This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, we continue cooking with the gorgeous Donna Hay, and our theme for the week is Easy Entertaining ... or, put another way, how to entertain effortlessly without finding yourself crying over spilt custard.
Now let me begin by telling you that I actually love to entertain. The nurturer in me, the one who loves to feed others, enjoys nothing more more than a group of friends or family around my dinner table, and the opportunity to fill them with as much food as I can manage. There is no amount of effort that seems like too much trouble to me.
Where it all goes off the rails for me is dessert. No matter how much I love to cook and entertain, I hate making dessert. There are people I know who see this part of the meal as the opportunity to really shine, to pull out all the stops and go for something truly spectacular ... I'm not one of them. Dessert terrifies me. It definitely has to be something which can be made the day before, so that a fall-back position can be found if it all goes wrong. So dessert at my house will usually be some homemade ice cream or sorbet (one of the few things I'm actually quite good at, thanks to the trusty ice cream machine), maybe a pavlova (yes, on a good day, I can manage to turn out a passable pav, though I've had my failures there too), or a simple fruit platter. Anything else really ... forget it. My hands down favourite dessert is a Citron Tart - never made one, as there is way too much that can go wrong with that. Second favourite dessert is my Dad's steamed pudding - never made that either, since there is the terrifying possibility that it will be either under cooked or over cooked, and worse still might completely fall apart when turned out of the pudding basin. And that would just be downright embarrassing, especially when you're going for that "Ta Dah" moment.
So, although there were literally dozens of "Easy Entertaining" meal ideas I could have chosen from any one of my Donna Hay books (in fact nearly everything Donna produces fits that criteria perfectly), I thought that I might challenge myself, and Donna, to see if she could come up with an easy entertaining dessert idea that I could manage to put together without it all going horribly wrong. It had to be suitable for preparing the day ahead; it had to be easy enough for even a "dessert-dunce" to create; and it needed to look spectacular, or impressive, or at the very least pretty. And, I've got to say, between us we very nearly pulled it off ...
Flicking through my copy of Marie Claire Dining by Donna Hay (now published as Donna Hay Entertaining), I came across her recipe for Portugese Custard Tarts. The recipe sounded achievable (even for me) ... store-bought flaky pastry, so no making pie crust (always a bonus); the custard filling seemed simple enough; and I could see that these could be made the day before - in fact you could even make the tarts the day before you want them, and make the custard the day before that if you wanted. Recipes which can be broken down into several prepare ahead stages are always winners for me. They sure looked kind of cute ...
... and, in fact, they also tasted pretty good just like this too, but somehow these just seemed like a little treat to enjoy with a cup of coffee, and not quite dessert. A little something else was needed. And then I cast my eye over the punnet of fresh strawberries I'd just brought home from the market, and remembered back to the Honey Roasted Strawberry Compote I made a while back to go over French toast. I also remembered my lovely friend, Beth, at OMG! Yummy recently making some roasted fruit with pomegranate molasses, and thought that swapping out the balsamic vinegar in my compote for some pomegranate molasses, and adding a shot of orange liqueur, would make a wonderful topping for these little tarts and magically transform afternoon tea into dessert.
The only thing that prevented this from being completely effortless was having to clean the oven afterwards ...
... 'Nough said. I know you won't make the same mistake.
Roasted Strawberry Custard Tarts Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Donna Hay
from Donna Hay Dining
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
2x sheets ready rolled puff pastry, thawed
for custard filling
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons cornflour
2 egg yolks
1x vanilla bean
for strawberry topping
1x punnet strawberries
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as cointreau (I used "44")
To make the custard filling, put sugar and water into a small saucepan, set over low heat, and stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Increase heat until syrup is boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Place cornflour in a medium sized bowl, and add just enough of the milk to mix the cornflour to a smooth paste. Once completely dissolved, slowly add the remainder of the milk, whisking constantly. Whisk in the egg yolks. Slowly pour in the sugar syrup, again making sure that you whisk constantly to avoid curdling the eggs.
Return everything to the saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the seeds, and add both seeds and bean to the saucepan. Set pan over gentle heat, and stir constantly until the mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and pour into a clean bowl. Allow to cool slightly, then cover the surface of the custard with a piece of plastic wrap - this will avoid a skin forming on the surface of the custard. Now leave to cool completely, leaving the vanilla bean in the custard to allow maximum flavour to be infused from the bean. (You could easily do this a day in advance.)
To make the tarts, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F), and lightly grease a muffin or patty tin. Cut pastry into 10cm (4 inch) circles, and use to line the muffin or patty tins. Remove vanilla bean from custard, and spoon custard into the pastry shells, no more than 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven until the custard is golden and firm - about 20 minutes, depending on the depth of your tins and filling. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before removing tarts from the tin and leaving on a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the strawberry topping. Cut strawberries in half (or quarters if they are very large), and place in an ovenproof dish which is only just big enough to fit all the strawberries snugly but in a single layer. Drizzle over the honey, pomegranate molasses and orange liqueur, and stir gently to combine everything. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees C (350 degrees F), until the strawberries have softened slightly, but still retaining their shape, and juices have begun to run and become syrupy. Remove from oven and cool completely.
To complete the tarts, arrange two or three pieces of strawberry in the centre of each tart and drizzle over a little of the strawberry syrup. Serve immediately.
If you would like to get to know Donna Hay a little better, and to see all the fabulously "easy entertaining" dishes my friends have come up with, then do go visit I Heart Cooking Clubs and check out the links.
I will also be submitting this post to Sweet New Zealand. Inspired by Alessandra Zecchini, Sweet New Zealand is an event for all Kiwi bloggers (whether living at home or abroad), or all foreign bloggers living in New Zealand, to link up their sweet treats. This month, Sweet New Zealand is hosted by my very lovely friend Mairi at Toast.
I'll also be sharing this post this week at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely Michelle at Ms. enPlace, Weekend Cooking hosted by Beth at Beth Fish Reads, and at Foodie Fridays hosted by Designs by Gollam.