Sunday, 2 December 2012

Putting a bit of summer into the winter blues...

It was my Mother’s birthday last week (for fear of my life I cannot divulge her exact age...) and in typical Jane style we had a fabulous celebration. We had a morning in a luuurvley spa and went out for nice meal, however soon enough the traditional Donnelly family party came round on Sunday. Dad resumed his usual position of head cook/chef/everythinginbetween in the kitchen, and baked up a storm. The table was awash with different kinds of bread, pastries, home cooked meats, salads and cakes. He pulled out all the stops. I took this opportunity to bake something new and try it out on unsuspecting family members...

I love winter, it has to be my favourite time of year; Christmas, knitted jumpers, snuggling up next to the fire, you can’t beat it. However although I am winter’s number 1 fan, I do get slightly fed up of the constantly dark and grey days that never seem to lighten up (and there are a lot of those up north..). Therefore when the opportunity arose for me to try something new for this baking blog, I decided to go against the grain of leaning toward mince pies and gingerbread men (they’ll be here next week don’t you worry!) and decided to try something light and summery, to bring a bit of light into the situation.

So very in tune with my colourful and lovely mum I baked some Summer Fruit Tartlets. These little beauties came from a little handy sized book called “Everyday Desserts; a collection of essential recipes” by Terry Jeavsons. The book was a stocking filler off last Christmas, that I just happened to flick through last week. It’s a great little book to have, as it has all the essentials in it; apple pie, sticky toffee pudding, etc. However it also has a range of what I like to call ‘fancy’ desserts, for those ‘I need to look impressive’ baking situations. As it was her highness’ birthday, I thought a sticky toffee pudding wouldn’t cut it (although this may be the only time you hear me saying that...) and decided on Summer Fruit Tartlets as my mission. However as I began the baking process, I found the whole thing a whole lot less faffy than the fabulous picture seemed to suggest to me (minus a pastry disaster, but we’ll get to that in a minute...)

Summer Fruit Tartlets

Therefore I would definitely recommend this recipe as an addition to any Christmas party buffet table this season to bring a bit of summer light to the party!

Ingredients (makes 12):
200g/ 7 oz of plain flour (plus extra for dusting)
85g/ 3 oz icing sugar
55g/ 2oz ground almonds
115g/ 4oz butter
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp milk

225g/ 8oz cream cheese
Icing sugar; enough to taste plus extra for dusting
250g/ 9 oz fresh summer fruits (I went for strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)

Preheat the oven to 200 C/ 400 F

First start with the pastry. Now I am a firm believer in keeping a ready to roll pastry in the fridge for any of your pastry needs, the stuff is genius. However as this recipe calls for the addition of ground almonds in the pastry, and as I am trying to get better at baking I thought I’d bite the bullet and make the pastry from scratch.

Firstly to make the pastry, sift the flour and icing sugar into a bowl. Stir in the ground almonds. Add the butter and rub in with your fingers. I find that the gentler you are at this stage, the lighter the pastry. (Saying that my dad isn’t the lightest of handed person, and his pastry is divine, so if you’re in a mood to smush it, go for it!) You need to do this until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Then add the egg yolk and milk and work together with a spatula. Once the mixture is looking a bit more together mix with your fingers til the pastry binds. Then wrap the pastry in cling film and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.

On a floured work surface, roll out the pastry, to about 2-3 cm thick. Now this was the point where I encountered some, ahem, ‘difficulties’. I think either the ground almonds, or the amount of butter this recipe calls for made the pastry rather sticky. Therefore learn from my mistake and go a bit heavy handed on the flour you put on the work surface and rolling pin. Or you could do what I did and get into a sticky mess, and call for the assistance of anyone who doesn’t have pastry all over themselves to come and detach you from the pastry...

Once you’ve rolled the pastry out (and recovered from the pastry trauma) use it to line 12 deep tartlet or individual brioche pans. Do this bit with as much patience as possible, as the pastry is quite delicate and you may end up with a few ‘interesting’ looking pastry cases if you try and bodge it back together. Once in the tartlet pans prick the bottom and then press a piece of foil on top of each tartlet, making sure you cover the edges. Bake in a preheated oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Then remove the foil and bake for a further 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

While they’re cooling you can start on the incredibly easy tart filling. Place the cream cheese in a bowl and add as much icing sugar as you need to taste. (I added only a scatter, as too much can make the whole thing very rich.) Once the tartlets are cooled, place a spoonful of the filling into each pastry case, and arrange the fruit on top however you fancy. To add that ‘party’ finish dust with sifted icing sugar and serve.

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