Monday, 13 June 2011

Honeymoon Special - Individual Apple Tarts with Crema

So let's set the scene. You've spent the day basking in the sun by a twinkling turquoise pool, reading AS Byatt's The Children's Book (I don't recommend) and gazing out over the tranquil Tuscan countryside. The smell of old-fashioned roses wafts through the air and the setting sun casts a warm glow over the aged plaster of the villa. After a few glasses of prosecco sitting outside on a balmy Italian evening, you're now sitting at an antique table, decorated with a polished silver vase filled with more roses drooping elegantly over the side onto the white linen cloth. 

You're in an elegant room in the old stable block. Accompanied by the local wine, you've eaten a delicious antipasto, some wonderful Tuscan pasta, and a succulent veal stew (we didn't make that). It's time for il dolce!

For the final course of our honeymoon cooking class extravaganza, we made individual apple pies with a crema (custard). Of all the food we made, these were by far the easiest course and yet according to our fellow guests, they were the best thing! I know, some people don't appreciate hours of rolling. But seriously, apples, butter, sugar and pastry. It was never going to be bad.

The thing I found most interesting about this recipe was how simple it was. If I were making these at home, I'd have added some vanilla to the custard, or a slug of booze, put in a squeeze of lemon with the apples, glazed the pies in some way or even fancied up the caramel element. But this was very classic, very plain, and very tasty. It's the Italian way, no?

Plus, look how cute they are all baking together in the oven! Like little pastry parcels of deliciousness. 

So there we go, that's our cookery course at the Villa Cicolina done. What fun! I totally recommend it. See how happy we were? And shiny, but it was hot and we'd just spent hours rolling pasta in a steamy kitchen, so I think that's only to be expected.

Little apple tarts with crema
For 4 with healthy appetites, or 8 who are stuffed already and just want a nice taste

- 5 apples
- 175g sugar (our Italian vocab didn't cover which type of sugar it was. Go crazy! I'd say try caster)
- handful of sultanas 
25g knob of butter

Peel the apples and cut into chunks, then add to a big frying pan with the butter, sugar and sultanas. Cook over a medium heat for about 20 minutes until the apples look tender and soft, the caramel's not too brown and most of the liquid has evaporated (see picture above). Then set aside to cool.

Get a sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry and cut into eight squares. Dollop a spoonful of the apple mixture into the centre of each square, then fold up the corners like Dick Whittington's bundle and pinch them together in the centre. Carefully transfer your little parcel to a lined baking sheet, and bake for around 20 minutes.

We had one little tart each, but if you weren't going all out for a multi-course feast then I reckon most people could tuck away a couple of these.

Crema (custard)

- 250ml milk
- 25g flour
- 75g sugar
- 1 egg

Mix together the egg, sugar and flour in a bowl.  Warm the milk until it's nearly boiling, and then beat with the other stuff until smooth - for a couple of minutes. Yum.       

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