Cherry and orange individual Bakewell tarts

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I was lucky enough to escape some of the brutal shocks to our identity and sanity that new parenthood can bring. My hobbies were already pretty sedendary. I didn’t socialise wildly or travel the world (except for work, when I was paid to be that type of person, which helpfully got it out of my system): I wrote or read blogs, wrote or read books, cooked or ate food, or just sat on a sofa and stared at the wall. Of course, all of these are totally compatible with parenthood, particularly the latter.

Bert wasn’t early to sleep through, but when he did he really went for it, with 3-hour naps and 14 hours at bedtime. One Christmas he woke up at 11am and greeted me with  ‘hello gorgeous’. For at least three years I’ve been getting enough sleep to wipe away the smear of tiredness and let the glimmer of small joys shine through.

So even though parenting this particular toddler wasn’t especially hard (well, no harder than having someone shouting mum a hundred times in a minute then pooing on a new speaker has to be), I did think that parenting a school age child would be easier. The age of toileting accidents over. Five days a week to fit work into, with no guilt since he has to be at school. Near-rational conversations. Walking to school.

How wrong I was. What I hadn’t taken into account was the emotional grind of tiny friendships formed and smashed up, piles of ‘optional’ homework that’s nevertheless chased for and rewarded with achievement stickers, the incomprehensible mind-grenade that is the phonics system and the need to get him through next year’s exam so he won’t have to resit it. And the near daily additions to my to-do list that arrive by email – put a pound in a named envelope, dress them in spots and odd socks, sign up to contribute to the Christmas hamper, send in charity money, return library books, fill in a form so they don’t miss out on the school Christmas lunch.

Or make cakes for the Christmas fair. These are a tiny bit of a faff, but delicious, and at last count there were at least 12 left to be dropped off this afternoon.

Makes 20 tarts

2 x 225g sheets ready-made shortcrust pastry

Dark cherry jam, about 20 teaspoons

120g soft butter

120g golden caster sugar

1/2 teaspoon orange essence

1 egg

1 tablespoon plain flour

110g ground almonds

400g icing sugar

4-5 tablespoons water

10 dark glace cherries

Pre-heat the oven to 180/ 170 fan. Lightly grease a muffin tin.

Cut  circles out of the pastry – about 8-10cm diameter – and then line the muffin holes with them, smoothing out any creases. (I had a 12 hole tin, so did two batches.) Crumple up 10cm square pieces of greaseproof (just cut up the paper in the pastry packets), uncrumple and put one on top of each pastry case, weighing down with baking beans or dried pulses. Bake for 10 minutes, take the paper out then bake for another 8-10 minutes, till golden. (I’m a keen but lazy cook and often miss this stage out, but it’s what makes these little tarts soft on the inside but buttery and crunchy on the outside, so worth doing.)

Take them out and let them cool a little. Meanwhile, beat together the butter, sugar and orange essence. Add the egg and flour and then the almonds. Spread a little jam on the bottom of each pastry case, then a generous teaspoon of almond mixture (it rises a little in the oven and ideally you want to see the pastry case around it, so don’t be tempted to over-fill.) Bake for 20 minutes, till risen and golden.

When the tarts are cool, mix the icing sugar and water together and spread a generous teapoon on top of each tart. Top with half a glace cherry. (These would also be good for Red Nose Day.) Protect from scavengers.

 

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Blackberry Frangipane tart

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Me and Bert peaked today.

After a busy day with Ray’s annual fat shaming health check at the vet, last bits of school uniform to buy and food shopping to do, we pulled into the drive and Bert, as usual, wearily nagged me to reverse park, exasperation exceeding expectation.

I wrong footed him by agreeing. As I turned off the engine he asked, suspiciously, ‘is it on the grass or gravel?’ Affronted, I replied, ‘gravel, of course!’, surreptitiously sliding a glance out of the car window. Bert immediately borrowed my phone and rang his dad at work with the news. I heard his dad say, ‘she’s done what?’ as I opened the front door.

This is my last week with a pre-schooler and I’m trying to be happy for my excited boy, while brushing away a bit of sadness at the end of our Thursday book shop ritual and Wednesday singing group and any day pulling him out of nursery at short notice to be my partner in crime.

One positive, though, is that we will walk to school.

Makes one large tart

1 sheet of shop-bought (as peculiar and tautological a phrase as pan-fried) puff pastry

125g butter

125g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

125g ground almonds

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 small punnets or a good haul of picked blackberries

Pre-heat the oven to 170 fan.

Lay the pastry onto a baking tray and fold in each edge about a centimetre, so there’s a raised edge to contain the Frangipane.

Beat together the butter, sugar, eggs, almonds and ginger. Pour carefully into the pastry reservoir. Scatter the blackberries on top and bake for 30-35 minutes, till deep golden brown. The pastry will be crisp and buttery beneath.

Serve with thick double cream.

Mini marmalade bakewells

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Though Bert often greets my offerings of food by saying ‘bleurgh!’, pushing them away or even crying (‘no mummy, please no. Pleeasse! Not nice, Bert not like’), he does just as often eat them greedily or say ‘mmm, Bert like – very nice.’ Substitute, in almost anything he says, the word ‘Bert’ for ‘Gollum’ and you see the true reality of what I’m living with. But anyway, at least he likes his food.

There are some people whose cooking is motivated by the desire to learn how to do something properly and accurately, those who want to feed their family frugally or easily and those who are greedily thinking about food most of the time and invent recipes out of sheer gluttony.

I think it’s clear which camp I belong to, and I hope very much that Bert follows me down the path of taking pleasure in his precious food.

