Thursday, 20 November 2014

Technical Thursday: Egg Custard Tarts

So it turns out I'm a bit of a disaster when it comes to basic recipes.

Give me something with a million ingredients I've never heard of, a series of complicated instructions that reduce me to a state of mild panic and a finished product the name of which I can't pronounce properly and I'm in my element. However when I'm faced with the sort of recipe I should technically be able to do in my sleep I slowly fall apart until I'm so frustrated that I just want to throw it all away and give up on baking as a hobby altogether.

Step forward, Paul Hollywood's Egg Custard Tarts, made from a recipe so simple I had to read it three times to check I wasn't missing vital steps and yet required two attempts at the pastry, a flap about the custard that turned my language so colourful I felt like Gordon Ramsey, and resulted in 12 rather sad looking tarts that definitely aren't at the standard I'd like them to be.

Eugh. According to everyone at work they tasted okay though, so all is not lost!

The original recipe for these tarts can be found on the BBC Food website here, and it's below with my notes and photographs.


For the sweet pastry:
165g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
25g ground almonds
120g chilled unsalted butter, cubed
55g caster sugar
1 free-range egg

For the custard filling:
700ml full-fat milk
7 free-range egg yolks
90g caster sugar
Ground nutmeg (I grated 1 whole nutmeg instead as I didn't have ground - it works just as well, but is a bit of a faff!)


To make the pastry, stir the flour and ground almonds together in a large bowl, then add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Stir in the sugar.

Break in the egg and work it into the mixture with your fingers, bringing it together to form a soft dough. This is where I had my first problems. The egg I used was abnormally large - in hindsight - but I blindly followed the recipe and ended up with a liquid pastry that definitely wouldn't shape into any form of ball. I kept adding flour until it eventually came together, scooped it into some cling film and left it in the fridge while I made another batch. Second time around I used a much smaller egg and didn't add it directly to the mixture, instead pouring it in a bit at a time from a jug. Luckily the pastry seemed to work this time.

Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Flatten with your fingers to a disc and wrap in cling film. Leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Roll out the sweet pastry on a lightly floured work surface. Using an 11cm/4½in fluted cutter, cut out twelve discs and line the muffin tray moulds with the pastry circle.

The pastry should overlap the top of the moulds by a few millimetres, so that you can crimp the edges if you wish. Cue more problems. I never seem to have the right cutters for anything, but my Mum bought a cheap set from Waitrose the other day and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to try them out, particularly as I finally had a massive cutter (10cm). However, the pastry came so far over the top of the moulds I had to trim them down, making the edges of each tart extremely untidy. I sort of started again with half of them, using an 8cm cutter instead which filled the moulds better but came up a bit short. If I wasn't so scared of over-working the pastry, I would definitely have had another go.

For the custard filling, warm the milk in a saucepan.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a separate bowl until pale and creamy.

Pour the milk onto the egg yolk mixture and stir well, creating little bubbles. I over-whisked this and ended up with ridiculous amounts of foam on top of the custard, which I really, really should have removed before transferring to a jug.

Transfer the custard mixture into a pouring jug with a lip, then fill each of the tart cases. The foam ended up filling most the cases instead of the custard, which somehow made the tarts colour extremely quickly in the oven and made it hard to tell if they were cooked through. Total nightmare. Remember to strain the custard if this happens to you!

Sprinkle a small pinch of ground nutmeg into the middle of each tart. Bake the tarts in the oven for about 25 minutes - you may need to turn the temperature down to 180C/350F/Gas 4 for the final 10 minutes. You are looking for a very slight dome on the custard, indicating that it is baked. If the custard domes too much this indicates that you have over-cooked the custard, it will have boiled, and will sink back down leaving a big dip. (If this does happen you can help rescue it by removing the tarts from the oven immediately and placing the tin in cold water on a cold surface.)

My first batch did this dipping thing enormously. However, I ended up with loads of custard left over after filling the 12 tarts, so I took a chance on my first batch of pastry and quickly rolled it out, used a 7cm fluted cutter and lined a 12-hole deep bun tin (not a muffin tin). I then filled these with the custard (which obviously, because it was one mini-disaster after another, overflowed and dripped down the sides of each tart) and put them in the oven too. This batch had less foam, so the tops of the finished result looked a lot more like the egg custards you buy in shops rather than a sagging, burnt mess.

I haven't really photographed the finished tarts from above, as in my fit of annoyance I gave up on them and instead focused on the smaller, fluted tarts from the second batch. Let's just pretend the first ones didn't actually happen…

Allow them to cool in the tin for 30 minutes and then carefully remove from the moulds. The base of the tarts should be perfectly baked through, without having over-cooked the custard filling. The tarts in the second batch that had overflowing custard at the beginning were now glued to the tins, but with a careful bit of palette knife action they eventually came away. However, I was extremely impatient and didn't allow them to cool long enough, resulting in a couple of casualties that just fell apart during the removal process. Eughh.

The good thing though, is I actually managed to salvage 12 in the end that didn't look too bad! Thank. Goodness.

They're ridiculously uneven, and I'd definitely win no brownie points from Paul Hollywood as I've not presented 12 uniform tarts! Ooops.

The pastry was way too thick in some of them and as a result it totally overpowered the custard filling. However, there were no soggy bottoms to be seen, so that's definitely a cause for celebration! On the day of making them the pastry was really crisp, but it softened overnight. No-one at work complained about it though and they all disappeared! Despite my panic about cooking the filling properly it seemed to set as it's supposed to, and still had a slight wobble even when cooled. There was too much nutmeg on the first foamy batch which I think was the reason they coloured so quickly, so in future I'll only use it sparingly with a tiny pinch. Honestly, they're not too bad, I'm just really, really frustrated with the presentation as I'm such a perfectionist!

I feel like I've been channelling Nancy from Series 5 with this post by saying how terrible I thought they were going to turn out and then miraculously managing to present something edible and actually not too disastrous in the end. I promise they seemed to be going wrong in all kinds of ways during the baking and I'm genuinely surprised that there ended up being 12 to photograph!

For now, though, I'll stick to more complicated recipes as the likelihood of these easier ones finishing me off soon are quite high and I can't handle any set-backs in the run up to Christmas!

Let me know if you've tried making Egg Custard Tarts before and if you have any tips: I'm all ears and could do with the help!