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Summer afternoon, summer afternoon... the two most beautiful words in the English language. -Henry James (1843 - 1916)
Ah, the enduring allure of a garden party! Growing up, it's what I imagined went on regularly in England- with not a moment's thought for the season or the weather, of course. Even as an adult, after living in England for the past three years and having come to the realization that the majority of people here do not have garden parties, it's the idea, the photo in my head if you will, that persists.
In the end, as so often happens with this sort of thing, what I held so dear had nothing much to do with reality anyway; it was an amalgam of 'memories' culled from childhood books, movies watched on Sunday afternoons, and the pages of an aunt's 'Town & Country' magazines. The fact is, I don't even like tea, and the type of delicate finger foods and desserts that would be appropriate have never been favourites either. I like cookouts, and lemonade and ice cream (quintessentially American through and through), and I've even been known to bring an electric fan outside on an extension cord on occasion. Not really garden party material, I'm afraid.
Fortunately, this month's installment of Sugar High Fridays came my rescue. SHF#9: Tantalizing, Titillating, Tempting Tarts, hosted by A Life In Flow (the brains behind Food Porn Watch), gave me permission to see my garden party made real, if only for my camera. The photo you see above is the personification of what I've always seen in my mind's eye- blowsy roses, bone china, antique linens, and old-fashioned place cards; the addition of lemon tartlets, which I adore, make it perfection in my book.
I made lemon curd for the first time last summer, in anticipation of winning 1st place in our local village fair (a debacle to be recounted in another post), and fell in love with it immediately. I find it strangely addictive, almost sickeningly so, and try not to make it with any frequency. I'm not even sure if I can describe it properly, except to say that it's the only thing other than fudge sauce that can make me stand at the fridge, bowl in hand, and eat it spoonful after glorious spoonful. Used properly, as a filling for miniature tarts, or even spread on shortbread or toast, it really is out of this world. The fact that it comes together in a flash, with hardly any effort, doesn't hurt either.
So, I had my garden party, of sorts, after all. Just outside the frame, I had two sets of sticky, dirty hands waiting not-so-patiently for their own little tartlet (promised at the outset), and a dog who was waiting not-so-patiently for any leftover crumbs, but inside my viewfinder it was a different story. One that could always be recreated at a later date, sans little fingers. Anyone care for a cuppa?
by Elinor Klivans (Fine Cooking magazine)
3 oz. (6 tablespoons) UNSALTED BUTTER, softened at room temperature
1 cup SUGAR
2 large EGGS
2 large EGG YOLKS
2/3 cup fresh LEMON JUICE
1 teaspoon grated LEMON ZEST
In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about two minutes. Slowly add the eggs and the yolks, and beat for one minute. Mix in the lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.
In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth (the curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts). Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about fifteen minutes. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon, and will read 170 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. Don't let the mixture boil.
Remove the curd from the heat; stir in the lemon zest. Transfer the curd to a bowl, and press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd to keep a skin from forming. Chill the curd in the refrigerator; it will thicken as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks, and in the freezer for two months.
For lime curd, substitute fresh lime juice and zest for lemon.
by Tessa Kiros (Falling Cloudberries)
2 1/2 ounces (70g) BUTTER, slightly softened
1 ounce (30g) SUGAR
2 1/2 ounces (70g) ALL-PURPOSE (PLAIN) FLOUR
1 ounce (25g) GROUND ALMONDS
Cream together the butter and the sugar with a wooden spoon. Add the flour, ground almonds, and a pinch of salt and mix well, using your hands when it becomes a little stiff, until the pastry comes together. Flatten slightly, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour before using (you can also freeze the pastry at this stage).
Roll out the pastry thinly on a lightly floured work surface and cut out circles of pastry to line about 12 shallow tartlet tins. Line with baking paper, fill with baking beans or weights and blind bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the visible pastry is golden and cooked. Remove the paper and cook for another couple of minutes to dry the bases. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before gently removing from the tartlet tins.
When completely cooled, fill with lemon curd.