Weekend bake: Pear, vanilla and thyme shortbread tartlets

In between spending an embarrassingly long amount of time on YouTube scratching my latest (and strangest to date) music itch and hauling myself out of bed at 4am to go to Billingsgate Fish Market (it involved wine, which’ll be explained later) I unearthed some mini tart tins that my friend gave to me an age ago and decided it was probably about time I made use of them.

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And, since they’re perfectly in season – and happen to go with the glut of leftover vanilla pods and bunches of thyme that I rescued (possible stole) from a recent food shoot – a pear tart just seemed like the right thing to do.

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Call it Sunday laziness, but after knocking up some crème pâtissière, the inclination to make puff or even short crust pastry deserted me. So, instead of all-butter pastry, I opted for and all-butter shortbread; a sweet, crumbly biscuit alternative that’s actually perfect for little tarts like this as it has a firm structure and moulds itself like pliant play dough into tins.

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Pear, vanilla & thyme shortbread tartlets

Makes Four mini tarts with enough shortbread left over to make around 12 extra biscuits for mid-weeks snacking

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Ingredients

for the base
250g salted butter
110g caster sugar
360g plain flour

for the filling
8 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
50g plain flour
4 tsp cornflour
560ml full cream milk

for the top
2 ripe pears
4 tsp lemon curd
caramelised pistachios to scatter (optional)

Method
  • Grease your mini tins with butter and heat the oven to 180 C
  • Make your shortbread by creaming the butter and sugar together until soft and fluffy
  • Add the flour and mix until it becomes a thickish paste. if it’s a little crumbly, don’t panic, it’ll some together when you roll it out
  • Tip your mix into cling film and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to roll. Shortbread is a tricky thing sometimes as because it has a high butter content, it can start to melt and become oily if you don’t keep it in the fridge. Also, the more you work shortbread, the tougher it becomes, so try not to handle it too much
  • Make the crème pâtissière by whipping together your egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl until pale and a little frothy
  • Add the cornflour and plain flour and beat until smooth
  • Put the milk, a split vanilla pod and a few sprigs of thyme into a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. When it’s bubbling, pour through a strainer (to keep the thyme twigs and pod separate) over the egg and sugar, whipping all the time
  • Then, simply pour the mixture back into the saucepan and bring it back to the boil, stirring all the time until it’s thick and cooked through. It’ll need to cool before it goes into the tarts, so just cover with cling film and leave in the fridge until you need it
  • Roll out your cooled shortbread between two sheets of baking parchment so the rolling pin doesn’t stick and gently fold over your tart tins, pushing it into the mould with your fingers. Don’t worry if the shortbread spills over the sides, you can neaten up the edges once they’re baked
  • Prick the bases with a fork to stop to them rising and put the tart cases into the preheated oven for around 10-15 mins until the shortbread is lightly burnished
  • Peel, core and slice your pears into thin slivers that you can layer as petals while the tart cases cook
  • Remove the tarts from the oven and leave to cool. They’ll need to be completely cold before you add in the crème pâtissière and decorate or they’ll melt the creme

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  • When they’re cool, fill them in the case as they’ll be less fragile. Just spoon in a generous amount of crème pât and top with sliced pears. For a little but of colour, heat a few teaspoons of lemon curd in the microwave and spoon over the pears. you can also scatter on caramelised pistachios for added crunch

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Carefully lever the tarts out of the cases and serve with a cup of tea and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you’re feeling extra greedy.

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