Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Blog Awards Ireland 2014 and a recipe for a Plum Tart

I was thrilled to be shortlisted recently in the Food & Drink category for the Blog Awards Ireland 2014. When the shortlist was published and I saw that my blog was included, I think that it is fair to say that I was more than a little bit delighted.

I started thinking about why I first started writing this blog and the things I hoped to achieve by doing it. At its simplest, I started writing this blog because I hoped that people would be interested in the recipes that I had to share, many of which were based on much loved dishes from my childhood. I also wanted to have a collection of these recipes in one place so that my children could use them in years to come and that they would remember me (hopefully fondly) when they cooked them.  For me, cooking is about conviviality, sharing and ultimately it’s about nurturing and providing food for the people you love and care about; at its heart are family and the extended community.

I was an enthusiastic reader as a child and eagerly read anything that I could get my hands on - newspapers, magazines, hovels and reference books; but I derived the most pleasure from reading the three or four ancient looking cookbooks that my grandmother owned.

These were cookbooks without photographs and sparsely illustrated with very simple line drawings. Because of this, I had to imagine what some of the dishes would taste like from reading the ingredients lists and cooking instructions. I think it was here that my love of food and cookery really began to develop. I longed to read other cookbooks and tried to persuade my grandmother to purchase some new books, but she always resisted, preferring instead to base her cooking on tried and trusted recipes she’d learnt over the years and the ones contained in her own cookbooks.

In those childhood years, I often thought about how much I would love to be a food-writer. Over the years, life intervened and not knowing how to pursue that dream, it fell by the wayside and other priorities emerged, but my love for cooking and reading cookery books, magazines and articles remained and flourished. When I started working, I was able to afford to buy myself the occasional cookbook and my collection started to grow. (Note: a couple of decades later, it’s now at an embarrassingly large size!)
 
With social media and the world of blogging, I can now write about food and share my enthusiasm for Irish ingredients and recipes and show how travel and other food cultures have influenced my cookery. It’s hard to express how much I love writing and sharing recipes, but it is something that I truly enjoy.

The following is a recipe – a variation on the frangipane tart theme – which I regularly cook using seasonal fruits and one that is really useful for exploiting whatever is at its best. To make life really simple there is no blind baking of pastry shells involved; pastry discs are simple cut out from a sheet of puff pastry and are topped with a simple frangipane mixture and the fruit of your choice and are then baked. You can ring the changes by using other ground pistachios or hazelnuts in place of the almonds and can of course use whatever fruit takes your fancy. This recipe typifies my approach to cooking – one that is simple to prepare, easily adaptable and most important of all, delicious to eat!

In the photos accompanying this post you will see that I have served my tarts with a scoop of ice-cream. This was a roasted almond ice-cream and it went perfectly with the plum tarts. I was so pleased with the recipe for the almond ice-cream so will post the recipe for it separately.

Ingredients:

350g puff pastry (preferably made with all-butter)
Frangipane:
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
125g ground almonds
1tblsp plain flour
25ml Amaretto
Topping:
6 plums, halved and stones removed, cut into thin slices
A little icing sugar for dusting
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4. Line two large baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
2. Roll out the puff pastry until it is about 3mm thick and cut out 8 discs about 12-14cms in diameter using a small plate as a guide. Place these on the prepared baking trays. Prick each pastry disc several times with a fork. Set aside.
Frangipane:
3. Place the butter and caster sugar into a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, beat together until light and fluffy. Gradually mix in the eggs beating well after each addition. Add the ground almonds and the flour and mix these in well. Finally add the Amaretto and mix briefly until just incorporated.
To finish:
4. Spread 2 or 3 tablespoons of the frangipane on each disc to within about a centimetre of the edge of the pastry, using a small palette knife or the back of a spoon.
5. Once you have spread the frangipane on top of the puff pastry discs, arrange the plum slices in a circle on top of the frangipane. Dust lightly with icing sugar and bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until the tarts have risen slightly, the frangipane is a deep golden colour and the fruit is cooked through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking trays for at least 5 minutes before serving. Serve with a scoop of ice-cream or a little clotted cream.

Serves 4.