Baking is something I approach with a certain amount of caution (for good reason – read my ‘About’ page), and so it was with something of a daring streak that I decided to open “Paul Hollywood’s British Baking”. I wasn’t really sure exactly what I wanted to make, but after an unpronounceable title caught my eye (“Ecclefechan Butter Tarts”) I decided why not, braced myself, and turned to page 272.
It was one of the ‘Scottish recipes’ – clearly it was fate that we had been brought together. I ran my eyes down the list of ingredients, looking for a reason not to push my culinary talents – and found none. We had everything. It was like a sign from God: ‘Now is your time to shine… in the reflection of the Aga’.
The recipe was to make 12 tarts, but as usual, my creative (and, let’s be honest, hungry) side kicked in, and I rolled the homemade pastry out exceptionally smoothly, taking on the challenge, facing the impossible, and filling a grand total of seventeen cupcake spaces in my tray.
Adding the sherry vinegar started to put me off slightly – I’m not a big fan of currant-y Christmas cake or overly-alcoholic mince pies, but I brushed away my reservations and stuck to the recipe. When it came to putting the tarts into the oven, the adrenaline was pumping through my veins, the pure excitement rushing through me like a (safer) shot of heroine. 15 to 20 minutes according to my main man Paul and I would be able to taste my hard work.
Time passed quickly, and before long I was sprinting through the kitchen, terrified that my creations had gone up in flames as the strong smell of the currants and sherry floated through the house. Pulling open the door of the Aga (nearly resulting in third-degree burns on my hands in the process) I was met with a cloud of what I thought, in my panicked state, was smoke. Grabbing the gingerbread-man oven gloves, I yanked the trays out the oven.. and couldn’t have been more relieved. It’s not to say their appearance was in any way perfect, but at least they weren’t fire hazards.
I left them to cool for about five minutes before scooping each tart out, with the help of a knife, and arranging them on a large plate, ready to serve to the rest of my family – patiently waiting with a pot of tea in the next room.
In all honesty, I had massive concerns about how these tarts would taste. I cannot bake. I cannot cook. I can’t even fry an egg with any particular amount of skill. Cutting them in half, I did find that the outer pastry was slightly brittle, however on first taste, they were ten times better than I had pessimistically expected. I sat in silence, chewing the tart slowly in my mouth. I was shocked. They.. were decent. More than decent. They were nice. My family, always brutally honest in their opinions of my food, were surprisingly complimentary. They were enjoying them. My brother even had another one. And my sister and mum agreed that they were ‘really good’ and have another after dinner. I was still processing the taste inside my mouth: the sherry vinegar added a kick to the tarts, with the brown sugar creating a toffee-like flavour, and the different dried fruits each complimenting the tart in their own special way. The pastry was hard on the outside (maybe I had left them in the oven for too long) but it was softer and blended nicely with the tart on the inside, and the rougher, outer parts of the pastry added a nice crunch. The appearance of the tart could definitely be improved, and in the future, I will check up on them every five minutes once they’re placed in the oven, but I’m not going to deny it: I was pleasantly impressed. Maybe I am a domestic goddess after all..?