This week, we stay on the baking theme, and make something I’ve never tried before in 30-odd years of cooking.
It’s a traditional pastry dish that I’m assuming almost none of you will have heard of. We must away to Scotland!
Take the M6 north, up through Lancashire and Cumbria, then at Carlisle join the A47, headed for Glasgow. Just after Gretna you’ll see a road sign for a town with one of the most delightful names in the entire road atlas; Ecclefechan. Such a wonderful name, especially if delivered in a genteel ‘Miss Jean Brodie’-esque Edinburgh accent. Try it. Though not in company, obviously.
The town is the home of the presumably-not-so-famous Ecclefechan Tart. Every other year, Tracy and I pass the town on our way up to the Turnberry Resort for a wine-tasting and golf shindig organised by one of our wine merchants. It is a rare perk of the job, and one of which we take full advantage; a splendid, classy hotel, a huge selection of amazing wines to taste, and a round or two on the fiendish links. And every time we zoom past Ecclefechan, I think to myself that when I get home I must try baking my very own tart. Then I get home and promptly forget all about it. Until now.
Ironically, this is a non-Turnberry year for us, and perhaps that’s what made me think of it; how I miss that lovely tour through the spectacular countryside of Galloway and the Ayrshire coast. At this time of year, especially on one of those crisp, clear days when everything seems to be in widescreen HD-quality, the winding road from Crocketford to Ayr is one of the country’s best drives. Vast forests, rushing rocky rivers and wild moorland abound, along with meadows filled with plenty of the native Belted Galloway cattle, a black-and-white teddy bear of a cow - delightful.
At a certain point, and I can picture it now exactly, the road is unaccountably always filled with game birds - now we know where it is, we always slow down ahead of the bend and the windscreen fills with the sight of scarpering partridge and pheasant, adults and chicks. Like I say, a heavenly drive, and only a few hours from home.
So, back to baking; I set about making notes on the tart itself. It’s basically a dried fruit tart, very similar to a sort of open mince pie or Eccles cake, and I was bemused as to how a small town in southern Scotland could lay claim to such a dish.
My research was, unlike the tart, fruitless. There’s very little to go on regarding this local delight, apart from the confirmation of its origin there, and the fact that Marks & Spencer make their own version occasionally. It’s surprising it isn’t more popular, as it’s a less rich alternative to a mince pie, made only with raisins, and with the added appeal of the soft crunch of walnuts, a hint of lemon and a whisper of cinnamon. Served with a cup of tea as an afternoon treat, or fancied up as a dinner-time dessert with ice-cream or the best Cornish clotted cream, it’s an easy dessert to put together and for me, at least, reminds me of those wonderful trips across the border.
FOR THE PASTRY CASE:
170g plain flour
100g unsalted butter, finely diced and chilled
1 free-range egg yolk
Pinch of fine salt
FOR THE FILLING:
120g soft (almost-melted) butter
120g unrefined dark muscovado sugar
2 medium free-range eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
The zest and juice of 1 lemon
110g walnuts, roughly chopped
20cm tart case
Baking parchment and baking beans
First, make the pastry; whizz the flour and butter together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
With the power still on, add the yolk and then a trickle of chilled water, until you just bring the pastry together into a medium-soft dough.
Bring into a rough thick disc by hand, wrap in cling film and chill for at least an hour. Heat the oven to 200ºC/Gas Mark 6.
On a wide, well-floured work surface, roll out the pastry in a rough circle, about 30cm in diameter, about the thickness of a pound coin.
Line the case with the pastry, pushing it into the corners, then cut out a 30cm disc of baking parchment.
Screw it into a tight ball, then carefully unfold it and push it gently into the pastry case, making sure it gets to every corner.
Fill the case with baking beans and chill the tart for another hour. Bake the tart for about 15 minutes, or until it is set and pale golden in colour, then remove the parchment carefully and bake for a further 5 minutes to fully cook the base.
As the pastry bakes, cream the butter and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy, then add the eggs in small amounts, incorporating fully each time.
Add the cinnamon, lemon juice, zest and mix well, then tip in the raisins and walnuts. Stir to mix well.
Spoon the mixture carefully into the prepared tart case and smooth over with a wet palette knife.
Lower the oven temperature and bake the tart at 160ºC/Gas Mark 4 for roughly 45 minutes, or until just set.
Trim the excess pastry from the edges, and cool completely before slicing and serving.