Blind cook fails with simplest recipe!

Creating completely new dishes in Noam’s tiny original jungle kitchen was a challenge from the start: strange ingredients, unfamiliar equipment, the pressure of a seven course dinner menu for paying guests.  It was all made even trickier by the heat and deluges of rain plus the complete lack of water inside!  You can see the video ( of my struggles.

I took the easy course with citrus tartlets using lemon mandarinos in place of the classic lemons.  Driver/trainee doctor Victor squeezed all the juice while I got on with the pastry which, of course, was baked blind using balls of kitchen foil to keep the tartlets in shape.

That first night there was a party of nine Americans celebrating a birthday at Noam’s HiR restaurant. The jungle was filled by their music and laughter while the tin roof above their heads rang with the torrents of rain.

Noam and I juggled our way through each course’s complicated elements without any obvious mishaps or delays.  The result was a very happy group of diners, clean plates and tantalised palates – few had encountered anything similar before!

But my attempt at meringues to top the tartlets was a complete disaster: every time I added the sugar, the whisked egg whites collapsed – it was probably the pervading dampness.  I did manage to produce sweet egg white pancakes which, when topped with the lemon mandarino sorbet plus the mangostan sauce and segments, just about passed muster.  The trick was to sound confident and convincing that this had been the plan all along!


Apple tart with sweet shortcrust pastry.

My tree

My tree

This simple dessert sings with the clear, fresh flavour of Bramley cooking apples.

Imperial Metric Ingredient
16 ounces 450 grams Plain flour (chilled)
8 ounces 225 grams Butter (chilled)
2 ounces 50 grams Caster sugar
1   Medium Bramley apple for each individual tart
    Sugar for sweetening apple layers

Place the flour in to a large bowl.

Cut the butter in to small cubes and add to the flour.

Add the sugar.

Press the butter cubes flat – trying to use just the fingerprint pads of your fingers and thumbs.

Keep rubbing the mix together until it looks and feels like breadcrumbs.

Add the first cold water and mix with your hands – some of the mixture will start forming a dough while the rest stays as crumbs.

Keep adding water in small amounts until the dough starts to form a single ball.  Towards the end, just dipping your hands in water can stop you adding too much!

Form the dough in to two or three balls and chill in a plastic bag in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Peel the apples while the pastry chills.

Put a metal baking tray in the oven at maximum heat.

Roll out a portion of pastry for each tart as thinly as possible.

Fold each portion in to quarters, place over each foil case and then open out and ease down in to the base.

Trim the pastry to the edge of the case and chill for a further 20 minutes.

Cut the apples in to quarters and remove the cores before slicing as thinly as possible.

Place layers of the apple slices in the pastry cases, sprinkling with a little sugar after every couple of layers.

Fill the tarts as full as you can as the apple will sink a little while cooking.

Add a final sprinkle of sugar to the top.

Reduce the oven heat to gas Mark 7 (425 Fahrenheit; 220 Celsius)

Using oven gloves, put the tarts on the very hot tray and put in the oven.

After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to gas Mark 5 (375 Fahrenheit; 190 Celsius) for a final 10-15 minutes.

Check how the tarts are browning during the last few minutes and take them out if they are getting too dark or the apples feel as if they are getting crisp.

Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning the tarts out of their cases.

Serve with custard, cream, ice-cream or just enjoy perfectly plain.

My tips:

The basic shortcrust recipe needs the weight of flour to be double the weight of butter and enough cold water to bind to a firm, but not sticky, dough.  The sweet version for desserts has just a touch of sugar – and caster gives a bit more texture.  It’s worth making more than you will need as the remainder can be popped in a plastic bag and stored in the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for a few weeks.

Putting the weighed flour in a plastic food bag overnight will chill it – and you can re-use the bag when chilling and storing the pastry.

A silicone rolling mat can make clearing up easier.

The apples may discolour if they are peeled and sliced too early – and, while putting them in water with a little lemon juice will stop them turning brown, the filling will be wetter.

Placing each filled tart back in the fridge while filling the next one keeps them chilled.

Foil cases are thin enough to help the tart cook well and cut down on washing-up.

The hot baking tray gives the best chance of the pastry bottom cooking well – though it may never be as crisp as the sides due to the juice from the apples.

Once cool, you can put the cooked tarts in their foil cases in a plastic bag and store in the fridge or freezer.

Bramley apple trees grow well in most back-gardens and will give masses of fruit for years.  The national apple collection is at Brogdale  or email

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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