While I'd intended to do something daring with whole spelt, cultured butter and laminations on my day off a forecast of a humid 37°C had me slightly hesitant, and when someone went and mentioned salted fennel custard, well, who was I to pass up on that?
After some configurative tweaks and a few seasonal adjustments, what began as an idea for a comforting autumnal crumble soon turned into a buttery hazelnut pastry case filled with rich, anise-scented custard and a tumble of juicy summer fruit.
The savoury tones of the fennel bring real depth to the dish, tactfully reining in the sweetness of the custard while pairing beautifully with the sharp, tangy blackberries. A simple yet indulgent treat for when something a little different is desired.
For the hazelnut pastry*:
- 275 g plain flour
- 100 g almond meal
- 125 g caster sugar
- 125 g (cultured) butter
- A pinch of salt
- 2 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
- 80 g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled & finely chopped
For the salted fennel custard:
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 250 ml milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 60 g caster sugar
- ¼ tsp sea salt
- 25 g plain flour
To assemble the tarts:
- 2 punnets of blackberries
- 1 punnet of blueberries
- A few spikes of lavender, in flower
First start by making the pastry cases. Combine the flour, almond meal, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture roughly resembles breadcrumbs. Mix through the finely-chopped hazelnuts then work in the eggs and yolk until the dough just comes together. On a lightly-floured surface, fold the dough onto itself a couple of times until you have a smooth block, then wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to overnight.
Take part of the hazelnut pastry* and roll it out on a lightly-floured surface, until 3-5-mm thick. Cut rounds and use to line six, 8-cm tart rings. Trim the excess and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, then line the tart shells with baking paper and weights and blind bake for 20-25 minutes—removing the weights and paper after ~15 minutes—until golden. Remove to a rack and leave to cool.
To make the salted fennel custard, lightly toast the fennel seeds in a medium pan, until fragrant (1-2 minutes), then add the milk and heat until warmed through. Leave to infuse for 30 minutes before returning to the heat and bringing to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks and sugar until pale, then whisk in the flour and salt. Once the milk comes to a boil, strain onto the egg mixture, whisking vigorously as you do so. Return to the heat and whisk until thickened. Cook out for 1 minute then pour into a bowl, cover directly with cling film, and refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble the tarts, spoon or pipe the custard into the pastry cases and arrange the berries on top. Decorate sparingly with lavender flowers, if desired, and serve.
Makes 6 small tarts
** This recipe makes more pastry than required for these tarts. Leftover pastry can be stored in the freezer for up to one month.