A Cherry Twist

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Every summer, my parents open their home to varying numbers of Spanish exchange students. And this year is no exception. Gonzalo, the younger brother of our previous house guest Alejandro has just touched down for a 6 week crash course in the English language, and all that Yorkshire life has to offer…

Still only 14, he has been escorted over by his parents, Carlos & Lola, who, after several visits between their home in Madrid, their summer house in Seville, and with us here in Leeds, we have become firm family friends with.

When I was asked to make a desert for Saturday’s evening meal with our Spanish guests, it didn’t take long to decide what I wanted to create: something complicated, completely from scratch…

Admittedly I did dedicate most of Saturday afternoon to the various stages of making this Crostata di Fichi (Fig Tart), and by the time I had scoured 3 different supermarkets for some fresh figs, I was glad of the time I had!

Figs nowhere to be found, I substituted for a bag of dark, juicy, ripe cherries – perfectly in season.

This was the first time I had ever made pastry, never mind a whole tart and without weighing scales, so it was nothing short of a miracle that it came out of the oven looking like I’d had Gordon Ramsey in my kitchen all afternoon – not something I wish to endure.
My top tips:
1.   Wear an apron or a black top ‚Äì cherry juice doesn‚Äôt come out of white vest tops!
2.   Flour your hands before you handle the pastry dough
3.   Wash down a nice cold glass of Verdicchio as you go

Ingredients
1 600g bag of ripe cherries
30g caster sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
zest of 1 orange

For the shortcrust pastry:
125g butter
100g icing sugar
a small pinch of salt
255g plain flour
zest of a lemon
2 large egg yolks, preferably organic
2 tablespoons cold milk

For the frangipane:
285g whole almonds – skins removed
55g plain flour
255g unsalted butter
255g caster sugar
2 large eggs, preferably organic, lightly beaten
1 vanilla pod, scored lengthways and seeds removed

Method

First you will need to grease a loose-bottomed 28cm/11 inch tart tin with a little of your butter.

To make your pastry, cream together the butter, icing sugar and salt and rub in the flour, lemon zest and egg yolks – you can do all this by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold milk or water. Pat and gently work the mixture together until you have a ball of dough, then flour it lightly. Don’t work the pastry too much, otherwise it will become elastic and chewy, not flaky and short as you want it to be. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge, roll it out and line your tart tin. Place in the freezer for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C and bake the pastry case for around 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 170C.

To make the frangipane, blitz 255g of the whole almonds in a food processor until you have a fine powder and transfer this to a bowl with the flour. Now blitz the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add this to the almonds with the lightly beaten eggs, the vanilla seeds and fold in until completely mixed and smooth. Place in the fridge for at least half an hour to firm up. Remove the stems from the cherries and use your thumbs to peel the flesh away from the stone.

Spoon the chilled frangipane mixture into the pastry case, then lightly push the cherries into the frangipane. Heat the sugar with the water and drizzle this syrup over the cherries. Roughly bash the remaining almonds in a pestle & mortar and sprinkle over the top with the thyme leaves and orange zest. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes, or until the frangipane mixture has become firm and golden on the outside but is still soft in the middle. Allow to cool for about 30 to 40 minutes. Lovely served with a dollop of mascarpone or creme fraiche.

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Cinema Treat Cheats

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A trip to the movies can be a pricey business these days – when you add up a VIP 3D ticket with a couple of yummy treats (popcorn, ice cream etc) then drinks you’re talking upwards of £30. For me, a movie ticket is money well spent but when I have to handover £5+ for a small popcorn or £3 for a bag of Maltesers, I draw the line! So here is my little movie food pack that I never go to the cinema without:

2 bags Butterkist microwave popcorn – microwave it at home before you go!
Bag of Maltesers
2 small bags of Doritos and a jar of salsa (so you can put the lid back on and take home what you don’t eat)
Drinks wise, go for a couple of small bottles of Diet Coke, if you choose a couple of Peronis remember to take a bottle opener, or why not just take a flask of wine and some plastic cups?!

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