Winnie the Pooh could not have put it better. It is a dish every Briton remembers from childhood: crisp pastry filled with a gooey mixture of breadcrumbs and golden syrup, sharpened a little with lemon, but still heroically sweet. It is a dish that often baffles foreigners, not least because the ‘treacle’ involved is actually golden syrup, spooned sluggishly from Tate & Lyle’s famous green and gold tin. The same company also sells molasses as ‘black treacle’, in a red and gold tin, to confuse matters still further.
Belen Aloisi, the pastry chef at Heston Blumenthal’s The Hind’s Head, in Bray, grew up in Argentina, a country the joys of treacle tart have yet to penetrate; nevertheless, she has grown to love it, and has been perfecting the recipe over the four and a half years she has been in Bray.
What makes her recipe distinct from others is the filling – wholemeal, not white, breadcrumbs, and beurre noisette as well as lemon – but the tricky part is the pastry. Short and sweet – a classic pâte sucrée – it is a fragile vehicle for a liquid filling that only turns solid when it cools.
The trick, she says, is to not overwork the pastry, which will make it elastic and liable to shrink and toughen when it’s cooked.
“You don’t need to use a mixer: I make it by hand at home, and it actually makes it easier not to overwork it. Cream the butter and sugar together until they’re pale and fluffy, then add the egg and the milk, and don’t worry if it looks a bit split, when you add the flour it’ll all come together. Then just work it long enough for the pastry to be smooth, flatten it slightly and put it in the fridge.”
Aloisi rolls the pastry between two sheets of parchment paper (as any surplus flour might burn in the oven). She advises reserving a little of the pastry to fill in any cracks once the shell has been baked. “Just roll out little worms and use them to fill the gaps: the filling ends up quite solid, but it’s hot and liquid when it’s in the oven, so you don’t want it leaking through the shell.”
She leaves the pastry overhanging the edges of the flan case, then trims the pastry after baking it blind – without pricking it with a fork – while the eggwash stops the filling from dampening the base.
The filling, thanks to both the beurre noisette and the wholemeal breadcrumbs, is darker, richer and nuttier in flavour than a traditional treacle tart. Aloisi puts the pastry shell in the oven before pouring in the filling, which prevents any last-minute spills, and – once cooled – serves it with a milk ice cream sharpened with yogurt and soured cream (in true Heston fashion, it contains both invert sugar syrup and maltodextrin, to prevent crystallisation), vanilla salt (Maldon salt mixed 20:1 with vanilla powder), and a crumble made from crushed malted milk biscuits, quickly baked with lemon zest and a pinch of vanilla salt. If that all sounds a bit of a faff after the effort of making the tart, you will be pleased to hear that it goes very well with whipped cream, too.
For the pastry:
160g plain flour
35g caster sugar
1 tsp whole milk
125g unsalted butter, diced and chilled
1 whole egg, beaten
For the egg wash:
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
For the beurre noisette:
250g unsalted butter, diced
For the filling:
900g golden syrup
94g double cream
3 medium eggs, beaten
60ml lemon juice
Zest of 3 lemons
200g fresh breadcrumbs
1. Make the pastry. In a mixer bowl with the paddle attached, add the butter, eggs, sugar and milk. On a low speed mix until just combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Turn the speed back up to medium and keep on mixing until the mix is combined and has a creamy texture. Add the flour and semi-incorporate it. Turn the pastry onto a surface and knead by hand until the dough just comes together. Chill for 2-3 hours.
2. Preheat an oven to 160°C, fan 3, 0% humidity. Roll the pastry between 2 sheets of parchment paper to a 3-mm thickness and line a 30-cm loose-bottomed tart case, pressing the pastry into all the crevices. To cook the pastry, line the tart with parchment and fill to the edge with baking beans.
3. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn it around and cook it for another 20 minutes. Blitz the egg and yolk, then brush the tart with the egg wash. Cook for a further 5 minutes, then remove from the oven.
4. Put the butter in a pan and melt on a low heat, then turn the heat to medium. Brown the butter: once it reaches 180°C, take the pan off the heat and leave it to cool. When the butter has cooled to 50°C, pass through a fine sieve, then a double layer of muslin. Reserve.
5. Bring the syrup, cream, salt and 115g of the beurre noisette gently to the boil. Whisk a small amount of the syrup into the eggs, then add the remaining syrup and mix well. Stir in the breadcrumbs, the lemon juice and the zest. Stir well and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
6. With a spoon, skim off any froth from the mix. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170°C, fan speed 3, 0% humidity. Ensuring both the baked pastry cases and the filling are warm, pour the filling into the tart and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 150°C and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the tray around and cook for another 20 minutes. Allow to cool fully before removing from the case, slicing with a hot knife and serving.