Back to School Dinner: Harry Potter’s Treacle Tart

I have managed to get to 2011 without knowing what happened at the end of the Harry Potter saga. I still haven’t read any of the books, apart from the first chapter of the first book. Twice. To my niece and nephew when they were about 7 and 8. They are now 17 and 18…

I remember first hearing about Harry Potter back in 1997, on the radio and just off the ferry driving back to my parents for Christmas. The thing that struck me was JK Rowling apparently didn’t want to Harry Potter to be represented in any illustrations, so that people could imagine their own Harry. It didn’t take long for the marketing monster to take over and she gave in.

My 14-year-old (at the time) stepson (now a doctor of physics) was extremely impressed to learn that I went to a school that resembled Harry Potter’s in terms of organization, and bombarded me with all sorts of questions about it. Our houses were boring colors though and we played hockey rather than Quidditch. Or at least I tried. Friends generally wielded hockey sticks like golf clubs. I managed to die my hair green once (never try blue hair spray on blonde highlights…) We did not have butter beer either.

So I haven’t read the books but I have been to see all the annual Harry Potter films, with two very good friends I meet for dinner regularly. For Part 1 of the final film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, one of us was unavoidably detained though and couldn’t make it, so we decided to make a day of seeing Part 2. Part 1 on the small screen to catch up, lunch, then part 2 on the big screen. And I insisted on doing lunch for the interval.

As we’ve already gone back to school with Chicken Fricassée, the dessert needed to follow suit. Rice pudding is the first that came to mind is a smear of red on the top that could never be called jam. I never knew what it. It looked somehow spilt. Definitely odd and completely unappetizing. To this day I cannot stand rice pudding.

But if treacle tart was on the menu though, you had to scrabble to get a piece of. Usually square, with a criss-cross of pastry and pouring of thick yellow custard. Although I’d pass on the custard.

And guess what’s Harry Potter’s favorite dessert? Treacle tart! (thanks Wikipedia). It was therefore perfect for this pseudo school dinner dessert, and a Harry Potter marathon.

As an aside, treacle tart also features in another children’s film: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The child catcher uses the promise of free treacle tart to lure out the children. How I HATED the child catcher. Although a children’s film, I found Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to be one of the creepiest I’ve seen. I’d prefer to see Scream these days. Surprisingly It was written by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame, another descendant of my greatx4 grandfather.

I think JK Rowling did more than slightly better with Harry Potter. Having waited ten years, seen all the films and found out what happens at the end, I can now get on with reading the books, “replaying” the films in my imagination with all the details. Although I probably won’t be using my imagination much.

You maybe won’t hear from me for a while…

Treacle Tart

So treacle tart. What’s in it? Well not treacle, as such. But golden syrup. So why is it called treacle tart? Because golden syrup is a light treacle, others being dark treacle and molasses. It’s an inverted sugar syrup, produced when turning sugar cane into sugar. Corn syrup should be a good substitute.

This couldn’t be an easier recipe. Golden syrup, breadcrumbs, lemon juice and zest warmed and poured into a shortcrust pastry case.
As we’re back at school, I thought I’d use the shortcrust pastry recipe I learnt in school. I managed to learn some cooking basics in home economics classes. Although the kitchen resembled a laboratory.

Normally for basic shortcrust pastry the ratio is that the fat should be half the weight of the flour, as was my school recipe, which split the fat 50/50 of marg and lard. Lard being animal fat (and I’m not sure what I’d be looking for in French) I didn’t use it (but beware if you do ever see lard in French: it means bacon).
My pyrex tart tin is bigger than standard sizes, so I used the flour that was left in the bag – 240g – and unbelievably I had 120g of butter in the fridge.

It’s a similar method to the recent almond tart, in that you make up the pastry, chill it, roll it out, bake the case blind, prepare the filling and bake. But I realized that it’s way different, and the pastry for the Chez Panisse almond tart has a much higher butter content.

If you want to boost the gourmet factor when you serve it, sprinkle with vanilla sugar as Heston Blumenthal does.

Makes enough for a 9-10 inch/26-30cm tart tin. The smaller your tin, the more you’ll have for the criss-cross strips.

I also put in a sprinkling of vanilla powder found at Lakeland.

Serves 10 (or less if you make the portions bigger!)

