One of the things I love about cooking is the presentation of the finished article. I’m quite happy pottering away in the kitchen working on the finishing touches but with two young kids it’s become less and less about good looking food and more about speed and shortcuts. This mushroom & cheese tart looks very rustic but is the perfect quick tart. A couple of minutes to fry some mushrooms and onions, mix up some eggs, cheese and herbs. Unwrap some ready made puff pastry. Throw it all together and into the oven and by the time you’ve cleaned everything up you have a delicious tasting tart. Perfect to take on a picnic, a light lunch with a mixed salad or even as a starter.
Most of us will have heard the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ but may not think of it in terms of food. Well, this Italian Almond Tart makes me think of exactly that. It is nothing much to look at – it is all very beige and there is no lovely sauce or chocolate dripping down the sides to make us drool. A real plain Jane! Until, that is you cut into it and serve yourself a deliciously moist and fragrant slice to go with your afternoon tea. It is so good that I made one the very next day for my hubby to take into work and everybody loved it. I made my own almond paste and I would highly recommend that you try this at least once. It is so easy to make, it’s fresh and full of flavour and will make all the difference to your tart. Your choice of jam will also play a big part in how your finished tart tastes. For my first attempt I used a cherry jam which had whole cherries in it. It was quite sweet and I wasn’t overly enthused by the chunks of cherry. For my second attempt I used a smooth Christmas spice fruit jam and I thought this was much better.
For those of you who are interested in how I decorated the tart – yes I did stand and pick out all the whole slices of almonds from a pack and yes it did take me a long time to place them all so neatly round the entire tart and yes I am completely mad! I also made a rose from some of the left over almond paste. I only placed it on the tart 10 minutes before the tart was due to come out the oven to crisp it up a bit and give it some colour.
If you are making a tart which requires a pastry shell to hold the filling then this is the pastry you will need.Shortcrust pastry is one of the easier pastries to work with because of the low fat content.It is more common to bake the pastry shell first and then add the filling to ensure a nice crisp bottom but the filling can be added to the raw shell and then baked.The quantity below is more than enough to make a standard tart using a tin size up to 26cm.If you have any pastry left over it can be wrapped tightly in cling film and frozen for later use.There are a couple of tips which help to make the process easier:
Measure all ingredients accurately.
Work with cold ingredients and cold hands.
Rest your pastry in the fridge for a minimum of 1 hour to help with the rolling out process and to prevent shrinkage when baking.
If baking the empty shell then always bake blind. Use a piece of baking paper slightly bigger than the size of the tin. Crumple it up and then flatten it out again. Place it in the pastry case and add enough ceramic baking beans to cover the bottom of the pastry case. You want enough weight from the baking beans to prevent the dough from puffing up during cooking. If you can keep the pastry in contact with the hot tin whilst baking this will ensure even baking and a nice crisp shell.
Cut the chilled butter into small blocks (about 1cm in diameter).
Sieve the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. (If making the sweet shortcrust pastry then add your sugar with the flour and salt).
Add the butter and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour mixture until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. If the butter starts to melt then chill your mixture or run your hands under cold water before continuing.
Mix in the beaten eggs and combine with the flour mixture until it forms a stiff dough. You may need to add in some of the water at this stage if the mixture is too dry. Do not overwork the mixture.
Wrap in cling film and rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 200°C (400° F).
Using a floured surface roll the pastry out and place in your desired tin, easing in gently. Try not to overstretch the pastry as this will cause the pastry shell to shrink when baking.
Neaten the edge by running a knife round the top edge to remove excess pastry.
Bake blind (see notes above) for approximately 15 minutes.
Remove baking beans and paper from pastry shell.
Return to oven for a further 10 minutes until nicely golden and crisp.
Your pastry case is now ready for filling or can be frozen at this point to be used at a later date.