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Maid of Honour Tartlets

Traditionally the fare of the wealthy, especially the nobility, Maid of Honour tarts were associated with Kew and often known as Richmond Tarts. Another older term was 'daryol', although this involved a custard, as opposed to a cheese, base. It is said that these were all favourite tarts of Anne Boleyn when she was at Hampton Court Palace as a Maid of Honour to Catherine of Aragon. Through time there have been many adaptations and variations and it is up to each tart-maker to play around with the basic idea of these tarts to suit individual tastes - some, for example, are made with breadcrumbs as well as the ground almonds; others include currants. Unlike in medieval times, when cooking the fillings had to be started the day before, today we can use well-drained cream cheese or cottage cheese, making this a quite simple and easy tart to make and one that is much loved by older generations.

ingredients

serves 8
225 g (8 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, for rolling out the pastry
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
225 g (8 oz) cream, cottage or curd cheese
115 g (4 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons brandy
good pinch of salt
2 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
175g (6 oz) ground almonds
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 sliced or flaked almonds and mixed sifted icing sugar and ground cinnamon, to decorate

method

1. Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured surface sprinkled with the cinnamon and use to line the eight 8cm (3 1/4 in) tartlet tins.

2. Prick the base of each tartlet and brush with a little of the egg yolks and place in the fridge, while making the filling.
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F) Gas 6. Place a baking sheet in the oven so that it is hot and at the correct oven temperature when the tartlets arrive.

3. Put the cheese into a mixing bowl, add the butter, remaining egg yolks and brandy and beat until pale and well mixed. Stir in the salt, sugar, nutmeg, ground almonds and lemon zest and juice, mixing well.

4. Fill the tartlet cases with the cheese mixture and smooth over the surface, before adding a sliced or flaked almond to each tartlet as decoration. Put the filled tartlet cases on to the hot baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden brown. Sprinkle with the mixed sifted icing sugar and cinnamon.

5. Serve warm with single cream, or cold with a pot of hot tea at teatime.

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