Sunday, January 03, 2016

The beginning of the end... Downton Abbey and Egg Custard Tart

Tonight marks the first episode in the final season of Downton Abbey... in America at least.  Given the Brits have already laid eyes on the series finale makes THIS the final wrap-up in this truly divine television experience.

I had contemplated NOT baking for this season and merely enjoying the program week to week with a cup of tea I purchased from The Tea Cozy.  This little establishment was a Cambria, California icon, as the little tea house provided beautiful teas and tea experiences to patrons for many years.  Due to some health challenges and a lack of labor in the area, the owner closed the doors to the restaurant side of the business but continues to sell her loose leaf teas online.  My favorites are sticky toffee pudding, peaches and cream, apple cobbler, spiced pear, and snowflake.  The lemon shortcake is delicious for those who love green tea.  If you haven't yet tried some of these divine flavors, please do.  Shop small!

But I digress...

Several Facebook friends began asking several weeks ago about my plans for the final season.  They wondered what I planned to prepare to commemorate the final interactions among the upstairs, and downstairs, characters.  They wanted to know if I would prepare a tart for Lady Mary as she decides how her romantic life will come together.  They wanted to know if there would be a scone for Mrs. Padmore as she works her fingers to the bone to provide delicious fare for the Crawley clan.  They wanted to know if I would have a trifle for dear Anna as she and Bates resolve the turmoil we left them in last season.  They wanted to know if there would be a biscuit for Lady Edith as she breaks still more barriers for women of her time.

After careful consideration, watching the incredible Downton Abbey float in the Tournament of Roses Parade, and a lot of Internet research, I decided to craft a British baking plan for the final season.  Now, I just need to locate a pudding tin and I will be set!

Did you catch sight of the Downton Abbey PBS float?  Stunning.  Simply stunning.

Tonight's delight from across the pond is a traditional Egg Custard Tart.

Listed below is the process I followed.

Having never had an egg custard tart, I located two recipes that seemed pretty reliable.  The first is here.  Although I made a few changes, the second is the one I followed as it comes from Paul Hollywood, one of the judges from The Great British Baking Show.  Oh, how I love the program which airs on PBS.  He and Mary Berry make the perfect pair, don't you think?

To begin, I gathered my ingredients.

For the crust:
3/4 C flour
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1/4 C superfine sugar
9 Tbsp cold, unsalted butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you already have ground almonds and superfine sugar, skip this next step.  If not, do what I did.  To begin, I placed whole almonds and granulated sugar in a food processor.

This little step did not take much time and gave me the brilliant idea to use a food processor to bring my dough together, rather than my fingers.  If I can make baking easier and neater, I will.

Once the sugar and almonds are ground, add the flour, and mix in the food processor until well combined.  Add the cold butter and process until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.  Add the egg and process until the ingredients  become a soft dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and bring together into a disc shape.  Don't you just love the little flecks of almonds?  If you are allergic to nuts, stick with the first recipe referenced.

Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Once chilled, roll out and place in a 7" to 9" tart pan or pie plate.  Place back into the refrigerator while bringing together the filling. You can use a round cutter and a muffin tin to make mini tarts if you wish.  Follow the referenced recipe if you plan to go that route.

While the dough was chilling, I gathered ingredients for the filling.

1 1/4 pints whipping cream  (Some recipes used whole milk.)
7 egg yolks
7 Tbsp superfine sugar

In a medium saucepan, heat the cream until steaming but not boiling.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar until pale yellow in color.

Once the milk is heated, slowly pour the milk into the bowl of sugar and yolks while whisking vigorously.  The movement prevents the scrambling of the eggs.  Once the milk has been added, place a fine mesh strainer over a 3-cup glass measuring cup with a spout.  Pour the mixture through the strainer to remove any lumps.

Remove dough from the refrigerator to a lightly floured surface. Roll out to fit the dish in which the tart will be baked.

Poke holes into the bottom and sides of the crust (if using a tart pan or pie plate) using a fork.  Then, pour the mixture into the shell and sprinkle with grated nutmeg.

Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turn the temperature down to 350 and bake another 30 minutes or more.  The custard should be set with center ever so slightly wobbly.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  As you will note, the edge of my crust turned out a bit darker than I would have preferred.  I did have to leave the tart in the oven longer to get the custard to set.  Despite the darker color, it tasted deliciously nutty and the custard was light, creamy and slightly sweet.  A lovely accompaniment to the rich drama on the program.

The egg custard tart may be eaten slightly warm or chilled to be more firm.

Now, for that cup of tea.  Let the final season of Downton Abbey BEGIN!

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