Friday, 7 October 2011

Secrets of Some Little Tarts

On a trip to Sydney one weekend not too long ago, we (being Mr D. and I and our friend the lovely Ms Y.) happened by chance to spy the Bourke St Bakery.  We were driving through Surry Hills on a Sunday afternoon on our way home to Canberra.  On spying the little shop, Ms Y. and I cried out excitedly in unison, “Pull over, pull over!” to Mr D. who was the one driving, “It’s the Bourke St Bakery – it’s famous!”.
True to its reputation, there was the line of customers reaching out the door and along the footpath, waiting patiently for the delicious fare.  We took our place in the queue, trying to peak inside the windows of the tiny shop to see what was on offer that day.  After around 15 minutes, Ms Y. and I emerged triumphant, with some wonderful fresh pastries in hand – a ginger crème brule tart, a rhubarb and custard danish, and a pain au chocolat (yum!).   We ate them happily in the car on the drive home, very pleased with ourselves at such a lucky find, which started a discussion about the delights of the Bourke St Bakery cookbook.
I know the Bourke St Bakery guys put this cookbook out a few years ago, but my first-time experience of the bakery that day brought home how nice it might be to make some of the delectable treats at home.  Confirmation from Ms Y. that the cookbook was indeed full of fabulous recipes firmed up my desire.  Fortunately, I had a birthday coming up soon and my lovely father was good enough to give me a copy as a special gift.
So, here the story of the little tarts begins.  I was careful about not being too ambitious too quickly (crème brule tarts, danishes and chocolate croissants are just a little beyond me at the moment, but I promise to give them a go), so I figured some sweet short-crust pastry tart cases filled with three of the simple but delicious-looking suggestions from the Bourke St Bakery cookbook were a good start.
The recipe for sweet short-crust pastry was reasonably straight forward, but also quite time consuming – it is important to rest the pastry in the fridge for quite a while on several occasions throughout the process (so it’s best to allow a whole quiet afternoon of baking in peace to do this).  I decided to see how baking the tart cases in a 12-hole regular muffin tin would go.  While not quite as pretty a result as using proper tart tins (the fluted ones with the removable bases), the tart cases turned out to be quite a good size for dainty little desserts.  The tart cases had a lovely biscuit texture (but not too crumbly) and their sweet buttery flavour was very pleasing.  Another bonus was that they froze quite well in an airtight container, so they could be whipped out at reasonably short notice for an impressive dessert after all the hard work had been done in advance (or they can be frozen at the point where they are ready for baking).
The three fillings I chose were ricotta and strawberries, lemon curd and chocolate ganache.  All three were lovely, but read on to see which one stole the show...
The ricotta and strawberry tarts were definitely the beauty queens, with their crowning glory of fresh strawberry pieces.  The ricotta filling was lovely, being rich and creamy with a touch of vanilla. And the fresh strawberries cut through the richness well.  However, the whole ensemble was just a tad too rich for my taste and next time I would use low-fat ricotta instead of the full-fat type.

The lemon curd tarts were the elegant dames of the show, with the pale yellow curd providing a lusciously refreshing filling.  The silky smooth texture of the lemon curd paired beautifully with the biscuitiness of the tart case.
The chocolate ganache tarts, however, were the real stars of the show.  Yes, they may have been the little plain janes of the three contestants (the just didn't want to photograph well...sorry about the slightly fuzzy picture), but their taste was out of this world.  The cream chocolate filling in its tart case formed a little pot of squidgy chocolate heaven, just perfect for dunking fresh strawberries into.  Plus the chocolate ganache was such a cinch to make.  I used really good quality milk chocolate bits (not dark ones) from Koko Black and melted them with a little hot cream and voila!  The resulting molten chocolate was so good that I ate around half of it straight from the saucepan, licking the wooden spoon clean. J

So tell me, when it comes to desserts, do you like to go all out for the magnificent beauty queens or are the simple little plain ones your favourites?

Now for the recipes....

