Sunday, 19 January 2014

Jane Austen | Bakewell Tart

I've already written elsewhere of my tentative relationship with Jane Austen, but as this post is about a quintessentially English dessert, the bakewell tart (not to be confused with bakewell pudding), it seems inevitable that I should turn to Austen once more. As far as I know, there is no reference to the tart in Austen's novels, but the small town of Bakewell, which is associated with the tart, does get a brief mention in Pride and Prejudice.
Bakewell, medieval bridge

Elizabeth Bennet, the novel's heroine, arrives at Pemberley for the first time, in the company of her uncle and aunt. She is quite impressed by the beauty of the house and the grounds, even indulging in thoughts of what it might have been like to have been mistress of the place, when, unexpectedly, Mr Darcy appears.
She was overpowered by shame and vexation. Her coming there was the most unfortunate,the most ill-judged thing in the world! How strange must it appear to him! In what a disgraceful light might it not strike so vain a man! It might seem as if she had purposely thrown herself in his way again....
After a short silence, the lady first spoke. She wished him to know that she had been assured of his absence before she came to the place, and accordingly began by observing that his arrival had been very unexpected - 'for your housekeeper,' she added, 'informed us that you would certainly not be here till tomorrow; and indeed before we left Bakewell, we understood that you were not immediately expected in the country.' He acknowledged the truth of it all; and said that business with his steward had occasioned his coming forward a few hours before the rest of the party with whom he had been travelling. 'They will join me early tomorrow,' he continued, 'and among them are some who will claim an acquaintance with you, - Mr. Bingley and his sisters.'
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Not surprisingly, the book has enjoyed great popularity, what with having sold over 20 million copies since it first appeared, having been adapted for film and stage, been re-invented and even turned into a musical!

The philosopher and literary critic George Henry Lewes, who was the companion of George Eliot, described Austen as 'the most truthful, charming, humorous, pure-minded, quick-witted and unexaggerated of writers' and, on the basis of a rather outdated observation that art is 'a correct representation of life', he calls her one of the greatest novelists in English language. E.M. Foster also declared himself a 'Jane Austenite' pronouncing Jane Austen 'a real artist' for never stooping to 'caricature'.

But not everyone happily concurred.

Charlotte Brontë's response to Lewes's high praise of Jane Austen was scathing: 'I got ["Pride and Prejudice"] and studied it. And what did I find? An accurate daguerreotyped portrait of a common-place face; a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers - but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy - no open country - no fresh air - no blue hill - no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses.'

Virginia Woolf was as critical but more tactfully so: 'Whatever "Bloomsbury" may think of Jane Austen, she is not by any means one of my favourites. I’d give all she ever wrote for half what the Brontës wrote - if my reason did not compel me to see that she is a magnificent artist.'

But most famously, Mark Twain found Jane Austen utterly 'impossible' to the extent that 'her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read "Pride and Prejudice" I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.'

~ Bakewell Tart ~

What Charlotte Brontë found lacking in Jane Austen, 'what throbs fast, full, though hidden', this bakewell tart more than makes up for. What I love about it is its elegant simplicity. The secret is getting a perfect balance between jam filling, frangipane and glaze, all delicately encased in a lemon-fragranced crumbly crust, which allows you to savour layer upon layer of delicious sweetness.

1 quantity pâte sablée (for a 23cm tart tin)

150 g unsalted butter
110 g caster sugar
3 eggs
125 g ground almonds
25 g ground hazelnuts
40 g self-raising flour
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp Chambord
200 g good quality seedless raspberry jam

3-4 tbsp apricot jam
1-2 tsp lemon juice

Lemon Icing:
80-100 g icing sugar
juice ½ lemon
¼ tsp almond extract

Prepare the sweet pastry crust according to directions in the recipe, but substitute 30g ground almonds for an equal amount of flour and add the grated zest of 1 lemon to the dough.

Lightly butter and line a 23cm round fluted, loose-bottom flan tin with the pastry, prick the bottom with a fork, cover with clingfilm and put back in the fridge for another 30 minutes. To bake blind, cover the sides with foil and place baking parchment on top. Fill this with baking beans and bake on the low shelf of a pre-heated oven at 185 C for 12-15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, but keep the sides covered with foil, and bake in the oven for a further 5-8 minutes until dry and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Lower the oven temperature to 180 C.

While the pastry is cooling, prepare the raspberry base: Heat the raspberry jam with the lemon juice (or you can substitute water) in a small pan over a medium low heat until the jam just begins to melt. I also like to add a handful of fresh or frozen raspberries, which I heat up, then sieve to get rid of the seeds. Adding the raspberries may make the jam a bit runny but it doesn't matter as it doesn't affect the tart.

Allow the jam to cool and then spread evenly over the base of the pastry.

Prepare the frangipane: Using a hand-held mixer, beat the butter in a large mixing bowl for about 1 minute, then add the sugar in a continuous thin stream and beat together for about 3-4 minutes, until the mixture is white and fluffy.

Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the almond extract and the Chambord, then stir in the ground almonds, hazelnuts and self-raising flour until you have a thick paste. If the mixture is a bit runny, you can add a teaspoon of flour.

Carefully spoon the frangipane over the raspberry jam, spreading it evenly and making sure that the raspberry jam is sealed under the frangipane.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the frangipane is set and the pastry is lightly golden. If the frangipane begins to brown around the edges but the centre is not yet set, cover with some foil and make a slit in the middle to allow even browning.

Once done, remove the tart from the oven, and while it’s still hot, brush the top with some hot apricot glaze, made by heating the apricot jam with the lemon juice (or you can substitute water) over medium low heat until the jam melts.

Allow to cool completely, then apply the lemon icing. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl, add the lemon juice and almond extract and stir until you have a smooth and fairly thick paste, like double cream. You may need to add a bit more sugar or lemon juice to get it to the right consistency. Spoon the icing into a piping bag and pipe parallel lines in a lattice pattern.


  1. I do like Jane Austen. Whatever her books may lack (according to Charlotte Bronte), I think she really understood the human condition. I haven't read Austen in years, but am thinking about going back to them this winter.

    A lovely tart!

    1. I will agree, that Jane Austen is marvellous at delineating character and her novels are a great pleasure to read. I am not a huge fan of Charlotte Bronte, but I must confess that if I were to choose between Jane Austen and Emily Bronte, for example, I would go for the latter.