When exercise ruins your waistline

Summer Fruit Tarts

(Summer fruit tarts)

I love running. Not for the feeling of the wind in my hair, or the way your limbs ache in a pleasing way at the end of the line. I love running because when you’re running, there are no interruptions. No phone you have to answer, no “I’ll just quickly Google that”, or “Maybe I’ll catch up on Jessica Jones on Netflix”.

Running gives me time to think. Unfortunately, most of my “thinking” tends to veer sharply towards the solemn contemplation of potential baked goods (thereby negating all the good work that running accomplishes). Which is incidentally how I came about to make a big batch of shortcrust pastry. Battling sweat and aching limbs, visions of Summer berries popped into my head (or maybe it was just bright lights and blurred vision caused by heat exhaustion).

My favourite thing to do with berries is actually nothing at all. Eat them plain and eat them often, I say. But there’s no denying that they also look fabulous perched on top of softly whipped vanilla cream in a buttery tart shell. And with that, afternoon tea is sorted. For extra pizzazz, I topped the fruit tarts with sugared thyme. (Isn’t pizzazz such a great word? If I had a pizza shop, it definitely be called Pizzazz.)

Vanilla Brulee Tart

(Vanilla brulee tart)

My current favourite easy recipe for pastry can be found here. Belinda Jeffery’s recipe, which also appears in her book Mix & Bake, is incredibly versatile. I’ve used it in both sweet and savoury applications to great effect.

Tips for pastry success : Heat is the enemy, when it comes to making or rolling out pastry. Keep everything as well chilled as possible. Also chill your lined tart shell before blind baking. This helps retain the shape of the shell. A blind baked shell can be used in all sorts of ways, such as the fruit topped tarts above. Alternatively, fill it with vanilla custard and brulee to give that golden burnished finish. The filling was based on this recipe.

Tomato Crostata

(Tomato, herb and chilli crostata)

If you find yourself allergic to lining tarts and engaging in all that blind-baking nonsense, make free form crostatas instead. Roll the dough out into a rough circle, fill with something sweet or savoury (in this case, Summer-kissed tomatoes and herbs) and bake for about 30-35 mins at 175’C. You’d break into less of a sweat making this than you would running.

Tomato Crostata

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Lemon Meringue Cookies

(Lemon Meringue Cookies)

I’ve only recently discovered a world of Turkish sweets that extends far beyond lokum and the ever popular syrupy baklava. Take these lemon meringue cookies for example. Just when you think you’ve seen and eaten every imaginable cookie, someone decides to spread meringue on cookie dough, roll it up, bake it, and unsurprisingly, it tastes pretty darn fantastic.

The cookies expand slightly in the oven and come out resembling a rose while smelling like a combination of nutty butter and lemon peel. Biting into one reveals a range of magical textures from tender crumbly cookie to meringue that is soft in the middle and slightly crisp around the edges. I haven’t yet managed to stop at just one.

This recipe lends itself to many variations. Chocolate with crunchy hazelnut meringue or an applied thin layer of cumquat marmalade come immediately to mind. Do let me know if you happen to experiment with any other flavours!

Lemon Meringue Cookies :
(makes 12, adapted from a recipe from Turkish Bakery Delight by Deniz Göktürk Akçakanat)

For the pastry :
1 small egg
25g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter
180g plain flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt

For the meringue :
2 egg whites
pinch of sea salt
125g caster sugar
zest from 1 large lemon

In a food processor (or Thermomix), combine the egg, sugar, butter and salt. Process until creamy. Add the flour and baking powder, processing until a dough just forms. Press the dough out into a flat disc, wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 160’C. Make the meringue by whisking the egg whites and salt in a mixer until foamy. Gradually add the sugar, whisking until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Stir in the lemon zest.

Roll the dough out to a rectangle roughly measuring 12″ x 9″, with the longest side of the rectangle facing you. Spread the meringue on the dough, leaving a 1″ border all around. Gently roll the dough up. This may be a bit messy as the meringue will try to escape a little but it’s worth persevering, I promise.

Cut the log into 12. Arrange the cookies cut side up on a lined baking tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cookies are golden.

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Postcard from Autumn

(Simple apple tart)

A postcard from Autumn in Sydney would read something a little like this : Bringing you sunshine filled days and cool, breezy evenings. Enjoy. PS: Don’t forget to make apple tart!

This month, I’ve been busy eating as many of Summer’s last yellow nectarines as possible, while in the kitchen, I’m already dreaming of apple pie and hot stews. It’s no coincidence that we’ve already had two apple-based pastries since the start of March. Nothing spells comfort to me more.

Inspired by Autumn’s note, and a wedge of flaky pastry I dug out from the freezer, a very simple apple tart was made. Not overly sweet and not too dissimilar to the French tarte fine aux pommes, it was delicious served with a little puddle of vanilla custard. There are many things you could add to this tart to make it a bit more fancy. Brush a cider glaze over the finished product, or wave a blow torch over the surface as it emerges from the oven. Heck you could even make it with a combination of apples and persimmons (another great Autumn fruit). But you could also just as easily keep it simple, because sometimes, simple is best.

Simple Apple Tart :

250g flaky pastry (a recipe is provided below, if you need one)
2 apples
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons sugar (or vanilla sugar)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Slice the cored but unpeeled apples as thinly as possible (use a mandoline if you have one). Toss in the lemon juice and set aside while you roll the pastry.

On a lightly floured counter top, roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch thick and line a 9-inch shallow pie tin, trimming off any excess pastry. (You can use the offcuts to make pie cookies!) Drain off the lemon juice and arrange the apple slices on top of the pastry in a concentric pattern, like so. Combine the sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle on top of the apple slices. Bake in a preheated 190’C oven for 25-30 minutes. Serve with custard or ice-cream.

[NB : For the flaky pastry : In a food processor, blitz 140g plain flour with a generous pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and 120g butter, until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add 1 yolk and 1-2 tablespoons of iced water and blitz again until the dough just comes together. Wrap and chill the dough for a few hours before using.] (Simple apple tart)

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