Sweet short-crust pastry tart cases
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Makes 12 small cases

200 g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
10 ml (1/2 tbs) vinegar
50g caster sugar
80 ml water (1/3 cup), chilled
330 g plain flour, chilled
Pinch of salt

1.   Remove the butter from the fridge about 20 minutes before starting.  Place the flour into the fridge to chill at the same time.
2.   Combine the vinegar, sugar and cold water in a bowl and stir well until the sugar is fully dissolved.
3.   Add the flour, salt and butter to the bowl of a food processer and pulse for 3 - 4 short bursts to partially combine (you should still be able to see little pieces of butter through the mixture).
4.   Turn out flour mixture onto a clean work surface and gather together.  Sprinkle over part of the sugar mixture and smear it over the flour mixture with the palm of your hand.  Repeat two or three times.  If the dough still doesn’t come together, keep sprinkling with a little more cold water and smearing again until the dough just comes together.  You should still be able to see flecks of butter at this stage.
5.   Shape the dough into a disc and refrigerate for at least two hours.
6.   Remove the disc from the fridge about 20 minutes before you want to roll it.
7.   Sprinkle a little flour onto a clean work surface and rub some over a rolling pin, but use sparingly.
8.   Gently roll the disc out until it is around 3mm thick.  Using the rolling pin, gently transfer the dough onto a very lightly floured baking tray, then cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.
9.   Brush a 12-hole regular muffin tin with a little melted butter or canola oil.
10. Lay the pastry out onto the clean work surface again.  Cut the pastry into little rounds using a round cutter of 10cm diameter. The offcuts can be rerolled and you should be able to get 12 rounds in total.
11. Place a pastry round over the centre of each muffin hole, then use your fingers to press the pastry gently but firmly into and around the hole.  Place the muffin tin in the freezer for at least 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
12. Line each tart case with foil, gently pushing the foil all the way into bottom of the case, and fill with uncooked rice ready for blind baking.
13. Bake the tart cases for around 20-25 minutes until they are golden all over (particularly in the centre).
14. After a couple of minutes out of the oven, gently remove the tart cases from the tin and cool on a wire rack ready for filling.

Ricotta and strawberry filling
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Fills 12 small cases

500 g low-fat ricotta cheese, liquid drained
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla bean, soaked in hot water, split lengthways
500 g strawberries, hulled and quartered

1.   Put the ricotta and icing sugar into the bowl of a food processer along with the seeds scraped from the vanilla pod.  Process until smooth and well combined.
2.   Spoon the ricotta mixture into the tart cases, top with the strawberry segments and serve immediately.

Lemon curd filling
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Fills 12 small cases

5 eggs
100g caster sugar
125 ml (1/2 cup) lemon juice
125 ml (1/2 cup) pouring cream (35% fat)

1.   Put the eggs, sugar and lemon juice in a heatproof bowl and whisk together until the sugar dissolves.
2.   Pour in the cream and mix well to combine.
3.   Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water) and use a whisk to stir continuously until the mixture is smooth and thick (about 10 minutes).
4.   Remove from the heat and stir for another minute or so.
5.   If there are small white bits in the mixture (as happened to me because the bowl was a little too hot and the egg cooked a little too much), don’t panick!  Pass the mixture through a metal sieve while still hot for a really fine, silky texture.
6.   Place the mixture in a clean cold bowl, cover with plastic wrap so that it touches the surface of the mixture (this stops a skin forming) and refrigerate overnight.
7.   Spoon the lemon curd into the tart cases and serve.

Chocolate ganache filling
Adapted from the Bourke St Bakery Ultimate Baking Companion cookbook
Fills 12 small cases

400 g good quality milk chocolate buttons
250 ml (1 cup) pouring cream (35% fat)

1.   Put the chocolate in a heat proof bowl.
2.   Put the cream in a saucepan over high heat and bring to boil as quickly as you can (make sure it doesn’t evaporate too much).
3.   Pour the hot cream straight over the chocolate and stir gently until the chocolate has all melted, then pour the melted chocolate mixture into a jug. 
4.   Pour the chocolate mixture into the tart cases, then place tarts in an airtight container and stand at room temperature overnight to set.
5.   Serve tarts with fresh strawberries on the side for dunking.

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