Saturday, 5 March 2011
You will also need a 2 inch (5 cm) leaf cutter, a tin that has a rim and sloping sides (1½ inches/4 cm deep, with a 7 inch/18 cm base and a ½ inch/1 cm rim), lightly greased, and a medium-sized, solid baking sheet.
To make the pastry, first of all sift the flour with the pinch of salt into a large bowl, holding the sieve up high to give it a good airing. Then add the lard and butter and, using only your fingertips, lightly and gently rub the fat into the flour, again lifting the mixture up high all the time to give it a good airing. When everything is crumbly, sprinkle in about 1 tablespoon of cold water. Start to mix the pastry with a knife and then finish off with your hands, adding a few more drops of water, till you have a smooth dough that leaves the bowl clean. Then pop the pastry into a polythene bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C) and pop the baking sheet in to pre-heat on the centre shelf. After that, roll the pastry out into a circle on a surface lightly dusted with flour, giving it quarter turns to keep its round shape; it's a good idea at this stage to put the tin lightly on top of the pastry – the size needs to be 1 inch (2.5 cm) bigger all round. Now transfer it, rolling it over the pin, to the tin, and press it lightly and firmly around the base, sides and rim. Now take a sharp knife and trim the overlapping pastry. Then press the rim of the pastry so that about ¼ inch (5 mm) overlaps the edge. Next, roll the trimmings and cut out about 24 leaves, making veins in them with the blunt side of the knife. Now brush the whole surface of the pastry case with some of the beaten eggs, arranging the leaves all around the rim, overlapping them. Brush these, too, with beaten egg. Now prick the base of the tart with a fork, then place it on the baking sheet and bake on the centre shelf for 20 minutes, until the pastry is crisp and golden. Check after 4 minutes to make sure that the pastry isn't rising up in the centre. If it is, prick it again a couple of times, pressing it back down with your hands. After 20 minutes, remove it from the oven, leaving the baking sheet there, and reduce the temperature to gas mark 3, 325°F(170°C). Now place the cream in a saucepan and bring it up to a gentle simmer, then whisk the beaten eggs and sugar together in a large heatproof jug using a balloon whisk – but not too vigorously because you don't want to make bubbles. Then pour the hot liquid over the beaten eggs, add the vanilla extract and half the nutmeg and whisk briefly again. Now place the pie tin back on the baking tray with the oven shelf half out and have ready the rest of the grated nutmeg on a piece of foil. Carefully pour the filling into the pastry case (it will be very full) and scatter the rest of the nutmeg all over, then dot with the softened butter and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until the filling is golden brown, firm in the centre and slightly puffed up. Serve either warm or, as I actually prefer it, cold.