Not a crisp Portuguese graze cream nor a solid French flan, but a rich and subtly sweet British custard tart of the kind that used to be found in high-street bakers, before most of them went the way of the candlestick makers. Defiantly plain, and dusted only with a little nutmeg, it’s the perfect escort for ripe summer fruit.
Prep 40 minutes
chill 1hr 45min+
Cook 1hr 5min
For the pastry
225g plain flourplus extra to dust
115g cold butterplus extra to grease
85g caster sugar
3 egg yolksbeaten
1 whole eggfor brushing
for the custard
375g whipping cream
90g whole or Jersey milk
2 egg yolks
60g caster sugaror to taste
1 Start on the pastry
Start with the pastry (or use 400g rich, sweet bought-in shortcrust, though in a tart this simple, you want something that tastes really great, rather than just merely good). Put the flour in a large bowl or food processor, grate in the butter then whiz or rub in with your fingertips until well combined.
2 Finish the dough
Add the sugar, a good pinch of salt and a generous grating of nutmeg, whisk or pulse to combine, then slowly stir or pulse in the beaten egg yolks (you may not need them all), until the pastry comes together into a coherent dough . It shouldn’t be dry or flaky, but neither should it be too sticky – if it is, add a little more flour.
3 Chill, then roll out
Form the dough into a ball, flatten slightly, then wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Remove from the fridge and leave to soften for 10 minutes while you grease a 21-23cm tart tin. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to about 5mm thick, then loosely fold the edges into the center to help you lift it into the tin.
4 Line the tin, then chill again
Unfold the pastry into the tin, and press rather than stretch it, so it sits flush with the right angle between the base and sides, leaving an overhang on the sides. Freeze for 45 minutes or put in the fridge for at least 90 minutes – the colder the pastry is when it goes into the oven, the more likely it will be to keep its shape.
5 Blind bake the pastry
Heat the oven and a baking tray to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Neatly trim the overhanging pastry and line the base with baking paper and baking beans, or raw beans or rice, to weigh it down.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the edges are uniformly golden, rather than deep brown.
6 Finish the tart case
Remove the beans and paper, then brush the pastry shell all over with the beaten egg and bake again for another 10 minutes, until the base is golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool; if you’re making the tart immediately, turn down the oven to 140C (120C fan)/275F/gas 1. Alternatively, you can blind bake the shell up to a day ahead, if you prefer.
7 Make the custard filling
Put the cream and milk in a heavy-based saucepan and bring very slowly to a simmer.
Meanwhile, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a large heatproof bowl.
Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the egg bowl, whisking continuously as you do so, then add more sugar to taste. (If you love vanilla, put a split pod into the cream and milk before heating.)
8 Fill the tart case and bake
Strain the custard into a jug. Put the tart shell on a baking sheet in the oven, then, working quickly, pour the custard into it.
Grate nutmeg over the top, close the oven door (doing it this way makes spills less likely) and bake for 35-45 minutes, until set, but with a faint but definite wobble in the center when shaken.
9 finishing touches
Leave the tart to cool completely before serving.
Though it’s delicious on its own, to make a strawberry compote accompaniment, cut about 500g ripe strawberries in half and put them in a pan with 50g sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, then cover, turn down the heat and leave to bubble for a couple of minutes. Set aside to cool before serving with slices of the tart.
Felicity Cloake’s new book, Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey, is published by HarperCollins at £16.99. To order a copy for £14.78, go to guardianbookshop.com
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism