Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Treacle Tart

Treacle Tart is known well among Harry Potter fans.  It is mentioned in the majority of the books for a particular reason – Harry likes it.  In Order of the Phoenix, at the start of term feast, Rowling writes, “Harry was too used to their bickering to bother trying to reconcile them; he felt it was better use of his time to eat his way steadily through his steak-and-kidney pie, then a large plateful of his favorite treacle tart” (Rowling 210).  Harry points out that treacle tart is his favorite dessert – so much so that he can ignore Ron and Hermione’s bickering.  That’s pretty impressive.

Then in Half-Blood Prince, when Harry smells the Amortentia (a love potion that smells like whatever attracts you to a person) in Slughorn’s class, he mentions treacle tart again.  “They chose the [table] nearest a gold-colored cauldron that was emitting one of the most seductive scents Harry had ever inhaled,” writes Rowling. “Somehow it reminded him simultaneously of treacle tart, the woody smell of a broomstick handle, and something flowery he thought he might have smelled at the Burrow” (Rowling 183). 

So not only is treacle tart Harry’s favorite dessert, but he considers it a seductive smell.  “Okay,” I thought when I read that for the first time (and the ensuing 500 more times), “I have got to try that stuff.” Therefore, Treacle Tart was at the top of my list of things to make for this blog. 

You may be thinking, “That’s all fine and dandy, Mary, but what the [insert expletives Ron would use here] is a treacle tart?”

Treacle is typically referred to as golden syrup in England.  It is a mixture of molasses (sugar cane boiled twice), corn syrup (composed mainly of sugar), and some more sugar.  It is a very common sweetener in England.  It’s not all that common here in America, however, which makes it sort of hard to find in stores.  So in order to make treacle tart, I just used a really light molasses.  I, personally, like molasses just fine, so this suited me.  I’m a fan of gingerbread, and the main flavor in that is molasses.  But if you can’t stand molasses, you can still make this and like it.  Make a golden syrup out of 1/3 light molasses, 2/3 light corn syrup. That would be 3 tbsp molasses, 6 tbsp corn syrup for this recipe.

For those of you unfamiliar with tarts, I think of them as really short pies, with crust on the bottom, then a thin layer of whatever kind of tart it is, and either no crust on top, or just a little for design.  This is definitely applicable to treacle tart.

So here it goes.  I got this recipe from BBC, so it is definitely a legitimate British recipe.

First let's start with the crust, also known as shortcrust pastry.  I know many may be tempted to just buy two sheets of Pillsbury unbaked crust and then move on, but trust me.  This recipe is awesome and it’s not too much effort.  Just keep in mind that these measurements are for 6 oz of pastry, and you will need 12 oz for the treacle tart.  Don’t forget to double it! 

Shortcrust Pastry
·         125g/4oz/ ½ cup plain flour
·         pinch of salt
·         55g/2oz/ ¼ cup butter
·         30-45ml/2-3 tbsp cold water

Preparation Method

Before you begin, make sure your kitchen is no hotter than 70 degrees, or your butter will melt and the dough won’t work (the small chunks of unmelted butter are key to flaky crust).  Be sure your butter is fresh out of the fridge when you use it, too.
     1.       Put the flour and salt in a large bowl and add butter.
2.      Using a pastry blender (click here for a picture or refer to picture below) cut the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that resembles coarse breadcrumbs with no large lumps of butter remaining. Try to work quickly so that it does not become greasy.  (If you don’t have a pastry blender, click here to learn about other options).
Before I started blending
Finished cutting in/blending
3.      Using a knife, stir in just enough of the cold water to bind the dough together (I used 2 ½ tbsp out of the 3).  Don't over stir.  It may seem too dry, but it’s probably okay.  The way to tell if it has enough water is by picking up the dough in your fist and squeezing it.  It should be able to hold together once you unclench your fist.
4.      Cover the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least 10-15 minutes in the freezer before using.  When you need it, take the dough out of the freezer, squeeze it into a ball, and roll it out on floured wax paper.  Roll it as thin and even as you can get it without tearing holes.

Alright, now that we have the shortcrust pastry taken care of, on to the tart! 

Treacle Tart
·         350g/12oz shortcrust pastry
·         135g/9tbsp golden syrup (reminder – 3 tbsp light molasses, 6 tbsp light corn syrup)
·         125g/9tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs - about 2 slices (Yes, you do have to tear bread into little tiny pieces.  Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it's worth it.)
·         grated rind and juice of 1 lemon (have fun cleaning the grater/zester after you do this)
·         1 tsp ground ginger
·         egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water)

Preparation Method
1.      Roll out two thirds of the pastry and use to line a 25cm/10in pie plate or flan tin. (I used a 9” spring form pan.  It worked perfectly).
Roll it on wax paper.  Flip paper over and fit crust into baking dish.
2.      Warm the syrup over a gentle heat and add the breadcrumbs, grated lemon rind and 15g/1 tbsp of the juice, and the ginger. Pour into the pastry case.
Pouring in molasses.  This will be golden syrup for you.
Freshly grated lemon zest.
Try not to think about what it looks like.  It gets better, I promise!
3.      Roll out the remaining pastry case and cut into strips; use these to create a lattice design on the top of the tart.

4.      Fold any excess crust over the edges of the lattice. Decorate the sides of the crust with a fork, being sure to press the ends of the lattice well in.  Brush the pastry with the egg wash and bake in the oven at 190C/375F/Gas 5 for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.  Serve warm.
Egg wash
Pulling cooked tart out of the oven
Treacle tart out of the spring form pan
I read somewhere that Treacle Tart is supposed to be served with clotted cream.  Clotted Cream is a treat native to southern England, particularly Devonshire.  It is unpasteurized cream that is lightly cooked and often served with scones or desserts.  It has a thick, sweet, creamy consistency.  Sounds delicious, right? 

