. . . or The Tart with Two Faces
Which is the real Bakewell Tart? Is it stodgy almond cake in a short crust, relieved only by a stingy layer of indifferent jam? Or is it a luscious poem of jam and fresh fruit in a tart shell, covered by just enough almond cake to soak up the juices, but still resemble cake?
Which face shall it be?
First, please don’t confuse Bakewell Tart with Bakewell Pudding—the latter is a puff pastry shell, spread with strawberry jam and filled with egg-and-almond custard. The story has it that the pudding was created in the 19th century at the old Rutland Arms Hotel in Bakewell, Derbyshire, as the mistake of an inexperienced cook, and became a roaring success. Bakewell Tart seems to have been developed in later years as a shortcut to the pudding. The key differences are the tart’s short pastry shell and almond cake-like filling, called frangipane, as opposed to the pudding’s puff paste shell and custard filling. Despite it’s secondary status to the pudding, Bakewell Tart is a traditional, classic English dessert — when it’s made properly.
If it’s made carelessly, Bakewell Tart can be repellent: a scraping of cheap, high fructose corn syrup-laden jam under a leaden cake layer sitting in a too-thick pie crust. Don’t get me started about commercial versions with white icing and a piece of glacé cherry, either. With these examples in the marketplace, who in their right mind would eat, let alone love, these over-sweetened bricks?
Puzzling over Bakewells one day recently, I remembered the French Tarte Bourdaloue: a tart of sliced pears on top of frangipane, and baked in a pâte sucrée shell—and had a right-brain flash. Fresh fruit, not atop the filling, but under it, to intensify and validate the fruit flavor of the jam. Using half the usual amount frangipane; sweet crust instead of short crust; and reducing the sugar of both, letting the tartness of the fruit come forward. And several months ago, I had been daydreaming about a rose-flavored Bakewell, especially with blueberry or strawberry jam . . . add rose essence and cardamom with the fresh fruit . . . oh my. It works.
My husband had been out of town while I was baking trial versions, three of them: two strawberry and one blueberry. When he returned and I confessed my tinkering with a traditional tart of his homeland, he came as close as he can manage to a scowl. Traditions are traditional for a reason, he feels, and do not need to be messed with. I plated a slice of Blueberry Rose Bakewell, and waited for the thunderbolt.
“You’ll have to make another one so we can keep testing it . . . is there any more?”
Please enjoy this charming tart with morning coffee, afternoon tea, or anytime you fancy.
Blueberry Rose Bakewell Tart
makes one 9-inch round or one 4½ x 14-inch rectangular tart
Sweet crust (pâte sucrée):
100g / 7 tablespoons softened butter
60g / ¼ cup sugar
250g / 2 cups less 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pinch kosher or fine sea salt
- First, rinse and drain the blueberries, and spread out on a linen tea towel to dry. Leave them aside.
- For the tart shell: with a hand blender or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat again until the mixture is thoroughly blended.
- Add the flour and salt, and mix by hand to form a soft dough. Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes before rolling it out.
- After it has chilled and rested, roll it out to approximately .25cm / 3/32 inch thick on a lightly floured, cool surface: granite, marble, or a pastry mat work well. A long palette knife will be a tremendous help in getting the crust off the rolling surface so it will wind around the rolling pin to transfer to the pan; slide it under the sheet of pastry and with a gentle sawing motion, releasing the dough from the rolling surface. Roll it gently around the pin, lift it over the tart pan, and unroll the dough. This pastry can be tricky, as it’s essentially cookie dough, and will almost certainly crack or tear when you’re lining the tart pan — especially where it meets the sharp edges of the pan before you ease it down the sides to the bottom. Below you see how badly the dough can misbehave! However, it can be patched back together easily, and the shell shown above turned out fine. When the pastry is tucked down to the bottom, roll the pin over the top of the pan to shear off the excess. Then start repairing the cracks and tears. When the shell is mended, gather the pastry trimmings into a ball, wrap, and refrigerate. Please don’t throw away the trimmings until after the shell is baked and inspected, as there may be further cracks to fix; if so, please see the notes below for repair technique.
- When the pan is lined and patched, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate again for at least 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 375°F / 190ºC for blind baking. I prefer to turn on the convection fan when baking the shell, but if you don’t have one, it’s not a problem.
