Strawberry & Saffron Tarts
Here's a sneak preview of one of the recipes in my next book, Fool's Gold: A History of British Saffron. Once you've tasted these strawberry and saffron tarts you'll never look at rhubarb and custard in the same way again.
Saffron coloured custard was a popular filling for medieval tarts. Here it is pared with a spiced strawberry layer. These deep filled tartlets were known as ‘daryoles’ but you can make one large tart if you prefer.
Makes 12 small tarts or 1 23cm/9in tart
1 pinch/ 20-30 saffron strands, crushed
130ml/3½floz/just over half a cup sweet white wine
250g/9oz/1¾ cups strawberries hulled
About 30-35g/just over 1oz dates, finely chopped (2-6 dates depending on size and variety used) 1½ tbsp golden caster sugar
¼ tsp each cinnamon & ginger plus a pinch of cloves
1 tsp arrowroot or cornflour mixed with 2-4 tsp sweet white wine or water
500g/1lb 2oz sweet shortcrust pastry
300ml/½ pt/1¼ cups double cream
5 egg yolks
50g/2oz/¼ cup golden caster sugar
12 extra saffron strands (optional)
Equipment: 12 hole muffin tin or a 23cm/9in loose bottomed tart tin
Infuse saffron in 100ml/3floz/just under half a cup of the sweet white wine.
Cut strawberries into small dice. Place in a small saucepan with the chopped dates, 2 tablespoons of the sweet wine, 1½ tablespoons golden caster sugar and the spices. Gently bring up to boiling point then cook until the strawberries are soft and pulpy with a few pieces retaining their shape. This should take around 3-4 minutes.
Mix the arrowroot or cornflour with 2-4 teaspoons of sweet white wine or water. Stir into the simmering strawberry sauce then stir until thickened. Turn off the heat and allow to cool completely. If possible make the strawberry mixture the day before you plan to make the tarts and store in the fridge.
Roll out the pastry to a thickness of 3mm/⅛in. Stamp out 12 x 11cm rounds. Place each round in a muffin hole. This should be more or less level with the top of each hole. Using your fingers, press down into the base of each hole pushing the pastry upwards. This will cause it to sit slightly proud of the hole (it will shrink back during while baking). Place in the refrigerator while you preheat the oven.
Preheat the oven to 200℃/400℉/Gas 4. Place a baking tray in the oven large enough for the muffin or large tart tin to sit on.
Prick the base of each tart case then line it with baking paper or a neutral coloured muffin case. Fill each one with baking beans then place the muffin tin on top of the hot tray and bake for 15 minutes. Once cooked remove the baking beans and lining paper from each case.
While the tart cases are baking, make the custard. Heat the cream and saffron infused wine in a small saucepan to boiling point. Meanwhile beat the yolks and 50g/2oz/¼ cup golden caster sugar together with a balloon whisk in a large jug until combined. Pour the hot cream mixture over the egg yolks, whisking as you go.
Place about a teaspoon of the strawberry mixture in the base of each pastry case. Pour the saffron custard over the strawberry mix filling almost to the top. If you like to can dlelicately place a single saffron strand on top of each custard tart. Bake at 200℃/400℉/Gas 4 or 15 minutes. The custard will have risen and should still have a slight wobble. If it still seems a little loose reduce the temperature to 180/350℉/Gas 2 for a further 5 minutes. Allow to cool in the tin before taking out. Although these tarts do keep for a day or two they are best eaten on the day they are baked.
To make one large tart, line a 23cm/9in loose bottomed tart tin with the sweet pastry leaving a little pastry over hanging the top of the tin. Prick the base, line with baking paper and baking beans then bake as directed above for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans then return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to level off the top of the pastry case by scraping away at the overhanging pastry.
As this tart will take longer to cook you need reduce the oven temperature to 150℃/300℉/Gas 2. To fill the tart, spread the strawberry filling over the base then top with the warm custard mixture. You may want to do this when the tart case is in the oven by pulling the shelf out slightly to make it easier to fill. Bake for around 40-45 minutes until the filling is just set but still has a bit of a wobble and the top has browned a little.