It feels as if I’m caught in a storm right now, papers flying everywhere, head quite the mess. I told myself I’d buckle down 110% (those same words!) today, and yet, I feel a strong sense of guilt as I look over all my past recipe posts, the embodiment of one of my main passions in life. It’s funny because I actually read an excellent article on procrastination in the papers today; and yet, I don’t see this as a form of such a term, but more so a physical and mental extension of what I love wholeheartedly. It’s small things like the juxtaposition of fruit and custard cream which to be are akin to that of life and love, or books and work, or friends and family.
This grape tart, as you can see above, is not perfect. The shell has shrunk, the grapes aren’t all luscious and plump, but it is through these imperfections that I am willing to share what I’ve learnt to bolster your own attempt in the kitchen. The shrunken shell is my fault really, because I failed to spread the baking beans evenly during the blind baking process. That, together with the fact that I sort of wanted the whole rustic appeal of pseudo-slipshod work. Hey, it’s a tart!
The pastry is abominably crisp, the sort which shatters and melts in your mouth real quick. And I have only recently discovered just how darn easy pastry cream is to make, and I used a simple recipe which yields a smooth and decadent texture and flavour. I attempted to keep cooking the cream until it was thick, and thus hold itself better in the fridge, or when cut through with a knife during serving. If possible, use fresh, thick grapes, which I unfortunately didn’t have on hand at that point in time (hence the tiny little blobs you see pictured!) Since I was trying out my new fluted rectangular tart tin, I was forced to leave out a significant amount of crust, but it would also be perfect in a round 9-inch pie tin.
Rustic Grape Tart
For shortcrust pastry:
157g all-purpose flour
125g cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2-3 tablespoons water
For pastry cream:
355ml whole milk (around 1.5 U.S. cups)
2 egg yolks
68g white castor sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
optional: zest of half a lemon and a splash or brandy/cognac
For the topping:
around 100g of grapes, cut in half (or you can cut as you fill the top, after pouring in the pastry cream)
2-3 tablespoons grape/apricot jam, warmed in the microwave for a minute or so
Make the pastry. It’s extremely versatile and can be used for things like quiches and other sweet or savoury tarts as well. My mum uses it all the time for her savoury wild mushroom and blue cheese quiche. Anyways. Freeze the cubed butter for at least a half hour. If you’re using a food processor, combine flour, salt and sugar, and pulse to mix. Add the butter and pulse around 6-8 times until the mixture resembles a course meal with pea-sized pieces of butter. Add the iced water, 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until the mixture just begins to clump together. The dough should hold together when pinched lightly. If you’re just using your good old hands and a bowl, rub the cold butter into the flour mix, rubbing across the knuckles, and quickly, so the heat doesn’t melt the butter at a faster rate. Continue until you get the aforementioned result. Remove dough from machine/bowl and place on a clean work surface. Shape into a disk and wrap with cling film. Refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to 2 days (so you can make this way ahead of time, hoorah).
When ready to use, remove the disc and leave on the counter for around 10 minutes, just to soften a little. Roll out on a lightly floured surface with a rolling pin, according to the size of the tart tin you are using. For my own rectangular one, I rolled it out to around 9×11 inches, around 1/8-inches thick, so there could be sufficient dough hanging over the edges. Press the dough into your tin (no need to grease) and press down so it reaches all the corners and sides. Trim the edge, leaving about 1/2 an inch excess from the edges. Put the crust in the fridge for around 10 minutes and preheat the oven to 177C (350F). Line the chilled crust with parchment/wax paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 20 minutes in the oven. Remove to cool for a few minutes. Remove the weights, poke the bottom with little holes and return to oven for another 10 minutes. Cool completely before adding any filling.
During the baking time, make the custard. In other words, the most fun part! In a saucepan, medium or large, over medium heat, warm the whole milk until it comes to a simmer. Whilst waiting for that, whisk the eggs, sugar, cornstarch, optional alcohol and lemon zest, flour and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg mixture, and then slowly, very slowly, whisk the slightly tempered egg mixture into the rest of the milk, constantly stirring. Continue to stir for around 3-5 minutes, until the mixture thickens and you have what rightly resembled a luscious, thick custard. It will be a fine, pale yellow, which leaves a slightly slimy trace when you sneak a lick off the back of your wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and let it cool for around half an hour.
Once cool, spread the custard onto the pie shell. Cut up your grapes and assemble them, cut-side down, onto the cream. It will take a while, yes, but it’s absolutely worth it in the end. Place your gorgeous little tart in the fridge, and cover with plastic wrap. Just before serving, warm some jam in a saucepan over light heat or in the microwave for a few minutes. Brush over little butts of grapes, remove from the tin and prepare yourself for a light and slightly unorthodox dessert.
Who doesn’t love grapes.