Sunday, 27 October 2013

For Helen Fielding (1958 - ),

“Well done Bridge, four hours of careful cooking and a feast of blue soup, omelette and marmalade."
  - Bridget Jones’s Diary

Teaching Bridget Jones’s Diary to a class of second-year English students is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

Reason 1: most of them had read the book before coming to class. That almost never happens. All hail the power of pop fiction.

Reason 2: the class divided neatly into three groups. Half of the female readers loved the book – they thought it represented their lives perfectly and captured their anxieties in great comedic fashion. The other half of the female readers thought that it was where feminism went to die, and wanted to smack Bridget in her shallow, man-trailing, diet-obsessed face. And almost every male reader had no idea what they’d just read.

This particular three-group divide led to some of the more entertaining debates I’ve ever seen in an English class. Example:
Student #1: “Bridget Jones is my hero! She doesn’t hide who she is, she’s totally real, she’s me!”
Student #2: “Then I want to slap you with a Germaine Greer book as much as I do her.”
Student #3: “What’s a calorie? Why does she act crazy? Do women really think like that?”
Student #2: “ABSOLUTELY NOT!”
Student #1: “TOTALLY!”
Tutor: [Sits back, enjoys the show.]

I tend to agree with the exasperated feminist reading myself, though if you convince yourself that Bridget is a critique of what society and the media encourage women to turn into (might be reaching there) then it can be quite a fun read in places.

At any rate, I’m proud to be a million miles from Bridget Jones, in attitudes to men, body image, money management, and cooking. For her, serving dinner to friends involves a series of semi-drunken misadventures and blue-souped disasters. For me, serving dinner to friends involves picking friends who won’t judge me if I fail miserably, and then just cooking something that seems tasty. 

Actually there's a bit more to it than that. If I'm being totally honest, I usually cook the day or two before a dinner party so that I have time to fix any disasters. Which is why tarts (as in pies, not using derogatory terms for Bridget here) are quite handy. They keep easily, and can be served at any temperature you want. When I have friends come over in a couple of days, my tart will still taste as good as fresh.

For this tart, I’m adapting Bridget’s orange-themed dessert – but instead of despairing when the fancy Grand Marnier oranges taste like marmalade, I’m going to embrace marmalade as a star ingredient. The result is essentially a bakewell tart, but instead of the full English berry jam effect, I’m going for a more Mediterranean orange-and-almond, nostril-filling headiness. 

So the dessert is an adaptation of Bridget's, but I'm going to be totally faithful to the rest of her menu. Dear friends: come over for blue soup and omelettes!

Friends? Hello? 

Orange-Scented Almond Tart


Tart shell:
200g flour
50g cornflour
150g cold butter, in small cubes
50g sugar
2 egg yolks
4tbsp ice water

Tart filling:
3/4C marmalade
100g butter, softened
2 egg whites
100g sugar
100g ground almonds
2tbsp Cointreau (or other orangey liquer)
2 drops orange oil
150g (approx) flaked almonds
1/3C honey


Tart shell:
In a food processor, pulse the flour, cornflour, cold butter, and sugar until it’s fine and crumb-like. Add the egg yolks and pulse a few more times. Add the ice water, tablespoon by tablespoon, and keep pulsing until the mixture all of a sudden forms a giant ball of dough. (It will happen, you just have to be patient.) Transfer the dough to a floured board and knead a couple of times, then form it into a flat patty and wrap it in cling film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Once the dough is cold, roll it out and press it into a 30cm fluted tart pan. Refrigerate the pan for another 30 minutes and preheat the oven to 150C (fan-forced.) Line the pan with baking paper and fill with ceramic beans. Bake for 25 minutes; then remove the paper and beans and bake for another 10.

Tart filling:
Increase the oven temperature to 160C (fan-forced.) Spread the baked tart shell with half of the marmalade. Beat together the butter, egg whites, sugar, ground almonds, Cointreau, and orange oil. Pour the mixture over the marmalade. Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the remaining marmalade and honey. Drizzle the mixture over the tart and bake for another 10 minutes.

Serve the tart warm with vanilla whipped cream / ice cream, or cold with Greek yoghurt. A dusting of icing sugar is no bad thing either.

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