The Queen of tarts

By  Pauline D Loh (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-31 11:37
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The Queen of tarts

Delicate cupcakes and delicious pastries are the trademarks of the modern day urban domestic goddess. Pauline D Loh teaches you how to capture the romance of a good tart

Remember this nursery rhyme? It was what every kindergarten child recited in my infant days.

The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts all on a summer's day;

The Knave of Hearts he stole the 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!

When we first learned this little rhyme, it so captured my imagination that I yearned to taste a Queen of Hearts jam tart. What was it that made it so good it prompted a mere Knave to risk the King's wrath?

Later, the Queen of Hearts and her tarts surfaced again in yet another childhood book classic Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll and my curiosity "grew curioser and curioser".

In secondary school, collective disaster during our domestic science lesson proved one thing. Jam tarts may look simple, but they are the darndest things to perfect. More often than not, novice tart makers ended up with a hard chewy crust that would not break even if you tossed it at the neighbor's wall.

The jam filling dried up and became more like fruit leather than the sweet, moist layer it was supposed to be.

Years of trial and error and countless clicks on the Internet later, I think I have finally discovered the secret of the perfect jam tart.

Incidentally, the tart as we know it harks back to medieval times in the West, but in China, our brother chefs in Xinjiang had been pushing out these sweet pastries for more than 1,000 years. We have semi-fossilized records to prove that.

Some 1,300-year-old jam tarts were featured in a British Museum exhibition in 2009, touted as the "oldest known surviving pastries in the world". The highly decorated and pretty well-preserved pastries were carbon dated back to the eighth century and believed to have survived only because of the very dry desert conditions of their place of origin.

Hopefully, the jam tarts we are making will disappear in a much shorter time.

These are my secrets. Have a very light hand with your pastry. Use frozen butter and shave or grate it into the flour. Do not over knead the pastry. In fact, you want the texture of the pastry to be almost like a shortbread.

As for the jam filling, do not even attempt to make your own. Such major endeavor should be left to a leisurely day in winter when you are snowed in and a hot kitchen is a solace and not an irritation.

Use a good fruit preserve with visible fruit pieces suspended in the jelly. And, cut up lots of fresh fruit and add it to the jam.

Simple remedies to the traditional ills, but once you know the trick, you actually wonder why you never thought of it before.

This recipe can be adapted to produce tarts large and small - a whole tart, little tarts, latticed tarts, open tarts or tarts topped with pastry cut-outs. Just use your imagination, creativity and follow the recipe faithfully.

Best of all, the recipe is almost idiot-proof. Just make sure the knaves in your households leave a few for you.

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