Mrs Simkins’ Maids Of Honour

Posted: April 17, 2014

The dainty little tarts are traditionally served at May Day celebrations. Who knows whether the original tarts were called after the stylish young ladies at the court of Henry VIII, as is commonly supposed, or, since they are filled with curds made from the new spring milk, the more humble milkmaids?

Wherever the name originates, they are delicious, delicate little morsels and perfect with a pot of your favourite Clipper tea on a spring afternoon.

Ricotta makes a wonderful curd filling: light and delicate, it blends perfectly with the other simple ingredients.

It’s worth taking the extra trouble to bake the tart cases blind first to get the pastry off to a good start. The curd filling behaves exactly like an egg custard, and needs to be baked at a lower temperature than the pastry: if it gets too hot, it can shrivel disappointingly, weep, and crack across the top.

This way, you get lovely layers of crisp puff pastry and a smooth, stable filling.

Makes 24

Ingredients

  • 1 standard size pack of 2 x all butter frozen puff pastry sheets
  • 125g ricotta, drained of any whey
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 15g ground almonds
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • Plus: seedless raspberry jam (try also apricot jam or lemon curd)
    You will need 2 x12 cup standard size tart tins, very lightly greased, 24 standard size paper cake cases, a plain round 6cm cutter and ceramic baking beans

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (fan oven) or equivalent
  2. Defrost the pastry in the fridge, overnight, if possible. Remove from the box and unroll the sheets, one at a time, together with the greaseproof lining, and cut out 12 circles from each, still on the greaseproof lining (try not to twist or the baked case may be lop-sided).
  3. Transfer to the prepared tin and prick the bases lightly. Roll up any trimmings and set aside.
  4. Sit a paper case in each tart, fill with baking beans and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden. Remove the cases and return to the oven for a further 3 minutes.
  5. If the centre has risen slightly when it comes out of the oven, press down gently with the back of a teaspoon.
  6. Turn oven down to 130C (fan oven) or equivalent.
    Whiz the ricotta, sugar and ground almonds together in a food processor. Add the egg and whiz briefly to combine. (Or beat the ricotta smooth with a wooden spoon and combine with the rest of the ingredients.)
  7. Spread little more than a quarter teaspoon of jam in the bottom of each case and top with a teaspoon of ricotta mixture, smoothing it neatly round the edges.
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the filling is just set and doesn’t ripple if you nudge the tin slightly.
  9. Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar just before serving.

Young Maid’s Treats

These contain chocolate: what more can we say? Instead of adding jam, stir 50-60g of dark chocolate chips into the ricotta mixture and spoon directly into the pastry cases, smoothing the edges as before.

Tip: Roll out any puff pastry trimmings very gently on a lightly floured board and cut into circles (if you are too vigorous you will crush the layers or ‘laminations’). They make perfect pie lids to sit on top of casseroled chicken or steak. They will keep, between sheets of greaseproof paper, wrapped in cling-film, in the fridge for a couple of days.

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