Tarts & Pies

Tarts and Pies Week!

I started making the Baked Alaska at the end of the last challenge, but had several failures (much like Ian on the show, who pitched his entire effort into the trash and stormed off).

  • 1.  Ice cream–I bought pre-made ice cream rather than making home-made, and I really need to mix it with the Oreos in the upright mixer until it’s smooth and freeze it solid again to make it right.
  • 2.  Brownie base.  Despite assurances in the directions, it was too much batter for the pan, overflowed, burned on the edges and was raw in the middle.
  • 3.  Time.  I just ran out before we went out of town.

Because then we went on vacation.  Thankfully not to Alaska (not that it isn’t a beautiful place–we’ve been there before–but not where I wanted to be…at least, not this time of year), but we went to the great state of Hawai’i!  The people of Maui were our hosts where it was warm and breezy, and I spent as much time as possible in the shade (see:  Irish girl sunbathing meme*).  This is the lovely Ho’okipa beach where the honu come play in the waves and then come to shore to warm themselves on the sand.  Ahhhhh….

But now I’m back after 10 days and need to get a move on with this baking thing.

But first, nothing says “I love you” like the gift of appliance maintenance.  This is Gertie.  She’s now 24 years old, the years keeping pace with the years of our marriage…or at least our wedding shower.  Since the hubby is an engineer and loves to do this kind of thing, he heard my concerns with some groaning noises that ol’ Gert was making and gave her a quick cleaning and checked her brushes.  She was pretty dusty on the inside, so he gave her a shot of canned air and wiped down the gunky bits that got under the straps and things.  He declared her fit; she’s got a lot of years left in her, bless her little gears.

But getting back to the old challenge, I might try the Baked Alaska again later, but I’m ready to move on.

This week, my dear readers, is Tarts and Pies!  They get right into it with a large tart.  The contestants did all kinds of things–apricots, figs, citron, and some lightly-sweetened Indian tart with rice that I didn’t quite understand.

Like any beginner, you have to start simple, so I’m going to start with a very basic lemon tart.  It’s got few ingredients and my daughter will eat it all up–she loves lemons.  In fact, I bought four lemons today at the “Used Food Store” (Grocery Outlet–they were 6 for $1) knowing that she was likely to take a couple of them to snarf up.  True to form, she walked in the kitchen and said, “LEMONS!” and gave them a sniff.  That’s my girl!

The recipe I’m working from is here.  I hope that it’s accurate (unlike that homemade brownie disaster).  It also has a great how-to video on making custard which you can find here.  I found this video to be ENORMOUSLY helpful!

Recipe for the crust:

  • 140 g butter (about 10 Tbsp)
  • 250 g plain flour (I think this was about 1 1/4 cups)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 100 g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 Tbsp whole milk

(As always, it’s best to use a digital scale if you have one rather than try to make all the calculations.)

I used turbinado sugar, as it called for golden caster sugar.  That was just a little too gritty…I think I’ll just use regular granulated sugar next time.  Unless I run it thru a food processor or something to make it a bit finer.  But for the purposes of this recipe, it worked OK, but some of the sugar didn’t dissolve or mix in as well as I would have liked.

First mix together, by hand, the flour, sugar, butter (cut into tiny cubes), and lemon zest.  Pinch all the butter bits and mix into the flour/sugar.  When it’s all crumbled, add an egg, scrambled, and a tablespoon of milk.  I found that I really needed 2 tablespoons to get it to all stick together into something that resembled dough, so start with one, then add more as needed.

One of the things I *didn’t* do, but should have, is chilled the dough for an hour or so before rolling it out.  Best do that next time.

To roll it out, I saw a trick on the show where young Amanda covered the dough with cling film–saran wrap–and rolled it out.  It kept it from sticking to the rolling pin *and* made it easy to flip into the pan without breaking.  Genius!

Of course, I was rolling mine out on a silicone sheet my husband got me, but put the plastic wrap on top, which I peeled off and moved around as necessary, then flipped the silicone with the crust into the pie plate.  Using this method, I didn’t have to add much extra flour (just a little on the mat), which can make the dough more brittle.  You don’t want to over-work the crust or it’ll get tough, so try to avoid manipulating it a lot.

