My mother used to bake. Or, more accurately, she used to bake this one thing: a chocolate layer cake, the kind that you would cover in a ganache and sprinkles and serve with a glass of milk. I remember the crumpled, yellowing index card that contained the hand-written recipe, attached to the refrigerator by a comically large and smiling sunglass-wearing pineapple magnet. The recipe called it a birthday cake, but she used it for many different occasions, whether they be holidays or Sunday afternoons that called for a family treat. It was a simple thing, but it never failed to delight us, especially as kids. I used to watch her bake her go-to recipe, marveling at how the most basic ingredients can go into an oven and come out as a completely different and definitely better, more delicious thing. It seemed, at the time, like magic, and I wondered what other powers my mother possessed. You know, aside from X-ray vision and the special mommy Spider-sense.
She made the chocolate cake for the last time on my sister’s eleventh birthday. When we asked her why she’d stopped baking, she’d just shrug and say “It’s too much work.” or “Why bake when you can just buy?” We begged and bugged and promised to do the washing up after her, but it was no good. The recipe eventually came off the fridge and her baking equipment were put away for good. When I started baking though, my mother was one of the first people to get excited. She immediately started requesting all the kinds of desserts and baked goods she’d want to eat. I’m happy to oblige. When I asked her what she wanted for Mother’s Day, she immediately and happily started describing a mango custard tart she saw in a bake shop. “But if we can get it in a bake shop, maybe we should just buy one,” I told her, to which she replied, “Don’t be silly. Why would I buy one when you can make one?”
Anyway. This tart is simple but lovely and perhaps really the perfect thing for a summer day and your favorite fruits are in season. I used mango, but you can easily replace it with another fruit, any kind that you like. Similarly, you can easily replace the apricot jam/preserve with another kind (might I suggest a guava or a red currant?). The almond custard is a bit of a change from a usual vanilla custard and with the almond pastry crust it makes an elegant combination.
For the shortbread crust:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour/ground almonds
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup / 1 stick unsalted butter, cold and cubed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the pastry cream:
2 cups whole milk
5 egg yolks
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp almond flour / ground almonds
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the fruit topping:
3-4 ripe mangoes, sliced or cubed
4 tbsp apricot jam/preserves
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp thyme
Make your crust. Combine all-purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, lemon zest and salt. Work until a coarse meal forms. Add the egg and work until the dough comes together. Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic, and chill for at least 4 hours. When ready to bake, roll dough out and place in a well-greased and floured 9-inch tart pan. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with baking weights. Bake for 10-12 minutes or crust becomes a pale golden color. Set aside to cool.
Make your pastry cream. In a large bowl, whisk yolks until pale and thick. Set aside. Combine milk, flour, cornstarch, almond flour, sugar and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Gradually add in egg mixture, in 3-4 small additions, while constantly stirring. Cook over a medium heat and stir until the mixture starts to bubble and thicken. Keep your custard from boiling. It should be thick and smooth.
Make your fruit topping. Heat the apricot jam or preserves, water, sugar and thyme in a small saucepan over medium heat until liquid (melted). Combine apricot glaze mixture with your fresh fruit slices. Set aside.
Assemble your tart. Pre-heat oven to 180ºC/350ºF. Fill pastry crust with the custard. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the custard is set but still jiggly in the center. Cool for at least 30 minutes. Spoon your fresh fruit topping on top of the custard. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Enjoy your tart. Grab yourself a slice. Take a great big, summer-y, fruit-filled bite.