When Mrs Beeton isn’t right! Making her Creamed Apple Tart

By Lucinda Matthews-Jones (LJMU)

This weekend I was giddy with excitement. I was going to spend Sunday baking, something I haven’t done yet this semester. Sunday coincided with the last day of National Baking Week in the UK (15 – 21 October 2012) and last Tuesday also saw the final of the Great British Bake-Off (GBBO) TV show. Surely the baking gods would be on my side! Surely Mrs Beeton would not fail me! Surely I would have a delicious ‘Creamed Apple Tart’ at the end of the day! Surely I wouldn’t fail! If only I had listened to my gut feeling on this one. It didn’t go well.

I got off to a positive start, boldly declared on Twitter that ‘To mark @bakingweek I am going to make Mrs Beeton’s creamed apple tart&to mourn the loss of #GBBO I will be making it w ‘v good puff pastry’’. This tweet gives no hint as to my trepidation about making my own puff pastry. I’ve never attempted it before and it seemed to be something that GBBO made quite a big fuss about. Mrs Beeton’s recipe, however, was really easy to follow and explained the process in a really clear way. If I was to make her puff pastry again I would fold the pastry more as it didn’t puff as much as I would have liked. Apart from this, her puff pastry was yummy.

If only Beeton’s recipe for creamed apple tart had contained the clarity of her pastry recipe. With hindsight, I now realise that the recipe is poorly explained. Even though we know that Mrs Beeton tested all her recipes before they were included in Household Management, I think it is clear from her creamed apple tart recipe that there were some recipes that probably needed more work before they were included. I also wonder if this recipe was inserted in the wrong place. For instance, there is more than one instruction asking bakers to refer to the previous recipe that doesn’t seem to follow. However, my downfall was to follow her instruction to put a lid on the apple tart. I had debated about whether I should do this for a while. After all, a tart does not include a pastry top: that would make it a pie.  But I figured that as she had told us to make 1Ib worth of the pastry, you would need to include a lid as there was a lot of pastry left at the end. At the same time, her recipe does clearly state that ‘When the tart is baked, cut out the middle of the lid or crust, leaving a border all round the dish. Fill up with a nicely-made boiled custard’ [p.265.]. From this instruction it is suggested that the baker will turn the apple pie into a tart. What she doesn’t inform the household manager is that the process of steaming the apples inside a pastry lid would result in the butter from the lid melting into the apple to such an extent that they would be swimming in grease- yuck!

As a confident baker, I was cross but not fazed. Having cut the lid off, I drained the apples and made a new tart with the pastry lid by layering the pastry, apples and home-made custard. I chilled it in the fridge and now have a delicious looking creamed apple tart. I can imagine, however, that if you were a new or inexperienced baker this would have been an upsetting experience. Of course, in attempting to make Mrs Beeton’s creamed apple tart I might just be revealing my own post-modern prejudices against too much butter…surely no-one wants to eat a tart of buttered apples, right?

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