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Thursday, March 20, 2014

11

Wuthering Tarts: Baking with Emily Brontë

Welcome to the official first day of spring! It’s time to make traditional Yorkshire curd tarts from the Northeast of England.

Let us bake this regional treat, which dates back to the early 17th century, and remember the area’s most famous siblings: the Brontë sisters. Born and bred in West Yorkshire, it’s fair to assume that they ate a few curd tarts in their day.

As March is also the perfect weather to roam the Yorkshire moors in the chilly wind and temperamental rain, it’s best to pair this baking adventure by channeling Emily Brontë and her masterpiece, Wuthering Heights. In the book, March 20 is also Cathy’s birthday (and the anniversary of her mother’s death) as well as the date when she meets Heathcliff and 15-year-old Linton.

When you conjure up Emily Brontë’s voice, imagine her sounding similar to fellow Yorkshire lass Daisy from Downton Abbey. Aye, whot? It’s also likely that Mrs. Patmore would make these curd tarts for the Grantham family during teatime.

Yorkshire curd tarts are still popular today, although only in Yorkshire. Elsewhere, this delicacy is virtually unknown. For years, this old version of baked cheesecake pastry has been overshadowed by the popular Yorkshire pudding. No more! Let’s get started.

Curd Ingredients

1.2 liters full-fat milk
1 lemon

The night before baking, you must prepare your curds. According to the 1669 cookbook, The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Opened, this is how you make curds:

Take 12 quarts of Milk warm from the Cow, turn it with a good spoonfull of Runnet.

Ideally, the milk would come from a Jersey cow (from the Channel Island off the coast of Normandy, France), a breed known for being kind, dainty, and producing milk high in butterfat. If you cannot find “milk warm” from a Jersey cow, substitute with 1.2 liters of full-fat milk from a local cow. 

Runnet, more commonly known as “rennet,” is a mammal stomach enzyme used to separate the curds from the whey. You can extract it from a calf’s fourth stomach chamber, but thankfully, this ingredient can be swapped for lemon juice, which is far more convenient and infinitely more pleasing.

Heat the milk in a saucepan until it slowly simmers. Pour the lemon juice into the milk.

Break it well, and put it in a large strainer, in which rowl it up and down, that all the Whey may run out into a little tub; when all that will is run out, wring out more. Then break the curds well; then wring it again, and more whey will come. Thus break and wring till no more come.

As soon as the lemon juice meets the milk, the magic begins. It is also when you should take a spoon and “rowl it up and down.” Rowl with a big spoon, slowly stirring the milk and lemon juice and suddenly they will appear: beautiful, clumpy curds separating from the pale yellow whey. Delight in your curd success. Finally understand the Miss Muffet nursery rhyme.

Lower the heat and stir gently to encourage curds to form (but do not stir too quickly lest you scare away the curds). Your kitchen will smell like cheese. Everything is going according to plan.

Remove from heat and let the curds cool in the whey liquid.

At this stage, kill time by walking along the wild Yorkshire moors as the Brontë sisters surely did while they waited for their own curds to cool. Feel the wind whip in your face. Marvel at the lavender and heather billowing in the wind. Your long dress will protect you from the stinging nettles.

Once you’ve returned from your walk and taken off your bonnet, place a clean tea towel (dishcloth to us Americans) over a bowl and pour the curd mixture over the towel – this will sieve the curds from the whey. Leave overnight at room temperature (but refrigerate once the curds have separated).

That evening, meet up with your sisters in your dining room and walk around the dining table discussing plots, characters and dramatic love affairs on desolate lands. Then, go to bed. And for God’s sake, close your windows.

The next morning, begin the crust and filling.

Pie Crust Ingredients

140 grams plain flour
pinch of baking powder
85 grams salted butter
1 teaspoon caster sugar

Blend ingredients until smooth (using only your hands and a spoon). When I asked a British observer for advice on how to remove the lumps, he recommended, “Vigor.” Roll out the dough and make a well – add cold water to make it smooth, but not sticky. Place in the refrigerator (if you’re in Yorkshire, just place outside).

Filling Ingredients

50 grams butter
50 grams caster sugar
1 egg (newly laid)
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
a big handful of currants / raisins

Cream the butter and the sugar with additional vigor. Slowly add the egg until the mixture is smooth. Add the spices. Then, go check on your curds. Gently whisk them into the mixture. Mix in the currants.

Fetch the dough and roll it into your tartlet pans. Spoon the filling onto dough. Fire up the oven to 180° Celsius (400° Fahrenheit) and bake for 35 minutes. Learn German while you wait.

VERDICT:

The end result is a cheesy, golden Yorkshire curd tartlet. It’s like eating a lumpy, spicy baked cheesecake that has bares a slight resemblance to scrambled eggs with raisins and pastry. All things considered, it’s not bad and others will be in awe of your homemade cheese curds. It is the kind of tart that can nourish, impress and disgust.

Serve warm, accompanied by a cup of tea. Do not go mad and starve yourself because you are despondent and longing for the Heathcliff in your life. Instead, eat the curd tart and be glad there is a cure for tuberculosis.

Now go write the next great English classic.

 

Previously: Almanzo Wilder's Winter Pie

Jessica Pan and her friend Rachel wrote a book, Graduates in Wonderland (Gotham), an epistolary memoir about living in Beijing and Paris. It’s out in May and available now for pre-order. It also contains all of their intimate secrets. Find other general nonsense here.



11 Comments / Post A Comment

karion

Just here to celebrate the fact that your last name is Pan and this is a bread-like recipe.

APTRONYMS FOR EVERYONE.

Jess Pan

@karion i aim to please

AmosTrue

I JUST re-read Wuthering Heights for the first time in possibly as many as 20 years, and I have to say that I appreciated much more this time. The first time, I was a teenager, and I just found Heathcliff and Cathy so unspeakably awful that I couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. All that maundering about on the moor. This time around, I was struck by the complicated layering of narrative voices, the way everything Cathy and Heathcliff (and the subsequent generation) do is filtered through the eyes and voices of the people around them. It's so complex and rich and strange a story, I know understand how shocked people were that this emerged from the imagination of a small-town pastor's daughter. I absolutely loved it.

rayray

Mmm curd tart. Also egg custard tarts with nutmeg sprinkled on top. <3 u, regional British food. Let's not pretend Emily did the cooking though, it was blatantly Charlotte.

MikeBelld

this looks absolutely yummy... I'm from Sheffield myself, but I've never had one of these.

Michael Angelo Titmarsh

There is indeed a cure for tuberculosis although it is neither easy nor pleasant...and coincidentally it is almost World TB Day: http://www.stoptb.org/events/world_tb_day/2014/

greyeminence

I just made my own cheese last weekend! I used almost the exact same method, although I added buttermilk as well as lemon juice, and I only let the curds drain for a couple hours rather than overnight. The drainage time is entirely a matter of personal preference; if you want something akin to store-bough cottage cheese, a half-hour or so of draining is sufficient.

I used my cheese to make a filling for blintzes (http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2014/01/cheese-blintz/), and I doubt there’s a more delicious use than that. If you’re curious, though, I’d suggest checking out some Eastern European (or even Nordic/Scandinavian) dessert recipes, since Europeans in general are far more appreciative of farmer’s cheese (which is what this cheese is) than North Americans and are resourceful in finding delicious uses for it.

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Mei Arashu@facebook

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lovelyme

This is really interesting! I know she have learned this seriously and I like her! - YOR Health Products

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