You know when you hear those stories that seem so far-fetched that they can’t possibly be true, but if they were true it would satiate some intense restlessness inside you, because something that funny and weird actually being true somehow restores your faith and love of humanity? Yep, see we all get those moments…
Well I do. And this is one of those stories. Well, almost. Perhaps it’s a whole lot more exciting for me because,
- it’s about baking
- there’s something historical about it
- it’s British
So maybe you won’t find it funny, but I like it. So I thought I’d share it in the hope that you may also find it funny (Apologies if you don’t and I just wasted your time, even though it was entirely your choice to read this blog post).
The story begins in England (naturally), in a small town called Bakewell. It’s in the middle of the Peak District national park (if you don’t know what that is, it’s pretty straight forward: it’s a district full of peaks. Literally. Lots and lots of hills and rocks and fields and moors, and it’s stunning too! You know that shot of Kiera Knightly as Lizzie Bennet on the massive rock looking out over some huge cavern with the wind in her hair? Yeah, well that’s filmed in the Peak District, so you get the idea).
Picture it: it’s 1820. It’s five years since Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and was banished to St Helena. It’s two years since Jane Austen’s Persuasion was published and 3 years since she died (just to clarify it was published posthumously). John Keats is still alive (only just) and Sir Walter Scott’s Bride of Lammermoor has just been published.
George IV is on the throne and transforming England into a hub for fashion and leisure (much to the vexation of the working population). Someone is trying to assassinate the Tory Cabinet, in order to institute a Committee of Public Safety (a brilliant idea – it clearly worked so well in the French Revolution…) but they are discovered, foiled and hanged. Meanwhile in Scotland, the Radical War has just begun, aka the Scottish Insurrection, I suppose depending on what side of the war you fall. And towards the end of the year, the main “culprits” of the Scottish Insurrection are hanged for their “crimes”. What a year for revolutionaries.
So back to Bakewell (I doubt Bakewell has ever been very revolutionary). There’s a little inn called the Rutland Arms (funnily enough it’s not actually in Rutland, which is an English county, it’s in Derbyshire). The landlady, Mrs Greaves has commissioned her cook to make a jam tart. In the process, the cook accidentally drops the jam onto the cooked pastry shell instead of stirring it through the almond filling for the tart. Instead of trying to resolve it, the cook simply changes the recipe and spreads all the remaining jam over the base of the pastry shell. Then she tops the jam with the almond filling and bakes it. The diners liked it so much that it became a staple on the menu at the inn. And thus is born the Bakewell pudding. Isn’t it great? It’s difficult to experiment successfully with baked goods, so to think that it actually worked and was popular enough to become a thing, is pretty exciting – and we still love it 200 years later!
Oh, and if you’re wondering, no I did not accidentally say pudding instead of tart – they are apparently two very different things (sorry for asking)! The pudding is what I’ve just described. Now the tart, that was apparently invented at a much later date, the twentieth century to be terribly exact. But the mystery is that no one really knows how or why someone invented the tart! But there you have it. Perhaps it’s a load of codswallop (there’s an interesting story behind that word too…), but it’s fun to assume it really happened. It’s like pondering how the first cake was made: who decided that putting butter, flour and sugar together and cooking it was a good idea? And who thought, “hmm that chicken just laid an egg; I wonder if that might taste any good?” Conundrums for another week. I think I have already taken up enough of your time on trivial matters that are only really interesting for serious Anglophiles or serious bake-ophiles (new word? I guess the actual word is baking-enthusiasts, but that’s just boring).
175g plain flour
75g chilled butter
2-3 tbsp cold water
3 tbsp raspberry jam (the tastier – and probably more expensive – the better!)
125g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
1 egg, beaten
½ tsp almond extract
50g flaked almonds
80g icing sugar
2½ tsp cold water (or lemon juice if you prefer)
Start with the pastry: blitz the flour and butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the water, a little at a time, whilst pulsing until it forms a soft dough.
Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and line a 20-22cm flan tin (i.e. a fluted pie tin, ideally with a removable base). Leave in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C fan. Remove the pastry from the fridge and cover the pastry case with foil or baking paper and fill with baking beans. Blind bake for about 15 minutes, then remove the beans and foil and cook for a further five minutes until the base is dry.
Now onto the filing: spread the base of the flan generously with raspberry jam.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Add the ground almonds, egg and almond extract and stir well. Pour into the flan tin and sprinkle over the flaked almonds (or you can toast the almonds separately and pop them on top at the end – your choice).
Bake in pre-heated oven for about 35 minutes. If the almonds are browning too quickly, cover the tart loosely with foil to stop them burning.
While the tart is baking, combine icing sugar and cold water until smooth and transfer to a piping bag, fitted with a round nozzle.
Once tart is removed from the oven, pipe the icing over the top, in an informal zig zag way – it doesn’t need to be precise! If you haven’t used the almonds yet, sprinkle them on top now.