I had the pleasure of recently catching up with my friend Kulinary Adventures of Kath, when she invited me to attend The School of Life’s talk at the Enmore Theatre with special guest Nigella Lawson.
If – like me you have never heard of The School of Life, it’s a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence; aiming to apply psychology, philosophy and culture to aspects of every day life – whether it be your relationships with friends and family, or your workplace. There’s seminars, workshops, publications and books – but that night we were there to listen to Hugh Mackay – social psychologist – discuss “Why Food Matters” with Nigella.
It was a fascinating hour of discussion, spanning across topics that made you sit back and think. Why is it uncomfortable to dine with strangers? Does this in any way link back to animal behaviour, where hunters would drag off their “kill” to consume it in private? What do we feel when we cook for an audience, as opposed to how we feel when we cook for only ourselves? It brought on more questions rather than answers – and put into words random thoughts I had not been able to string together when previously considering the links between emotional psychology and food.
And a tart or cake… in considering all of what I listened to, a large baked good is truly a sweet symbol of sharing between friends and family!
I recently received a stunning new twenty-piece Noritake Hampshire Platinum dinner set thanks to Everten, an Australian-owned family business which sells an amazing range of kitchenware. You can look at the entire range on http://www.everten.com.au. Delivery is particularly fast…in fact my order was put through on Tuesday/Wednesday and it arrived promptly on Friday! When receiving such precious cargo it’s definitely good to know when it’s going to turn up on your door step – and luckily I received updates the day before delivery, and on the morning of.
After digging the heavy box out of the many foam bubbles, I gently removed the fine china and admired it. The plates and bowls are wonderfully light and as with this level of porcelain: air-bubble and rough-edges free.
The design consists of a delicate relief raised lace pattern, with a milky-white sleek band, surrounded by a mirror finished embossed platinum. Noritake is known for their super tough and chip resistant fine white porcelain, so I was eager to make something to showcase my stunning new “special-occasion” dinner set.
Figs are coming back into season now, and with the weather (hopefully) starting to cool, it heralds the slow approach of autumn. This is a delightful recipe which uses a slightly more complicated, but deliciously richer recipe for sweet pastry – it’s well worth the extra effort and the pastry freezes very well. If you can’t be bothered, high-quality shop bought sweet shortcrust pastry will be fine.
Pâte Sucrée (sweet tart pastry; original recipe from Serious Eats)
180g caster sugar;
2 teaspoons salt;
480g plain flour (about 3 + 1/4 cups);
1 egg yolk;
30ml thickened cream;
1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
Sift the flour and set aside. In a bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or with a hand-mixer in a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar on high-speed until light and fluffy, stopping regularly to scrape down the sides, bottom and paddle, for about eight minutes. Add the egg and yolk one at a time, and beat well between additions. Scrape one more time, then give it a final mix on high speed.
Stop the mixer, and add the flour, salt, cream and vanilla, Mix on low until the dough comes together, or use a big wooden spoon and some elbow grease if your hand mixer is starting to struggle.
Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for the last bit of it. Divide the dough into two flat, round discs. Double wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours.
When two hours has elapsed, roll one disc between two sheets of baking paper and line a large, springform pie tin. Trim the edges, leaving some room for shrinking, and chill for a further hour.
Fig and Hazelnut Tart (original recipe from Serious Eats)
1/2 recipe for pate sucree, rolled out, shaped in a tart pan, and chilled.
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed;
1/2 cup caster sugar;
1/4 cup light brown sugar;
1/2 teaspoon salt;
2 large eggs;
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks;
2 tablespoons Frangelico;
1 tablespoon vanilla extract;
10-15 fresh figs, stems trimmed and cut in half.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celcius. Line the chilled tart shell with baking paper and fill with weights, and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the weights and liner, turn the tin, and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove shell from oven and allow to cool completely.
Increase the oven temperature to 180 degrees Celcius. In the bowl of a food processor, combine hazelnuts, both sugars, and the salt. Pulse until the mixture is sandy and there are no large pieces of nuts left.
Add the eggs, butter, Frangelico, and vanilla and pulse until the eggs are smooth but chunks of butter are still visible, about 15-20 short pulses. Scrape the sides of the food processor and pulse an additional 5 times. Scrape the mixture into the cooled tart shell (you might have a bit too much mixture, so be careful not to over-fill), and arrange the figs cut-side up on top of the filling.
Bake the tart for 20 minutes at 180 degrees Celcius, then rotate the tart 90 degrees on the rack. Lower the oven temperature to 170 degrees Celcius and bake until the figs begin to bubble and caramelise and the filling turns golden brown all over, about 45 additional minutes, turning again halfway through. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely before removing from the tin and serving.