Makes 8-10

200g shortcrust pastry (shop bought unless you’re feeling worthy – there is an upper limit on how much cooking I’m up for in a day and this almost always rules out making pastry)

8-10 teaspoons marmalade

75g ground almonds

75g self raising flour

150g golden caster sugar

3 eggs

Finely grated zest of two oranges

150g soft butter

Flaked almonds to top

Roll the pastry out thinly and cut circles to fit a muffin tray – I make the pastry slightly bigger than the hole since it shrinks in the oven. You can always snap off any over hang when it comes out. Put the pastry cases in the freezer for an hour or so – this prevents the soggy bottom issue without the hassle of blind baking.

Beat together the ground almonds, flour, sugar, eggs, orange zest and butter to make the frangipane.

Spread a teaspoon of marmalade onto each pastry case, then top with a generous desertspoon of frangipane. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and cook at 180/ gas mark 4 for 25-30 minutes, till the frangipane is risen and golden brown and firm to the touch.

Swap the orange zest for a teaspoon of vanilla essence and the marmalade for a scattering of frozen cherries for mini cherry bakewells. The same quantities also make a single 25cm tart of either type (cook this bigger version for 30-40 minutes).

Little apple frangipane tarts

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Makes two little tarts

1/2 sheet of puff pastry

1 eating apple, finely sliced

1 egg

40g golden caster sugar

40g ground almonds

40g softened butter

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Beat together the egg, almonds, butter, sugar and vanilla essence. Cut two circles out of the puff pastry (mine were about 12 centimetres in diameter). Press a smaller circle into each with the top of a glass and spread a dessert spoon or so of the frangipane mixture over each, keeping within the smaller circle – I’m not entirely sure if you need to bother with this, but I was in a neat-freak mood. Maybe because Bert’s started shaming me by tidying up after me.

Meanwhile, watch your todder finally master the art of forward motion on a wheelybug. (Finally, he won’t back himself into corners and squeal! Oh, he just backed himself into a corner and squealed.) Using the frangipane as a glue, press the apple in each in a spiralling circle (if you can be bothered to be neat) then top with another blob of frangipane to make a kind of frangipane sandwich.

Bake on a lined sheet at 190 or near the middle ish of the Aga roasting oven for about 15 minutes.

Half moon chicken pasties

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A bit more sun-like when they’re coated in egg wash, in fact.

There’s something very satisfying about this; using up leftovers and doing the sort of cooking that you watched your mum do when you were little – rolling out pastry, sealing pies, brushing on egg wash.

This is one of those dishes that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Makes 16 bite sized pasties

1 sheet puff pastry

Leftover chicken stew

1 egg, beaten

Flour for rolling

Roll the puff pastry out thinly and cut into small circles – I used a tea cup. Place on a lined baking sheet, floury side up (otherwise when you egg wash you get into a claggy mess of flour and egg), and put around a teaspoon of stew into the middle of each. You need to be relatively stingy with the stew to keep them neat. Brush egg in a circle round the outside rim and seal them into half moon shaped pasties. Brush the top with egg wash and pop them in a hot oven (200 degrees) for 15 minutes, till puffed up and golden.

I had mine with a leafy green salad. I showed Bert what a salad leaf looked like for future reference.

Apple lattice tarts

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Two for me, one for you and one for me to share.

Makes 4 small tarts

About 1/4 sheet shortcrust pastry (the rest of the pastry I used for the pies)

4 teaspoons of apple puree or apple sauce

Sprinkle of cinnamon

A little flour

A little milk or beaten egg

A scant dessert spoon of crunchy brown sugar

Cut 8 small circles from the pastry – I used a tea cup. Put four on a baking tray and put a teaspoon of apple sauce in the middle of each, sprinkling with cinnamon. Brush the edge of the circle with milk or egg wash then press a second circle of pastry onto each. Brush the whole of the top with milk or egg, cut two or three slits across the appley mound and sprinkle with crunchy brown sugar. Bake at 180 degrees for about eight minutes.

Little meat pies

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A better woman than I would make the pastry from scratch and chill in the fridge for half an hour, and make the filling fresh. But I keep Jus-Rol puff and shortcrust pastry in the freezer for when I feel a pie coming on, and I’ve used yesterday’s beef stew to fill them.

An ex once refered to my home made beef stew as ‘pie filling’ – needless to say the relationship didn’t last, but this is a good use of leftovers.

Makes 4 small pies

Leftover stew – I had about a third of last night’s stew or you could make it from scratch, thirding (is that a word?) the ingredients

1 sheet shortcrust pastry

A little flour

A little milk or a beaten egg

I use a muffin tin for this. Flour your surface and roll your pastry out a tiny bit, then cut four large circles – you’ll need about a centimetre overhang when you line each muffin, er, hole. I used a saucer. Line your holes, gathering up the overhang like the pleats of a skirt.

About two dessert spoons of cold stew goes into each – fill them generously. (It has to be cold as it goes into the pastry – another good reason to wait for leftovers if you make this.) Brush the rim of the pastry with milk or beaten egg, then cut out four smaller circles of pastry – I used a tea cup. Press the top onto the pie and pinch the sides together, cutting away the excess. If it looks a bit jagged, it will crisp up nicely in the oven. Brush the top with milk or egg, cut a small hole in the centre and bake at 180 degrees for 15 – 18 minutes. They’ll look like little pork pies when they come out of the moulds.

We had ours with buttered peas. A lot for me, about 10 for Bert since he picks up each one individually with finger and thumb.

One pie for him, two for me and one for my lunch tomorrow. There was enough filling and pastry for a fifth, so this could serve two humans and one baby, but I gave the dog the filling (he’d had a bad day) and used the pastry to make apple lattice tarts. They’ll be pudding tomorrow since a two pie tea is a bit decadent for a Monday.