It might still be the fallow period for soft fruit, but we are furiously eating jam in order to clear the shelves in time for the summer berry glut. No matter how meticulously we plan to make enough jam for the year (plus a little more to give away as presents), there always seem to be half-a-dozen pots left sullenly on the shelf.
It is a sad fact that once the new season's jam is made, last year's will remain at the back of the cupboard like the proverbial old hat.
April and May then become the season of jammy puddings; yet, as the weather warms up, the concept of a roly-poly or steamed sponge with jam seems too heavy. Queen of Puddings is a lighter, meringue-topped, eggy-breadcrumb-based dessert that will use up a good quantity of raspberry, strawberry or blackcurrant jam. So will a Bakewell tart, in an understated way, with a thin layer underlying its almond sponge.
My thoughts, however, have turned to jam tarts, a pastry that has been around for centuries but lately fallen into decline. I have never bought a jam tart that did not coat the roof of my mouth with clods of dry pastry crumbs, and which was not filled with a low-grade jellylike substance. Time to revisit, I decide, taking a jar of my mother-in-law's excellent raspberry jam off the shelf.
It seems to make sense to use unsweetened pastry for jam tarts when their contents are full of sugar, so the short pastry recipe I now rely on to line tart dishes or make a pie is the one to use. This is a pastry with a high butter content that can be rolled thin, and never shrinks. For this reason, it can also be trimmed to make a pretty rickrack edge with the use of a knife or an angled pastry cutter.
The pastry cases must be baked blind before the jam is added. This will not add much time or trouble to the process, but it ensures the pastry is very crisp after the second baking with the jam inside.
Equipment – 1 bun tray
For the pastry
185g/6 ¼ oz plain flour
125g/4 ½ oz unsalted butter, from the fridge
About 50ml/2 fl oz water
For the filling: 350g/12oz high fruit (preferably home-made) blackcurrant, raspberry, strawberry, apricot or other jam
Sift the plain flour into a bowl. Cut the butter into dice and add to the flour. Lightly rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the water then mix to a dough, first with a wooden spoon then knead lightly with your hands on a worktop dusted very lightly with flour.
Do not overwork the dough or the butter will warm up and the dough become greasy. Due to dry ambient conditions, or to the moisture content in the flour itself, you may need to add more water to make a smooth malleable dough. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a plastic bag or wrap in cling film, then refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll into a large disc on a floured worktop. Roll very thin, until almost transparent. Use a 9cm/3 ½in-10cm/4in round cutter to make 12 discs (you may need to reroll the pastry a second time). Use a knife or the point of another pastry cutter (I have used a "star" cutter) to trim the edges, making a frill – this is optional. Line the holes in the bun tray with the pastry discs, then place a circle of baking parchment in each. Do not use greaseproof paper, because it sticks to pastry.
Place a few baking beans (dried haricot beans will do) in each tart case and bake blind for 10-12 minutes until the edges are dry and pale gold. Remove from the oven and take out the paper and beans. Fill three-quarters full with jam and place back in the oven. Bake until the jam begins to bubble and the edges are golden. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the tin. Eat when completely cool – these tarts will keep for two days.
Rose Prince Telegraph.co.uk