I spent a long time thinking about what type of tart I should make at the start of this journey.
Should it be something fancy to try to convince you I know what I’m talking about? Should it be my namesake, a “yorkshire” tart, complete with fascinating tale of me adventuring around New York trying to track down curd, the primary ingredient?? Perhaps it should be my own interpretation of a UK-USA fusion tart??? Then it hit me. To start this blog I needed to go back to my own very beginning. Back to the first tarts I ever made. Jam tarts.
Although simple in concept, making the perfect jam tart is certainly a right of passage in the eyes of any child taking their first steps in the kitchen. The jam tart is where the foundations of life’s baking skills are laid down.
How to achieve the perfectly ‘short’ crust by learning to combine flour and super-cold fat (repeatedly running to the cold tap to cool your hands when working in a kitchen already hot from the oven). How to roll dough so that it is the perfect thickness. Too thin and the tart will never make it out of the tin in one piece, but too thick and the crust takes over, leaving you without enough of that super-sweet satisfaction a good jam tart promises. How to use just enough jam to satisfy the sweetest tooth but not so much that it bubbles over and burns in the oven. Indeed, there are many obstacles to be overcome by a child making their very own jam tarts.
And also in its eating. Do you choose to lick out the filling before starting to tackle the crust? Do you first nibble off the crust’s edge, saving the best ’til last? Do you compete with your siblings to see who can be the first to eat a whole one in a single bite?
I learned to make jam tarts at my grandmother’s knee at the tender age of four or five. It was what we would do if I was bored during my afternoons between school finishing and my mum coming home from work. The recipe we used – for these and many of the other tarts I will write about – was from a Be-Ro baking book. I still have the book and I returned to it for inspiration this weekend, each page transporting me back more than two decades to my grandparent’s kitchen, hands and face covered in flour, sneaking licks from the mixing bowl, delicious smells filling the air.
Some things, however, I did a little differently.
The first was the jam. I had originally planned to use some locally made jam and set out to the Van Vorst farmer’s market in search of some. But there was no jam to be found so I bought a bagful of some gorgeous New Jersey peaches and, taking a leaf out of Confessions of a Tart’s blog, got to work making my own fridge jam (which was actually a huge success, as much to my surprise as everyone elses!).
Second was the fat. We always made shortcrust pastry with lard but I quickly learned that lard is much harder to come by here in the US than back home. A web-search quickly pointed me to Flying Pigs Farm who sell unrendered leaf lard from their stall in Union Square Market. Unfortunately I am without some of my usual kitchen equipment at the moment (a long story…) so rendering lard this weekend just wasn’t an option. Instead, I opted for vegetable shortening to mix in with the margarine. Be-Ro rules: no butter.
Finally, the size was a little different. Cupcake tins are just too deep for jam tarts and I was unable to find a shallower version like the one I used to use. So I opted for my mini-cupcake tin and made tiny two-bite tarts. The upside of these of course is that they are easier on the waistline or, if you are like me, give you an excuse to eat three or four at a time. Preferably with a cup of Yorkshire tea!
The final verdict: success. Not quite the same as they looked and tasted twenty years ago, but not quite so different either. More importantly, I took my first steps. With jam stuck to my fingers and crumbs around my mouth.