We will soon be into the blackcurrant season so if you can lay your hands on some (you could use frozen), you might try combining them with the fragrant, citrus flavour of lemon verbena. If you can’t get hold of blackcurrants, you could use blackberries or blueberries.
Lemon verbena is a beautiful herb which grows well in the UK. It thrives so long as it is protected it from any hard winter frosts. I use the small, vivid green sword shaped leaves for three things: I grind them with granulated sugar to make a bright green sherbet which I sprinkle on summer fruit; I douse it in boiling water to make a refreshing tisane and, like my friends in Australia I dry the leaves and place in a bowl to keep the air in the house smelling clean and fresh. If you can’t get hold of lemon verbena, you could use mint.
Makes 10 tartlets
For the sweet pastry:
165g plain flour
50g icing sugar
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
pinch of salt
90g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 small egg yolk
1 – 3 tbsp cold water
100g mascarpone cheese
100g crème fraîche
½ tsp vanilla essence
zest from half a lemon
10 – 20g icing sugar
100g blackcurrants – fresh or frozen
3 tbsp apricot jam
small bunch of lemon verbena leaves (or mint)
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp toasted pistachio nuts, chopped finely
a few elderfowers to decorate but lavender would be lovely too
Place the flour, icing sugar, lemon zest, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and water and process until the mixture starts to come together (about 20 seconds). Empty the contents of the food processor bowl onto a cold surface and bring the pastry together with your hands, kneading it gently to form a ball. Cover in Clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
To make the tartlet cases
Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas mark 2.
Roll the pastry as thin as you dare – 3 or 4mm is perfect. Cut circles of pastry with a pastry cutter. Place each circle of pastry in a buttered tartlet tins approximately 6 cm in diameter and 3 – 4 cm deep and line with a circle of silicone paper (muffin cases work well here) and fill with baking beans. Allow the tarts to rest in the fridge for a further ten minutes, if you have time. Remove from the fridge and bake the tarts for about 25 minutes or until they begin to brown slightly. Remove from the oven and cool.
For the mascarpone cream
Place the mascarpone cheese, crème fraîche, lemon zest, sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl and loosen with a whisk and then beat, as you would double cream, until it thickens.
For the blackcurrant filling
Place the blackcurrants and raspberries in a small saucepan with a couple of teaspoons of water and a tiny sprinkle of sugar. Heat the blackcurrants and raspberries gently until they just begin to soften.
Place the apricot jam and two teaspoons of water in a small bowl and heat in a microwave for 10 seconds to liquefy. Grind the lemon verbena leaves with the granulated sugar and allow to dry for a few minutes in the warm air of the kitchen.
To assemble the tarts
Three quarter fill each cooked and cooled tartlet with mascarpone cream. Top with the cooked blackcurrants and raspberries and brush with a little apricot jam glaze. Sprinkle with a little lemon verbena sugar. I tried to create a halo around the edge of the tartlet but I was not quite skilled enough to pull that off. Scatter with a few toasted pistachio nuts and some edible flowers, such as violas, marigold (petals) or nasturtiums.
If you have any tartlets left over you can freeze to use later. They will last for a couple of months in the freezer or a week in an air tight container.