20 March 2014

Custard Tarts - A British Classic


Custard tarts are a British classic, one you might recall as Lionel's favorite treat (and a running joke) on that PBS perennial As Time Goes By. Other countries, such as China, Portugal and Australia, have custard tarts as well; but I've only ever had the British kind, traditionally sprinkled with a bit of nutmeg. 

For those interested in food history, custard tarts have been popular in Britain for so long that a version of them was served at the coronation banquet of Henry IV in 1399. 

They're made in all sorts of sizes. I make them this size so that they're perfect for afternoon tea. Three or four bites, no fork needed. I make them in the same 12-cup shallow bun tin that I use for mince pies. A 3.5-inch (9 cm) round cutter makes pastry rounds just the right size for the Nordic Ware Tartlette Pan

Custard Tarts 

(Makes 12 2.5-inch tartlettes) 

Shortcrust Pastry 

1 1/2 dip-and-sweep cups (7.5 ounces / 213 g) unbleached all-purpose flour 
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces / 113 g) unsalted butter, cold 
1/4 cup ice water 

Custard 

1 cup (237 ml) milk
2 large* eggs
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar 
Pinch salt 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground nutmeg


* If you're in the UK, that would be 2 medium eggs. See my British Conversions page for more details. 

1 In medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. With coarse grater over bowl, shred the butter over the flour. (Don't try to shred the very last or you'll shred your fingers; just cut it up.) Stir with a large dinner fork, making sure all the shredded butter is coated with flour. 

2 With the fork, stir in the liquid. If you pinch some of the crumbly dough and it doesn't hold together and there is dry flour in the bowl, add a bit more water. Press the dough together. 

3 Place it on a square of plastic wrap and shape it into a 5-inch disk. Wrap tightly in the plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. 

4 On lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry to a 12x15-inch rectangle. Using a 3.5-inch round cutter, cut out 12 rounds. Lightly spray a 12-cup shallow bun tin, such as the wonderful Nordic Ware Tartlette Pan I use, with cooking spray. Press pastry rounds into the wells of the tin, finishing the edge as you like; making a higher edge than I did this time allows you to use a bit more filling. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. During last 10 minutes, preheat oven to 400 degrees (200C / Gas Mark 6).


5 Bake tart shells (also called pastry cases) at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. After 5 minutes, pull tin out of the oven and quickly press down any pastry cases that have puffed up; continue baking. Meanwhile, prepare custard. In 1-quart saucepan, heat milk until small bubbles start to form around the edge. 

6 In another 1-quart saucepan, whisk together eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Gradually whisk hot milk into egg mixture. Pour through fine strainer back into pan in which you heated milk. 

7 Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees (180C / Gas Mark 4) when you remove pastry cases from the oven. Pour or ladle custard carefully into the pastry cases, filling to the brim as they will deflate a bit while cooling. You can pour from a jug with a spout or use a small ladle. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 23 minutes, or until just set and a bit wobbly.

Note: Pour any leftover custard mixture into a custard cup, sprinkle with nutmeg and bake along with the tarts (and probably continue baking for a while after the tarts are done). 

8 Cool in tin on wire rack for 5 minutes. Carefully remove tarts from tin and continue cooling on wire rack for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

28 comments:

Amy at love made my home said...

Yes, I remember Lionel, the moment there was any sign of female angst he was off to the kitchen to look for a custard tart and a cup of tea!!! So funny! xx

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Great character! I love Geoffrey Palmer--just looked him up and learned he's 86 now! Wonder if *he* likes custard tarts, too.

The Wimpy Vegetarian said...

These are gorgeous, Jean! I love custard, and love how these sound. Pinning right now to make when I get my kitchen back. And thanks for the history note. I'm fascinated by the Middle Ages. Have a great day!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks so much! I hope your remodel goes smoothly and you have your kitchen back soon.

Tony Grant said...

Being British I like a good tart with a warm heart to it.
Does your husband like a good warm tart too, Jean?

Jean, I couldn't resist!!!!!!!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

No, you couldn't resist, Tony! Reminds me of one of my favourite lines from Good Neighbors/The Good Life; Margo says, "That's the last time I play the tart for you, Jerry."

Richard Sheppard said...

I don't believe I've ever eaten one of these but they sure do look good. I LOVE vanilla custard so I'm sure to like these mini pie-tarts. Yum.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Richard, thanks! They're kind of fun to make, too--a little "fiddly," yes, but fun!

Bonnie said...

Yum! These sound perfect for spring. I want the tartlet pan. The possibilities are endless. Bonnie

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thank you, Bonnie! I hope you wil make them soon!

Vohn McGuinness said...

They look great Jean - well done - not the easiest of tarts to make! Vohn x

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thank you, Vohn! Now I'm in the mood to make little mince pies.

NanaDiana said...

Jean- That sounds absolutely wonderful. We love custard and I think I need to give this a go- xo Diana

Angie Schneider said...

These tartlets are very beautifully done, Jean. Simply irresistible!
Have a wonderful weekend!
Angie

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Diana, I hope you will! They'd be a healthy little treat for the grandchildren!

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Angie! I've always liked little individual treats.

Thomas "Sully" Sullivan said...

Three or four bytes? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha! If they’re good – and they look it – they will not be nibbled by the likes of Henry IV. Picture Mammoth Cave with a conveyor belt. Ditto Sully the First. I used to buy a dozen custard donuts and just eat out the part that had the filling. Yes, I hang my head in shame (also to hide the smile of satisfaction). Of course, I wouldn’t do that anymore. Ten…maybe 10, but not a dozen – yeesh – that would be overdoing it, eh wot? Move over Hank IV.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Hank the Fourth, Sully the First--Bet neither of you could compete with Henry the Eighth, unless you also throw gigantic bones over your shoulders!

LANA said...

I used to make custard tarts for my hubby when we watched As Time Goes By and we would laugh because our story was almost the same as as Jean and Lionel's. Always happy to have a new recipe.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Lana, that's amazing! Thanks for sharing that bit of your story with me! Now I'll think of you whenever we have custard tarts!

Pauline Wiles said...

Sorry it's taken me a couple of days to come and pay appropriate respects to your custard tarts! They look delicious and isn't it funny how the nutmeg makes the whole taste come together perfectly?

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Pauline! Yes, custard tarts are like eggnog -- you *must* add the nutmeg!

Arti said...

This looks good. Never tried the British custard tarts though. In our house, we love the Chinese custard tarts. :)

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Thanks, Arti! I'll have to give the Chinese tarts a try!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

My brother-in-law (who hosts our Thanksgiving get togethers) loves custard, I might have to bookmark this for November. This past Thanksgiving I made your Angel Cake with custard sauce. (Big hit!) This would be something fun and new to try.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Ruth, thank you so much for sharing that with me -- I love family food stories! Let me know how it turns out for you.

Charles said...

Boy, I haven't had a custard tart in AGES! Used to quite enjoy them, although I will admit that my favourite was a custard slice. I was sent to a bakery one day by my sister, who had a craving for a custard slice and I accidently brought back tarts instead... oops! She wasn't happy. I can understand - these aren't so sweet and sticky as slices... I think they need a more refined, adult taste! :D

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

I like that, Charles--a more refined, adult taste! I just have never liked overly sweet things.

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