Makes one 25cm tart When I was a child, the cookbook in our house that I most loved was the Australian Women's Weekly Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits. I have it in my possession now; though it is falling apart a little, some pages have my mum's notes scribbled on them and flicking through gives me waves of nostalgia. I credit a desire to make the meringue mice and snails in the book with my eventual career in baking.
We had baking essentials at home: orange scales and an orange electric hand mixer, remnants of the Seventies fashion in homewares, the decade when my parents received them as wedding gifts. My mum baked occasionally and well, her specialties being Pavlova and egg custard; I remember its wobble and the grating of nutmeg on top. This recipe is the Margot version of a childhood favourite. Be warned, though: the caramelised breadcrumbs are addictive.
For the breadcrumbs
350g stale sourdough bread (approximately half a loaf), crusts removed
50g Demerara sugar
50g unsalted butter
For the pastry
470g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
Large pinch of salt
95g vanilla caster sugar
235g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1cm cubes
65g (around 3) egg yolks
75g ice-cold water
For the custard filling
240g whole milk
500g double cream
½ vanilla pod, split and scraped
95g vanilla caster sugar
100g (around 5) medium egg yolks
70g (around 1½) medium whole eggs
Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
To make the breadcrumbs, tear the bread into small pieces and place in a bowl with the sugar. Melt the butter in a small pan and pour over the bread and sugar. Stir well to coat. Scatter on a baking tray lined with parchment and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven when the pieces of bread are golden on the edges and crunchy.
When cool, pulse in a food processor or chop with a sharp knife. Don't make the breadcrumbs too small – you want some texture.
To make the pastry, place the flour, salt, sugar and butter in a medium bowl or in a free-standing mixer with paddle attachment.
Rub between your fingertips or mix on low speed until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and water and bring together with your hand until a dough forms.
Knead the dough with the heel of your hand on the work surface until smooth. Form into a disc, wrap and refridgerate for an hour.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry outwards from the centre, turning it by a quarter with each roll, to make a circle slightly bigger than a 25cm tin or ring. If using a pastry ring, place it on a baking tray lined with parchment.
Line the tin or ring with the pastry, pushing gently into the corners. Chill for 30-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Trim the top edges of the pastry with a sharp knife and prick the base all over with a fork. Place a circle of baking parchment on top of the pastry and fill to the top with baking beans or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5-10 minutes, until the pastry is golden and crisp.
Set the pastry case aside to cool, and reduce the oven temperature to 150ºC.
Place the milk, cream, vanilla seeds and pod in a small pan. Bring to a boil, remove the vanilla pod. Put the sugar, yolks and whole egg in a medium heatproof bowl, then pour the milk and cream mix over, whisking constantly. Strain through a fine strainer into a jug.
Scatter the caramelised breadcrumbs over the pastry base. Carefully pour the custard into the tart case and transfer to the oven.
Bake for 25-35 minutes until set but still wobbly in the middle. Cool, then chill, and serve cold.
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