Jam tarts are a classic tea table treat. They’re a taste of summer – whatever the time of year you make them – and use just a little skill: making light, crispy shortcrust pastry. In fact jam tarts are often one of the first things we learn to bake. So we’ve created this guide to making the perfect shortcrust pastry and chosen jam tarts as the perfect first project. And what better jam to use than your own home-made jam – see our top tips.
Making the shortcrust pasty
Whether it’s for jam tarts, apple pie, fresh fruit tarts or our very special lemon tarts, start here and get your pastry right first. This is a basic recipe which once you master you can begin to adapt for sweet and savoury dishes. The key thing you’re looking for is a tart case that’s crisp but crumbly, golden in colour and as light as a feather. This recipe makes 24 small tarts or tart cases.
What you need
- 175g plain flour
- 80g fat – vegetable oil-based Cookeen is perfect. Otherwise use 50g lard and 30g unsalted butter. Whatever you’re using make sure it’s cold – straight from the fridge
- Pinch of salt
- Iced water
- Jam – whatever you have in the cupboard or fancy
You’ll also need a rolling pin, and tart tins. Oven temperature: 180C.
Step 1 – mixing
As with all baking, chemistry is at the heart of what’s going on. For a shortcrust pastry it’s important to use very cold fat which means as little contact with hot hands as possible. You don’t want the fat to melt and become oily. This is why the traditional ‘rubbing in’ method always calls for using your finger tips – the coldest part of your hands. But I use a food processor and if you have one, it’s the best technique.
Put the flour, salt and fat cut into smallish pieces into the bowl of the processor. Quickly pulse it until everything is combined and the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. This ensures the fat is evenly distributed and completely coated with the flour.
If you don’t have a processor, use your finger tips to quickly rub the fat into the flour to a fine crumb (see picture) without melting it. Less is always more with shortcrust pastry.
Step 2 – the dough
Add the iced water taking care not to add the ice. Start with about 2 tablespoons – pulse several time in the processor. You’ll see the pastry begin to come together. Then add another tablespoon. How much water will vary dependent on the humidity and temperature, but for this amount of pastry, you’ll probably need between 3 and 5 tablespoons. Shortcrust pastry doesn’t like being handled, so as soon as the dough comes together – a bit like this picture – stop pulsing and tip onto the surface.
Step 3 – resting
Quickly bring all the dough together – it should feel fairly elastic. It should not feel either wet or dry. Wrap in a cloth or cling film and leave in the fridge to ‘rest’ for 30 minutes. This is an important step because the gluten in the flour is developing to create a stronger but elastic structure. It lets you roll much thinner and delicate pastry without breaking.
Step 4 – rolling and cutting
Generously flour your surface and rolling pin. Take the dough from the fridge – sprinkle flour on both sides. Slightly press the rolling pin across the dough a couple of times on both sides to even and flatten the piece. Roll in one direction backawards and forwards. Lift and turn a quarter and roll in the same way again until. Lift and turn again and repeat. Try and get the pastry as thin as possible, about as thin as a £1 coin. You’ll end up with a roundish shape about 50-60cm in diameter.
Take your cutter which should be bigger than your tartshape by about twice the depth. I make my tart case slightly higher than the moulds to prevent the jam leaking while baking. Cut all the cases. You may have to re-roll some left-over pastry, but only do this once as over rolling or handling will spoil the structure of your pastry.
Step 5 – fill and bake
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease your tart tins. Line the moulds with the pastry circles. The edges should rise above each mould – the pastry shrinks when it’s baked. Spoon in the jam (here we’ve used blackberry jam – but you can use any kind of jam you like). Don’t overfill the tarts. The jam will boil while the tarts are baking and can easily spill over. You want about a teaspoonful for each tart – slightly less than half full. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is a light golden colour. Take out when they’re done and immediately put onto a cooling rack. This keeps the pastry crisp. If you leave in the tins, the pastry can become soggy.
Cool, put on a plate and serve. These pastries won’t keep for long, so make just enough.
You can do Step 1 and keep the fat and flour rub in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to a week. Then all you have to do is add the iced water, rest the dough and make the tarts when you need them, immediately before your tea. This was a trick my Gran taught me – she always wanted to have fresh baked treats, even for unexpected guests.
You can also bake tart cases ‘blind’ to fill with lemon curd or fresh fruits and cream. Follow these steps for lemon tarts.