I’m really not sure about all this sharing; I do not feel totally happy about blurting out the details of this particular recipe. Sometimes you are tempted to keep an air of mystery. Despite that, I don’t know who might be reading this. So maybe I’ll keep this one to myself – no need to linger then – please, no need to ‘Like’.
<Pause for effect> However, this is a good recipe. Does my reluctance stem entirely from self-interest or, is there something else to this? We have a friend who is naturally generous. She makes delicious – unfortunately if I tell you what her identity will be blown, so I will just say ‘sablé’. They are her calling card and thank-you gift; you are always glad to see her and know you are well in-favour if she appears with a plate of her ‘sablé’. The recipe was originally passed to her with the injunction to keep it secret. It seems that this happened some time ago but she is clearly torn between her natural generosity and what she sees as a lack of permission to pass it on.
In my case, I shouldn’t be in possession of the recipe at all. It was left in my flat decades ago, so in some way it doesn’t feel totally mine. When I eventually moved from my flat some years later it was too late to return the bindle of recipes, the Great Wen of London had swallowed us both up.
In fact, a folder of recipes that I recently discovered felt like a rather unsophisticated flick-book of my life in the form of collected recipes: recipes copied, recipes photocopied and ‘autographs’.
There can be much emotional content in the combination of time, place and food. One only needs to think of how it has be exploited in such films as – off the top of my head – Babette’s Feast (1987) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994). The food itself does not have to be complicated; as a schoolboy I was struck by the unsophisticated warmth of the scene in Great Expectations where Dickens describes the teatime ritual at the eccentric cottage of the clerk Wemmick and his ‘Aged P’ to which the new-in-town hero, Pip, has been invited. They demolish a ‘haystack of buttered toast’ carefully prepared in front of the fire. ‘We ate the whole of the toast, and drank tea in proportion, and it was delightful to see how warm and greasy we all got after it.’
I have made this tart several times over the years and it produces wonderful results. I also remember how good it was the first time around; but, as I was to find, memories can be unreliable. If I say that it is a type of ‘pumpkin pie’ it really does not justice to the richness of the flavour. It almost has the sophistication of patisserie, avoiding the lifetime that’s usually required to create it. A simple ‘pizza’ form, the puff pastry provides the base for a layer of intensely flavoured purée. It is the combination of flavours that make it not an everyday tart, but one to be wheeled out on high days and holidays.
Toasted flaked almonds seem to have a very special flavour. Personally, they are hard-wired from taste buds to my always receptive synapses to produce a celebration response. Toasting the raw flaked almonds in a dry frying pan gives them an attractive appearance, alternatively roasting them in the oven is more reliable. But live dangerously; the even colour of the oven-roasted nuts, with no burnt extremities, is dull – they would never get talked about.
What to call it? End-of-the-affair tart would be too bittersweet for something so celebratory. I was originally convinced it that it went under the name tarte du soleil but when I looked at the manuscript again I found my memory was playing tricks with me. It was originally served up to me as flan divine. That is a name to raise a wry smile and may well have been a mischievous caprice on the original cook’s part. When I look at the fading biro of the original, partly obliterated by a water stain, it seems to describe a tart case. Can my memory be so wrong? Thankfully one thing is always true; a good recipe remains a good recipe. To misquote the poet;
– that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
At least 5 large oranges.
The original recipe asks for dried orange zest. I have found this difficult to find recently, one can end up with bitter orange zest (powder) which is not right for this recipe. I have been forced not to be such a lazy cook and make my own, which turned out to be not too much of a chore. Attempting to peel the zest of an orange, avoiding the layer of bitter pith underneath was easier at the second attempt. Avoid nerve-jangling coffee and use a light hand with a horizontal vegetable peeler. Drying the strips of zest in a cool oven for 30-40 minutes was all it took to turn them into crisply curled orange ‘watchstraps’ (some leathery bits are fine) that turn into an aromatic pieces in a small blender. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining flayed oranges.
200g pumpkin or squash flesh.
Peel and cut in to smallish pieces. The smaller the pieces are the more likely they are to cook in the quantity of orange juice you have extracted. If there is not enough liquid to cover the pumpkin pieces then add a little water or, more extravagantly, the juice some more oranges. Simmer until soft and drain well.
150g toasted flaked almonds [see above]and 150g caster sugar.
Process the almonds to a fine powder and, together with the sugar, add to the pumpkin flesh and beat until smooth. The amounts of sugar, and perhaps toasted almond powder, crucially depend on the type of pumpkin. Everyday allotment pumpkins need more sugar than butternut squashes. These are more widely available since this recipe first saw the light of day (the newly available coquina squash would need much less again). The filling should be quite a stiff paste.
Puff pastry (shop-bought and ready-rolled makes it this recipe attractive for a lazy cook like me, some time in the future I should try it with homemade rough puff)
Cut out a dinner plate sized circle out of the rolled pastry and spread the filling over the surface leaving a small border on the circumference (which you may want to cover with a milk or egg wash for full effect).
Chill in the fridge for 20 minutes before baking in a hot oven (gas mark 7, 425F, 220C) for 30 minutes or less if it begins to look as if it is having a crisis