Cape Town really is magnificent at this time of year, the mountain just about sparkles in the soft-lit blue skies- imploring you to put on some sensible shoes and come outside to “seize the day” : to be honest it’s all really a bit of a bother . Some of us would far prefer to be inside watching back-to-back episodes of Project Runway with a bit of Star Trek mixed in (for balance) than dirtying our hems outdoors. But when Cape Town is behaving in this way it’s difficult not to feel guilty about keeping the curtains drawn- even if you are having a perfectly lovely time in the dark.
Peeping into an oven to be met with the vision of an ugly and flopped cake is like suddenly coming face to face with the futility and wretchedness of, well, everything. You see, for the existentially-sensitive, time spent in the production of an ugly cake raises questions best left unasked. Once you consider: “What was the point of all that baking” your are just one fateful leap of the imagination away from the devastation of wondering: “What’s the point of anything?”
I once entered the organisation phase of a wedding as a bridesmaid but ended up attending the the event with the lowly title of “guest”. Oh my! I have just gasped in shock at my own admission, letting a piece of my breakfast pastry (I would not dare attempt such a confession without the comfort of some butter) fall out of my mouth onto the keyboard of my laptop. Poor me, poor bride… poor laptop!
Some of us fantasize about our ideal head cold the way that other, more gallant types fantasize about their dream holiday. Even your average head cold brings countless delights to those with an appreciative attitude. The pleasure begins with the thrill of diagnosis. Ah yes, the great pleasure that is guessing and speculating in matters medical. I have spent the most fulfilling and charming afternoons gathered with friends engaged in this pursuit- joyfully hypothesizing and gladly offering our ill-informed opinions on the cause of a vague and underspecified symptom of a member of our gathering.
Summer is over in Cape Town and that is, in my opinion, very good news. Most things (and especially people) are best not viewed in bright conditions. There is just far too much light around in summer to maintain the illusion that you are attractive and the fantasy that the rest of the world it too. It is with great relief that I welcome the dimming effects of autumn and the general improvement it brings to the experience of looking around (and in the mirror).
This tart, however, speaks well of summer. Brightness, while best avoided as a quality of light, is just what I like in flavours (and what flavour could be brighter than lemon). Some of you might be alarmed by the addition of the basil to a lemon tart. It is, I suppose, an initially disturbing thought. But be assured, skittish baker, that there is nothing pesto-like about this. The basil is a sublte addition and adds a fragant pepperiness that rounds off the lemon to create a layered and exciting experience. Just think of the admiration you will cultivate in your tasters for being so very sophisticated.
I am, by some luck, no longer compelled to date. In many ways this is a relief. All that incessant grooming and leaving the flat is a lifestyle that I am pleased to leave behind. My romantic success has, however, come with a cost. All this happiness has comprised my competence both in wit and in the kitchen.
While I’m still a terrible show-off, I am now missing that slight sense of urgency that gives a single woman the edge both in banter and in baking. I was never quite so brilliant as when I was displaying my accomplishments in an effort to attract a suitor. Much of my free time was spent crafting gleaming witticisms for upcoming text messages and equally charming flavour combinations for upcoming dinner dates.
Surely, the finest dinners and the finest dinner conversations must be the work of romantic-hopefuls. The romantically-content could not hope to compete.
My self-esteem is, thankfully, just low enough to have me seek the approval of many more people in addition to my beloved. I still display in an attempt to impress, and this keeps me and my tarts just passable. I am not what I used to be and so I apologise, dear reader, for the quality of the recipe to follow.
I was feeling particularly well loved on the day I made these Rose and Nectarine Tartlets:
- Whatever bit of pastry your can get your hands on. In my case it was a bit of shop bought puff-pastry that due to some scandals of improper storage had lost all its “puff”. Puff-pastry without its puff is, I suppose, short-crust pastry.
- Nectarines sliced and coated in a sprinkling of flour, sugar and a heavy splash or rose water.
If you have no rose water on hand you might try grinding some minced coriander leaf or basil leaf into the sugar as an equally sophisticated substitute.
Arrange coated nectarine slices on top of a bit of pastry ( I used a round pastry cutter to cut mine into large circles) and bake at about 200 degrees Celsius until pastry has browned and the sugar has melted.
I served these with a bit of cream cheese mixed with honey because I had it lying around.
Recommended variations for the slightly less content:
- Use pastry that has not been frightfully abused
- Do an egg wash on the parts of the pastry not covered with pastry
- Garnish with chopped pistachios
- Serve with whipped cream
Variations for those in search of true-love:
- Make your own puff-pastry. (As shown here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/video/2012/jul/09/how-make-puff-pastry-video)
If your pastry has puff you will have to prick holes all over the area on which the nectarine slices lie, to keep that area from puffing up.
Three to five times a week I put on the ugliest clothes and shoes that I can find in my cupboard and go out into the world to make a sweaty spectacle of myself, up and down the streets of Cape Town. Yip, that’s right I am the most ordinary of all things: I am a jogger. Jogging makes a great mediator in the constant battle between my gluttony and vanity. Its is also something of an addiction. I have, truth be told, even run a marathon. Oh the things I got to eat during this time. There is nothing quite like a 32km training running to prepare you appetite for the finer things in life.
It took me about four and half hours to run a marathon, just like Oprah. This marathon time was my only connection to the Grand Madame, until recently. At around about the time Oprah was publicly but gently scolding that handsome scoundrel Lance Armstrong, her representatives in South Africa were concerned with more delightful matters- matters relating to Pretty Biscuits. I know this because I am the recent and proud recipient of an email requesting photographs of some my very pretty biscuits (pictured in this post) for “possible inclusion in South Africa’s O magazine”.
Possible inclusion, people!
Move over Posh Beckham, I’m famous!
I think that now that I am famous I will have Opes over for tea and pretty biscuits where I will suggest a dimension to the Lance case that I think her interview overlooked. These world-class athletes are apparently not permitted to eat delicious baked goods and pretty biscuits, in the interest of performace. Given these harsh conditions its hardly surprising that they should misbehave now and then. Surely, we would all be the most dreadful people if we did not have regular treats to bolster our moral courage and keep us on the straight and narrow. I know that I, at least, would be capable of the most unspeakable things if, after making a sweaty and lycra clad spectacle of myself, I was not rewarded with cakes and biscuits. Oprah will agree and our friendship will be sealed . Oprah, Gail, Lance (now forgiven) and I will get together once a month to swap recipes.
For more about my Pretty Biscuits you can visit my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/PrettyBiscuit