Rose Prince's Baking Club: watercress tart

Date:16-05-2013 07:58:22 read:3

Rose Prince's Baking Club: watercress tart

Our weekly column shows you the way to beautiful bread and consummate cake. Today: watercress tart.

Watercress tart
Best of British: use local watercress to make this reliable and tasty tart  Photo: Andrew Crowley

Watercress is a little underused, considering it is a far superior leaf to rocket, whose leaves have become boringly ubiquitous as far as sandwiches are concerned.

You can wilt rocket, putting it in a pan for a second then serving it in a collapsed state; but the colour and flavour drains away, leaving a small mass of soggy leaves. Watercress, on the other hand, keeps its colour and incredible pepperiness long after cooking, which is why I love to make a velvety smooth soup with it, which can be served up to two hours later, hot or iced. One tip, though, is never to cool watercress soup in a covered container, or it will lose its green vitality.

My mother added watercress to suet dumplings and they would emerge from a 10-minute simmer deep green and so much more appetising than the grey, school-dinner type. Try making dumplings with rocket or parsley – they taste good but look decidedly khaki after a bit. But perhaps, along with the deliciousness, it is the Britishness that is so important.

I was born in Hampshire, where watercress farms are an integral part of the systems of chalk streams. A watercress bed, if you have never seen one, is a lake of lushness, producing a crop for the larger part of the year. We should have great bunches of watercress in our shops at all times, but amazingly we don't. There are many British supermarkets happy to buy imported watercress which, by the time it gets on to the shelves, is yellowing.

Worse, when you open the sealed bag – watercress is best sold bunched and standing in water – it often smells like a putrid pond. Most British watercress farms are owned by companies with farms in Spain and South Africa, reducing the absolute Britishness. If you want to celebrate local watercress, the "Watercress Alliance" organises an annual festival of British watercress in Alresford, held on Sunday May 19 (

I have been developing a watercress tart, which we began selling at the Pocket Bakery a few weeks ago. Its success relies on a very thin pastry shell, made with shortcrust pastry seasoned with a little white pepper, to match the peppery heat in the watercress.

Serves six


22cm/8½in tart tin with a loose base (4cm/1½in depth)


For the pastry:

185g/6¼oz plain flour

½ tsp white pepper, ground

½ tsp salt

125g/4½oz unsalted butter, from the fridge

About 50ml/2fl oz water

1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt and a tsp of water, to seal and glaze

For the filling:

300g/10½oz watercress, mainly the leafy end of the bunch, finely chopped

4 whole eggs

4 egg yolks

300ml/10 ½fl oz double cream

½ tsp salt

2g/pinch of grated nutmeg

2g/pinch ground white pepper

125g/4 oz finely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese, or British equivalent, for example as Spenwood/Berkswell

Sift the plain flour into a bowl and add the pepper and salt. Cut the butter into dice and use your fingertips to lightly rub it into the flour until you have a breadcrumb consistency. Add the water then mix to a dough, kneading lightly with your hands on a worktop dusted very lightly with flour.

You may need to add more water to make a smooth malleable dough. Wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll into a disc, 38cm/15in in diameter, on a floured worktop. The pastry should be rolled to a thickness of ¼ cm/⅛in. Roll the pastry on to the rolling pin, lift it and unroll into the tart tin. Fit the pastry into the tin, pushing it into the corners well, then allow it to drape over the edges of the tin. Score the base of the pastry cases in several places with a fork. Place a circle of baking parchment in the tin and fill with baking beans.

Bake the pastry case "blind" for 10-12 minutes until the edges are dry and pale gold. Remove from the oven and take out the paper and beans. Paint the inside of the case with the egg glaze, to seal the pastry and prevent the filling leaking through the scored holes. Replace in the oven for five minutes to dry a little more.

Mix all the filling ingredients, except the cheese. Taste for seasoning (if you can face tasting a raw egg mix). Scatter the cheese over the base of the tart case, pour in the filling and bake until set – a slight wobble in the centre of the tart is no bad thing. Don't over bake or craters will open in the filling as it cools. Serve at room temperature, with a little additional watercress salad.

Your letters

"Can baking powder or bicarbonate of soda go stale?" writes Alice Begg, after an attempt at soda bread went wrong. "I rarely bake but decided to try making a wheaten bread. I am sure I did everything right, but the bread never rose. The bicarbonate of soda has been in my cupboard for a very long time, in fact I can't remember buying it!"

It is true that old baking soda and baking powder can lose their ability to aerate dough. Test baking powder by adding a teaspoon to hot water, or bicarb by adding one teaspoon to one teaspoon of vinegar. If it bubbles, it is still active.

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