Saturday, 28 March 2009

The curse of the tangy tart

It was June 2003 when I made my first effort to cook a tarte au citron, a night that I doubt I'll ever forget – but for all the wrong reasons, and none of which had anything to do with my cooking.

Just after the tart had gone in the oven, I discovered that one of our cats was seriously ill. It was a Saturday and we'd never had Mabel and her brother registered with a vet. I hit the phone while The Other Half tried to comfort her. Once we found her, half under the bed and unable to move, she started crying. Mack, her brother, stayed out of the way, behind a chair in the living room.

It took hours to find a vet that was open that night – and then a taxi that would take us and a cat. By the time the cab arrived, she'd died.

Needless to say, the tart was ruined – even if we'd felt remotely like eating anything. And I haven't attempted to make any such thing again – until today.

It was a spur-of-the-moment decision really, inspired by my standard Saturday morning browse through some cookery books. In this case, an orange and lemon tart from Gordon Ramsay's A Chef for all Seasons. I appreciate that Ramsey isn't everyone's cup of the proverbial, but I've learnt a lot from his books. They are, I suggest, about real, classic, French-based cooking, which can teach you a huge amount about the basics – why reductions work, for instance.

And so early this afternoon, I started on the pastry. It was hardly what I'd describe as an easy task, beating sugar and butter together for the start of the sweet shortcrust pastry. You can develop muscles doing this sort of thing. A vanilla pod was then split and the seeds scraped into the mix, followed by egg and flour.

I'd just got it wrapped in cling film and into the fridge to rest when the curse of the tangy tart hit again. The Other Half's computer decided to have a hissy fit and cease working. Apple were helpful, but he couldn't get an appointment at the Apple Store to see if it's fixable until Tuesday.

I had an Oscar Wilde moment: 'To lose one computer may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose two computers in just over a week looks like carelessness.'

Given that I have been sans computer since the St Patrick's Day burglary, The Other Half's set up was essential. Indeed, it had allowed me to work from home over the last week, thus ensuring that the fort was always guarded. With no working computer, we'd both have to go into the office next week – and the new security measures aren't due for another seven days.

Or I could take a couple of days off work altogether – and, since I'm freelance, lose money.

Or I could bolt into the West End and replace my own computer straight away.

It wasn't much of a choice. So, I have a Mac again – and a sexy beast it is too.

But back to the tart. Fortunately, although the pastry had been rested for rather longer than planned, it still rolled out easily enough. It wasn't perfect, as I realised after the blind baking. I hadn't kneaded it enough to get all the air out of it, so there were a few little bubbles in the base. But it wasn't too drastic.

The filling saw orange and lemon juice reduced considerably, then cooled. In the meantime, grated zest from a lemon and an orange was added to caster sugar, egg yolks and cream, and poured into the pastry case.

It was baked at a low temperature for around 45 minutes, then left in the switched-off oven for another hour to set, before being dusted with sifted icing sugar and caramelised with a blowtorch – not once, but twice. While it was baking, I made a stock syrup and a confit of orange and lemon to serve with it.

After all that, it was delicious.

And hopefully, that's the end of the curse of the tangy tart.


  1. I hate losing pets. I hate the loss. I hate the helplessness. And I love cats. I'm not going near tangy tarts.

  2. Oh, I agree, Irene. We've lost three since I was introduced to cats almost 17 years ago – and I do love cats now. Some people can be so unsympathetic, thinking it's 'just an animal'. But they're friends – family.