The problem is, they don’t exactly sell unpasteurized cream in the grocery store.  Trust me, I looked. So I found a recipe for a substitute.   It’s not really a substitute, because according to my mom it tastes nothing like clotted cream.  It’s delicious in its own right, however, and we enjoyed it. It tastes like light whipped cream with a little bit of a cream cheese flavor. 

Substitute Clotted Cream
3 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 or 2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat until the mixture holds its shape and looks like softly whipped cream.  Use right away or cover and refrigerate the cream until serving time.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups (we made a half recipe, which suited the tart perfectly).
Pseudo-Clotted Cream
 And now for the epic story of my adventures making the treacle tart.

The Story of the Me, My Mom, and the Treacle Tart
(For the following story, please keep in mind that I used all molasses, which made it stronger than it is really supposed to be.)

For those of you who don’t know or haven’t already figured it out, I live with my mom.  I learned 95% of my cooking skills from her, and we often cook together.  When I told my mom that I wanted to make treacle tart for the blog (and subsequently explained to her what treacle is), she said “Molasses?  That doesn’t sound good.” 

I wasn’t too pleased with her lack of confidence.  “It’s Harry Potter’s favorite dessert,” I protested.  “It has to be good.” 

Mom was unmoved by my plea to authority.  Neither she, nor anyone else in my family, likes Harry Potter.  She instead went off on a story from her childhood.  “When I was a little girl, my mother used to put blackstrap molasses in my milk every day, because she thought it would keep me from getting sick.  I got sick all right – of the molasses!  I’ve hated molasses ever since.”

I gave her my condolences for her unfortunate childhood and continued with my plans to make treacle tart.

As I began to make it, however, I started to have my doubts.  “It says fresh white bread crumbs,” I called out to my mom as I reviewed the recipe.  “Does that mean I have to tear slices of bread into little pieces?”

Mom laughed and said, “You wanted to make it.”

I was pretty concerned about the whole endeavor as I sat in a chair tearing a single slice of bread into little tiny bits.   

“The British are weird,” I said.  “Harry is weird.  Bread crumbs and molasses?  Who thinks of these things?”

“I know,” said Mom, while she too tore up a little slice of bread.  “Especially molasses.  I really don’t like molasses. When I was a little girl, my mother-“

“Yeah, I know, Mom,” I said.  “Blackstrap molasses in the milk.  You told me.”

“Well it was really traumatic,” said Mom with finality.  We continued tearing in silence.

When it came time to mix the molasses and breadcrumbs together, I gazed upon the lumpy brownish mixture.  It looked unappetizing and smelled horrifically strong.  At that moment, I struggled to accept the fact that I would probably not like treacle tart.  I didn’t have to like the dessert as much as Harry, right?  As I considered this, though, a part of my childhood curled up into the fetal position and started whimpering.  I think it’s the same part that still has a slight crush on the aforementioned fictional character.

As I laid the lattice work on the top of the crust, though, I felt a resurgence of hope.  At the very least, the tart looked nice.  I showed it to my mom, and she admired it as well.  “I might actually try that,” she said. 
But as I popped into the oven and thought I heard her muttering incredulously, “Molasses...”

Twenty-five minutes went by.  When the tart came out – What a glorious moment!

“Oh wow!” Mom exclaimed.  “It looks great!”

“Hm!” I said proudly. “See!”

“I don’t know if I’ll like it, though,” Mom warned.  “That blackstrap molasses-“

Mom,” I groaned.  “Just try it.”

So we sat down at the table to partake of my curious creation.  I cut myself a nice 2 ½ inch wide piece, and then gave Mom a sliver about a centimeter wide.

“That size good?” I asked, pointing to her splinter of a slice.

“Yes,” said Mom.  “Perfect.”

Then we tried it. The first bite had a great texture – the crust was flaky and crisp, and the treacle portion was gooey and warm – but it did taste pretty molassesy.  I took a second bite, and while I could still taste the molasses, I also tasted the prominent zing of lemon!  It was a wonderfully surprising combination!  That, topped with the pseudo clotted cream, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

“Okay,” I said happily, “maybe Harry isn’t as crazy as I thought.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty good!” said Mom as she reached over to cut herself another piece.  

The treacle tart is gone now.  Mom ate more than half of it.  It was a delicious treat that we both enjoyed.  Through this experience, I learned two things above all others.  First, Harry Potter still is and forever will be awesome.  Second, traumatic childhoods can be overcome with an open mind and a little British cooking.

The End


Julie M said...

THIS IS THE BEST POST EVER!!!! I wish I was there to try treacle tart too!!
And I could 100% see the conversation with you and your mom, lol!!!

Katie Wren said...

Did you have real clotted cream while you were in England? I'm 100% it will be served in heaven every single day. I had dreams about it for weeks after I left.

Mary J. Locke said...

Katie, I tried clotted cream fudge, which wasn't at all the same. It was still yummy, though. Next time I go to England (and there will be a next time) I'm trying clotted cream for sure!

Sarah said...

The whole scenario with mom cracks me up. I can't believe you tore up that bread. Next time, tear it into quarters and throw it in the blender or food processor for a few seconds. Perfect crumbs.
Oh yeah...and you are obsessed with HP. If I didn't know you pretty darn well, I would not have waded through the HPBS to get to the real story. Glad you like the tart, though

Mary J. Locke said...

I was afraid that a blender or food processor would make the bread all gummy and gross. But it would have worked? That would have been nice to know ahead of time.
And it's good to know you love me despite my HP obsession. :)