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Burnt Cream Tart

This recipe dates back to the early eighteenth century and was first thought to come from Scotland. It found its way into recipe books in the nineteenth century and by the twentieth century was known more consistently as Creme Brulee Tart.

When cooked in Scottish households, the cream would be burnt by covering it with sugar and then holding a shovel full of red-hot coals above it. One young male devotee of his family's Aberdeenshire version of burnt cream took the recipe with him when he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in the 1860s. The College rejected his recipe at first but when he returned to the College as a Fellow a few years later, they accepted it, turning it into their own and embellishing each tart or pot of burnt cream with the College's own crest. However, other Cambridge colleges insist that they were the true inventors of burnt cream.

Some people are wary of cooking burnt cream, but it is one of the easiest tarts to make, demanding only a minute or two of careful handling at the end. This tart can be prepared a day in advance, with the 'burning1 taking place just before eating.

ingredients

serves 6 - 8
175 g (6 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways (if no pods are available, double the amount of vanilla essence)
70 g (2 1/2 oz) caster sugar
5 egg yolks
300 ml (1/2 pint) double cream
150 ml (1/4 pint) full cream milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 tablespoons light soft brown sugar or golden caster sugar (for the 'burnt' caramel topping)

method

1. Line a shallow 23cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F) Gas 4.

2. Place the caster sugar in a bowl. Rub the split vanilla pod and shake the seeds into the sugar. Add the egg yolks and mix together well. Set aside.

3. Put the cream and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat gently until almost boiling. Slowly strain this mixture through a wire sieve, a few dribbles at a time, on to the egg yolk mixture, whisking gently.

4. Whisk in the vanilla essence, then pour the mixture into the pre-baked pastry case. Bake in the oven for 40 - 45 minutes or until the filling is set and a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean (protect the pastry edges by covering them with crumpled foil, if necessary, to avoid over-browning).

5. Remove the tart from the oven and allow it to cool completely, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour (it is possible to refrigerate the tart longer if prepared a day in advance).

6. About 30 minutes before the tart is to be eaten, pre-heat the grill to high. Sprinkle the soft brown or golden caster sugar over the cold custard, coming right up to the edges. Protect the pastry edges by covering them with foil, then place the tart under the hot grill until the sugar melts and is bubbly. This should take no more than 1 minute - any longer and you are in danger of burning too much and curdling the custard.

7. Place the tart in a cool place for 10 - 15 minutes to encourage the caramel topping to become crisp.

Serve with a few fresh raspberries, blackberries or bilberries and some cream.

COOK'S TIP - In the winter, raisins soaked in brandy offer an unusual lure to the burrowing teaspoon. Other recipes include fresh or crystallised ginger, which does add zest but I find it detracts from the rich creaminess of the filling.

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