handbook," she said crisply, sliding the thick booklet across the counter.
I sat back down and looked at the time. I had fifteen minutes to skim read this entire book? She must have sensed my panic because she kindly gave me some hints to concentrate on the summaries and off I went cramming as much as I could into my brain. Some things were logical and made sense so I kept to remembering statistics. With numbers swirling around in my head I approached her again and they set me up on the computer.
I completed the test as fast as I could aware that the statistics were probably pouring out of my brain with every second and up flashed the magical words that I had passed! Another man passed at the same time and we congratulated each other. I collected my mug shot worthy driver's license. Sure I look like a murderous psycho in the photo (which begs the question, do the RTA use an "ugly" photo filter on all photos?) but I'm too overjoyed to really care! I am finally a fully licensed driver!
Another thing that I always thought that I would never do was this date tart. That sounds dramatic doesn't it? But this date tart is legendary - created by Lorraine Godsmark when she worked at Rockpool in 1984 it has been on the Rockpool menu since 1989 where they still use the original recipe. When I interviewed Lorraine she mentioned that she is the only member of staff at Lorraine's Patisserie to make date tart.
"The date tart is very time consuming to make. I'm the only one that makes it and when I make it I can only make two at a time and that's ten serves. It's not a dish that that you can mass produce," she said which made me gulp deeply and just appreciate it all the more when I ate it. Rockpool's Phil Wood advised to use fresh, organic eggs and to start the oven high at 180C/350F and then drop 10 degrees every 10 minutes until you’re down at 130C/266F. You are also to half turn it at each temperature drop and to treat it almost as preciously than a newborn baby!
You see this date tart is really something special. The original has a plain tart crust that is topped with soft, sweet, luscious fresh dates and over this is a blanket of the silkiest just set vanilla bean custard. It's the interplay between the barely sweet aromatic custard, the sticky candy sweet dates and crisp short pastry that is a hit. My recipe is an adaption of the tart made using a very short chocolate shortbread crust. I'm sure it wouldn't pass muster with the exacting Lorraine or Phil and when I saw the top wasn't a beautiful dark brown as theirs is, I almost gave it up. I was despondent but determined to try it again.
Then I tasted it. It was sublime. The dates and the custard were sumptuous and silky together and I really did like the short bittersweet tart crust. I slumped down in the seat relieved instead of despondent. Sometimes, even if it doesn't look perfect and like the cookbook picture, the taste is what counts. And yes again Dear Reader, this is a pushy recipe. If you can't try the original, I urge you to give this tart a try. Because things that may seem impossible sometimes happen!
So tell me Dear Reader, how long did it take you to get your license? Is there something that you've always wanted to achieve or make but haven't yet completed? Do you cook a lot of restaurant style dishes at home?
Preparation time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 60 minutes
For chocolate base:
- 135g butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
- 1 1/4 cup plain all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons rice flour (or cornstarch)
- Fat pinch of fine salt
- 10 Medjool or California dates, seeds removed, split in half
- 4 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons caster or superfine sugar
- 400ml pure cream
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped or 1 teaspoon vanilla seed paste
Step 1 - In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, cocoa powder and sugar together until smooth and then add the flour, rice flour and salt and beat on low speed until it forms a dough. Flatten into a ball.
Step 2 - Grease a 23cm/9.2inch fluted tart tin and then press the dough into the tin. It's buttery so it's not ideal for rolling. Press it into the tin so that it is evenly covered. Prick holes in the base with a fork and freeze the pastry for 20-30 minutes (this prevents it rising in the oven).
Step 3 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F and adjust the oven rack so that it sits on the middle upper part of the oven. Bake the tart case for 20 minutes. Remove from oven to cool a little. Place the dates on the base gently squashing them down flat.
Step 4 - Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the cream and vanilla and whisk until well combined. Skim the bubbles away and pour custard into the date lined tart shell. Bake for 30 minutes or until the centre is still a touch wobbly but the rest is set. Cool to room temperature and slice with a sharp knife. This tart should be stored in the fridge but brought to room temperature for serving.
Make sure to completely cover the dates