Custard's last stand
13th August 2012 - 12 Midnight Gayle Lazda
The merest glimpse of the perfect English egg custard tart led to a seemingly fruitless quest for Gayle Lazda from our Charing Cross Road branch, until the chef responsible for that quivering vision of perfection revealed his secrets.
Custard is one of the small pleasures that makes my lonely journey through this dark and loveless world worthwhile. I'm exaggerating. Probably. Maybe.
Crème anglaise, crème brûlée, or even just a big bowl of Bird's: to me it is pure comfort food. My favourite incarnation of this delicious and versatile creation, though, is the egg custard tart. I have been known to make a 40-minute round trip to the Golborne Road, for the sole purpose of visiting the Lisboa Patisserie for their pasteis de nata. If you haven't been there, I wholeheartedly recommend a trip. I can't vouch for their authenticity (I have never been to Portugal - I fear spending a week gorging on port, suckling pig and egg custard tarts would result in, at best, the beginning of a lifelong battle with gout; at worst, the last hoorah of an already butter-stained heart...), but I can vouch for their deliciousness, which is absolute.
Although an entirely different beast, the English egg custard tart can be equally wonderful. Which brings me to what is one of my favourite recipes. I first encountered the pale, quivering masterpiece that is Marcus Wareing's egg custard tart on BBC2's The Great British Menu a few years ago. As soon as the plates were placed down in front of Prue Leith and her fellow judges, I was smitten. I spent the next weeks, months, daydreaming about it. At my lowest ebb, I found myself skulking around the ready-made dessert cabinet in Tesco, coming away with two soggy, anaemic-looking excuses for custard tarts. I ate them in a darkened room and, still brushing the pastry crumbs from my face, wept for my own degradation.
Then Marcus Wareing wrote a cookbook, How to Cook the Perfect..., with the recipe in it! And all my problems were solved. So this is how to bake the best custard tart you will ever eat.
For the pastry
225g/8oz flour, plus extra for dusting
pinch of salt
1 lemon, zest only
75g/3oz caster sugar
1 free-range egg yolk
1 free-range egg
For the custard filling
9 free-range egg yolks
75g/3oz caster sugar
500ml/17fl oz whipping cream
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
2. For the pastry, rub together the flour, salt, lemon zest and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, then beat together the egg yolk and whole egg and slowly add these, mixing until the pastry forms a ball. Wrap tightly in cling film and refrigerate for two hours.
3. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to 2mm/one eighth-in thickness. Use to line an 18cm/7in flan ring placed on a baking sheet. Line with greaseproof paper and fill with baking beans, then bake blind for about 10 minutes or until the pastry is starting to turn golden brown. Remove the paper and beans, and allow to cool.
4. Turn the oven down to 130°C/250°F/Gas Mark 1.
5. For the filling, bring the cream to the boil. Whisk the yolks and sugar together then add the cream and mix well. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve into a jug.
6. Place the pastry case in the oven then pour the custard mix right to the brim. Grate the nutmeg liberally over the top then bake for 30-40 minutes or until the custard appears set but not too firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before serving.
How to Cook the Perfect... by Marcus Wareing, published by DK
Learn the essential skills behind exceptional results, now in paperback. Winner of Great British Menu: Best Dessert, Marcus Wareing guides you through 80 enticing recipes, offering a chef's level of understanding, with completely step-by-step recipes so that you can achieve perfect results - everytime. Every recipe has a Key to Perfection, with all the need-to-know tips and techniques that promise success, plus All-Is-Not-Lost advice to rescue you from mistakes. Inspired by his mother's home cooking, Marcus draws on his experience as Chef Patron at the Savoy Grill in London, and as a father teaching his young sons to cook food for the family. This book will give you the confidence to tackle any dish - knowing you will get perfect results every time.
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