Maids of honour

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • For

    18

    tarts

Appears in

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The history of British Baking, savoury and sweet

Oats in the North, Wheat from the South

By Regula Ysewijn

Published 2020

  • About

Maids of honour tarts are small cheesecakes that, according to one of the beloved legends, were named after one of the maids of honour of one of the wives of Henry VIII. The king had tasted the tarts and was so besotted with them that he locked up the maid of honour so she could bake these tarts for him.

Recipes for Maids of honour do not appear in the time of Henry VIII, but sometimes appear in books in the 18th century. In Richmond near London, where Henry VIII lived, Newens The Original Maids of Honour shop has existed since 1850. Here you can still buy these delicious tarts and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. Recipes in old cookery books vary, with some fillings consisting of custard while others are thickened with cheese, almond flour and sometimes even mashed potatoes.

This recipe is based on a recipe from the 1792 book, The New Art of Cookery, by Richard Briggs. The original used sweet curd cheese, which is made with fresh milk to which rennet is added. To make this cheese you need unpasteurised cow’s milk, which isn’t available (nor legal) in many parts of the world. The tarts can also be made with curd cheese produced from sour milk or milk that has been soured by the addition of buttermilk or lemon juice. The result is, however, a more acidic filling. I prefer in this case to substitute the curd cheese for ricotta.

Ingredients

For the curd cheese

  • 2 litres (8 cups) raw milk
  • 1 tsp rennet

For the quick puff pastry

  • 240 g ( oz) butter, diced
  • 240 g ( oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 130 ml (4 fl oz) ice-cold water
  • butter, for greasing

For the filling

  • 110 g ( oz) butter
  • 100 ml ( fl oz) cream, with at least 40% fat
  • 110 g ( oz) white sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 egg
  • zest of ½ lemon, grated
  • 25 g (1 oz) candied cedro, very finely chopped
  • 1 drop of orange blossom water
  • 230 g (8 oz) curd cheese or ricotta

Method

For a tin with 6 cm (2½ inch) shallow mince pie moulds

To make the cheese, start half a day in advance or the day before. Place a clean piece of muslin (cheesecloth) in a colander over a large bowl. Heat the milk in a large saucepan until it reaches 37°C (99°F), then remove it from the heat and thoroughly stir in the rennet. Leave to rest for 15-30 minutes or until the cheese has set (if nothing happens, then you haven’t added enough rennet). Carefully pour the cheese into the cheesecloth. Pour off the whey (you can keep it for baking). Drain the cheese in the cloth above the bowl for 4 hours.

To make the filling, melt the butter, then let it cool and add the cream, sugar, egg yolks, egg, lemon zest, candied cedro and orange blossom water and mix well. Pass the curd through a fine sieve into a large bowl, then gradually add the butter mixture and combine well.

Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F) and butter the tart tins.

Make the quick puff pastry.

Roll out the dough until 2 mm (1/16 inch) thick. Use a 7-8 cm (2¾-3 ¼ inch) round cutter to cut out the pastry. Use the pastry to line the tart tins and prick each base with a fork three times. Knead the remaining dough back together and continue to cut out rounds. If you’re not cooking the pastry bases immediately, put them in the fridge because the pastry must remain cold.

Fill the tarts with the filling and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they are golden and the filling is a light golden yellow with a golden-brown blush and the surface has puffed up and cracked. Let the tarts cool, but eat them as soon as possible.