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Old English Custard Tart

The custard tart began its life in the Middle Ages in Britain and took its name from 'crustade', meaning a tart with a crust. It took many forms and is still with us in many shapes and sizes. In the Middle Ages the custard was flavoured with any number of spices and flavourings: almond, honey, cinnamon, lemon, vanilla or orange water as well as dried fruit or meat such as chopped pork. Later on in the sixteenth century, the custards were flavoured with a fruit puree - apples and pears were common - and even later a fruit puree provided the bedding for the custard on top.
The heyday of the custard tart was during the early part of the twentieth century when black and white films saw a fashion for custard-tart throwing. In some of the Keystone Studios' earliest films, it was not unusual for 1,000 custard tarts to be thrown in one scene and there developed a special kind of screen tart with a robust military-quality pastry and a runny custard with a high splat capacity.

ingredients

serves 6 - 8
225 g (8 oz) plain shortcrust pastry
600 ml (1 pint) single cream
pared rind of 1/2 lemon
1 vanilla pod split lengthways (or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence)
a strand of saffron
3 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
55 g (2 oz) golden caster sugar
1 1/2 whole nutmegs, freshly grated
15 g (1/2 oz) butter for dotting on the top

method

1. Line a deep 23 cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas 4 and place a baking tray inside to pre-heat.

3. Put the cream in a saucepan with the lemon rind, vanilla pod and saffron and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Gently heat the cream mixture until almost boiling, then remove the pan from the heat.

4. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together in a large heatproof jug, but without producing any frothy bubbles.

5. Pour the cream through a strainer on to the egg mixture, together with half the grated nutmeg and vanilla essence (if not using a vanilla pod). Stir up again to mix well and to make sure the eggs are not just sitting at the bottom of the jug.

6. Place the pre-baked pastry case on the hot baking tray and then fill the pastry case with the custard mixture - do this carefully to avoid flooding. Sprinkle more nutmeg on top and dot with the butter.

7. Carefully replace the baking tray in the centre of the oven and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until golden brown, speckled and slightly risen up in the centre.

8. SERVE warm or cold. This tart goes well with fruit.


Cook's Tip - You could subsitute 150 ml (1/4 pint) of runny honey for the caster sugar to make this tart more authentic.

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