Custard Tarts

Custard Tarts

Ready, set, BAKE! The Great British Bake Off is back and I am obsessed. Each week, the Bafta award winning show grips the nation as Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood whittle out good crumbs from the soggy bottoms.

Baking is fun, but baking disasters are all part of the process. I once used cumin instead of cinnamon to flavour my baked apples in an FT lesson; safe to say I have now learned to read labels properly…  Watching other people’s baking disasters is also very nerve wracking, especially when your favourite contestant has just used salt instead of sugar, or has watched the middle fall out of their uncooked cake.

The technical challenge is one that is usually full of a few disasters. Contestants are given a recipe, but all technical aspects and methods are excluded from the instructions. Last week we watched in vain as bakers tried their hand at custard tarts. Removing the tarts from the tray proved difficult, and there was soggy bottoms and uncooked custard all over the bake-off kitchen. Things were tense!

Having never made a custard tart myself, I was intrigued. I took up the challenge under the safety that Mary and Paul’s harsh tongues wouldn’t judge me. The secret is making sure that the pastry is cooked but the egg custard isn’t over done. By following Paul Hollywood’s recipe below, everything went pretty much to plan, however if you are making smaller tarts, you will need to watch your cooking times.

Ingredients

For the sweet pastry

  • 165g/5¾oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 25g/1oz ground almonds
  • 120g/4¼oz chilled unsalted butter, cubed
  • 55g/2oz caster sugar
  • 1 free-range egg

For the custard filling

  • 700ml/1¼ pint full-fat milk
  • 7 free-range egg yolks
  • 90g/3¼oz caster sugar
  • freshly ground nutmeg

Make the pastry:

1)   Cut the cold butter into cubes and rub it into the flour and almonds with your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.

2)   Break in the egg and use your fingers to mix it together to form soft sticky dough. Put the dough ball onto a lightly floured surface, shape into a ball and flatten it into a disk with your fingers. Then pop this in the fridge in cling film to chill for 30 minutes.

3)   Now preheat the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas 6.

4)   Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, then use an 11cm/4.5 inch fluted cutter to cut out 12 discs. Line the muffin tray with the circle ensuring that the pastry overlaps the top of the mould by a few millimetres.

 

For the egg custard:

1)   Warm the milk. In a separate bowl, beat in the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy.

2)   Pour the milk onto the egg yolks and stir well to create little bubbles. Now transfer this into a jug and fill each pastry case with custard.

3)   Sprinkle each tart with nutmeg and bake them for 10-15 minutes at 200C. Now turn the temperature down to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and bake for a further 10 minutes.

I used sneaky greaseproof tabs so I could remove them easily
I used sneaky greaseproof tabs so I could remove them easily

4)   Look for a golden pastry and a slight dome in the custard, which indicates it is baked. Too much dome means the custard is overcooked so watch out!

Custard Tarts

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Spicy Prawn Creole

I write regularly for a local magazine called the Moulsham Times, and last month this was my recipe! I wanted to make something seafoody after our trip to cornwall. (It seems so long away now, sob!)

Spicey Prawn Creole

Some of the best prawns I ever ate were eaten on this holiday when we rewarded ourselves with fish and chips at Rick Steins fish shop after a big walk to Padstow. The chips were amazing, a perfect mix or squishy and crispy. I had king prawns with garlic mayonnaise instead of the usual battered cod and instantly knew I had made the right decision, they were juicy and the mayonnaise was AMAZING! Very garlicky…

This recipe is adapted from one of the Leon recipe books. The books are full of healthy, hearty and easy food so I highly recommend them to a cooking family!

  • 2 red onions, diced
  • 2 red peppers, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 tin whole tomatoes
  • 1 bag prawns
  • 3 medium chillies, chopped
  • 2 tbs tomato puree
  • 1 tbs soft brown sugar
  • 400 ml fish stock
  • Corn on the cob, rice and a dollop of sour cream to serve.
  • Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6
  • First fry off the onions, peppers, chillies and leek in a big glug of olive oil until partly soft. Adjust the type and amount of chilli pepper to suit your taste.

