When the Norse Goddess nominated treacle as a theme for our tea party last weekend she was thinking of the Famous Five and their habitual picnics. I loved these books too, although neither of us could think of any specifically treacley treats in the lunches Aunt Fanny used to pack up to accompany their adventures. Fruit cake, yes, sandwiches, yes, hard boiled eggs, yes, ginger beer - naturally. But treacle is clearly a very traditional English ingredient and so we went with our fancy. Treacle sponge was our first thought, but it's not very tea-party-like. Then we considered gingerbread, but that didn't quite hit it either. Finally we settled on treacle tart, which also made a nice contrast with the cupcakes we were making.
We didn't eat traditional desserts when I was little. 'Fresh fruit in season' was our usual, with the occasional boil in the tin steamed pudding (which we didn't realise was traditional anyway). I didn't eat school dinners either, and so only have one memory of eating semolina for pudding and finding it completely weird (jam on dessert - what was that about?). The Scientist is a connoisseur of all of these sweet treats though, and so I've tried out various recipes during my time with him. I remember being very surprised when I realised what went into treacle tart the first time I made it. Firstly, there is no treacle, but instead golden syrup, and secondly the filling gets its substance from breadcrumbs. I wasn't expecting that. And yet somehow, it works, making a goopily set, incredibly sweet filling in a tart crust. The Norse Goddess was pretty surprised too when she saw me making it, and it wasn't actually her favourite offering at the tea party (but then there were very nicely decorated chocolate cupcakes on the table :) ). A bit of cream on the side though, and The Scientist was happy.
Treacle Tart (from Martha Day's Complete Baking)
Serves 4-6 (apparently - I rolled my pastry out to fit a larger tin than the author suggests, although this did make for a fairly thin layer of filling)
175ml golden syrup
86g fresh white breadcrumbs (I whizzed sliced bread up in a mini processor)
grated rind of one lemon
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
For the pastry
170g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
85g cold butter, cut in pieces
45g cold margarine, cut into pieces
3-4 Tbsp iced water
1. For the pastry, combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and margarine and cut in with a fork until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. With the fork, stir in just enough water to bind the pastry. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic or greaseproof paper and rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.
3. On a lightly floured surface roll out the pastry to 3mm thickness. Transfer to a 20cm pie dish [I used a larger one] and trim off the overhang. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, reserving the trimmings for the lattice top.
4. Preheat a baking sheet at the top of a 200C oven.
5. In a saucepan, warm the syrup until runny and thin. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs and lemon rind. Let sit for 10 minutes so the bread can absorb the syrup. Add more breadcrumbs if the mixture is thin. Stir in the lemon juice and spread evenly in the pastry case.
6. Roll out the pastry trimmings and cut into 10-12 thin strips. Lay half the strips on the filling, then lay the remaining strips at a 90 degree angle over them to form a lattice.
7. Place on the hot sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Lower the heat to 190C. Bake until golden, about 15 minutes more. Serve warm or cold.