Episode 5: Pies and Tarts
Signature Challenge: Custard Tart
Britishism-American: Cling Film = Plastic Wrap
Bakers Time: 2.5 hrs My Time: 3.5 hours
One of the reasons I started this blog was to try new things, and improve at things I wasn’t particularly comfortable with. Before this, I would make it a new years resolution to learn a new skill – bread, ice cream, etc. But every time I would set myself the challenge of pie crust, I would chicken out.
I’m a little bit afraid of them.
That all changes now. I can’t avoid it! It’s just another one of the challenges. I’ll just have to learn as I go along. Let’s hope, anyway.
However, this was a bake that was PLAGUED with issues from the get go. This was a tart that wasn’t meant to be. I set out to make a basic egg custard with a plum jam topping. And I succeeded… to a degree. Also, it turns out I don’t like egg custard tarts. Go figure.
First off, I was petrified of overworking the dough. That’s all anyone ever talks about when it comes to pastry. As a consequence, I don’t think I worked it enough.
On the show, most of the bakers used their food processors to blend the butter and the flour before the water is added. That way your body heat doesn’t melt the butter while you work on it – However, I don’t have a big enough processor. So I used the old finger method, rubbing the butter into the flour, then adding the water. I ran my fingers under cold water first. Just to be safe.
But I didn’t want to risk it!
Hey, I haven’t had a lot of pie making experience. I didn’t grow up in a family that makes a lot of crust. We’re more of a graham cracker crust family. So I’ve got a lot of learning to do here.
Apparently the way this works is you want to chill your dough before rolling it out. Otherwise the butter pieces all melt, and the pastry won’t be flaky.
Basically, everything you do here is about making sure the butter doesn’t melt.
While the dough was chilling, I got started on the plums.
I had had these plums for a little while. They were so ripe, the skins had split a little.
I chopped them up whole and tossed them in a pan.
I’ve never made a jam/sauce before, so I winged it. Wung it?
I put in the two plums, and about 1/3rd cup of sugar.
And some wine.
Just for flavor.
Two plums, 1/3 c. sugar, 1/2 c. wine.
And some for the chef!
Oh, and this is the point of the evening where I realized I did not have a full size tart pan. I would have sworn I got one for Christmas, but what I actually got was a medium size tart pan.
My first attempt at rolling out the dough did not go so great.
I was trying it out in a springform pan before I finally decided to go ahead and use the smaller tart pan, but this crust had fallen apart before I even got it off the counter, really. So I gathered it up, gave it a little squeeze, and tossed it back in the fridge.
While that was re-chilling, I got started on the custard. Start with egg yolks and sugar and then beat it!
You know how egg yolks get lighter in color when you whisk them? It feels like magic!
You know what Arthur C. Clarke Said? “Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, this is about as low tech as possible, but still pretty magical to me.
After almost boiling over my cream and milk…
I slowly whisked it into the egg mixture. I learned from my mistakes on that one. When I was first dating my husband I wanted to impress him with my cooking skills, and thought I’d make him Spaghetti Carbonara – which is just spaghetti with a sauce made of eggs that have been “cooked” by the hot pasta. Lets just say I didn’t research recipes as thoroughly then, and Spaghetti Carbonara is forever known in our household as “Scrambled Egg Pasta”.
So, now I “temper” eggs when adding hot ingredients by slowly ladling in a spoonful and whisking like crazy. After that you can pour and whisk.
I set the custard aside to cool some while I gave that crust another go. It rolled out better this time. But my formica countertop is just not made for pastry, I think. Everything sticks to it!
I recently read about something called a pastry cloth? you put it over your counter and supposedly, nothing sticks. They’re not too expensive, but I wonder – would you end up with little cloth fibers in all your pastry? I want to try one!
Or I could just use plastic wrap or parchment paper. Those work and I wouldn’t have to buy anything. Maybe I’ll ask for that for Christmas, too…
Those speckles are vanilla bean. I scraped a pod into the dough, and tossed the pod into the milk when I was working on the custard. It’s what Jamie Oliver would do.
I still had a real hard time getting this into the tart pan. There was a lot of patching going on once it was in there. Did you know they make a little tool to push tart dough into the groves of a fluted tart pan? What an amazing unitasker! I just used my fingers.
