butternut pumpkin and maple syrup tart
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belinda jeffery's recipes

My recipes are easy. They’re for the food I like to eat. Simple, fresh, full of flavour and just a bit different. You certainly don't need any great cooking skills for them, you just need to like food and like eating – just like me. The rest is simple.

butternut pumpkin and maple syrup tart

I don’t quite know what it is about pumpkin and maple syrup, but they just seem made for each other and this simple tart is a lovely example of how beautifully they go together. The silky pumpkin filling, gently spiced with cinnamon, ginger and black pepper is surprisingly subtle and delicately flavoured, and an especially nice contrast the short, crisp pastry.

1 pre-baked 24cm shortcrust pastry tart shell, in its tin (see recipe below)
1 1/2 cups (approx. 340g) cooked #butternut pumpkin, cooled
1/3 cup (80ml) pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
A pinch or two of finely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cognac
3 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup (250ml) pure cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Unsprayed calendula or nasturtium flowers, optional
Softly whipped cream, to serve

# See technique for cooking pumpkin below

Preheat your oven to 180C. Sit the tart tin with the pastry shell on a baking sheet and set it aside.

Plop the pumpkin flesh into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and cognac then whiz everything together for 10 seconds or so. Now add the eggs and egg yolk and whiz for another 10 seconds. Finally, pour in the cream and vanilla and quickly pulse them until they’re just combined. It’s a good idea to taste the mixture at this stage - it may need a splash more maple syrup depending on the sweetness of the pumpkin. When it’s right, pour the mixture into a large jug.

As the pumpkin mixture is quite wet and sloppy, the easiest way to pour it into the pastry shell and safely get the whole lot into the oven without it overflowing, is to pull the middle oven shelf halfway out and slide the baking sheet with the tart tin onto this. Give the pumpkin mixture in the jug a gentle stir as it may have settled a bit, then pour it into the pastry shell. Now carefully slide the shelf fully in…and let out a big sigh of relief (well, I certainly do anyhow!).

Bake the tart for 30-35 minutes, or until it seems set in the middle when you gently jiggle the tin. (If you want to be doubly sure, very carefully wobble the middle with your fingers, it should feel set.) Transfer the tart tin to a wire rack and leave the tart to cool completely.

To serve, slip off the outer ring and slide the tart onto a flat platter or cake stand. Pull the petals off the flowers (trying not to feel too guilty as you do so) and scatter them over the surface. Serve the tart with softly whipped cream.

Serves 8-10.

(Any leftovers keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, although the pastry will start to soften a bit.).

a good, simple shortcrust pastry tart shell

This is the pastry recipe that I use all the time - it makes terrific pastry that’s short and buttery without being too difficult to handle. In fact, over the years I’ve noticed that many of my students who have sworn off ever making pastry, have actually become remarkably adept once they used this recipe, so even if you feel a little nervous about making it, please give it a go, it really does work well.

As I write this recipe, I’ve been racking my brains about what the most important tips are that I can pass on to you. And one in particular that keeps surfacing is just what a difference it makes when you get a handle on when pastry is at the right stage for rolling. It’s not hard to pick this up, however you may have to make it a few times before you feel entirely comfortable with it. Basically, if the pastry seems too soft to roll, chill it a bit longer; if it’s hard and cracks around the edges as you begin to flatten it, then let it soften a bit more. The temperature of the room where you’re rolling the pastry also makes a difference; pastry is always much easier to handle when the weather is cooler, as it softens rapidly in warm weather. However, having said that, I live in a near-tropical climate and still make it - so there is hope! I tend to roll it early in the morning before the temperature soars, and also try to work quite quickly when I’m rolling it to prevent it becoming too warm and soft.

1 1/2 cups (225g) plain flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
125g cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup (60ml) iced water
1 egg yolk mixed with 2 teaspoons cold water, for glazing

Whiz the flour and salt together in a food processor. Add the butter and whiz everything again until the mixture resembles medium-fine breadcrumbs. With the motor running, pour in the iced water and process only until the dough forms a ball around the blade. (The time for this varies a bit depending on the weather, when it’s warm it seems to come together faster.)

Tip the dough out onto a board and shape it into a ball. Now, flatten it into a disc, and wrap it tightly in plastic film. Chill the disc in the fridge for about 40 minutes, or until the pastry is firm but supple enough to roll out. By the way, if you want to make the pastry ahead of time, it keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days, but it will be too firm to roll at this stage, so let it warm up at room temperature until it’s pliable. (You can also make this a few weeks ahead and freeze it, then just defrost it in the fridge overnight.)

On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry into a large round to fit a 26-28cm loose-based tart tin. Roll the pastry around your rolling pin to transfer it to the tin. Then gently drape it over the tin, being careful that you don’t press it down onto the sharp top edge which may cut through it.

Use you knuckles to gently press the pastry into the tin, leaving an overhang all around. Trim a little pastry from the overhang and keep it in the fridge in case you need to patch any cracks later on. Sit the tin on a baking tray - this makes it much easier to manoeuvre both now and later when the tart is baking - and chill it for 40 minutes or so, until the pastry is firm.

Preheat your oven to 200C.

Completely cover the pastry with a large sheet of foil, pressing it gently down into the corners. Spread pie weights, uncooked rice or dried beans all over the base to a depth of about one centimetre to weigh it down.

Slide the baking tray into the oven and bake the tart shell for 20 minutes, or until it's nearly set. Remove it from the oven and run a rolling pin over the foil on the top edge to cut off the pastry overhang. Return the tin to oven, with the foil and weights still intact, and bake the pastry for a further 10 minutes, or until it is lightly coloured and feels firm and dry. Take it out again and carefully remove the foil and weights. Don’t worry if there are any fine cracks in the pastry shell, just patch them with the reserved pastry.

Brush the egg yolk mixture over the pastry, making sure it is well coated, then return the tart shell to oven for a few minutes so the egg wash sets to a shiny glaze (this helps seal the pastry and stop the bottom getting soggy once it’s filled.) When it’s set, remove the tart shell from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin on a rack. It is then ready to be filled. Makes one 26-28cm tart shell.

P.S. If you’re wondering what the egg yolk wash does, it’s to help seal the pastry by filling in any hairline cracks, and forming a lacquer-like layer between the crust and filling; this in turn helps prevent the filling leaking into the base and making it soggy.


Pumpkin for desserts…

The easiest way to cook a butternut pumpkin to use in baking is to split it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place each half (or one half only if the pumpkin is humungous), cut-side down, on an oven tray lined with baking paper. Pop the tray in a preheated 180C oven and bake the pumpkin until it’s very soft when pierced in the thickest part with a fine skewer. It usually takes about an hour or so, however the time varies a bit depending on size of pumpkin. When it’s done, remove it from the oven and let it cool. Then peel away the skin, and scoop the pulp into a container. It keeps well in the fridge for about 5 days. You’ll probably end up with more than you need; however it makes a delicious vegetable dish too - just mash it and heat it with a good nugget of butter, sea salt, pepper and nutmeg.

One thing you need to be aware of is that the pumpkin needs to be quite dry or the cake, tart or dessert can end up with too much liquid in it and become soggy. If the pulp looks watery I put it into a saucepan over medium heat and cook it, stirring constantly, until quite a bit of the moisture has evaporated and the pumpkin looks much drier (it won’t be completely dry by any means, but it shouldn’t have excess liquid in it.) Then I just leave it to cool down to room temperature before using it.


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