Spicey Veg

  • Add the tinned tomatoes, fish stock and sugar and mix together. Then leave on a medium heat for 25 minutes to simmer.

Bubbling Veg

  • Transfer the spicy vegetable mix into a heatproof dish and cook in the oven for 25 minutes.
  • Meanwhile cook your rice and corn on the cob so they are ready to serve with the creole.
  • Remove from the oven and leave the mix to settle while you serve up the rice and sweet corn. Dowse your sweet corn in butter, and spoon the prawns and sauce onto the rice. To cool the dish down a bit, use a spoonful of sour cream.

This dish is great all year round. You could BBQ the sweet corn and serve the prawns with light peach couscous while you eat alfresco in whatever remains of the summer, or warm up from a cold walk in the winter, by serving it with warm buttered fresh bread.

 

Spicy Prawn Creole

Prawn Pomodoro Linguini with Creme Fraiche

I love vegetables but I also love prawns, especially in pasta with tonnes of garlic. This dish is light and perfect for summer dining on the deck!

Make sure you buy good, happy prawns, your tummy will benefit and so will the sea!

Prawn Linguini

You will need:

  • 450g tomatoes
  • 1 red chilli
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 glug worcestershire
  • 1 clove garlic
  • linguini
  • bag of fresh or frozen prawns
  • 1 tsp creme fraiche
  • Fresh basil to garnish

1) Slice up the tomatoes and place them in a large pan with a glug of oil to start stewing. Add the sugar, the red chilli, the worcestershire sauce and the clove of garlic and simmer intill the skins start to come away from the tomatoes.

2) Boil a large pan of water and add your linguini. Boil for 12 mins.

3) Meanwhile, add your prawns to the tomatoes in the pan and cook until pink if they are frozen, if not cook for about 3-5 mins.

Prawn Linguini

Prawn Linguini

4) Drain your pasta and serve with a generous helping of prawns and tomatoes, stir though a teaspoon of creme fraiche and garnish with fresh basil.

Bon apetit mon petit pois!

Prawn Linguini

Bike Bars

So tomorrow we cycle to cornwall EEK. After weeks of waiting, hard work (for some…) and excitement the time has finally come! Chelmsford to Cornwall in 5 days. Some call us crazy, others say we have been brain washed by cycling aliens, I agree with them all. But we are certainly ready for an adventure!

So prepare for a week of lycra filled pictures, dodgy bikers tans and possibly a few grazes. Prepare for stories of singing cyclists, crying cyclists, lost cyclists and sleepy cyclists. Prepare like I have prepared for this ride… (I have not.) But I did prepare in the food department! Yes fatty over here may not care about the size of her muscles, but she does care about the happiness of her tummy; behold bike bars.

They are dead easy to make, lowfat, high energy, and perfect to enjoy after walking the dog in the park, or with a cup of tea when the weather gets more British.  I hope I have room for a few in my rucksack.

Flapjack

You will need:

  • 397g tin of condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 300g of your favourite muesli- if you are on a budget Lidl’s own is great
  • 50g mixed seeds
  • 150g mixed dried fruit

. Set the oven to 150C and line a tin with baking parchment, the smaller it is the thicker the bars

. Heat the condensed milk and golden syrup in a heavy based saucepan for around 7 minutes. Then add the muesli, seeds, and dried fruit

. Stir the mix together so it forms a thick paste and the condensed milk has coated all the ingredients

. Pour the mixture into the lined baking tray and place on the middle shelf of your oven for around 30 mins until slightly chewey but golden on top. The longer you bake them, the crunchier they become.

Wish us luck and check back here tomorrow to see how our first day went!

Flapjack

Baked Fish and Fresh Pesto

Fresh pesto is my new obsession. I can’t describe how much better it is than that stuff out a jar! It’s cheesier, garlicky-er, basily-er, errrrmazing.