For the pastry
– 240 g flour
– A pinch of (vanilla) salt
– 1 tbspn of sugar
– 120g chilled butter
– 4-5 tbspns water to bind

For the filling
– 454 g bottle of golden syrup (substitute corn syrup)
– 100g fresh breadcrumbs
– generous pinch ground ginger (optional)
– 1 lemon ( or 2 limes), zested and juiced

Making the pastry
1. Sieve the flour with the salt and sugar into a mixing bowl or food processor.
2. Cut the butter into small cubes and put it with the flour.
3. Rub in the butter or pulse in the food processor until it becomes like breadcrumbs.
4. Start mixing in the water.
5. When it begins to hold together finish mixing by hand, kneading until smooth.
6. Form into a flat disc, cover in plastic film and put in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
7. Heat the oven to 180°C.
8. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out until it’s bigger than your tart tin.
9. Carefully place it over the tin and press to fit.
10. Reserve any excess to make strips over the top.
11. Bake blind for 15 minutes.

To make the filling
1. While the tart base is baking, put the golden syrup into a saucepan.
2. Zest the lemon or limes and add the zest to the syrup.
3. Juice the lemon or limes and add to the syrup.
4. Add the ground ginger if using
5. Heat the syrup for a few minutes.
6. Stir in the breadcrumbs.
7. Pour the syrup mixture into the tart tin. (If you have leftover pastry roll it out and cut into strips and place them to make diamonds across the top.)
8. Bake for 30 minutes or so.

Serve with custard or créme fraîche.


Chez Panisse 40th: Lindsey Shere’s Almond Tart à la David Lebovitz

This tart did not inspire me when I first read about it. Then I nearly drowned my keyboard on discovering David Lebovitz’s write up of it.

Since then I have dreamt about this almond tart. It has a serious droolness factor. I kept having to go back to David’s write-up to practically lick my screen for its coffee-coloured toffee-like gooiness. Almonds encased in sweet chewiness on a light crumbly pastry base… Perfect slices that look like they’ve been cut with a laser… Although I’ll keep the location of such perfection to myself for a little while longer…)

It was not at all like the fluffy thing I imagined reading Lindsey Shere telling Thomas McNamee how to make it in his book Alice Waters and Chez Panisse. Funny how with food the mind can conjure up something completely different to what it should be. It’s almost like Chinese whispers.

I love caramelized nuts that sparkle like jewels. I love toffee. I love caramel. I love chewiness. I love dense sweetness. And that’s what this tart has. Nothing else was going to get a look in as dessert for a Chez Panisse Tribute Menu.

And who better to take you through it than David Lebovitz, who fought to keep this tart on the menu at Chez Panisse during his time as a pastry chef there. Because it has a difficult reputation. Difficult does not bode well for a first attempt, especially when I realize he says that a 10-inch (26 cm) tart tin rather than the 9-inch (23 cm) they used at Chez Panisse is ok, and mine measures…30 cm. And is Pyrex rather than the svelte and classic metal one with removeable base he uses. So first challenge: to stretch a soft dough that doesn’t stretch the equivalent of 7 cms! I am such a pro at making things difficult for myself. Starting to adjust the quantities would only be permission to trip myself up.

And that’s where David’s take on it differs. The original method says to roll it out, but David “smushes” it into the tin by hand because it’s too soft. Hence method à la David Lebovitz. When I saw how soft the dough is I knew that if I started smushing it, as David said it took him hours in the beginning, I wasn’t get to work the next morning on time. So I chilled it as he says, but rolled it out until it got too soft and started sticking then managed to transfer the wilting pastry into the dish pre-lined with a circle of baking parchment on the bottom just in case…

And then I started smushing, working the pastry out to the sides. Or nearly. I found it easier to use a silicon dough scraper to smooth it over, working around turning the dish like the spokes of a bicycle and evening it out. And much to my surprise I managed to get skinny sides rather than the galette I thought I’d be resigned to.

And (barely) no holes when baking it blind. (Keep a small piece of dough to patch holes as it cooks.)

It did not overflow as warned, or leak as warned thanks to the pyrex dish (although I guess I didn’t need the sheet of aluminium on the shelf below).

And I did not have to push down or break up any lumpy bits as warned. Almost all by itself it cooked down into its dark and gooey and chewy and toffee-ish-ness.

A good sharp knife will give you David’s lasered edges.


That’s my kind of difficult.

Now you can go and look at David’s. How did I do?

And David’s also given an insight into the time he spent at Chez Panisse, just before attending the anniversary celebrations.

