Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Yorkshire Curd Tart - Take 1

Yorkshire Curd Tart - Take 1

I'm on a quest to find the perfect Yorkshire Curd Tart recipe.  You know what it's like, you move away from your childhood home and you start to miss some things you used to take for granted.  At the moment, for me, that's Yorkshire Curd Tart.  Occasionally I manage to get to York.  When I do I always, but always, buy some from Betty's bakery (along with a Fat Rascal).  They're pretty good, though the one I crave was baked across the border in County Durham.  As with many English dishes, there was a certain amount of border-creep with the "Yorkshire" Curd Tart.  

Like many ill-documented recipes, its origins are disputed.  The story which resonates with me is that it started as a means of using up waste curd from the cheese-making process when most smallholders would keep a cow and produce a few small cheeses. 

First there's the pastry.  It should be a fine shortcrust - a plain edge, not crinkled (though my tin is crinkled-edged), and not too deep.  The fruit, I think, should be currants, but make sure they are good quality seed-free ones.  Rosewater is sometimes mentioned and in a recipe from 1741 even "butter washed in rosewater".  The 'curd' must be real curd cheese - definitely not cottage cheese.  I suppose people keep suggesting cottage cheese because it's easy to get hold of, but don't bother, it just doesn't work.  It used to be possible to get curds direct from your local dairy.  Being in London, I got my curd cheese from Bill Oglethorpe of Kappacasein down in Bermondsey (in exchange for a tub of my allotment raspberries).  The good news is that as more dairy farms are now diversifying, curds are becoming more available.  All that is needed is for people to start asking for them, either at the farm gate or from artisan cheese makers like Bill.

The quest for the definitive recipe continues but in the meantime, here's Take 1.  Influenced by Jane Grigson's recipe in her book English Food, it's not a bad attempt, but it's not the authentic Yorkshire Curd Tart I remember.  The texture of the filling seemed a bit spongey and the amount of currants too generous.  Clearly I have more work to do.  If you think you've got the recipe, I'd love to hear from you. 

Yorkshire Curd Tart (Take 1)
(22cm shallow tart tin with a removable base) 

Sweet Shortcrust pastry:
110g (4oz) soft butter
55g (2oz) icing sugar
2 tablespoons beaten egg
170g (6oz) soft plain flour
pinch  of salt

100g soft butter
50g caster sugar
200g curd cheese
100g currants
1 level tablespoon breadcrumbs
Pinch of salt
Grated nutmeg
Grated rind of half a lemon
2 well-beaten eggs, less 2 tablespoons used in the pastry.

For the pastry, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the egg, then gradually add the flour and salt, mixing to a smooth paste.  (This makes a very fragile, buttery pastry which is best if handled as little as possible).  Cover and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour. 

Butter the tart tin lightly and press pieces of the pastry into the tin to form a thin layer (you will need only half the amount of pastry you've made, so wrap the remainder and freeze it for your next tart).  Push a rolling pin over the top of the tart tin to leave a clean edge.  Prick the base repeatedly with a fork and place in the fridge for another 15-30 minutes (this helps to reduce shrinkage in baking).   

Heat the oven to 190C.  Bake the pastry case blind for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and return the tin to the oven for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 170C. 

Cream butter and sugar until soft and fluffy.  Mix in the curds, currants, breadcrumbs, salt and nutmeg, then the eggs.  Pour mixture into the tart caseand bake for 30 minutes.  Cool to room temperature before serving.

UPDATE: Go here for Take 2 on the Yorkshire curd tart