Once again our gorgeous Bathonian collaborator Clattering Clams produces the goods and gives us a recipe to please everyone!
With the Easter holidays underway, like many parents, I find myself preoccupied by questions such as: how am I going to meaningfully entertain the kids for two whole, possibly rainy, weeks? Will we get away with buying the smaller Easter eggs again this year? And how do we explain the Resurrection to children who think the true meaning of Easter is ‘chocolate’? Yet, challenges aside, I love Easter. It has none of the expense, excess or obligation that blight Christmas and it lasts the prescribed four days, not dragging its feet into a third, sometimes even fourth month like Christmas often does.
And the message is simple; be kind, and forgive.
So, reading an article about Easter and eggs, you would be forgiven for thinking that my approach must be a chocolatey one. However, I’ve chosen an entirely different C word to be the focus of my eggy article.
Coagulation; the process of a liquid changing into a solid or semi-solid state… or for the purpose of this article, cooking an egg into quiche-y deliciousness.
Sexy? No. Unwelcome connotations? Maybe. But bear with me as I believe that even those with a sweet tooth and a squeamish disposition will find this helpful. If you have an egg aversion, I’d also urge you to persist with my ramblings as aquafaba gets a brief mention at the end and may well render some of these eggy ideas, once verboten, now entirely possible.
Back in my teaching days (permit me a brief digression; I promise it’s relevant), I worked with the Delia Smith of the education world. Loretta was her name and the reason I mention her is that she taught me, amongst many other things, the following rule:
It takes up to 125ml of liquid to coagulate an egg. Less liquid will make more of a dense, frittata consistency. More liquid will make a lighter, creamier custard. Exceed 125ml of liquid and your eggs will never set! Add cream and Parmesan and you’re heading for a dreamy experience and always, always season generously.
Seeing this rule written down, even I feel underwhelmed, but they say ‘knowledge is power’ and this particular gem empowers you to ditch the recipe books, buy or make a block of your favourite pastry (I have a mixture of filo and shortcrust fans in my house) and produce a fine array of tasty tarts; sweet or savoury, individual or family-sized, without stress, fuss or even a particular amount of skill. Fillings can suit exactly what you have in your fridge and can be as simple as a sliced strawberry or some leftover ham. The cooking is basic enough to involve your kids (stress levels permitting) and you can easily make whatever quantity you require.
Follow my simple guide as a starting point, then experiment by adding ingredients such as ricotta, whisked into the egg mixture for a richer filling with Italian undertones, or flavourings such as Garam Masala or Pesto if you’re in the mood for something a little punchy.
1. Select your dish/es.
I used to find this stressful as recipes will specify the exact size, which of course you probably don’t own. Knowing the ‘coagulation formula’ means you can use whichever dish you have to hand and scale your recipe up or down as necessary. This could be a large fluted flan dish, individual sized flan cases or even fairy cake / muffin trays. I’ve tried them all and believe me, they all work.
2. Select your pastry.
Ready bought and ready rolled is of course quickest and easiest. Cut rough circles to line your dish/es. Prick with a fork if you’re using puff and don’t worry about it all looking perfect. Alternatively try this foolproof shortcrust recipe (tested repeatedly by me!) from the Hairy Bikers: 400g plain flour (or 50-50 with wholemeal), 250g cold, cubed butter, 1 egg and 2 tbsp cold water. Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until it comes together as a dough, adding a splash more water if necessary. Refrigerate for half an hour to make it easier to handle and cut circles to fit your chosen dish. Butter rich pastry (like the recipe above) does not require you to grease the dish, however, melt some butter and lightly brush the dish and your layers if using filo. I used 2 layers for mine.
3. Select your fillings.
What I love about these tarts is that you can raid the fridge for leftovers and odds and ends, transforming something small and insignificant into another family dinner. I’ve tried any combination of cheese and ham, roast dinner leftovers, olives, cherry tomatoes, peppers, chorizo, and feta all day… Even left-over curry works if you swirl your egg mixture into the curry slightly, once in the pastry cup. Alternatively, you could stick with classic combinations such as cheese and ham, spinach with ricotta and a hint of nutmeg, or pepper and feta. For sweet tarts, try banana, strawberries, blueberries or chocolate pieces and hazelnut, remembering to add a little sugar to your custard mixture.
4. Egg topping.
Now whisk one egg for every 100ml of milk and season well with salt and pepper for savoury tarts or a tsp of sugar and perhaps some lemon zest for sweet. Pour over your tarts, leaving a little space so they don’t spill over, and finally, top with a little grated cheese, a twist of black pepper, some sliced olives… whatever you fancy. The beauty of it is, if you need a little more of your custard mixture, you can very quickly whisk up another egg with another 100ml of milk, thus banishing the stress of having to perfectly match your dish to your recipe. I used one quantity of the above pastry and a third of a pack of filo with seven eggs and 700ml of milk. This made 36 small tarts in muffin trays and one larger one; enough for both dinner, and a picnic lunch for six. If you’re unsure, start with four eggs and 400ml of milk and take it from there.
5. Bake on 180°C.
Check after 18 minutes for individual tarts and 25 minutes for larger ones, allowing longer if necessary. You’re aiming for a golden colour and the custard to be set, not wobbly.
A brief note on aquafaba – basically chickpea water which almost unbelievably can be used as an egg substitute. According to the Vegan Society website, three tablespoons of aquafaba equals one egg. If I was intolerant to eggs, I’d do my calculations, give the stuff a little whisk, add some single cream and seasoning, and give it a go.