This weekend, I finally snapped out of my laziness and decided, after a long gap, to fire up the oven. The extended rains have brought lowered the temperature enough to consider outside of subsistence food and I thought I might bake some tarts.
The pages of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are replete with mentions and tales of much food. Just as there is purpose to every word of fantasy and nonsense in Alice, it is there to the bits about food as well. It is as much a tale of wonder for children as it a reflection of the times. The frequent discussions about food in the story are but a contrast to the scarcity of food in Victorian times. And, like most of us today, Alice too seems to rely on something to eat or drink to alter her size all the time!
In modern times we are equally obsessed with food but for different reasons. We are constantly trying to put food in some category or another and then assigning a value to the food as well as to the diets they fit into. Some foods, and some diets then get to be regarded as inferior/superior. Whether a people are vegetarian or eat meat, has all come out of pragmatism and to put values on these seems ridiculous. I have the same view of raw-food and similar such other diets. A good diet for anyone is surely one they can stick to without harming themselves or others? If you are going to eat the shark to extinction, then there is a problem. For me, a good diet is also one that does not require me to analyse food excessively before I can decide if it fits into the way I ought to eat. That would make shopping for food such a chore!
If some foods are off the list, how come we are always looking for a substitute? If I think milk ought to be out of my diet then why must I go out of my way to make ‘milk’ from everything I can lay my hands on? Heck, if I were to take milk out of the equation I wouldn’t be able to pour myself a cup of tea! I apply the same reasoning to butter and cream; if I think I ought to not eat them, then I just don’t eat them. I don’t substitute them with something that is pretending to be butter/cream. Actually, what I really do is consume butter and cream in moderation. That way I never have to say never! Unless, of course, there is a medical reason for doing so. Again, this is my reasoning and it works for me. I am sure others have their reasons for choosing to eat they way they do. Who am I to tell them to follow my reason!
Ahimsa (nonviolence) is an important tenet of Buddhism as well as Jainism, and Hinduism. That is the reason that most followers of these religions abstain from consuming food that is nonvegetarian or that likely to harm life in the course of its getting to our table. Yet, many Buddhists in Thailand and Japan are consumers of meat and seafood. They are just being practical; if you have scarcity of land and are surrounded by the bounty of the seas, it only makes sense to harvest some of it. So, before we say that vegetarian, or non-vegetarian, or vegan, or raw-food, or any other diet is superior, let us just take a deep breath. If one of them works better for us, that is just splendid! We have found what works best for us; stick to it!
To quote Julia Child, “Everything in moderation… including moderation!” And with that, it is time for a treat! What better that to bake tarts in praise of Alice!
This was my first time making shortcrust pastry and I don’t even own a kitchen scale. With some trepidation I measured out the ingredients for the pastry. I needed 100gms of butter. Actually, the recipes varied between 100-140gms for the same quantity of flour, which can only mean that shortcrust pastry is a little, if not a lot, forgiving. To measure the 100gms I imagined our 500gm Amul butter slab, and guesstimated what 1/5 of that would look like. If you are not as skilled at imagining, I recommend you use a kitchen scale. I had some homemade lime marmalade and mango-lime jams that would so splendidly for the filling. After checking a few recipes, I got bolder. It didn’t look like a lot of work if you were making just jam tarts. All the work was in the shortcrust pastry and not much of that even. So, I looked up another ingredient from the Alice book – treacle. We get neither Golden syrup nor treacle readily. But sitting in the fridge, waiting its turn was a small bottle of kakvi (liquid jaggery), that Shilpa had brought me on her visit here a few years ago! It may not be the same but it seemed like the ingredient meant for such a recipe.
I looked up a few recipes. For the shortcrust recipes vary from no sugar in the crust to a considerable amount of it. I decided to err on the side of moderation! Some used eggs, some didn’t; I went with no eggs in the shortcrust. For the filling too, there were many variations, usually calling for a mix of golden syrup and dark treacle and all warning of the resulting intense sweetness. The kakvi provided the perfect sweetness, combined with egg and some fresh breadcrumbs.
For the shortcrust pastry:
(Adapted from this and this)
1 1/2 cups maida (AP flour)
1/2 cup atta (whole wheat flour)
100gms unsalted butter
zest of 1 lime
5T ice cold water
1 T powdered sugar
Jam Filling: jam of choice, 1 teaspoon full for each tartlet
(for 6 tartlets)
(Adapted from Nigel Slater’s and this recipe)
in a mixing bowl combine the following ingredients:
4 T kakvi
1 small egg
fresh breadcrumbs from one slice of bread
1t minced ginger
zest of one lime
juice of half a lime
Cut the chilled butter into bits. I was using homemade butter which has a higher water content and just crumbles. I sifted the flours before measuring by spoonfuls into the cup measure. In the jar of a food processor combine all the ingredients except the water. Once the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs, add the chilled water, one tablespoon at a time. Depending on humidity, the water content of the butter, you may need less or more water. Use just enough that it all starts to come together. Turn it on to the work surface and press together to form a soft ball of dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C or Gas mark 4. Grease a 12-muffin pan with butter. Dust the working surface and your rolling pin with flour and roll out the chilled dough to a thickness of 5mm. [I rolled mine a bit thinner, but keep it 5mm thick.] Using a fluted cutter, cut circles of dough slightly bigger than your pan depressions. [Again, mine were bigger and so the filling appears not up to the brim.] With a light hand pick up the circles and gently ease them into the molds.
Spoon in filling of choice. Bake for 15-20 minutes till the crust is golden. Serve hot or at room temperature with ice cream. Or a cup of tea!
Have you had your Tea Party yet? I am sure there is somebody reading this blog! Come to the Party so I know you are there! I hate to be at the table all by myself!