Friday, 29 April 2011

A dessert for the Royal Wedding

I immensely enjoyed watching the royal wedding today. I think this is very much due to the fact that I am an ardent lover of Disney princess films. I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I think the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton possesses an astonishing number of characteristics reminiscent of this iconic genre. It's essentially the plot of Beauty and the Beast. The part where she walked out onto the balcony to be greeted by thousands of screaming patriots? Almost exactly like the part in Aladdin where Jasmine thrusts the future king out onto a balcony in front of the entire population of Agrabah, and he's not entirely sure how to cope with such attention. I loved it. I hadn't really been bothered until it actually came up on the television, and I am not ashamed to admit I had to get my boyfriend to fetch me a piece of kitchen roll to dry my eyes. (Kitchen roll, not a tissue - that would have required going upstairs and possibly missing priceless nuptial action).

I tend to express my feelings best through the medium of food, so naturally I thought it would be appropriate to bake something in celebration of this great event. The result is a hazelnut, white chocolate and summer berry tart that incorporates the red, white and blue of our national flag. It's a twist on the traditional French fruit tarts you find in bakeries everywhere, the hazelnut pastry and white chocolate filling making it something rather special, just like the occasion itself. I like to think it's a perfect piece of confectionary for today's event: a mixture of classic, time-honoured tradition, and modernity.

I decided on a hazelnut pastry because I wanted something crunchy and rich to contrast with the very sweet white chocolate filling and the tartness of the berries. I deliberated between hazelnuts and almonds, but the former won, because they have more depth of flavour. I roasted them and ground them before mixing them with butter, flour, sugar and egg yolk. It's a very rich pastry, almost impossible to roll out without it crumbling everywhere. In the end I just put it all in the tart tin and pressed it into shape, which worked perfectly well. You end up with the most delicious crust, rather like the base of a cheesecake but better. It tastes like a digestive biscuit with hazelnuts in, and is the perfect crunchy foil to the melting filling.

I blind baked the tart crust before filling it; the smell from the oven was sublime. The pastry was buttery enough that it didn't stick to the tin, and so it was easy to pull away the casing. I put it in the fridge to chill while I made the pastry cream; a gorgeous thick custard, it was the wedding dress of my royal wedding tart.

I've made pastry cream a couple of times before. It's similar to making an ice cream custard base, but it thickens more. I whisked egg yolks and cornflour to a thick, yellow paste before adding warmed milk infused with vanilla, then stirring the whole thing over a low heat until it thickened. Every time I do this, I'm surprised by how quickly the mixture turns: you stir for ages and ages and it still has the consistency of milk, and then suddenly, a few seconds later, it thickens into something unctuous and spoonable. I stirred in some melted white chocolate to sweeten it; normally I'd add sugar to the egg yolks but in this case the chocolate was sweet enough.

Once the pastry cream had chilled in the fridge I spooned it into the tart case, and decorated the top with blueberries, sliced strawberries, and raspberries. Red, white and blue; the Union Jack in tart form. I think it looks rather spectacular, and much more labour-intensive than it actually was. Unlike the royal wedding, which looked effortlessly perfect (apart from that bit where it looked like the ring wasn't going to fit) yet which I'm sure has been years in the rehearsing.

As for the taste, it has all the delicious creaminess and textural contrast of something out of a Parisian bakery, but with a gorgeous nuttiness from the hazelnut crust and a vanilla-scented sweetness from the white chocolate pastry cream. The mixture of pastry, custard and sharp berries is beautiful, and I think the best part is the crust, which is like the kind of fabulous biscuit you might dream about.

I would urge you to try making this tart one day. It's actually quite easy - the only vaguely tricky part is making the pastry cream, but all you have to do is make sure you don't heat it too strongly or it will turn to scrambled egg. Other than that, the pastry can be made in a blender and the assembly of the tart takes no more than about ten minutes.

I've been singing the national anthem all day. I've watched the wedding at least three times, as the TV has been on for several hours and they've recapped the highlights constantly. I feel full of patriotic British spirit; my only regret is that I didn't bring this tart to share with the crowd assembled outside Buckingham Palace. I'm sure it would have made the perfect sustenance for a day celebrating a wonderful moment in British history. I bet Kate would have liked it too. Though the juicy berries would have been hazardous anywhere near that beautiful dress.

Royal Wedding hazelnut and white chocolate fruit tart (serves 8-10):

50g hazelnuts, toasted
140g plain flour
100g cold butter, cubed
50g brown sugar
1 egg yolk

25g cornflour
3 egg yolks
400ml milk
1 vanilla pod, split
160g white chocolate, melted

Summer berries, to decorate

First, make the pastry. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Put the hazelnuts in a blender and grind fairly finely. Add the flour, sugar and butter and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk. Tip the mixture out onto a floured work surface and pull together into a ball. 

Grease a tart tin with a removable bottom (mine was about 22cm I think) and press the pastry into it. You can try to roll it out with a rolling pin: it will crack a bit, but just put the pieces into the tin and press together like a jigsaw puzzle. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for another 10. Relish the nutty, buttery scent emerging from your oven.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and vanilla pod until just boiling, then remove from the heat. When the pastry crust is cool, remove from the tin and place on a plate. Chill in the fridge.

For the pastry cream, use an electric whisk to mix together the cornflour and egg yolks; the mixture will be very thick. Add a little of the infused milk (remove the vanilla pod) to the yolks and whisk, then add the rest. Pour it into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. Don't heat it too much, and give it time; mine took over ten minutes to finally thicken, but it will turn eventually. Leave it to cool for about five minutes, then stir in the melted chocolate. Put it in a bowl covered with cling film and chill in the fridge for a few hours.

To assemble the tart, spoon the pastry cream into the hazelnut crust. Top with berries or other fruit as you like, and decorate with sprigs of mint and a dusting of icing sugar. This is best served after it has been out of the fridge for about 15 minutes.

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1 comment:

  1. I have just seen this for the first time, although it is clearly an old post. I am bookmarking it fir the summer.


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