As someone who enjoys cooking, I like to try new recipes, whether they are from someone else or the product of my own musings. This is especially true when I have an unusual ingredient at my disposal and need ways to use it (I do not like wasting things). So, after using saffron for the purpose for which it had been purchased -- a Cuban-style chicken soup -- I needed other recipes in which I could employ this wonderfully fragrant spice! Though traditional dishes such as paella certainly came to mind, I also wanted to do my own experimenting. Something sweet rather than savory sounded interesting to me; hence the recipe for custard tart given below. I hope if you try it you will enjoy it as much as my family members did.
- For the crust :
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, (if you use unsalted butter, add 1/2 tsp. salt rather than 1/4 tsp.)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold salted butter
- For the filling :
- 10 threads of saffron, soaked in 1/4 cup of hot water
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh orange zest, (optional)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350° F. Pour 1/4 cup of hot water (not boiling) into a liquid measuring cup. Add the ten saffron threads to the water and let them soak while you are preparing the crust.
- In a small bowl, stir together the flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Add the cold butter to the bowl in moderately thin pieces. Using a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until the contents of your bowl resemble damp sand (there should be no large pieces of butter left).
- Dump the butter-flour mixture into a 9-1/2 or 10-inch tart dish (or pan). Press the mixture into the bottom and up the sides to form the crust, making sure it is packed down well. Place the dish in the oven on the center rack and cook the crust for seven minutes, then remove it from the oven and set it aside temporarily.
- In another bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout), whisk together the sugar and the orange juice. (If using the orange zest, add it at this point.) Pour the saffron strands and the water they have been soaking in into the bowl, then stir. Next, add the lightly beaten eggs and combine everything thoroughly. Using a small strainer, add the cornstarch to the bowl a little at a time while whisking constantly to avoid lumps.
- Open the oven and pull the middle rack out almost halfway. Place the tart dish on the rack, then carefully pour the filling into the crust. Push the rack back into the oven slowly and bake the tart for 35-40 minutes. The middle should be set completely and the custard only wiggle slightly when removed from the oven. Allow the tart to cool thoroughly before serving. Store any uneaten portion in the refrigerator.
- If you do not have a pastry cutter (also known as a pastry blender), you can try using a large serving fork. I will say that a pastry cutter is worth the few dollars' investment as it is very useful when one is making things such as crusts, biscuits, and scones that require butter or shortening be cut into the flour.
- Pouring the filling into the tart dish while the dish is sitting on the oven rack reduces the chance of splashing the filling over the side of the dish and into the oven during transfer (which is one horrible mess to clean up, as I well know!).
- Saffron is expensive compared to many other spices, but it is worth the money if you enjoy Spanish or Indian cuisine, or like experimenting with new flavors in the kitchen. If you have never tried it, I suggest buying a small amount first to make sure you like it. Then you can buy it in bulk after that, as it is more economical to purchase it that way. (Make sure you are buying it from a reputable source, however, as some sellers will present a low-quality saffron as if it is a more expensive product in order to dupe unsuspecting buyers.)
- Soaking the saffron beforehand helps it to release its flavor. If you simply throw the strands into the mix before cooking the tart the flavor will be lighter and possibly uneven from piece to piece.
- Use the fresh orange zest if your prefer a stronger orange taste. Without the zest, the orange undertones will be more subtle.
- You can use whipped cream, strawberries, or raspberries to top this tart before serving it.
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