You can buy it from most supermarkets in the bit where they sell fresh pasta and italian stuff. Me and my italian-food obsessed friend want to make pasta soon, and I can’t wait to pair mine with some of this pesto.

Baked Fish and Fresh Pesto

We used Cod, but you can use any white fish. Make sure it’s from a sustainable source, and preferably has one of these symbols on it because fish are friends and the ocean is cool.

Fish guide

You will need:

  • 1 pot fresh pesto
  • 1 lemon
  • white fish fillets- one per person
  • green beans
  • Organic tomatos on the vine
  • British asparagus spears
  • New potatoes- boiled
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Baked Fish and Fresh Pesto

1) Set your oven at 180C. Prepare your green beans and asparagus. To get rid of the tough ends on the vegetable, bend the spear from the base and it should snap at the point where it is less woody. Then blanche the greens for 6 minutes until supple. Pop these to one side while you prepare your fish.

2) lay the fish fillets onto a large deep baking pan with a good glug of olive oil. Throw in the beans, asparagus and vine tomatos to the pan, then place in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. If you want you can add your new potatoes to the pan and squash them slightly with a fork to oven roast them.

3) After 10 minutes, remove the pan and spoon 1.5 tbsp of fresh pesto onto each fish fillet before returning to the oven for a further 10 minutes.

4) When the fish is baked, serve and enjoy al fresco or at a dinner party.

Pesto is also pretty easy to make, so you could try it with your own! Let me know if you have any great pesto recipes.

Baked Fish and Fresh Pesto

Snickerdoodles

Nope, I didn’t know what these were either, I just made them for the name. But they did not let me down!

Imagine a biscuit, which is a bit like a cake but tastes like a cinnamon sugar donut. That is a Snickerdoodle.

They are a lot more known in America it seems, but I think Britain should bite the biscuit and get involved too, these things are incredibly moreish. I have eaten 5 already today.

Snickerdoodles

Sorry to Snickers fans, they are not included in the recipe, but I reckon you should buy a Snickers anyway, and melt it over one of these doodles with some ice-cream- Snickersnickerdoodles.

This is Nigella Lawson’s recipe with a tweak!

You will need:

  • 80g wholemeal plain flour
  • 170g plain flour (alternatively use 250g of plain and no wholemeal flour)
  • 250g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 125g butter, at room temperature
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar

1) Cream together the sugar and butter until it is fluffy.

2) add the egg and vanilla essence and continue to whisk it until smooth and creamy.

3) In a separate bowl combine the flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt, then add it to the butter mix and stir with a metal spoon until it is all mixed into a dough.

4) On a plate, spoon out the sugar and cinnamon. Roll walnut size pieces of dough into balls in your palms, then roll them in the sugar and cinnamon. If you are unsure of the size of a walnut (I was…) then imagine a large Brussels sprout, or a golf ball.

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

5) place your Doodles onto baking parchment, you can get up to 32 of them out of the dough! Or you could try making giant ones.

Snickerdoodles

6) Bake at 180 degrees for 15 mins, then remove to cool.

Eat them warm with tea, or dipped in jam. They’re just as great cold. Let me know what you think of them!

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

 

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

Lemon Meringue Pie

A zingy lemon filling with a golden crisp top meringue and absolutely no soggy bottoms. Mary Berry would be proud.

Happy April!

I hope you are all owners of slightly rounder stomachs in the wake of Easter, if not please come and help yourself to my chocolate before I resemble Augustus Gloop.

The sun is shining today, so maybe spring has finally arrived (touch wood, white rabbits). Either way, I am going to provide you with a springy zingy recipe to celebrate, and bombard you with cheesy puns and sayings along the way.

This is the first Lemon Meringue Pie I have ever made, so it’s proof that anyone can make it with success. The proof is in the pudding!

Lemon Meringue Pie

I was helped by life long best friend Polly Wicks (can’t get rid of her), who was especially good removing egg shells and taking pictures. There were a few ups and downs along the way; at one point it nearly fell on the floor, which I’m sure Mr Pigley would have been very happy about. But we made it out the other side mostly unscathed.

