Turkey seems to have forgotten to do autumn this year. October has been gloriously warm and sunny, with temperatures around 30 degrees during the day, perfect for swimming and sunbathing. The jacarandas and bougainvillea are still in bloom, and our Seville oranges remain resolutely green, though the ‘donkey bees’ have finished the last of the figs that were out of our reach at the top of the tree, and have now disappeared themselves.
Today, with the arrival of November, we finally have something akin to autumn weather – breezy, a few spots of rain this morning and a definite change in the colour of the sky.
At last there are some decent greens in the market – perky broccoli, brilliantly white tiny cauliflowers, extra-long leeks, and huge bundles of dark green chard. I even found some beansprouts in the supermarket this morning, so a stir-fry is on the cards for tomorrow’s supper.
Our favourite bar has just closed for the winter, so I had to keep up with the tradition of making special cakes for their final evening. My friend Mela, who lives in British Columbia, but is of Dutch extraction, has just introduced me to an old Mennonite recipe for Canadian Butter Tarts. How have I reached the age of 56 without encountering these before? They are truly scrumptious – difficult to describe, but something about them reminded me of treacle tart, though nowhere near as cloying. They are made up of very crisp pastry cases, filled with a simple mix of softened butter, brown sugar, vanilla and egg, which is poured upon a layer of raisins and chopped nuts (the latter being an optional addition, but I think it gave them just the right amount of crunch).
Now, this may be pure heresy, but next time I make them, I am definitely going to add a teaspoon of nutmeg to the filling – Canadians may tell me that this is missing the point, that they are meant to taste of butter, but although they were absolutely delicious, I felt that the vanilla flavour just couldn’t compete.
I made my own pastry (the recipe for which you can find here), though I added a generous tablespoon of icing sugar to the usual mix – this adds only a hint of extra sweetness, but makes the pastry cook to a lovely golden colour and also helps it to crisp. About half of this quantity would be enough pastry for 12 tarts – the rest can be frozen. You could definitely use store-bought pastry, though do look out for ‘sweet shortcrust’ if you can get it – you might need to look in the freezer. One 500g block (or sheet) should be plenty for 12 tarts with some left over.
Note: I made these in a British muffin tin, which requires circles of pastry that are 10cm in diameter – all of my pastry cutters were too small, so I cut the circles around the lid of my (handily) 10cm sugar bowl. It is very important that you butter your tin very well indeed or you will struggle to get the tarts out of the tin. This is best done with a pastry brush (silicone is less messy than nylon) and some very soft butter – make sure you brush into all the corners and right up to the top of each cup. Then put the greased tin in the freezer while you are rolling out the bases and making the filling – chilling the butter helps to stop the pastry sticking to the tin.
Canadian Butter Tarts
Sweet shortcrust pastry (see note above)
200g brown sugar (I used Demerara, but any sort would be fine)
30g very soft or melted butter
1 tablespoon water
150g raisins or sultanas (dark raisins if you can get them)
50g walnuts, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
You will need a 12-cup muffin tin, very well greased (see note above)
Pre-heat the oven to 220ºC (fan).
Roll out the pastry to a depth slightly less than a pound coin and cut out 12 x 10cm rounds. Carefully push the pastry rounds into the prepared muffin cups. Don’t worry if they look a bit less than perfect – it adds to the charm.
Divde the raisins and chopped walnuts evenly between the 12 cups.
Put the sugar, egg, butter, water and vanilla or nutmeg into a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Divide the mixture as evenly as you can between the tarts (I used a not-quite-full ice cream scoop).
Ensure your oven is fully up to temperature before you bake the tarts. Bake for 15 minutes – the pastry should be a lovely golden brown and the filling a deep caramel colour. Leave for five minutes, before removing the tarts from the tin, then leave on a rack until completely cool. Best eaten on the day of baking, though they will be fine in an airtight tin for a day or two.