Discover more from sweet disposition
Blackberry & bay bakewells
And climate change ruining Micahelmas
This weekend I tried to go blackberry picking and failed. Miserably. All week, my Instagram feed had been full of hedgerows, glittering with glossy black fruits and the kind of dappled September sunshine that every year succeeds in making me rue my contractual obligations to spend my weekdays at my desk. Suitably influenced, I set out for Saturday breakfast at Towpath Cafe with my friend a little early, my basket bag stowed with plastic bags ready to scour the canal banks for blackberries of my own.
Sadly, an Indian summer and our rapidly warming climate had other ideas. London’s blackberry season has well and truly finished and, try as I might, I couldn’t find a single patch that wasn’t brown, leathered by sunshine and already retreating into the earth for a dormant, barren winter.
The legend of Michaelmas warns that the devil spits on the hedgerows on 29th September, but said warnings clearly predate the industrial revolution and, well, all the climate killing behaviour from humankind that followed.
Refusing to be deterred, I took refuge in an air-conditioned Sainsburys Local and grudgingly came home with two punnets of the oddly enormous supermarket variety, generally lacking in any of the deliciously acidic sourness of their wild relations. I reasoned that farmed blackberries are better than no blackberries, but if you can still find them in the wild, don’t make my mistake - pick them while you have the chance!
Thankfully, baking goes a long way towards saving not so great fruit. I’d even go as far as to say this is the place to use big, watery choices, as they get jammy and caramely and melt into the frangipane in a very delicious way. Bakewell tart is so gorgeously homely and inviting, and there’s something satisfyingly meditative about building layers of pastry, jam, frangipane, fruit and icing. I felt like I’d achieved something making this so, if you’re also looking for a little dopamine, let this be your micro dose.
This recipe is adapted from my pistachio & blackberry Bakewell slices in my cookbook, Postal Bakes (available in all good bookshops, you know the drill).
For the pastry
250g plain flour
1/2 tsp fine salt
125g unsalted butter, cubed
50g icing sugar
1 egg, beaten
For the filling & topping
135g unsalted butter
135g caster sugar
150g ground almonds*
90g plain flour (*or just use 240g ground almonds instead)
1/2 tsp fine salt
300g blackberry or blackcurrant jam
20g flaked almonds
2 bay leaves
Around 100g icing sugar
To make the pastry, put the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter, then use your finger tips to rub the butter into the flour. Continue until it’s sandy in texture, and no large pieces remain. Add the icing sugar, mix, then add the egg and use your hands to gently mix and then press into a dough. Turn onto a work surface to finish bringing it together, then shape roughly into a rectangle, wrap in cling film, and leave to chill in the fridge for at least an hour. This could easily be done a day or two before if you wanted to.
When you’re ready to bake the bakewells, heat your oven to 180C and line a 20x30cm high sided baking dish with baking paper.
To make the frangipane, cream together the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition to prevent the mixture curdling. Add the ground almonds, flour and salt and mix until combined. Set aside.
Dust your work surface with a little extra flour, then roll out the pastry until it’s roughly the size of the base of your tin (it doesn’t need to be totally exact). Roll it onto a rolling pin to lift it, then carefully lay it into the tray. Gently press it into the sides and corners, then use a sharp knife to cut away any excess. The pastry will shrink a little when it bakes, so I like to leave a tiny bit of pastry turning up towards the sides of the tin (a suggestion of a wall, if you will) - you’ll find it then shrinks perfectly when you bake it.
Prick with a fork, then bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until very pale and baked through. Reduce the oven temperature to 160C.
Once the pastry is baked, it’s time to assemble. Dollop the jam over the pastry, and use a palette knife or spatula to spread it into an even layer. I find the pastry still being hot makes this a lot easier as it melts the jam as you go.
Top the jam layer with dollops of the frangipane, again spreading into an even layer. Top with the blackberries, gently pressing them into the frangipane slightly so they’re not just sitting on top.
Scatter with flaked almonds, then bake at 160C for 30-40 minutes until golden and cooked through.
To make the drizzle, place the bay leaves in a small pan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then cook until you have just a few teaspoons of liquid. Allow to cool with the leaves steeping, then these can be removed and discarded.
Mix the bay reduction with enough icing sugar to form a thick water icing. Drizzle over the Bakewell tart. Once the icing has set and the tart is totally cool, slice into squares.