Recipe extracted from A Cook’s Book by Nigel Slater (HarperCollins, RRP $60) Food image taken by Jonathan Lovekin.
apricots, fresh 10, tinned or poached in syrup 20 caster (superfine granulated) sugar 3 tablespoons puff pastry 320g (11 oz) apricot jam 4 heaped tablespoons
The thick custard filling of classic French patisserie isn’t really my thing. (That said, I am partial to a vanilla slice.) I prefer a filling that is cleaner and fresher-tasting. Enter ricotta. If I can get ricotta fior di latte then I will use it unadorned, its sweetly milky curds like an old-fashioned milk ice cream.
If not, then I will use whatever I can get and stir it gently with a little cream. The pale, fresh cream can be flavoured with citrus zest or orange flower water. A dusting of icing sugar if you must.
One winter, when the blood oranges were in season, I laid them on top of mounds of ricotta, trickling rivulets of liquid honey and thyme leaves over the white clouds and blood-red orange slices. There was sweetness and nutty crumbs of shortbread, but also a breath of the Mediterranean, of orange groves, beehives and wild thyme. And not a tart case or baking bean in sight.
There is a certain quiet delight in revisiting a classic. We will probably never know who was the first to tuck apricots, plums or greengages into a frangipane tart, a sweet almond cocoon for the fruit. I do think a little bowl of creme fraiche will be welcome.
1 If you are using fresh apricots, halve and stone them, then put them in a small saucepan, add the sugar and enough water to just cover the fruit and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes till the fruit is soft and tender. The apricots must be so soft you could crush them between your fingers. Drain them. If you are using tinned apricots, drain them in a sieve over a bowl.
2 Set the oven at 220°C (425°F). Place a baking sheet (tray) in the oven to get hot.
3 Roll out the pastry to a rectangle 30cm × 23cm (12” x 9”; that is pretty much the size of a roll of ready-made puff pastry.) Using a 12cm-diameter template (a saucer or small plate or large cookie cutter; about 4½”), cut four rounds of pastry.
4 Place each on a lightly floured baking sheet (lined with baking paper/ parchment if you wish). Score a wide rim around the outside of each one about 1cm (½”) in from the edge – I use a 10cm (4”) cutter for this – taking care not to cut right through the pastry. Place the apricots on the pastry, four or five halves to each tart, steering clear of the rim. Slide the baking sheet on top of the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 10–12 minutes, till the pastry is puffed and golden.
5 Warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan. Remove the tarts from the oven and brush the jam over the tarts, covering both fruit and pastry, then return to the oven for 3–4 minutes till the edges have browned and the glaze is just starting to caramelise. Let the tarts settle for 10 minutes before eating. (Only so you don’t scald your mouth!)