Le Rouge et le Noire

Le rouge et le noire

Tartelette

In my family we have fallen into a pattern of always having Christmas at my sister’s house, and it traditionally befalls me to bring an additional dessert. Additional because it has also become a tradition that my sister makes Nigella’s Eton Mess for dessert (her husband takes care of the lunch itself).

In choosing what to make, I wanted something simple and not too sweet, to complement the gooey, creamy and very sweet multiplicity of ingredients in the Eton Mess. I headed to the supermarket with a particular recipe in mind, but my plan was completely but willingly derailed by the vista of berries available in the fruit section. I have no idea why, but Perth has undergone something of an insurgence of berries in the past 12 or so months.

It used to be the case that for about 5 minutes during Summer one could buy, in Perth, a limited variety of berries (and cherries), primarily blueberries and occasionally raspberries. These could be had at mortgage-your-house and sell-your-children prices. It seems like there has been a relaxing of import laws or attitudes to imported fruits, because the first big change was the appearance of U.S. cherries outside of our own season. Hooray. Then blueberries from New Zealand started appearing on the shelves, for what seems like a much longer season, and at more affordable prices. Cherries used to be around $20 (Australian) per kilo, sometimes higher, and blueberries were about $8 per 125g. Try to picture just how very few blueberries there are in 125g.

But wait, there’s more! The whole point of this berry specific monologue is that I was almost forced to genuflect in front of the berry display when I saw not just the usual strawberries and blueberries, but raspberries, blackberries, and redcurrants too. REDCURRANTS! I have never in my life seen redcurrants for sale in Perth. And these were not even imported.

Every pastry book I own seems to include a recipe for Summer Berry Tartlets and whenever I have come to those pages I have always looked wistfully and with yearning at those artfully arranged little cairns of berries, that always seem to include redcurrants. And thus I would sigh with resignation that I should probably never be able to recreate them as pictured. Well now my wish has been granted! In a way…

Tartlettes en rouge et  noir

Tartlettes en rouge et noir

The tartlets pictured here are my own creation and not Summer Berry Tarts. I am calling them Tartelettes en rouge et noir, for two reasons. The first is obviously because of the colour combinations. The second is that the idea of red and black made me think of Stendhal’s seminal novel Le Rouge et le Noire (often translated as The Red and the Black). I first read this novel while on a long visit to my sister in Los Angeles, and loved it (the book, that is, but also L.A).

Stendhal

By Creator:Johan Olaf Sodermark (1790-1848) ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I like to think, though, that this choice goes beyond the superficial coincidence of the title. The Red and the Black is the story of a young man from the provinces, Julien Sorel, whose romantic illusions about city life and society see him trying to raise himself up from his humble beginnings on the basis of his talents and his willingness for hard work. Being myself a country girl who quickly saw that small town life was never going to be sufficiently fulfilling, I feel I can relate. And like Julien, I found that reality did not exactly match my romantic illusions, and very often has become overwhelming. Unlike Julien, thankfully, I have not ended up committing and being tried for a crime of passion, but like him I have struggled to make sense of life and I join Stendhal in questioning the existence of truth when every human being directs their own actions according to their interpretation of the actions of others.

My very first post in this blog was the story of how I had fluttered in many ways and flown in none. All such flutterings had been attempted with requisite talent and hard work, but generally came to nothing once my romantic allusions did not stand up to comparison with reality. I have stated that I think my efforts in baking have broken this mould and am starting to fly. If ever I needed proof of that, the success of these tartlets has shown me it is so.

Now to the tartlets themselves. I made the shortcrust pastry with the only plain flour I had in the house – Khorasan flour – which resulted in a surprisingly gentle but beautifully crumbly shortcrust pastry. So here is my recipe:

Tartelettes en rouge et noir

PASTRY
185g plain/all-purpose flour (I used Khorasan flour)
55g caster sugar
2tsp water

ALMOND FILLING
60g butter, softened
75g light brown sugar
1 egg
1 tbsp plain flour
80g ground almonds

FRUIT TOPPING
One punnet each of blueberries, blackberries and redcurrants
Apricot Jam (for glazing)

FOR THE PASTRY
Process the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. (Alternatively chop the butter coarsely and rub into sifted flour and sugar with your fingertips). Add the egg yolk and as much of the water as is needed to only just hold the dough together when you pinch a bit of it between two fingers.

Tip the crumbly pastry mix onto a pastry mat or lightly floured surface, and press the mix together until it holds in one big mass. Then briefly knead the dough gently for no more than about 20 seconds, until smooth. Don’t worry if there are splits at the edges, you don’t want a stretchy bread-like pastry – crumbly is the goal.

Roll the pastry out between sheets of baking paper and a thickness of about 3mm (1/8 inch) and cut out 12 x 8cm (3 1/4 inch) circles with a round cutter. If you cannot get 12 out of the pastry after the first roll, gather up the offcuts and press it back into a ball without kneading it, and re-roll to cut out the remaining rounds.

Grease a 12 hole muffin pan and ease the pastry rounds into each hole. They should come up the sides to about 1/3 of the hole. Prick the base of each pastry case thoroughly to let out the air bubbles that get trapped as you put them in the holes.

Refrigerate the cases for 30 minutes before baking them in the oven at 200℃/400℉ for about ten minutes. The cases should come out of the oven BEFORE they start to brown. Keep the oven on while you make the filling as the tartlets will be baked further once filled.

TIPS:

  • Use an oven thermometer to get the temperature right – don’t trust your oven’s thermostat!
  • Sit your muffin tray on a baking sheet to stop your pastry cases from coming out browner on the outside than on the inside. The baking tray acts as a diffuser of the oven’s direct heat.

FOR THE ALMOND FILLING
Beat the butter, sugar and egg together in a small bowl until well combined and smooth. Then mix in the flour and ground almonds. Spoon the mixture into the baked pastry cases and bake for a further 10-15 minutes at 200℃/400℉, or until the edges of the pastry start to turn lightly brown.

FOR THE FRUIT TOPPING
Allow to cool completely before  glazing with melted apricot jam and then arranging the fruit on top. Glaze the fruit also for a glistening shine.

Enjoy!

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