An afternoon at the beach and a Crème Brûlée tart

It is meant to be Autumn here; chilly days, cool breezes, a little rain and a huge pot of something delicious simmering on the stove. Lovely, comforting aromas to come home to, and enjoy with a glass or two of wine. But no, we are in the middle of a heat wave; so none of the above, unfortunately. It’s beach weather; and as I have a Golden Retriever, Buci, who adores the water, there’s no place she’d rather be. Leaving the beach is never easy with Buci; she just never wants to leave. So, this time it was wonderful to come home to a beautiful Crème Brûlée tart. I was hot and tired and really needed to eat something sweet and delicious. And no, I didn’t share.

Makes 6 shallow 12cm tartlets

  • 6 x12cm Pâte Brisée tartlet shells baked and cooled
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
  • 4 egg yolks, lightly beaten and strained
  • ¼ cup castor sugar
  • 1.5tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup (approx.) castor sugar for caramelising

To make crème brûlée, put the cream and the vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside. Combine the egg yolks and sugar and whisk together in a bain-marie over simmering water until pale and fluffy. The mixture should become dense but it must not scramble; be sure that the heat is not too high. Whisking constantly, strain the cream into the egg-sugar mixture. Continue cooking for approximately 10 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in the butter. Cover with plastic wrap and let cool to room temperature.

Soon the custard evenly into the baked tartlet shells and refrigerate for at least 4 hours for it to set. I have found that even if you leave the tarts in the fridge overnight, the pastry will still be perfect and the custard just firmer.

NB/ I have found that 4 hours is not enough time for it to set sufficiently. 24 hours is better, and the tarts will keep for up to three days in the fridge without the pastry softening. In fact, the custard will become denser the longer it is in the fridge.

Immediately before serving, sprinkle a small amount of sugar on top of each custard tartlet and caramelise. I use a small blow-torch for this.

Pâte Brisée

  • 2.5 cups plain flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 250g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup ice water

Put the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. This takes about 10 seconds. Add the ice water, drop by drop through the feed tube with the machine running just until the dough holds together without being wet or sticky. Turn out the dough on to plastic-wrap and make into a flat circle with your fists. Chill for an hour in the fridge.

Roll out the pastry thinly and place in the tart tins. Freeze any excess. To blind bake, line the pastry with foil and weigh with dried beans and bake in a 180c oven for about 20 minutes. Remove foil, return to oven until golden brown. Cool before filling.

This recipe is one of Martha Stewarts, from her book Pies and Tarts. It works brilliantly and is extremely delicious.