Confession: I didn’t make the pastry due to time constraints, laziness, and a short attention span. Next time I will I promise!

Also, before we start I would like words with whoever invented the spelling for Meringue. Seriously give me a break, my spell check has never had to work harder.

Lemon Meringue Pie

You will need:

  • Sweet short crust pastry- bought or made. Don’t feel guilty if you cheat, Delia does it!

For the filling:

  • 2 level tbsp cornflour
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • finely grated zest of 2 large lemons
  • 125ml fresh lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
  • juice 1 small orange
  • 85g butter , cut into chunks
  • 3 egg yolks and plus 1 whole egg

For the meringue:

  • 4 egg whites at room temperature, avoid all yolks!
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 2 level tsp cornflour
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

1) First you need to bake your pastry so that it retains it’s shape and there is no soggy business. Roll it out and lay it into your 23 x 2.5cm pastry tin with push out base. Leave the excess over the edges as the pastry shrinks in the oven, you can cut it off afterwards. I didn’t do this… I call it literal shortcrust pastry.

Bake it at 180 degrees for 15 mins with greaseproof paper and rice on it to weigh it down and stop the pastry rising.

2) Remove the greaseproof and bake for another 4 mins.

Lemon Meringue Pie
“Short crust” pastry

3) Leave this to one side and begin to make your filling. For this you need to stir your sugar, cornflour and lemon juice together on a medium heat in a pan. Do this until it is slightly sticky, then add your zest and orange juice, plus however much water you need to make the orange juice up to 200 ml.

4) Stir until thick, bubbling and smooth. Then remove from the heat and stir in the butter chunks until melted.

5) Beat in the egg yolks and whole egg- save the egg whites for the meringue. The trick with separating egg yolks is to crack the egg in half, keeping the yolk as a whole in one half of the shell and the white dribbles out. I’m always scared when I do this! But try this tutorial.

6) The mix will be thick, yellow, custard looking and jelly like. Remove it from the heat and now make the meringue.

Lemon Meringue Pie

7) Beat the 4 egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Make sure there is no yolk or shell in the whites- polly was in charge of this!

She likes pugs
She likes pugs

8) Add the sugar gradually with the corn flour. It will still form thick peaks and have a glistening sheen to the mix. If it is ready you can hold your bowl upside down and the mix won’t fall out!

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

I was actually very scared...!

I was actually very scared…!

9) Reheat the filling and pour it into the pastry case, then spoon on the meringue starting from around the edges or it will sink in the middle.

Lemon Meringue Pie

10) Bake in the oven for 18-20 mins at 180 degrees until the meringue is slightly golden and crisp on top. Let it cool in the tin for 30 mins, then remove and leave it to cool for another 1hr.

Lemon Meringue Piem

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Ultimate Chocolate Malteser Tiffin

Crumbly chocolate tiffin with chewy maltesers and a smooth chocolate topping.

I would go as far to say that this recipe is possibly the only reason we as a family have friends.

This has been tried and tested by every single birthday, anniversary, dinner party, wedding, christening, tea party or even non occasion the Smolen’s have attended.

It says “thank you” a lot, and “let me be in your good books” even more; bribery is a beautiful thing.

If mum makes it to take in to work, she has to leave a strip behind for us for her own good, she knows tiffin deprivation is an ugly experience.

Basically this stuff is pretty bloody amazing and I have never met anybody who has turned down a piece.

Ultimate Chocolate Malteser Tiffin

Warning 1: the mix before it is set is incredibly addictive and you will eat a lot of it.

Warning 2: If you are on a diet, erase your memory of everything that is in it and pretend it was made with carrots

You will need:

  • 1oog 70% dark choc
  • 300g milk choc (good quality)
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 3 tbs golden syrup
  • 275g crushed digestives
  • 200g maltesers

1) In a pan, gently melt the butter, 100g milk choc, dark choc and golden syrup together in a pan until it is a smooth silky saucy texture.

