What I like about nursery rhymes, and this goes for folk tales as well, is their outwardly innocent simplicity and their unassuming tone. I also like them for their palpably raw sense of reality, often shocking and taking unexpected turns. Many nursery rhymes used to parody the politics and leaders of the time or spread scandalous or rebellious messages. I find it ironic that what was once an instrument of communication of dissenting opinion about current events has now become an unsuspecting source of delight for children. I remember fondly those silent nights when my father would read to me little rhymes from my Mother Goose book and the characters and stories would leap out of the pages - tumbling down hills, falling off walls, jumping over the moon. 'The Queen of Hearts' was one of my favourites, perhaps because of its promise for a tart, perhaps because of its evocation of a summer's day.
The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer's day;
The Knave of Hearts
He stole those tarts,
And took them clean away.
The King of Hearts
Called for the tarts,
And beat the knave full sore;
The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he'd steal no more.
The King and Queen of Hearts were seated on their throne when they arrived, with a great crowd assembled about them– all sorts of little birds and beasts, as well as the whole pack of cards: the Knave was standing before them, in chains, with a soldier on each side to guard him; and near the King was the White Rabbit, with a trumpet in one hand, and a scroll of parchment in the other. In the very middle of the court was a table, with a large dish of tarts upon it: they looked so good, that it made Alice quite hungry to look at them–'I wish they'd get the trial done,' she thought, 'and hand round the refreshments!' But there seemed to be no chance of this, so she began looking at everything about her, to pass away the time.
Right: John Tenniel, The King and Queen of Hearts at the trial of the Knave of Hearts
Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books, and she was quite pleased to find that she knew the name of nearly everything there. 'That's the judge,' she said to herself, 'because of his great wig.'
The judge, by the way, was the King; and as he wore his crown over the wig, (look at the frontispiece if you want to see how he did it,) he did not look at all comfortable, and it was certainly not becoming.
'And that's the jury-box,' thought Alice, 'and those twelve creatures,' (she was obliged to say 'creatures,' you see, because some of them were animals, and some were birds,) 'I suppose they are the jurors.' She said this last word two or three times over to herself, being rather proud of it: for she thought, and rightly too, that very few little girls of her age knew the meaning of it at all. However, 'jury-men' would have done just as well.
'Herald, read the accusation!' said the King.
On this the White Rabbit blew three blasts on the trumpet, and then unrolled the parchment scroll, and read as follows:–
'The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts,
All on a summer day:
The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts,
And took them quite away!'
'Consider your verdict,' the King said to the jury.
'Not yet, not yet!' the Rabbit hastily interrupted. 'There's a great deal to come before that!'
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
~ Strawberry Tart ~
This tart has special significance for me. It's my niece's 11th birthday today and strawberry tart is her favourite dessert. So, it was made with a lot of love and tender thoughts that, as the years pass, her fondness for baking and her artistic side will bring us closer and that we shall have many moments, many experiences to share.
(This is an adaptation from my Berry Fruit Tart, with some modifications)
1 quantity pâte sablée (for 23 cm tart tin)
300 ml milk, full fat or semi-skimmed
200 ml double cream
60 g caster sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 large egg yolks
4 tbsp (40 g) cornflour
2 tbsp (20 g ) plain flour
1 tbsp butter, in small cubes
1 tbsp Rum or another liqueur of your choice, i.e. Brandy, Grand Marnier (optional)
300 g strawberries for the topping
150g good quality strawberry jam
1 tbsp Chambord (optional)
3 tbsp water
a few drops of lemon juice
Prepare the pâte sablée according to directions in the recipe but substitute 30 g ground almonds for an equal amount of flour and add the grated zest of 1 lemon to the dough. You will need to bake the crust through and allow to cool completely before assembling the tart.
Heat the oven to 185 C and place the rack near the bottom of the oven.
After the pastry has chilled in the tart tin, take it out of the fridge and place it on a larger baking pan. Loosely cover the edges with strips of foil, cover the tart with a large sheet of cringed baking paper and fill with dried beans.
Bake for 15 minutes. Then lower the oven temperature to 180 C. Remove the beans and baking paper, but keep the edges covered. Patch any cracks with left-over pastry. Put the crust back into the oven and bake for another 10-12 minutes until the pastry is firm, dry and lightly golden. Remove the foil from the edges and bake for a further 5-8 minutes to give the pastry an even colour. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
Seal with strawberry jam. For this, heat the strawberry jam, Chambord, lemon juice and water in a small saucepan over a medium heat until it melts. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine strainer to get rid of any fruit lumps. When the tart has cooled, brush the bottom and the sides with a thin layer of jam to prevent the crust from getting soggy. Reserve the remaining jam to glaze the topping.
Prepare the crème pâtissière: Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife. Pour the milk and double cream in a saucepan. Add the vanilla bean and bring to the boil over low-medium heat, just until the milk begins to foam up.
Meanwhile, using a hand-held electric mixer, beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until they turn pale, about 3 minutes. Sift the flour and cornflour and whisk into the egg mixture until it becomes smooth and creamy. (This gives the pastry cream a much lighter colour and a smoother finish.)
Slowly and gradually pour half the boiling milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly to avoid curdling. Then stir in the rest of the milk in a steady flow until the mixture is well combined. Remove the vanilla bean with a slotted spoon, scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife and add them to the mixture. (You can wash the vanilla bean, dry and place in a sugar bowl to make vanilla sugar.)
Transfer the whole mixture back into the saucepan. Over low heat, whisk the mixture constantly until it thickens and starts to bubble. This will take 5-8 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the butter until it has melted to make the cream glossy. Then whisk in the rum (if using).
Transfer the crème pâtissière into a clean bowl and cover the surface completely with clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming. Allow to cool to room temperature.
The more you let the cream cook, the more it thickens. If you find that it has thickened too much, you can thin it out by folding in a little double cream.
To assemble the tart: When the cream has cooled completely, spoon it evenly into the pastry case.
Cut the strawberries in half lengthways and arrange them neatly in concentric circles on the crème pâtissière, with the thickest part of the strawberries pointing upwards.
Re-heat the strawberry glaze if necessary and gently brush it over the fruit, filling any gaps between the berries with it.
The tart is best eaten on the same day. Refrigerate any that is left over but allow to come to room temperature slightly before serving.