Or, how I conquered my fear of pastry.
Yep, for a long while pastry really freaked me out. And boy, have I had some shockers. Tart bases thicker than the filling. Puff pastry so solid it could chip a tooth. A pie bottom so soggy it literally just disintegrated.
I am a bit of a perfectionist. People who know me may scoff and refer to the kitchen cupboards I’ve not cleaned out since we moved in or the car I’ve not washed in three years, but when it comes to getting something that’s important to me right, I tend to go a little crazy. Friends still talk about the summer I spent perfecting meringues and took a pavlova with me everywhere I went. It was much the same for pastry. Deep dish fruit pies, mini tarts, savoury meat pies. Shortcrust, sweet shortcrust, flaky pastry, rough puff. You name it, I made it (and ate it).
You want to know what led me to conquering the stuff?
Not caring. Or, shall I say, not caring so much. The minute I gave up just a little, my pastry improved tenfold. In one of her cookbooks Nigella talks about never having a problem with making mayonnaise, having done it since childhood, but after hearing that it was meant to be super difficult she couldn’t make it without it splitting. I think it was largely the same with me and pastry. It was meant to be so hard to get right! Butter had to be cold but not too cold. You had to work the dough enough but not too much. There was so much swirling around in my head every time I stepped into the kitchen the confusion and uncertainty made itself known in the end product.
So I’m here to tell you boys and girls – it really ain’t that bad. Give it a go, then give yourself a pat on the back. Try again and notice how this time is better. Stop worrying and just bake. Before you know it, pastry will be your bitch.
The recipe that follows is a perfect entry point. It’s unbelievably hard to screw up, and it produces a lovely crumbly tart or pie base that bakes through fully every time and doesn’t shrink. The relatively low amount of butter makes it easy to work with, while the high level of sugar lends to it the crumbly texture usually afforded by the butter. It’s great to use if, like me, you live in a hotter climate. I don’t know about you but I’m sure not restricting my pie baking (and eatin’) to the winter months. I like to use this pastry when my filling is particularly sweet or rich. As much as I love a pate sucree (sweet shortcrust) its delicate and buttery sweetness can often be lost when paired with an overly decadent filling.
Salted Chocolate Passionfruit Tarts
Makes 6 9cm (3.5″) tarts
For the pastry:*
290g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
60g (1/2 cup) caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
113g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold, cubed
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F)
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor. Pulse until combined.
Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like sandy breadcrumbs.
Add the eggs and pulse until the mixture is just starting to clump together and form a ball. If needed add a tablespoon or two of water.
Turn out the dough on a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half then flatten each half into a disk. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and chill for 10 minutes.*
Divide the dough into six balls roughly the same size. Roll out on a lightly floured work surface and line your tart shells. Trim the excess, prick the bottom with a fork and chill for 10 minutes.
Using pastry weights, blind bake your shells for 10 minutes until they look set. Remove the weights, return the shells to the oven and bake for a further 5-10 minutes until the bases are dry and a lovely light golden. Allow to cool.
For the passionfruit curd:
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
60g (4 tbsp.) unsalted butter
100g (1/2 cup) white (granulated) sugar
190ml (3/4 cup) passionfruit juice, strained
Juice of half a lemon
Combine the passionfruit juice, lemon juice, butter and sugar in a medium saucepan. Over a medium heat, heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture reaches boiling point. Allow to cool slightly.
Temper the eggs by adding to them a splash of the passionfruit mixture. Add back to the saucepan, whisking constantly.
Return the saucepan to the heat, stirring constantly until the curd thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine sieve and set aside to cool.
For the ganache:
125ml (1/2 cup) thickened (heavy) cream
110g (4oz.) dark chocolate, finely chopped*
Place the chocolate in a bowl.
Just before you’re ready to assemble the tarts, heat the cream in a saucepan until just before boiling point.
Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate melts and the ganache is thick, smooth and glossy.
Spoon a few tablespoons of passionfruit curd into the baked and cooled tart shells. You want them to be about half full. Chill until set.
Spoon the ganache over the set curd, smoothing the top with a knife or small offset spatula.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
* This recipe makes double the amount of pastry you will need for the tarts. Feel free to halve it, but it’s always good having ready-made pastry laying about!
* The half you’re not using will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days or in the freezer for a month.
* I can’t stress this enough: use good quality chocolate! Nothing will affect the taste of your ganache more. For this recipe use a chocolate between 60-70% cocoa. You want it nice and bitter and cocoa-ey to offset the richness of the curd.