2) With a rolling pin, lay a tea towel over the biscuits and bash them until they are crumbs. Leave some bigger lumps in but most of it needs to be crumby.

3) Pour the bashed digestives into the chocolate and butter mix and stir it all together to make a sort of paste. Then mix in your maltesers.

4) Line a pan with greaseproof paper and spoon the mix into any shape you like keeping it about 1 1/2 inches thick then pop to one side.

5) In a seperate bowl melt the remaining 200g of chocolate. If you do it in the microwave be careful not to burn it! Then pour it as a topping onto the tiffin you just shaped. Leave to set.

6) After about  2 hours in the fridge the tiffin should be set, cut it into cubes, eat the escape crumbs and share with everyone at every occasion possible! Especially those who you want to be your friend.

Ultimate Chocolate Malteser Tiffin

Ultimate Chocolate Malteser Tiffin

Ultimate Chocolate Malteser Tiffin

Squash, Cauliflower and Ricotta Spicy Tray Bake

A tangy, spicy all-in-one tray bake, with creamy ricotta, roasted squash, baked cauliflower and salty halloumi. 

Tray bakes are the best because they mean minimal washing up!

Squash, Cauliflower and Ricotta Spicy Tray Bake- The Vegaquarium

It sounds weird baking a cauliflower but I promise it tastes good; it goes crispy on the fluffy bits and soft on the inside.

Yet again this recipe features… you guessed it, halloumi, but my dad does the same recipe at home with chicken, and they love it. If you haven’t tried halloumi by now, please do, your quality of life will increase 10 fold. Fact.

Squash, Cauliflower and Ricotta Spicy Tray Bake- The Vegaquarium

  • 1 cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Half a butternut squash cut into long wedges
  • 1 tsp each of cumin seeds, chilli flakes and curry powder
  • 1tbs  turmeric
  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 1 tbs fresh oregano leaves
  • 1 large red onion cut into wedges
  • 100 g ricotta
  • 1/2 block of halloumi
  • Kale to serve (optional)

1)Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Then boil your cauliflower and butternut squash until tender.

2) Put the boiled cauliflower, squash and onions in a large tray, and pour on the oil, all herbs and spices. Shake the tray around so everything is covered in flavour and put it in the oven for 30 mins.

3) Remove the tray and lay on halloumi and spooned blobs of ricotta, the grill for 10 mins. (Keep an eye on them incase your oven is anything like ours and burns things very quickly.

4) Serve with greens and couscous.

Squash, Cauliflower and Ricotta Spicy Tray Bake- The Vegaquarium

Spicy Sweetcorn Fritters

I had never made a fritter before, but I liked the word! And I liked the taste, over all a win.

If you are like me and eat straight sweetcorn out the tin, restrain, and make these instead it’s worth it!

Spicy Sweetcorn Fritters- The Vegaquarium

I would have had them with halloumi cheese and avocado, but I was lacking in halloumi and my avocado wasn’t ripe, so I settled for garlic mayo and sweet chilli sauce.

Which brings me to this request: could someone please invent an instant fruit ripener? Thanks.

They only take about 4 mins to cook, are both crispy and squishy at the same time, and have a bit of a kick!

You will need:

  • 300g sweetcorn
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pint milk (I used soya and it worked just as well)
  •  1/2 red onion chopped
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 tbs fajita mix
  • 1 tsp paprika

1) Whisk together the flour, egg, milk and spices into a smooth batter in a bowl. Then add the sweetcorn, garlic and onion into the batter and mix it all together.

2) Heat up about 2 tbs of olive oil in a pan, then spoon in the mixture into the oil, you can usually fot about 3 good sized fritters in one pan.

20130131-111158-PM.jpg

3) When they have crisped up on one side, flip them over and crisp up the other side. They are a bit like cooking pancakes.

4) Serve with a dip! If you eat meat apparently they go well with bacon. I reckon they would also be nice dipped into a fried egg with beans.

Spicy Sweetcorn Fritters- The Vegaquarium