It started as a joke tweet, but very quickly, as things often do on Social Media, it snowballed into Tart Off. In search of the best custard tart in Bristol, the gauntlet was thrown down to professional and amateur bakers alike. The only rules were broad and open to interpretation; there must be egg yolks used for the filling and pastry.
Always up for a cooking or baking challenge, I thought I would enter. A fan of the Portuguese style custard tart, I decided to make a version with a sunshine-filled twist. I’d never made puff pastry before, let alone a Pasteis de Nata, but taking inspiration from the many examples I have eaten over the years I thought I’d give it a go.
It was a shaky start -half of my custard tarts exploded in the oven. My fault for overfilling the cases. Running late, I rushed down to the Folk House, trying to keep the rest of the still warm tarts from squashing in the tin. A sea of custard tarts were already displayed on stage by the time I arrived -interestingly the majority of a Portuguese style.
A panel of distinguished judges including Barny Houghton and Xanthe Clay (no pressure), started the tasting. Whilst we milled around eating extra custard tarts, sold to raise money for the Square Food Foundation. The competition was tough, especially for the Pros -many of Bristol’s finest establishments were competing to win the accolade of Tart Off Champion.
After a nail biting wait and much totting up of scores, it turned out that my tarts won me the amateur category! Such a lovely surprise and one that I must put down to the efforts of my friends and colleagues who valiantly tasted batches of tarts and gave me uncompromising feedback, which helped me to tweak my recipe.
Before I share the recipe -the results.
3rd place –Ursula WJ
2nd place –Pudding Kitchen
1st place -Me
3rd place –Source Food Café
2nd place –Hart’s Bakery
1st place –Portuguese Taste
Lemon and Basil Custard Tarts
Makes 12-14 prize winning tarts.
For the custard:
300ml whole milk
100ml single cream
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
8 basil leaves
150g caster sugar
4 large egg yolks
4 tbsp. plain flour
For the pastry:
80g plain flour
80g strong white flour
75g softened butter
80ml cold water
60g cold butter
The day before you need to make the tarts, you will need to infuse the milk for the custard. In a saucepan, pour in the milk and cream, add the lemon zest and basil and bring to the boil. Take off the heat immediately, cover the pan and leave to infuse overnight.
The following day, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale. Pour into a heavy bottomed saucepan and place over a low heat. Add the flour a spoon at a time and mix in thoroughly making a smooth paste. Remove the lemon zest and basil from the milk and cream and slowly add to the egg yolk mixture. Turn up the heat and stir carefully -do not allow the mixture to catch and burn. Once the consistency of double cream, take off the heat, pour into a jug and allow to cool. To prevent a skin from forming, place over some cling film, directly in contact with the custard.
For the pastry, sift the two types of flour into a mixing bowl. Rub in 15g of the softened butter and then add the cold water so it forms a soft pliable dough. Cover in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for 30min.
Roll the pastry into a 15cm square. Flatten the cold butter into a square and place into the centre. Wrap the dough over the top and then roll into a 30x15cm rectangle. Fold up the bottom third and then cover with the top third and roll out once again and fold. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for 30min. Repeat this twice. Following the final fold, roll out into a 15x30cm rectangle and then spread with the rest of the softened butter. Roll, starting at the shorter end to make a plump fat roll. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate until needed.
Preheat the oven to 200oC. Butter a 12 hole tart tray and set aside. Take the pastry roll out of the fridge and gently squeeze and pull until it is thinner -around 30cm in length. Cut into discs around 2cm thick. Spread each pastry disc, cut side up evenly in the tart tray. Pour in the custard until two-thirds of the way up and place into the oven. Cook for 30 minutes, or until the custard has coloured and has the appearance of crème brulee. Allow to cool in the tray for 10 min, before turning out onto a wire rack.