With the dough in, it’s time to do a “blind bake”. This is a process where you weigh the pastry down and pre-cook it, so that it, hopefully, won’t end up with a soggy bottom(P.S. watching British people repeat the phrase “soggy bottom” over and over again is delightful). The weights help to keep the pastry from rising up, so you have a nice flat bottom crust, with more room for the filling. Some people have special ceramic or metal beads, called pie weights, but you can also use dry beans or rice. I used rice – at some point on the show I believe someone mentions that rice is nice for tarts, as it gets in all the nooks and crannies and lets the ridges show.
On the show, they use what they call “cling film” – plastic wrap. I’ve inadvertently picked this up more than I realized, along with another common phrase they use, “whack it” – “Whack the temperature up” Or “whack it in the oven for a few more minutes.” They really like to whack things over there. Anyway, the contestants are fond of blind baking using cling film. I don’t know about you, but it seems counter-intuitive to put plastic in the oven. Surely there will be melting, or at least off-gassing or chemtrails or SOMETHING… but I decided to give it a try.
Maybe cling film in the UK is slightly different from our plastic wrap, or maybe I had my oven rack up to close to the top. But the top of mine… shrank? Kinda like a shrinky dink? Nothing melted, per se, and the pastry cooked just fine. I actually bagged the rice up for future baking needs.
So, bake with rice in, then bake with rice out. Then, for the last five minutes, brush a beaten egg over the entire inside of the pastry. This will apparently create a seal and keep the custard from leaking out.
Pinpricks to release steam —>
Once the pastry is baked, you should carefully cut away any excess pastry to create a nice, even edge. Mine had already cut itself away while baking, as you see. Minimal trimming was required. It had pretty much fallen away before it was all in the pan, actually.
Back to the jam now…
I had sieved it and left it on a low heat to simmer and thicken, but it was cool now. And yummy.
I was trying my hardest to keep to the time that the contestants had so I needed to get the jam into the crust and add the custard. But right about now was when it hit me. I’d never be able to keep to the same time limit the contestants were given. Why, you ask?
They don’t have to do their own dishes!
Seriously, I read an article and they have a whole staff of Production Assistant who wash the mountain of dishes and run out and buy extra ingredients if they need them. They just have whatever they need, when they need it.
Also, my jam does not have that much wine it it. But it’s really tasty.
So, the jam becomes liquid the minute it goes into the pastry. Which means little flecks of it float into the custard when I pour that in. So much for neatness.
Incidentally, you should always pour in your custard while the tin is in the oven already, so that you avoid spilling custard over the sides of the pastry. You’ll see why.
I filled it as full as I could, considering that little spot on the side where the crust had broken off at a jagged angle.
In theory, it should come all the way to the top. and cook into a nice, flat surface.
By now, it’s 25 minutes until the 2 and 1/2 hour deadline from the show. Which seems perfect, since, I think, it’s about a 25 minute bake time. Maybe I’ll actually get this done on time!
It baked and baked and baked. And was still so liquid-y! There was nothing to do but wait. Finally, after about an hour, I pulled it out to drizzle on the jam. It LOOKS good, but why did it get so puffy?! And it’s still pretty liquid in the middle.
I set it to bake a bit more. A good custard tart, like a quiche, should have a slight “wobble” or “jiggle” in the center when you nudge the tin. Mine still had quite a bit more than that when I decided to finally take it out. It had been 3 1/2 hours. Maybe if I let it set for a bit?
I dropped the case off of my tart, hoping that would cool it quicker. You can see the crust looks good, except for the dark bit there. That’s where my custard either leaked or sloshed over the side. Ideally, that would not be there.
Tart pans are delightfully designed. The side is separate from the base, so you can get your tart out without spoiling that lovely tart pastry case! If it’s cooked well, the side piece just… drops off the tart, leaving the pastry setting on the round base. The bakers like to set theirs on a can of something. Mine’s on some Dal Masala. Thanks, Trader Joes!
Finally, I decided to transfer my tart from it’s metal base to a cake stand. Cause that’s what they do on the show! It’s required to at least get it all the way off the tin. So, as my loving husband protested, I slid a spatula under, and made the transfer. And it completely fell apart. Surprise!
Still pretty tho.
It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever made.