I was recently in a state of shock when looking at the calendar. Nearly the end of September? How can it be? This year has flown by far quicker than I could have imagined, and these last few months of work on ARAN Bakery have surely contributed to that. I feel soothed, though, by the season we are now bang in the middle of – when the weather starts to turn, the air smells fresher, and the shops turn their stocks around to make way for a bounty of orchard fruit and hedgerow treats. Call me biased (I am a November baby), but this half of the year is my favourite, dark drizzly afternoons and all.
Alongside the huge variety of apples, pears and even quince available now, we have damsons and sloes. These dark little jewels can be found throughout the countryside, and are free (and often tastier) when foraged yourself. Though neither should be eaten raw, damsons are transformed when boiled, baked and preserved, and sloes paired with my two favourite ingredients – gin and sugar (in that order) – makes a delicious winter cocktail.
I adore the cooking methods we turn to at this time of year to preserve the last of the fresh fruits, and as I write this to a soundtrack of heavy rain there is a big pot of chutney on the hob waiting to be jarred. The damson cheese I have shared this week (a firm fruit paste to serve with actual cheese) makes the most of the fruit’s slightly bitter quality – all too often I find traditional quince cheese too sweet. This bitterness does need to be considered when making the jam here; adding some blackberries helps take the edge off, creating a jam that is more cake- and breakfast-friendly.
As much as I would love to be making the most of these days to pot and preserve, it’s time to put on my overalls for more painting and tiling at the bakery. After lots of false predictions (mainly recorded here), I can see ARAN Bakery opening next month – with damson and sloe jam on the shelves of course.
10 to 12
For the pastry
- 150g butter
- 300g plain flour, plus more for dusting
- 50g icing sugar
- 50g ground almonds
- 1 large egg
For the almond topping
- 150g ground almonds
- 50g self-raising flour
- 150g caster sugar
- 150g unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- 250g sloe and damson jam
- 2 eating apples, cored and sliced into half-moon slivers 5mm thick
- Flaked almonds to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6
- Blitz all the pastry ingredients in a food mixer to a smooth dough. Tip out onto a surface and form it into a flat disc. Cover with cling film and chill for 20 minutes
- Once rested, roll out on a lightly floured surface until roughly 3mm thick. Use it to line a 23cm tart tin and trim off any excess. Prick the base with a fork then place in the fridge to chill for a further 20 minutes
- Once firm to the touch, bake for 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn golden (as long as the dough has been chilled and has not been over-worked, you won’t need to blind bake it)
- Set the pastry case aside to cool and turn the oven down to 180C/Gas 4
- Beat together topping ingredients until smooth
- Spoon the jam over the base of the baked pastry case and level it out
- Set aside a quarter of the apple slices and scatter the rest evenly over the jam. Spoon in the almond mixture a dollop at a time, trying not to move the apples and jam. Gently spread it level then scatter with the remaining apples and flaked almonds
- Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown, and nearly set. Allow to cool before slicing