Who says English food is boring and rubbish?
That's not a quote, that's just me.
For the weekend cooking class we were going to make chocolate mousse, but we have hit a glitch. My son has no hand mixer, or stand mixer come to that, and I don't see either him or the boys beating the egg whites by hand until they are stiff. As my daughter-in-law said, "nobody wants to beat egg whites by hand!".
So I started looking for another suitable dessert kind of thing by flicking through some Jamie Oliver cookbooks. Most of his recipes are kid friendly I find. And as I was flicking I saw this and was hit by a wave of nostalgia. I used to love this tart. My mother made it every now and then. She was a wonderful pastry cook and the pastry was so flaky, and the topping was like marzipan. Do they have marzipan these days? Well I guess it wasn't really like marzipan but it was the almond taste of frangipane, which is what this is. Maybe marzipan is a potential blog topic.
So, as I was short of inspiration I thought I would look into bakewell tart - origins, variations, etc.
Well the first thing to note is that bakewell has nothing to do with baking well. It's a place. A village/town in Derbyshire called Bakewell. It's in the stunning Peak District and just outside the village/town is the even more gorgeous Chatsworth House - site of the TV Pride and Prejudice I think. Lots of other things too. You can just see it below the town.
The second notable thing is that originally it was Bakewell pudding, not Bakewell tart, although I have to say I'm a bit pushed to see the difference. The legend - there's always a legend - is that the landlady of the local pub - the White Hart - since demolished - told her cook to make a jam tart. But the cook, instead of stirring the eggs and almond paste mixture into the pastry put it on top, or alternatively, put the jam underneath the topping instead of on top. Anyway it was popular and became a 'classic' Nice though that story is, and one of a long list of classic dishes supposedly resulting from a mistake, there are lots of 'experts' out there who will tell you at great length - see for example, Food History Jottings, - that there are just so many things wrong with that, that it can't be true.
According to the Great British Chefs website and the chef Mark Hix it harks back to Tudor times and would have looked a bit like this. Others have said the 1820s. So who knows? Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with Bakewell after all and it does just mean bake well.
The village/town has certainly profited from it anyway - there are at least three shops selling 'the only true bakewell tarts' Here are the ones from the Bakewell Tart Shop. They maintain that the difference between pudding and tart is in the pastry - shortcrust for tart and puff for pudding. Incidentally Felicity Cloake seems to think short-crust is better.
She also seems to think, like the Great British Chefs website that its origins are much further in the past than the early or mid nineteenth century.
"its medieval precursors came in two main forms: flavoured custard tarts with candied fruit, and Lenten almond-paste tarts." Felicity Cloake
So how do you make it? Well you can watch Jamie Oliver make one of his versions - always fun to watch:
He actually has three versions - the first one that set me off on this post and illustrated at the top of the page is simply called Bakewell tart. He also has a slightly different version called Beautiful Bakewell tart, which I think is the one in the video and a somewhat different Italian style Bakewell tart. This one features fruit rather than jam, and there are quite a few cooks who take this approach including Nigel Slater who has a Cherry pistachio tart. (see below on the left.)
One proposed iteration of the pudding version, supposedly original, has no frangipane on top, but has just jam with the odd strip of citrus peel scattered over it, as shown below, with a before and after sprinkling with icing sugar. Surely that's just a jam tart isn't it? Another of the Bakewell shops has a similar looking version. Nearly all of the pudding versions feature that rim of puff or flaky pastry, rather than a tart shell.
Mary Berry of course is pretty straight down the middle. I had to include her version - well she is the Queen of English baking is she not? Nigella is a queen of the kitchen but not so traditional and turns her version into Bakewell slices.
Which sort of brings me to the icing and the jam controversies. I see that Mary Berry has actually allowed herself to be non-traditional in that she has drizzled icing over the top. Well there is one version of the Bakewell tart - most often a supermarket kind of commercial version whereby the tart is covered with icing and a glacé cherry. Just the sort of thing that gives English cooking a bad name. Not that there is anything wrong with the idea - The Great British Chefs, have created a rather better version they call Blueberry Bakewell tarts, which not only have blueberries on the top, but apparently have blueberries on the base instead of jam.
As to the jam - traditionally it's raspberry apparently, but of course you can use any kind of jam. I think my mother used to use strawberry. The lady who made Nigella's slice used marmalade, though she thought it would probably have been better with something like the traditional raspberry jam.
And last of all the variations that use different nuts. Pistachio and raspberry bakewell tart - another Great British Chef recipe - this time from James Mackenzie is an example, but I have also seen walnuts and hazelnuts.
But for me the Jamie version that started me off on all of this is the one I remember and love. Maybe we could have a go at that on the weekend.