Lindsey Shere’s Almond Tart at Chez Panisse, à la David Lebovitz

(David Lebovitz’s version adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere)

The ingredients are as given by David Lebovitz:
For the dough
– 1 cup (140 g) flour
– 1 tbspn sugar
– 1/2 cup (115 g) chilled unsalted butter, cubed
– 1 tbspn chilled water
– 1/2 tspn vanilla extract (I used vanilla powder as my extract had gone into hiding)
– 1/8 tspn almond extract

For the filling
– 1 cup (250 ml) whipping (heavy) cream
– 1 cup (200 g) sugar (I used golden granulated)
– 1/8 tspn salt
– 1 cup (80 g) slivered (sliced) almonds
– 1/8 tspn almond extract
– 2 tspns Grand Marnier or Amaretto (I didn’t have either so used a Creme de Chaitaigne – chesnut liqueur)

Dough and base (can be prepared in advance and frozen, otherwise 30 mins chilling time, and another 30 minutes in the freezer once pressed into the tin)
1. Mix the flour and  sugar together.
2. Add the butter and pulse until it resembles breadcrumbs, or rub in until that stage.
3. Add the water and extracts and bring together until it forms a soft dough.
4. Remove a piece to keep for patching. Flatten into a round, wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour.
5. Remove from the fridge and roll out until it becomes too soft. Lift into the tin (it may tear).
6. Start pressing the dough into the tin and up the sides (use a pastry scraper or silicon spatula if you have one).
7. Freeze for at least 30 minutes.
8. Preheat the oven to 190°C.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown, checking after 10 for any holes. Patch with the reserved dough.

1. While the base is cooking, heat the cream, sugar and salt in a large wide saucepan until bubbling and frothy.
2. Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds, extract and alcohol.
3. When the base is cooked, pour in the filling, smoothing out around the base.
4. Cook at 190° for about 30 minutes, after 10 or so breaking up any lumps with a heat-proof spatula and smoothing out. (If using a tin with a removeable base put a sheet of aluminium on the rack below the one the tart is cooking on to catch any drips.)
5. Cook until it’s turned a caramelized colour.

Forget the fork and pick it up and eat it with your fingers. Just try not to have a When Harry Met Sally moment.

Thai Fruit Salad and Mango Chocolate Mousse Dip

“You like cooking,” observed the man sat next to me in the plane on the way home to Paris after my dad’s birthday and FBC11, as I’d spent the flight reading the Feel Good Food magazine in the FBC mega-goody bag. “Oui,” I said, “And I’ve just been to a food blog conference.”

Although the magazine was in English, he spoke to me in French, with a heavy Thai accent. He cooks in a Thai restaurant in Clermont Ferrand.

“Hey I just cooked a Thai meal for my father’s birthday last week – Som Tam papaya salad and a Thai green curry. But deciding on the dessert had not been easy. Being bold I asked, “Can I ask you what dessert would be very Thai?”

He told me that tapioca cooked in coconut milk and served with mango would be typical. And it’s true that a lot of desserts on Asian menus are very Asian in taste, brightly coloured noodles made with sticky rice flour or a variation on Tapioca.  The glueiness of the tapioca turns the coconut milk into a solid flan-like dish, with the tapioca pearls imprisoned in the coconut milk. Not my father’s cup of tea at all. And it doesn’t have chocolate in it.

Fruit salad is what he likes. So instead of tapioca I had thought a fruit salad with an exotic twist would be a nice light and summery finish to the Thai-themed meal. With a ridiculously simple mango chocolate mousse of sorts used as a dip for the fruit. Kind of like a cold fondue but nice and decadent thanks to the use of calorific mascarpone. Not so Thai maybe, but you can’t have a birthday with chocolate. Or at least I can’t.

Thai Fruit Salad and Mango Chocolate Mousse Dip

For the fruit salad:

Serves 6

– 1 ripe papaya
– 1 mango
– 1/2 pineapple
– 1 banana
– 3 passion fruit
– 2 limes

1. Peel the papaya, cut it in half and scoop out the black seeds. Slice across, and cut the slices into cubes. OR Cut in half, scoop out the black seeds and scallop out the flesh with a spoon.
2. If you have a mango splitter: peel the mango and use the mango splitter. Cut the sides into cubes. OR, Cut off each side of the mango, score the flesh of each one diagonally to make diamonds and turn inside out. Cut off the diamonds that pop up.
3. Cut the pineapple into cubes (leave the core and tough outer skin).
4. Slice the banana.
4. Divide the fruit into 6 bowls.
5. Cut the passion fruit in half and spoon half a passion fruit onto one bowl.
6. Slice the lime in half and juice it. Spoon a spoonful or two over each bowl.

For the mango chocolate mousse dip

Serves 6

– 160g dark chocolate
– 1 ripe mango
– 200ml coconut milk
– 4 tbsps (about 100g) mascarpone

1. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie or in the microwave (start at 1 minute and continue at intervals of 30 seconds).
2. Chop up the mango according to one of the methods above and put it in a mini chopper or food processor.
3. Add the coconut milk and mascarpone.
4. Add the melted chocolate.
5. Whiz for a minute or so.
6. Spoon into 6 bowls.
7. Put in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
8. And have fun dipping the fruit into it!

NB. if you don’t have a mini chopper or food processor you can try a hand blender or blender.

You can’t have a birthday without birthday cake either…