Shortcrust sweet pastry tarts and pumpkin pie

With a tip of the hat to the old colony, last Sunday’s lunch was vaguely Thanksgiving oriented. I stopped short of ruining perfectly good vegetable sides by putting cheap marshmallows on them, but did make a pumpkin pie. Which was rather good, even if I do say so myself – light, moist, subtly spiced and pleasantly sweet.

Of course it’s not really a pie; it’s a tart.

I really enjoy making tarts – they’re often impressive and always crowd pleasing desserts, and have the benefit of being something you can make in advance and then forget about.

My fondness for this type of pud must be fairly obvious from at least a couple of my earlier entries (like this and this). Indeed, I probably need to show I can make other desserts too (I can, and I will). But indulge me for this post; not least because I’m about to divulge my method both in text and glorious technicolor (click on the first photo, wait for 5 seconds and you’ll get a nice slideshow).

Before the detail (which is my bastard Frankenstein’s monster of a child of Leith’s baking bible, various and slightly different Jamie methods, Nigel Slater and James Martin), a few high level points:

  • do rub the flour, sugar and butter together with your hands, rather than in a machine.  I really think the result is better;
  • do make sure the butter is cold;
  • do have cold hands (I have the circulation of an old woman.  Which is weird as I am neither old nor a woman.  But quite helpful for tart making);
  • do get yourself a marble board to do the final pushing of the dough together and rolling out malarky;
  • do roll, rather than slice, grate, or generally push the pastry into the tart mould;
  • do use a loose bottomed mould – and get a few different sizes for different types of tarts: lemon or really rich chocolate ones are good in ones about an inch deep; more subtle ones (like bakewell or pumpkin) in 4cm deep (though to be honest, chocolate and lemon work this deep too!); and
  • don’t worry.

Shortcrust sweet pastry tart base

To line a 24cm diameter, 4cm deep loose bottomed tart mould

  • 125g unsalted butter (cubed and cold)
  • 250g plain flour
  • 75g icing sugar
  • pinch of table salt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbspns cold milk

Sieve the flour from a height into a large mixing bowl. Add the icing sugar and salt and about 2 thirds of the butter. Rub these ingredients together using the tips of your fingers until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. When you’ve’ started to make progress, add in the rest of the butter (it’s easier than there being loads of butter to start with). I think it’s best to work on one lump of butter at a time – squeeze, toss in a bit more flour, repeat. Work quickly but lightly.

When you’ve got your breadcrumbs, make a well in the centre. Mix the egg yolks and cold milk in a bowl. Add about half into the well and work into the flour, sugar a butter mixture. Add the rest of the egg mixture gradually – you may not need it all.  Use one hand only (so you don’t end up with two warm and sticky hands) and pat and push together.  When it’s almost coming together as one, but frustratingly not quite there, tip it on to a lightly floured (and ideally marble) board. Now be more firm and push together into a ball.  The idea during all of this is to be confident and firm. Try not to overwork the pastry, else it’ll be springy, rather than short.

Cling film your ball and put it into the fridge for at least 2 hours. When you’re ready to roll, make sure you’ve got a floured board and rolling pin and take out your pastry. Remove the cling film and roll the pastry out (again, firmly, confidently and without too much fuss) until it’s about 5mm thick – or thinner if you dare (I do for certain fillings – a lemon tart, for example, is most impressive when the pastry is super uber thin). You should aim to ensure your rolled out pastry is a consistent thickness and plenty big enough to line your tin.

Gently roll your pastry backwards over your rolling pin (see pictures below) so that you can lift the pastry up, over and into you tart mould. Flop it in.

Push the pastry into the edges of the mould and against the sides. Trim so that you leave about 1-2cm of pastry beyond the height of the mould. This is so that if your pastry shrinks as it cooks, you’ve still got enough to line all the way to the top of the tin. Too much and when it cooks it’ll fall off against the pressure point on the metal edge and you may as well not have bothered. Prick the base a few times with a fork.

Freeze (you can bake it straight away, but freezing seems to help).

Pre heat your oven to 180C.

Bake your tart shell blind: line with grease proof paper and pour in ceramic beans, rice or dried pulses. Cook for 10 mins. Remove the paper and beans/rice/pulse and cook for 3-5 mins more (so that it’s no longer shiny and starts to become golden). If you’re not baking the filling, you could cook the tart case for a few minutes extra.

If the base has puffed up, panic not. Prick it a bit with a sharp knife and push down – maybe even rest a plate or something flat on it for a few seconds. Trim off the overhang with a sharp knife.

Now add your filling.  Maybe the pumpkin one below these photos …

*NB you will almost certainly need to turn your oven down for the next bit*

Pumpkin pie filling

  • 425g tin pumpkin puree (you could make this yourself – pumpkin, butternut squash, sweet potato; all or a mix of these would be nice.  The weight is the post boiling and pureed weight)
  • 325ml double cream
  • Heaped table spoon molasses cane sugar (soft dark demerara would work)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • About a third of a nutmeg, freshly and finely grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks

Pre heat / turn down your oven to 140C.

Whisk together the eggs and yolks. Bring the cream, sugar and spices to a simmer, stirring to mix it all together.  Once it’s all mixed and has simmered for a minute or so, take it off the heat. Slowly pour over the eggs, whisking as you go (wait for a bit and don’t pour it over all at once – you don’t want to scramble the egg). Add the pumpkin puree. Whisk some more. Taste. More sugar? More spice? More cream? You decide.

Pour half the filling into the tart that you’ve baked blind. Put on your oven shelf and pour and scrape the rest of the filling in. This avoids having to mop your kitchen floor.

Bake at 140C for about 35 mins. The filling will rise, particularly towards the edges. Take out as it starts to do so and crack, but whilst there’s still a wobble in the middle. It’ll carry on cooking as it cools to room temperature and the risen bit will sink. Enjoy with creme fraiche.