Sunday, 20 January 2008

Bramley apple and custard tart

All hail Henry Merryweather. Apart from sounding like he’s just stepped out of a Dickens’ novel, he was the chap who discovered Bramley apples in his Nottinghamshire garden in 1850. Nothing says ‘England’ like a lovely big tart Bramley apple. And nothing says ‘yum’ like sweetened stewed Bramleys with custard. Hands up who wants a slice of this beauty?

Bramleys even look beautiful cooking in the pan:

Wherever you are in the UK at the moment, the chances are you’re being rained on. The sky seems to be a permanently murky grey colour and the rain is unrelenting. It is at such times that my thoughts turn to what is called “nursery food”. I don’t actually like the term because it always makes me think of milky rusks and pulpy food without any decent seasoning, but it seems to be used nowadays to describe comfort food of a sort that ‘nanny’ would’ve given us in our youth (what planet do the people live on who coin these phrases?)

This is another recipe for demanding types who like their baking to tick more than one box. It could be a dessert, or it could be a slice of something to have with a cup of tea. There’s no need to put anything with it as you already have the apple and custard in the tart topped with lovely cream. Pure excess! The best kind.

This tart is made in layers. First, you bake the pastry case, this is my favourite shortcrust pastry made with butter and egg yolk and all things delicious; no anaemic pastry here! – here it is fresh from the oven, the paper and baking beans removed. I like the way you get little dents in the pastry from where the beans have sat:

Say goodbye to the pastry as it's covered in apple puree. Although sweetened the apple retains a slightly tart edge which works wonderfully with the indulgent creamy custard:

Next, the custard is poured over:

What intrigued me with this recipe is that whenever I have seen cinnamon used in apple recipes, it is always added to the apple part of the dish. Here, the cinnamon infuses the custard and makes an interesting alternative to the usual vanilla custard. When I make this dish again I think I would add more cinnamon as I don’t think the taste really stood up to the other flavours of the dish. It was the first opportunity I’ve had to use my Bahamian cinnamon sticks:

It’s particularly appealing the way the custard mixes with the stewed apples and turns them a pinkish colour.


For the sweet rich shortcrust pastry:
173g plain flour
120og unsalted butter
3 tablespoons icing sugar
1 ½ egg yolks
(if you’re wondering why some of the quantities look odd, it’s because this is 1.5 times the basic recipe)

For the apple:
750g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped (I needed 5 apples)
65g golden caster sugar

For the custard:
400ml double cream
60g golden caster sugar
2 cinnamon sticks (or one large one) – I recommend adding more cinnamon
3 large egg yolks
1 egg (yolk and white)

For the cream:
142ml double cream
Vanilla extract, to taste

How to make:

- To make the pastry either put all the ingredients, except for the egg yolk, in a food processor and blend. Then add the egg yolk and bring together to a dough. Or, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles bread crumbs. Then stir in the icing sugar before adding the egg yolk and bringing to a dough.
- Make the pastry into a flattened disk and wrap in clingfilm, refrigerating for 30 minutes.
- Grease a 23cm round, 4cm deep loose bottomed flan tin.
- Roll the pastry out between two sheets of greaseproof paper and then line the tin with the pastry. Don’t worry if it tears, use any excess to patch it up – it is very good natured.
- Chill the pastry for an hour in the fridge (this will help to limit shrinkage on baking)
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/350°F/Gas mark 4.
- Line the pastry case with either greaseproof paper or non-stick foil and fill it with baking beans, dried pulses – whatever you have.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pastry is cooked, but still pale. You don’t want to overcook it at this stage as it has a lot of baking ahead of it!
- Remove the paper and beans and leave to cool.
- Now cook the apples. Place the chunks of peeled and cored Bramleys into a saucepan and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over a gentle heat until slightly softened and then add the sugar. I found the apples broke down to a pulp better with the saucepan lid on, but keep checking it as you may need to add a little extra water if the apples look dry. I needed to add a further 3 tablespoons.
- When the apples have collapsed (this will take 10-15 minutes) remove the pan from the heat and stir to ensure that no lumps remain. Leave to cool.
- Now make the custard. Put the cream in a saucepan and add the sugar and cinnamon sticks. Over a gentle heat, bring to the boil.
- Remove from the heat and fish out the cinnamon sticks. Leave the cream to cool for a few minutes before beating in the egg and yolks.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C/fan oven 150°C/325°F/Gas mark 3
- Place the pastry case (still in the flan tin) on a baking sheet.
- Spoon the apple puree over the pastry base. At this point, put the baking sheet with the flan on it, onto the oven shelf as it will be too nerve-wracking and difficult to move the flan when you have poured the custard on!
- Pour the custard gently and slowly on to the flan. I poured it through a sieve to ensure that there were no lumps in the custard.
- Ease the oven shelf back into the oven, and bake for approximately 2 hours or until the custard is set (mine took 1 hour 45 mins). Don’t worry if, when you take the tart from the oven you notice a dark brown skin on top – I think this happens purely because of the slow baking. I tasted a bit and it was rather nice, however, it’s not that pretty so – on taking the tart from the oven – I peeled it off with a palette knife. It comes off very cleanly if done straight away and reveals the beautiful set yellow custard underneath.
- Allow to cool. You can either add the piped cream (simply whip the cream with a dash of vanilla) decoration at this point or just before serving. Either way, once cool, the tart must be kept refrigerated; it can be made a day in advance of serving.
- Bask in glory at the wonderful thing you have made.
- Eat.


glamah16 said...

OMG!This is wonderful. I wish that variety of apple was here. Im curious about your shortcrust. I guess I have to try this with some great vaiety of apple here. Aren't you lucky with your Jamaican cinnamon sticks. I'm drooling.

Anonymous said...

Two hands up equals more slices? I thought the cream was pushing it a waistline still hasn't recovered from the raspberry cheesecake

Deborah said...

What a gorgeous tart!!

Soo said...

I vote this my favourite Caked Crusader cake! (Although, in fairness to other recipes I will continue to sample all output.)

jen said...

That is just gorgeous! I'd love a slice (or three)... Could you pop some in the post?