When I was a child I’d get taken on summer daytrips to the seaside at Southend. These were elaborately arranged affairs where we’d arrange to meet my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins from East London and all head to the Essex coast by train. We’d get off at Leigh on Sea, breathing in that immediate, almost alien hit of seaweed and salty air and stroll excitedly past the cockle sheds, through the old town and down the baking hot tarmac path alongside the beach until it was decided we’d halt and stake our claim on a piece of sand. Out would come the wind breaks, towels and deckchairs, picnics and buckets and spades.
I’d paddle in the sea, make sandcastles, spread ice cream across my face and no doubt piss my parents off by showing them every shell I came across. Every now and again I’d glance curiously out across ‘the sea’ wondering what France was like over there on the other side. I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that this vast expanse of water was actually the Thames and that distant land on the horizon was Kent. I’m older now, a little wiser, and although it’s not quite another country across the Thames, they do some things differently over there.
If you were educated in Kent, you’d undoubtedly have eaten gypsy tart. This curiously named, ridiculously sweet dessert is specific to the county and associated with school dinners. I think that’s fantastic. Britain has sadly lost much of its regional food heritage but here one item stands, unmovable, unapologetic. Bravo.
I’d heard of Gypsy tart, but never eaten it. However, a newly published wine magazine, Noble Rot, has recently pulled off something of a coup for their first issue in getting Michelin starred, Kent pub, The Sportsman to provide a recipe for their first issue. Straight away, I was all over this. I’d say the best meal I’ve ever eaten was the tasting menu at The Sportsman and it’s rare to see Chef and owner, Stephen Harris’s recipe’s appearing in print. All around a result then.
I had a go at making The Sportsman’s Gypsy Tart recipe. Twice. I pretty much ate the first one to myself. Elly had a slice, but to my shame, I ate all of the rest over a couple of days. What can I say? I’m an absolute evaporated milk fiend.
As I thought it was so good; I made it again the following week for a dinner party.
The method of slicing the pastry and pressing into the tin to avoid gluten development is new to me, but it worked really well.
Overall, I bloody love this recipe; it’s relatively cheap, simple and tastes superb, especially with a blob of Jersey cream on the side.
This recipe makes one tart.
For the pastry (you may end up with far more pastry than you need, but it’s not really worth making less – it freezes well anyway):
250g butter, softened
500g low-gluten flour
190g sugar A pinch of salt
2 medium eggs, beaten
Egg wash, to glaze
For the filling:
410ml canned evaporated milk
350g Muscovado sugar
Cream the butter and sugar until the sugar has dissolved, then beat in the eggs.
Now, by hand, mix in the flour and salt, and knead until you have a pastry dough.Roll into a cylinder and chill until hard.
You don’t want to roll this pastry, as you want to avoid gluten development, so once it’s hard,cut as much of it as you need into enough 5mm-thick discs to line a 20cm tart ring (freeze any excess pastry).
Wet your fingers, place the discs around the edges and base of the ring, and work gently together until they cover it in a smooth, even layer.
Prick all over with a fork then chill.
Fill the case with baking parchment and baking beans, and blind bake at 180C
Remove the paper and beans, turn down the heat to 160C/320F/gas mark 2 and cook until the pastry is an even brown.
Remove, brush with egg wash, and return briefly to the oven to seal.
To make the filling, whisk the cold milk and sugar in a bowl for 10 minutes until you have a light, airy emulsion. Pour into the pastry case and bake at 160C/320F/gas mark 2 for 15-20 minutes.
The filling should be just set, with a slight wobble. There will be a few bubbles on the top and it will show signs of having risen.
Leave to cool until set.