See what I did there?
Yup, this is going to be all about food – probably because holidays in our family have always been about gathering round a groaning board (in our case a slab of glass propped on two steel and bamboo pillars, as also owned by Imelda Marcos) and stuffing yourself if not quite silly then into that contented, borderline comatose state. Food is our way of welcoming each other back home.
I’ve always been fascinated by cooking – the first meal I ever cooked was Croque Monsieur and chocolate mousse from Ursula Sedgwick’s ‘My Learn To Cook Book‘ and over the years I pretty much cooked everything in it, including the apple snow (a foul concoction which put me off cooked apple for life). My cookery book collection has expanded since and now contains gems such as Edouard de Pomiane’s classic ‘Cooking in 10 Minutes‘ to the collected works of Fanny Craddock (amassed courtesy of our town’s many charity shops, always happy hunting grounds for the more recherché works of the culinary art). I’ve cooked my way through Elizabeth David – the rabbit with wild thyme was I’m sure delicious but I couldn’t stomach it after watching the farmer rip the skin off the rabbit like a wet, bloody glove – and Raymond Blanc – my 80s dinner parties were legendary recreations of the Manoir au Quatre Saisons menu – The French Laundry Cookbook – all those powders, all that faff! (but the food is divine) – and all the way back to the books I loved in my youth – the Budget Gourmet (with instructions for your own baking mix and a cream cheese and chili chicken dish – what’s not to love?) and the Alison Burt book.
It is from the latter – a slender, paperback volume of recipes from her restaurant in Westerham, Kent which I’m supposing we must have visited at least once – that the following recipe, my little Easter gift to you – comes. It is simple, elegant, rich (oh so tooth achingly, deliciously rich!). I haven’t made it since the 80s, at least, but it perfectly speaks to the enduring love for caramel. It’s not tricky to make but it repays a little care and love in spades. I’ve used pecans because that’s what I had and they work beautifully but the original calls for walnuts. The choice is yours. A few flakes of sea salt wouldn’t go amiss either. Oh, and the best nuts come from Lidl – trust me on this.
ENGANDINE WALNUT TORTE
8 oz plain flour
5 oz butter (I always use salted, but if you use unsalted add a pinch of salt), cubed
1 Tbsp caster sugar
1 beaten egg
Water, if necessary
The easy, modern way: Pulse flour and butter until like breadcrumbs. Add sugar and egg and pulse again. If necessary, sprinkle on about 1 Tbsp water and pulse until a soft pastry forms.
The old fashioned, care/love/time way: Caress the butter into the flour with your fingertips. Stir in the sugar and egg and pull together to make a dough, sprinkling on maybe a Tbsp of water if necessary.
Now roll out between 2 sheets of clingfilm and use to line an 8″ fluted tart ring, pushing well into the base. Then onto the main event:
6 oz caster sugar
1/4 – 1/2 pint double cream
5 oz pecans or walnuts
Put the sugar into a heavy based frying pan, and put a lid on. Crank the heat to medium and watch like a hawk, shaking the pan to make sure the sugar caramelizes – DO NOT STIR otherwise you’ll never get an even caramel. Keeping a lid on the pan helps to melt the sugar that will inevitably cling to the sides of the pan. Patience, patience – shake and observe as the sugar melts to a perfect amber caramel then pour in the cream and crank the heat to high – the caramel will harden as you add the cream so you need to remelt it. Add your nuts and additional cream if it all starts looking too dark. When the caramel has remelted pour this unctuous lake of molten deliciousness (I’m channelling my inner Nigella here) into the pastry case and bake at Gas 5/190 C for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
You could serve with creme fraiche or berries or any of that stuff but for me that overeggs the pudding and overgilds the lily. Maybe a sprinkle of fleur de sel, just maybe. A slice of this, on a plain white plate, is all the loveliness you need. Share this with friends, family, lovers. Enjoy the embrace of sweet, short pastry and the lush snog of caramel.