Rose Prince's baking club: spring tart

Date:07-05-2014 07:58:04 read:0

Rose Prince's baking club: spring tart

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

Spears of the realm: asparagus and courgette tart is an ideal light lunch dish  Photo: Andrew Crowley

Simmering arguments over the difference between cookery and food technology come to the boil when new transformative ingredients arrive on the scene. Just to clarify, ''cookery’’, as defined by the OED, is the practice or skill of preparing food, and “food” is a nutritious substance.

So it can be said that ingredients with no nutritional benefit are processing aids. This presents the worrisome thought that baking, which involves using substances such as baking powder, cannot be called 100 per cent cooking since the additive replaces the skill.

It’s well known that the chefs whose food falls into the category of “molecular,” use all sorts of processing aids. There are gelling agents and emulsifiers, ingredients that turn oil into powder or form orbs with liquid centres. There’s dry ice to create instant sorbets, salts to make cooked meat retain its pink colour, even gums to set the foam sauces we now see (all too often) dribbled over grilled fish. I find foams repellent, but that is because (look away if you are squeamish) my dog is too fond of eating grass.

As the curmudgeon that pushes foamy garnishes grumpily to the side of the plate, lucky as I may be to be eating in such high style, I understand why restaurants always seek the new. And I use baking powder, cream of tartar, baking soda and colours in my baking – it would be very hard to make light sponges without self-raising flour. Yet I still feel — hypocritically perhaps — as if the food technology trend is getting out of hand.

When I noticed Lakeland now sell Xanthan Gum to fix foams so the bubbles do not pop; Agar Agar for jellies that set when warm, and popping candy for desserts with crackle, I bristled. I mean this is Lakeland, spiritual home of the cookie cutter and all sorts of homely stuff, offering ways to make our dinner parties plain weird.

And yet maybe it’s not what you use but how you use it. Xanthan gum, for instance, is useful for wheat-free baking because it lends dough and batter a glutinous texture. Agar Agar is harmless enough (it’s made from sea vegetables) and hot jelly is not hideous.

The fact is that so much of real cookery is genuinely transformational. The many ways in which a simple egg can dramatically change a texture beat any manufactured additive. Which brings me to puff pastry: I have never made it for the baking club, and it is true magic when made with the barest ingredients, and your hands.


You will need a baking sheet — 30 x 30cm/12 x 12in — and rolling pin


Makes enough for three tarts (puff pastry freezes well for up to one month)

500g/1lb 2oz plain white flour

1 tsp salt

500g/1lb 2oz cold butter

2 tsp lemon juice

165ml/4½ tbsp ice cold water

For the tart filling

480g/1lb asparagus

2 courgettes

Small bunch basil

Olive oil

2 tbsp grated pecorino, Lord of the Hundreds or other ewe’s milk cheese

Sift the flour and salt on to the work top. Place the butter between two sheets of greaseproof paper and hammer to soften. With floured hands, break the butter into small pieces the size of a forefinger tip. Put all but one quarter of them into the fridge in a bowl, then rub the remaining butter into the pastry. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the water and lemon juice. Mix to a dough then wrap and chill for half an hour.

Take the dough out of the fridge with the remaining butter. Dust the work top with flour and roll into a large rectangle about 1cm thick. Scatter over all the butter, fold the dough in three (like a letter), dust with flour and pat with the rolling pin. Roll out again into a large rectangle, then fold, tap and roll as before. Chill the pastry for 15 minutes then repeat. You need to repeat this 3 more times, chilling the dough every second time, then the pastry is ready to use.

To make a spring vegetable tart, preheat the oven to 430F/220C/Gas 7. Shave the outer sides of the asparagus spears and cut the courgettes into thin ribbons on a mandolin. Roll out one-third of the pastry on a floured worktop to about ½cm thickness. Trim to make a 30cm/12in square. Lay on the baking sheet (which you do not need to grease).

Prick all but the outside edge with a fork then brush with beaten egg and allow to dry. Scatter over the vegetables and zigzag some extra virgin olive oil over. Bake for 15 minutes until the pastry is golden and the vegetables soft. Before serving, scatter over the basil and grated cheese.

Your letters

Caroline Thomas wonders about potato cakes. “Do I have to use mashed potato, or can I use potato flour?” she asks. No. Actually never. Potato flour, like cornflour, absorbs vast quantities of liquid. If you substituted it for real cooked potato, it would be like chewing a loofah. It is always best to make soft potato cakes with the flouriest old potatoes, boil them in their skins, then peel and grate them.

Next week: Battenberg cake. You will need marzipan, or ground almonds, icing sugar and egg to make your own; eggs, butter, flour, caster sugar, jam and pink food colouring.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013