26th September 2010, on the menu today...
Egg Custard Tart (Brands Reviewed: Marks & Spencer)
Growing up, most things with 'custard' in their name were all right by me but I happened to take to the egg custard tart particularly well. Indeed, with a regular supply courtesy of our local M&S, it bceame somewhat of a habit in our household to finish off our Friday night spag bol with the things. On one occasion in M&S, I even remember almost breaking in to a jog when I saw one packet left on the shelf and what - mistakingly - looked like another guy making a beeline for it. As they say, nothing like a good bit of exercise to work up an appetite.
The packaging is pleasant and summery with yellow hues radiating warmth and a patchwork-like design that, for me, is very reminiscent of a table cloth we used to serve tea on. Text reading '2 Egg Custard Tarts' appears as if handwritten giving a sense of homeliness and non-commerciality. Whilst through the clear plastic section of the packaging, we see the tarts with lovely custard-yellow fillings, a scattering of nutmeg and beautifully rimmed pastry. Good solid stuff.
Biting in, you first encounter plain-tasting shortcrust pastry with a slight bite to it. This crumbles in your mouth before segueing in to the luxuriously soft filling which is reassuringly eggy in taste and complemented beautifully by a perfectly judged amount of warm, spicy nutmeg. All in all, it is a light, very tasty offering that is almost dangerously easy to eat.
Have you considered...?
M&S egg custard tarts contain no artificial colours, flavourings or preservatives as well as no hydrogenated fat. Moreover, homemade or shop bought, they are nearly always suitable for vegetarians. Nutritionally, the tarts often use whole milk (M&S ones contain 40% whole milk) which has been shown to contain more vitamin A than skimmed versions as well as all the usual benefits one associates with milk. Additionally, a good amount of eggs are used - M&S tarts consist of 17% free-range eggs - and this contributes high-quality protein; a good amount of selenium - important in fighting against prostate cancer; a range of B-vitamins; and vitamins A and D.
History (as per the Wikipedia entry)
The development of custard is so intimately connected with the custard tart or pie that the word itself comes from the old French croustade, meaning a kind of pie. Some other names for varieties of custard tarts in the Middle Ages were doucettes and darioles. In 1399, the coronation banquet prepared for Henry IV included "doucettys".
Medieval recipes generally included a shortcrust pastry case filled with a mixture of cream, milk, or broth with eggs, sweeteners such as sugar or honey, and sometimes spices. Recipes existed as early as the fourteenth century that would still be recognisable as custard tarts today. Tarts could also be prepared with almond milk during times of fasting such as Lent, though this was rather expensive and would have been popular only with the comparatively wealthy. Often, savoury ingredients such as minced pork or beef marrow were also added (the combining of sweet and savoury ingredients was more common in medieval England), but unlike a modern quiche the custard filling itself was invariably sweet.
Modern custard tarts are usually made from shortcrust pastry, eggs, sugar, milk or cream, and vanilla, sprinkled with nutmeg and baked. Unlike egg tarts, custard tarts are normally served at room temperature. They are sold in supermarkets and bakeries throughout the UK. They are available either as individual tarts, generally around 8 cm (3 in) across, or as larger tarts intended to be divided into several slices.
The custard tart is regarded as a classic British dish, and as such a version by Marcus Wareing was selected on the BBC television program Great British Menu as the final course of a banquet to celebrate the Queen's 80th birthday.
Variations on the classic recipe include the Manchester tart, where a layer of jam is spread on the pastry before the custard is added. Other versions may have some fresh fruit, such as rhubarb cooked into the filling. Versions topped with elaborate arrangements of fruit show the influence of French pâtisserie.
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