Custard tarts have been around since the Middle Ages. The earliest recipe can be found in the first English cookbook in the English language called The Forme of Cury, dated around 1390. In the past, Custard tarts were made with sturdy pastry to withstand the heat of wood-fired ovens. The pie dough was raised by hand, just like we do with the Pork pie. Nowadays, vanilla is added to Custard tarts, but this is a rather modern addition. Originally Custard tarts used rich spices such as saffron, bay leaf, ginger, mace, cloves, cinnamon and pepper. Dried fruit – such as dates and prunes – was also often added to Custard tarts, as well as fresh wild strawberries.
You can use a regular cutter to cut out the tart bases, but one with a scalloped edge makes the retro Custard tarts that many will remember from their childhood. Today the traditional English Custard tart is disappearing from the shops, giving way to richer Portuguese Custard tarts, which are made with puff pastry.
Butter the tart tins, cover the base of each with a small circle of baking paper and then dust with flour.
Make the shortcrust pastry by combining the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse for 8 seconds or until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and water and pulse again until the dough forms a ball in the bowl. Remove from the bowl and knead briefly. Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Briefly knead the pastry until smooth, then pat it into a rectangle and roll it out to a thickness of
Crumple up small pieces of baking paper, then smooth them out and place in the tart shells. This will help the paper fit the shape of the tarts. Fill the pastry with baking beads or rice and place in the middle of the oven to bake blind for 10 minutes until the edges of the crusts are coloured. Remove the paper and beads or rice and bake for another 5 minutes to dry them out. Reduce the
For the custard filling, heat the milk and cream with the sugar, bay leaf and mace in a pan. Beat the egg yolks and the whole egg in a large bowl. Remove the spices and pour a tiny bit of the warm milk and cream mixture into the eggs and beat well; this prepares the eggs for the warm milk mixture. Pour the rest of the milk into the eggs while you whisk continuously.
Strain the custard into a jug, then pour it into the cooled tart bases. Sprinkle with grated nutmeg and
Let the tarts cool on a wire rack.
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