I didn’t have my tart tins yet (they arrived a few hours later), so I pulled out a glass pie plate for this project.  It worked just fine!  Once I flipped it into the pie plate, I just let the weight of it pull it into shape.  I poked it a bit to fit into the edges, but otherwise it went in pretty well.  It was little off-center in one place, and the crust didn’t quite make it to the top, so I patched it a bit, but it didn’t hold all that well….  No matter.  First attempt and all.

Now the directions say to use “baking beans”–what we usually call “pie weights”.  I don’t have any…but I was pretty sure that other people used dry beans.  I looked around but couldn’t find them in my pantry.  Using the inter-web’s suggestion, I grabbed a cup of rice to use in place of pie weights or dry beans.  Directions said to bake it with the weights for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then pull it out of the oven and remove the weights.  Then bake it for another 20 minutes.  It didn’t say, however, that you should put the rice on top of foil or in a mesh bag or cheesecloth or something.  The butter melts and starts cooking the rice, which sinks into the lovely crust.  No bueno.  I had to take several extra minutes picking the rice out of my beautiful crust with a spoon.  Remember, the pie plate is also HOT…so that was an adventure.  Later, friends pointed out my mistake and admitted that several of them also made that same mistake so I wasn’t alone.  Lesson learned.


Also, I had put the tart in the oven with the extra hanging over the edges with nothing underneath.  As the butter softened, the excess crust broke away from the pie plate and fell to the bottom of the oven.  What a mess.  I would roughly trim the excess and/or put a cookie sheet underneath to catch any drippages.

After I returned it to the oven for another 20 minutes, the crust came out a little overcooked on the edges.  I probably should have put a bit of foil around it, like I’ve always done for pie, but I figured that I was going to be carving off the outer bit before cooking the custard, so I left it.  It was in the oven a total of 40 minutes, but I probably could have done it in 30-35 minutes instead.  Keep an eye on how your oven cooks and be the judge.  You want the bottom to be fully cooked so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom, but you don’t want the edges burnt.

When the crust is done, turn the oven down to 285.  That’s 140 C or gas 1…low temperature.  I left the oven door open a couple minutes to cool down for the next step.

Meanwhile, as the crust was cooling a bit, I started with the custard.

You’ll need:

  • 250 ml double cream (about a cup of heavy cream)
  • 250 ml whole milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • lemon zest
  • nutmeg (it says “whole”, but I just used a pinch of ground)
  • 8 egg yolks (hope you want an egg white omelet for lunch)
  • 100 g golden caster sugar

Put milk and cream on the stove with vanilla pod to “boil”; as you’ll see in the video, it really means to almost boil–when it is steaming and starting to bubble around the edge, that’s it.   I set it on medium heat and started separating eggs.  I got them all done, turned around and the cream was at a rolling boil.  Whoops!  Dumped it out and started over.  Luckily, I had another vanilla pod!  I got them at Winco in the bulk bins, BTW–super cheap place to get spices!  You can get a small .6 oz jar of “Italian seasoning” in the spices aisle for $5 or more, or you can get two cups of the spices–like a Costco size–for about $1.50.  Seriously!  Keep the old container, fill it from the bulk bins!

I heated the second batch to the right temperature, keeping a close eye on it, while the eggs and sugar whisked together in Old Gertie.  When they were light in color, I poured the hot milk and cream into the egg mixture–about 1/3 at a time, hoping and praying NOT to get scrambled eggs–thinking that maybe it was going sideways because it looked kind of lumpy as the whisk was whizzing around…but when I stopped the mixer and ran it through the strainer, it was perfect!  No lumps!  VICTORY!

Now that the tart crust was all cooked up, I trimmed the excess crust off and carefully poured the custard into it until it was about 1/2 full.  I then put the tart into the oven and filled it up the rest of the way.  This prevents a lot of spillage trying to get it in the oven.  I had some custard left over.  You could probably drink it….the egg yolks are cooked at this point, so give it a taste!  Yum, right?

40-45 minutes of cooking and out it comes…it should have just a little wobble in the middle…

Let it cool a bit…then cut that bad boy up!


The skinny boy didn’t have any, but the middle kid (the lemon-girl) ate about half the pie.  She thought it was amazing!  I had two slices, myself.  I think the only thing I would have liked to improve (aside from the aforementioned crust burning) is making the crust just a bit thinner on the bottom.

*PS – this isn’t me…but it could be.

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