- When the shell has rested and chilled, line it with baking parchment and add weights — please see the note below about what to use — and bake the crust for a total of 15 – 18 minutes, depending on your oven and pan size (check and turn the crust after 9 – 12 minutes, for even color).After 15 minutes, remove the weights and paper. You can tell if it’s done to the proper degree by checking the bottom crust: if it has dried and is firm — not brittle, but firm — and is a pretty golden color, it is perfect. If the bottom is still a bit soft, return it to the oven, minus the weights, for another few minutes. Let the shell cool on a rack, and prepare the filling.
approximately 275g / 9 ounces fresh blueberries
75g/ 5 tablespoons butter, softened
50g / 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
75g / 2/3 cup ground almonds
½ teaspoon rose essence
¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
25g / 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of blueberry jam (see note below)
1 – 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
- With your mixer, beat the butter until it is soft and pale, with the texture of hand cream — to beurre pomade. Add the sugar and cream the mixture. Add the egg and beat until it is thoroughly mixed. Add the almonds, rose essence, and cardamom and beat again.
- Last, add the flour. You can fold it in by hand, or by mixer — since it is such a small amount, it won’t toughen the frangipane to use the mixer. If the shell is cool, proceed with the recipe; otherwise, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator until the shell is ready.
- When the shell is cold, pre-heat the oven to 350ºF / 175ºC. Spread the fruit jam evenly on the bottom of the shell. Pack the drained, dried blueberries into the shell, filling in the nooks and crannies as best you can.
- Gently and carefully spread the frangipane over the top of the fruit; the easiest method is to dollop the filling atop the fruit at several points, and connect the dollops. Even out the top, and sprinkle with sliced almonds.
- Slide the tart into the oven, and have a precautionary cookie sheet on the rack below to catch jam drips — even two tablespoons’ worth may find it’s way to the surface! I do not recommend baking the tart directly on the sheet, as the air circulation under the tart continues to bake the bottom crust.
- Bake the tart for 30 – 35 minutes, for either the round or rectangular shape, turning after 16 – 18 minutes. As always, the timing will depend on your oven and whether you use convection. Check its progress at 25 minutes, and continue baking accordingly.
- When the filling is firm to the touch and is a golden brown color, the tart is done. Remove and let cool completely on a rack before removing the tart from the pan and sliding it onto a serving plate — impatience can result in a cracked crust. If a piece of the shell breaks and falls away from the side of the tart, wait until it’s cold, dab it with some blueberry jam, and stick it back onto the tart. When you cut the tart, give that slice to yourself!
- Please use the highest-quality, cane sugar-sweetened jam you can find; no high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.
- The strawberry version is delicious — but because strawberries “melt” and lose their vibrant red color when they are baked, the result is not as photogenic as blueberries, or perhaps fresh cherries, would be. The photo of the 9″ round strawberry tart in the post above demonstrates this quirk: the holes in the filling are where the berries collapsed with baking. If that is a non-issue for you, then go with the strawberries. As an aside, I should think that fresh raspberries or pitted fresh cherries, with the corresponding jam, would also work marvelously in this tart with the rose and cardamom.
- If you do choose strawberries, wash them first, then hull, halve, and place them on paper towels to drain, cut side down. Larger berries might be too tall for the tart shell, even when halved, so slice or sliver those berries so they fit below the top of the shell.
- For pastry baking weights, I recommend rice and/or lentils. They will settle into the shape of the shell and support it, which neither ceramic baking weights nor metal chain weights will do. I do not recommend ceramic baking weights at all. The absolute worst thing that can happen is for a ceramic weight to fall into the shell and be overlooked, baked into the product, and then break the tooth of an unwary eater. This has happened to me — I do not want it to happen to you.
- After blind baking the shell, you may discover that it has cracked in places. This is reparable. Patch the crack with a bit of the reserved pastry trimming. If the dough is cold, knead a bit with your fingers to warm it, shape it so it resembles the shape and size of the crack, and gently tuck it into the fissure. This works for cracks on the sides or on the bottom. The patch will bake with the tart itself.
- Bakewell Tarts often have a glazed finish, usually strained and slightly diluted apricot jam. I don’t feel it adds to the tart, but if you like the glossy look, by all means glaze them.
- Leftover pastry trimmings can be turned into very pleasant cookies: re-roll the dough and cut with your favorite shapes. Brush with egg wash (1 beaten egg yolk, ½ teaspoon water, pinch of salt), sprinkle with sugar, and bake at 350°F / 180ºC until they’re lightly browned.
- This tart freezes beautifully. It may not be a picture-perfect as one straight from the oven, but the flavor is unimpaired, and it makes a lovely breakfast pastry.