Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sugar and spice

Some foods just make you happy.

Egg custard tarts inhabit a place in my memory from when I spent sepia-tinted days playing camping in the garden and chasing the neighbour's dog. Just the thought of them makes me feel grounded and safe. Silly I know.

Inevitably, my suitcase was groaning under the weight of spices, pastries and exotic oils on the way back from Morocco. Huge, beautiful pomegranates, argan oil, syrup-soaked pastries and more olives than strictly sensible all found their way home with me.

But pride of place goes to the small bag of saffron threads that I haggled long and hard for in the spice souq. Used in these tarts, it stains the custard a vivid daffodil yellow - to my mind, the exact colour of sunshine in the summer of 1984...

Saffron custard tarts
Makes 8

~ for the pastry
225g plain flour
a pinch of salt
150g cold butter, cut into small cubes
40g caster sugar
2 egg yolks

~ for the custard
6 egg yolks
300ml double cream
45g caster sugar
a large pinch of saffron

~for the caramel
75g caster sugar
3 tbsp water

1) Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Now add the egg yolks and stir together to form a dough. Add a little milk if it seems too dry. Chill for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, butter and flour eight individual tart tins, then roll out the pastry to 2 or 3mm and use to line the tins. Leave some pastry overhanging the edges. Chill for another 30 minutes, then bake at 375f/190c/gas mark 5 for 15 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then trim the pastry down to the level of the tart rim with a sharp knife.

2) To make the custard ~ Pour 2 tsp of boiling water over the saffron threads, and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Now whisk together the egg yolks and sugar, then add the cream and saffron water, threads and all. Transfer the lot to a saucepan and very gently heat it until luke warm, stirring with a spoon throughout. Pour through a sieve into a jug, then use to fill the tart cases. Place on a baking tray and bake at 300f/150c/gas mark 2 for 30 minutes, or until the centre no longer has any wibble.

3) To make the caramel ~ Heat the water and sugar in a pan, without stirring, until the sugar has fully dissolved and turned a rich, dark brown. It will smell on the verge of burning. Very, very carefully, spoon over the tarts, using the back of the spoon to quickly spread it over the surface to create a thin layer.

Delicious warm or cold, you can also grate a little nutmeg over each tart if you fancy something more familiar.

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