Monday, June 3, 2013

Tropical Tart Nouveau

One of the best things about being an expat in Bangkok is the amazing circle of friends you make from all over the world. One of the worst things is that just as you feel like you are becoming really great friends, they take up a new posting thousands of miles away. I have had my heart broken several times in this way since moving here and console myself with the knowledge that I will be warmly welcomed if I am ever in Istanbul, New York, Nairobi or Dhaka.  The latest heartbreaker is my friend Marcus, who is about trade in his charmed life in this city for a gritty humanitarian experience in Afghanistan where he will be helping get food to people who need it. By way of send-off, I hosted a Sunday lunch called ‘Come Swine With Me’ – three pork-based courses before he moves to a land where pork is strictly off the menu.

I wanted to end the meal with a flourish and serve a dessert that would reflect Thailand’s bright colours and sweetness. And then I remembered that I suck at baking and I have a shameful history of tarts with soggy bottoms. But nothing says “I will miss you loads and wish you a safe passage to Kabul” like a home-made, from scratch tropical fruit tart. So I avoided the temptation to buy a ready-made dessert, did my research, cherry picked the most doable bits from some of my favourite chefs’ tart recipes (many thanks Delia, Pascal and Michel), added my own tropical twist and this is the result. It really worked. There were moments in the process when I thought it wouldn’t – my crème patissiere went lumpy in the fridge but I whisked it out, my pastry fell apart as I transferred it to the dish but I patched it up. It came good in the end and the whole thing vanished as soon as it was served. I will definitely be making this again – not least to welcome back absent friends who come to visit.


For the pastry:
120g unsalted butter
60g icing sugar
140g plain flour
70g ground almonds
2g baking powder
1 egg yolk
1 pinch salt

For the crème patissiere:
200ml full fat milk
40g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
14g cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the fruit:
8 large strawberries
2 kiwis
30ml sweet white or rose wine
1.5 tbsp clear honey

1.       First make the pastry. Take the butter out of the fridge and cut into small cubes. Place in a metal mixing bowl and leave to soften. Add the icing sugar and whisk together until pale and smooth. Sift in the flour and then add the almonds, baking powder and salt. Mix together with your finger tips. It should be a sandy texture. If it feels too buttery, add a little more flour. Then add the egg yolk and combine until you have a dough (it will still feel a bit buttery). Don’t over-work the pastry – once it is done, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for 2 hours.
2.       Meanwhile make your crème patissiere. Bring the milk to the boil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks until you have a silky, thick paste. Add the cornflour and continue whisking vigorously.
3.       Pour half of the boiled milk into the bowl and whisk until combined. Then pour the mixture from the bowl into the saucepan with the remaining milk and whisk. Bring it back to the boil and then reduce to a low temperature. Keep whisking the mixture over the low heat for 3-4 minutes and add the vanilla extract. Don’t take your eye of the mixture and keep stirring otherwise you will over-cook it and ruin the texture.
4.       After 4 minutes of cooking you should have a thick, silky cream. Transfer it to a shallow dish, cover with cling film and put in the fridge. After half an hour or so, when it has cooled down, take it out and whisk it up again. Don’t worry if it’s a bit lumpy, keep whisking and the lumps will go away. Cover once again with cling film and leave in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
5.       Next prepare your fruit. Cut it into slices however you like – either lots of thin slivers or big thick chunks.  I went somewhere in between. Then combine the wine and honey and pour over the fruit. Cover and leave to marinate until you are ready to serve.
6.       When two hours have gone by, take your pastry from the fridge and pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Dust with flour and roll out to about half a centimeter in thickness. You then need to transfer it to a tart dish. I did not manage to do this in one clean movement – my pastry was too delicate so I ended up transferring it in pieces and reconstructing it in the tart dish. I’m sure this isn’t how the professionals do it but it worked for me. Pat the pastry snugly and evenly into the dish, making sure you build a generous crust around the edge of the dish.
7.       Bake in the oven for 16 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin. I wasn’t brave enough to remove the tart from the glass dish, but if you have a springform dish you can do this once the pastry has completely cooled.
8.       When you are ready to serve, remove the crème patissiere from the fridge and whisk up again. Pour it into the pastry and spread evenly. Place the fruit on top of the crème patissiere once piece at a time, arranging it however you like. Serve and enjoy!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Surf n Turf with Funk-Busting Star Fruit Salsa

Sometimes we get ourselves into a funk. We’re not sure where it came from or how long it’s going to stay and we just have to ride it out orr hope that something comes along to move it on. Even here in Thailand, despite the sunshine and the beaches and the delicious food on every corner, the funk can find its way in. In my case, it came along and gave me chronic bloggers’ block.

Until last Friday when I received my first ever home delivery ‘munching box’ of organic locally produced fruit and vegetables from Raitong Organic Farm.  Purple long beans, green eggplants, spinach, mangosteens, green mangoes, spring onions and other tropical leafy delights covered my kitchen counter and lifted the cloud instantly. The star of the show was undoubtedly the bright yellow star fruit. How can anyone be in a funk when they have organic star fruit beaming up at them?

Funk busted, my tummy started rumbling and creative juices flowing. This was the first time I ever cooked with star fruit. They have a sweet yet earthy flavour and a delicious crunch, which makes for the most delicate salsa. With a fat juicy steak and whopping great Thai prawns, it was a match made in heaven.

Time: 15 mins prep time, 5 mins cooking time + marinating time
Rating: Super easy
Serves: 2


2 medium-sized steaks (I used sirloin)
4 tiger prawns
2cm fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
Generous slug of olive oil

For the salsa:
1 star fruit
1 red bell pepper
1/3 of a cucumber (or two baby cucumbers)
1 spring onion
1 large red chilli (mild)
1 small bunch fresh coriander
Juice of 1 large lime
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil


  1. Start by marinating the steak and prawns. Crush or grate the garlic and ginger and place in a shallow dish with the olive oil. Peel and devein the prawns and place in the dish with the steak, making sure they are all covered in the marinade on both sides. Cover and leave in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  2. Next make your salsa. Finely chop the star fruit, leaving one slice intact to use as a garnish. Chop the red pepper, spring onion, cucumber and coriander and combine in a bowl.
  3. Make the dressing for your salsa. Finely chop the chilli and combine with the lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. If you are making this ahead, don’t add the dressing until the last minute as it will make the salsa soggy.
  4. Shortly before you are ready to cook the prawns and steak, remove them from the fridge to let them return to room temperature.
  5. Heat some olive oil in a griddle pan until smoking. For medium-rare steaks, cook for about 2.5 mins on each side. Don’t turn them over until you get a good sear mark on the first side. Once they are cooked, remove and leave them to rest in a dish. This will let the juices run out before you serve. While they are resting, cook the prawns in the same way for about 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side (depending on their size). They should have turned from grey to pink and be cooked through but not rubbery.
  6. Dress the salsa and toss.
  7. Serve the steak, prawns and salsa together, using your star fruit slice as a garnish.