What is it about cakes in miniature that are just so appealing? Honestly give me any dessert or cake and my first idea is always to create mini individual versions of it. But to me, there’s something so delightful about a tasty little morsel of a cake, something that you can eat 5 of rather than just one slice, and I reckon they make a pretty perfect addition to a spring picnic.
When I came up with the theme for my baking club this month – spring has sprung – my first thought was definitely a picnic enjoyed outdoors in the park, with a gingham blanket and a wicker basket full of delights. I thought about creating a classic – the strawberry tart – as I LOVE a strawberry tart enjoyed in the sunshine. But on realising that might be the obvious choice, and with bright zesty lemons screaming spring at me from the supermarket aisles I thought I’d attempt another type of tart – and turn the classic lemon meringue pie into a miniature picnic pud. Thankfully the weather in London played ball for this one and as we speak I am on route to Richmond Park for a picnic with friends, lemon meringue tarts in tow.
The lemon meringue pie isn’t the easiest of desserts to get our head around – not only is there pastry but a curd and meringue to fathom – but it’s worth the effort as it really is a cracker. Especially fresh from the oven when the curd is still warm and the meringue melts on your tongue. The first time I made lemon meringue pie was when I was 15 and working towards my Standard Grade Home Economics exam. The criteria for passing was to perform both a practical and written exam and the practical part required making a two course menu from scratch (I know – very MasterChef!).
My menu consisted of an italian cobbler (I’m still not entirely sure what this is but it involved some sort of casserole with scones on top and apparently showed skill and finesse which gained extra points) and lemon meringue pie (the different steps and timings needed to make such a dessert again, if pulled off correctly, would hopefully guarantee me a high mark). Anyway because of this I went from making the dessert for the first time, to practising it every night for at least a month until I had it perfect.
Of course, on the day the result wasn’t the best lemon meringue pie I had ever made. The confinements that school ingredients and a strange kitchen brought meant that I didn’t quite have enough meringue to achieve those full peaks on top and my pastry was a little crumbly. But I must have done something right because I came out with an A at the end of it all (and of course I’m putting that all down to my baking skills!).
But considering how long ago that now was (I’m not even going to mention years as it’s frankly terrifying) I was certainly a bit dubious about recreating it for the baking club, Especially seeing as I needed to redeem myself after last month’s disastrous attempt.
But I’m happy to report, despite a few small teething problems (I left my curd on the heat just two seconds too long and it thickened up a little too much and my meringue took forever to stiffen and was a pain to pipe), these little mini morsels were a roaring success and tasted delicious. They’ve had the thumbs up from GB and I’m hoping will be a welcome addition to today’s picnic too.
I merged a couple of recipes to create my own so below is all the details. Oh – and I didn’t photograph myself making the pastry (frankly because I’ve made pastry for the blog so many times before and the pics are always the same) but I can assure you it was made by my own fair hands. I was really surprised at the amount of recipes for pies that list shop bought pastry. There’s nothing wrong with a quick short cut every so often of course, but a shortcrust pastry is definitely one of the most simple things to do, and making your own really pays off. You can freeze it and keep it for ages and it’s so much lighter and crumblier than a ready to roll batch.
Anyway here is how it’s done…
What you’ll need (makes around 24 tarts)
330g plain flour
3 tablespoons caster sugar
The Lemon Curd
150g caster sugar
60ml lemon juice (or juice from 1/2 large lemons)
2 large egg yolks
zest of 1 lemons
30g butter melted
4 egg whites
250g caster sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon vinegar
How it’s done
1. Firstly make your pastry dough. Measure the flour and sugar and place in a large bowl
2. Add the butter into the flour mix in cubes and rub together with your finger tips until it resembles breadcrumbs
“BB’s top tip – make sure you’re butter is really cold. My Mum used to always say that cold hands make the best pastry!”
3. Use a few tablespoons of water to bring the mix together and using your hands shape it into a dough (don’t overwork it)
4. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes
5. In the meantime make your lemon curd. Place the sugar, cornflour and water in a saucepan and stir until combined
6. Stir in the lemon juice and egg yolks before bringing to the boil
“BB’s top tip – the curd needs your full attention the whole time you are making it and especially as soon as the mixture starts to boil. Leave it for one second and it can really quickly turn. That’s why it’s best to do this while the pastry is chilling and you have nothing else to keep an eye on.”
7. Once boiling, keep stirring for 10 minutes before adding the lemon zest and butter.
8. Allow the butter to melt before taking off the heat and leaving to cool slightly.
9. Time to roll out the pastry. Split your dough in half and roll out into an even shape and thin base.
10. Grease a muffin cake tin and cut large circles out of your dough before placing into the tin.
11. Prick the bottom of the tarts with a fork and bake at around 180C for ten minutes
12. Remove from the oven and leave to cool (while doing your second batch)
13. Now the final stage – the meringue. Whisk your egg whites with an electric whisk until soft peaks start to form.
14. Add in the sugar bit by bit and keep whisking then add the cornflour and vinegar to give it a glossy look.
15. Add a dollop of lemon curd to each of your tarts, filling them to just under the top of the pastry
16. Once your meringue is stiff (don’t try to pipe it too early as it won’t work) transfer it to a piping bag and using a small fluted nozzle, pipe a Mr Whippy style shape onto the top of each tart
17. Put your oven up high to around 220C and place the tarts in a hot oven for around 10-15 minutes until the edges of the meringue start to go brown.
18. Eat straight from the oven for the ultimate treat, or leave to cool and bring on a picnic!
Mine were a little more uneven than I would have ideally liked but boy did they taste good!
This month’s baking club theme is spring is sprung and I’d love you to join in – bake anything that signifies the start of spring to you! Find out more about the club here, sign up at the top of the page and join the Facebook Group. If you’re a blogger taking part you can add your recipe to the link up below so that people can find it easily and at the end of the month I do a round up post with everyone’s creations.
I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up this month!