"Herald, read the accusation!" said the King.
On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows:-
"The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away."
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll, Who Stole the Tarts?
Alice's journey into the topsy-turvy world of Wonderland is littered with references to food and drink - The Mad Hatter's Tea Party, labels that instruct guests to 'Eat Me' and 'Drink Me', the poor delicious oysters, even the Mock Turtle. Most memorable for me is the Queen of Hearts and her tarts - so tasty that their alleged theft is worth going to court over.
We have conflicting evidence regarding the contents of said tart - the doormouse claims it's treacle, but as I've already made one of those I've gone with the illusions to it as a 'summer tart'. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that, for the Queen of Hearts, only an extraordinarily lovely bright red tart would do. You can (of course) replace the redcurrants suggested below with any berries you fancy, but I do think their sharpness works particularly well with the sweet custard. The ideal tart to make and enjoy on a very happy un-birthday!
2tbsp golden caster sugar
1 egg yolk
100g ground almonds
200g plain flour
4 egg yolks
250g golden caster sugar
Electric hand whisk
20cm tart tin (preferably at least 3cm deep)
Greaseproof paper and baking beans
1. Preheat your oven to 200C. To make the pastry, cream the butter and sugar, beat in the egg yolk and stir through the almonds and flour. Bring the mixture into a dough (add 1tbsp cold water if it is not quite wet enough) and fashion into a thick log. Place in the fridge, wrapped in greaseproof paper, and chill for 20 minutes.
2. Remove the pastry from the fridge, slice into 5mm thick rounds and push into the tart tin, ensuring there are no gaps (more detail on this technique can be found in the Lime Tart recipe a couple of weeks back). Ensure that the pastry comes all the way up the sides of the tart tin, and that you press it carefully into the grooves. Return it to the fridge for a further 15 minutes.
3. While the pastry is chilling, you can start the crème pâtissière. Start by beating the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until light and creamy. Sift the flour and beat in as well. Leave to stand. Bring the milk and butter to the boil in a saucepan over a low heat.
4. While the milk is warming, bring the tart tin out of the fridge, line it with a piece of greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans. Place in the centre of the oven and cook for fifteen minutes.
5. Once your milk has come to the boil, pour it over the egg mixture, whisking briskly by hand as you add it in. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan (give your pan a brief wash and dry first) and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for around 25 minutes. It is done when it has a thick consistency that clings to the spoon. Once it is cooked, transfer to a clean bowl, cover with cling film and leave to cool. To prevent a skin from forming, push the cling film right into the bowl and ensure it makes contact with the crème pâtissière.
Note. Rumours abound on the internet that you can turn the egg and milk mixture into a good crème pâtissière with ten minutes on the heat. Those cooks are braver than me - I have my littlest gas hob on low and heat it very slowly. I have an unshakeable fear that I will curdle it one day, and end up pouring lovely ingredients down the sink. Thankfully (touch wood) this hasn't happened yet, but I maintain peace of mind by keeping the gas on low and having a sink full of cool water standing by, just in case the mixture starts separating or resembling scrambled eggs. It does take a while to thicken (don't be tempted to jack the heat up!), but I quite enjoy the monotony of stirring; it's perfect for zoning out to something on the radio.
6. At some point during your stirring, the tart in the oven will need a little attention. When it has had its fifteen minutes, remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper and cook for a further five minutes until golden. This is the last baking the tart will get, so make sure there aren't any doughy looking bits once it comes out of the oven. Put the tart on the cooling rack until cold.
7. When assembling the tart, make sure your tart shell and crème pâtissière are cold. Pour the crème pâtissière into the tart shell and leave it to stand either in the fridge or in a cool place for around 30 minutes. Doing this ensures that you will be able to cut neat slices of your tart, rather than the custard-y mixture leaking out everywhere (as you will notice from the photo above, my friend Hugh - owner of the shadow hand in the photo - and I couldn't wait that long). Once the tart has rested, remove the redcurrants from their stalks with a fork, tumble them over the tart, dust with icing sugar and serve.