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The Art of the Tart by Tamasin Day-Lewis: review

April 13, 2013

The Art of the Tart reviewThe Art of the Tart. Not the by-line to “Fifty Shades of Grey” but a slender volume dedicated to the delights of pastry cases filled with sweet or savoury things. You may be surprised to hear that a book covering such a niche area of cookery is one I use very, very often; that is until you turn the pages and find recipes that evoke nursery suppers, summer picnics, family gatherings and something indefinable but deeply appealing. Tarts, though easily made for everyday eating, always feel like a special occasion.  Sometimes it seems like Tamasin Day-Lewis’s entire life has been encased in pastry; homity pies taken in the car on the journey to Ireland, eating cheese strata with her cousin Deborah, mjuk toscakaka with her Swedish neighbour in Somerset or making a pear and ginger tarte tatin for a friend coming for the weekend from London.

Making pastry

I’m glad I read Tamasin Day-Lewis before she appeared on television. Her writing is forthright and confident. She takes you by the hand and escorts you firmly into the kitchen, promoting the best ingredients and the simplest combination of flavours. You are left in no doubt that her recipes will work – and they do. Ingredients of the best provenance are at the heart of everything, organic free-range eggs, Jersey cream, Montgomery or Keen’s unpasteurised Cheddar; she takes time to find, nurture and champion producers. She weaves in the recipes of friends too and is warm in her praise of them; in her introduction she says ‘It is difficult to meet an ungenerous cook’.  When I finally saw her on-screen, she was slightly larger than life, a bit frenetic, speech clipped and hurried, more pantomime dame than diva (although that sounds cruel and I don’t mean to be); she’s softer and more approachable in print.  She’s from an illustrious family, her father was the Irish poet Cecil Day-Lewis, her brother the actor Daniel, but any mention of her celebrity connections are rare, in passing and with affection (when Julia Roberts comes to stay she makes the pastry lattice for treacle tart). For all the happy childhood memories her food evokes, I can’t help feeling there as a dark side and life is not always easy; she finds solace in food, its preparation and sharing.

“It all starts on a kitchen chair, sleeves rolled, with a floured, preferably marble surface, and a wooden rolling pin. The food: the jam tart.”

The book has four sections: savoury tarts; other people’s tarts; sweet tarts; mastering pastry. All recipes have a paragraph giving the story behind them, the reason they have a place here.  You could buy this book on the strength of this alone for reading in bed, never making a recipe and be satisfied.  When you do venture into the kitchen, the typography for the recipes is clear and the layout straight forward. Not all have photographs and this doesn’t matter a jot. Like the recipes, the images are unpretentious and captured in an understated way by David Loftus (who went on to work with Jamie Oliver for years).  My favourites are the simple ones that I’ve made time and time again:

tomato tarts

Savoury tarts

  • Onion tart – meltingly soft onions mixed with egg and cream
  • Quiche Lorraine – no cheese, just eggs, the best bacon, cream and black pepper
  • Souffléd cheese tart – a cloud of Gruyère and mustard flavoured with bay
  • Mascarpone and bacon tart – one of the easiest and tastiest in the book
  • Flamiche – slowly cooked leeks enveloped in eggs yolks and cream

Looking at that list I’ve revealed my love of eggs, cream and cheese. Other tarts in the book include tomato and prosciutto tarts, smoked haddock and watercress tart and cherry tomato tarte tatin.

sweet tarts

Sweet tarts

  • Chocolate and apricot tart – rich soft chocolate over melted apricot paste (a bonus as this is a Middle Eastern ingredient found in my supermarket but you can use jam). If I have a signature dish, this is it; I’ve made it scores of times and it’s requested by family and friends time and again.
  • Lemon meringue pie – a classic recipe from her Grandmother’s cook Rhoda, “the gloopy lemon filling was never too sweet, never too cornfloured, and the top rose cloud-like, stepped, a breath of weightless meringue with that final, brittle brown top that a spoon had to crunch through before meeting the gooey middle and the smooth, tart lemon.” Can you resist? I can’t.
  • Apple crumble tart – a hybrid of classic favourites of the highest order.
  • White chocolate tart with raspberries – with a chocolate pastry crust, this is the true-definition of a show-stopper due to the genius combination of flavours.

strawberry tart apple tart

Other books written by Tamasin earn their keep on my cook book shelf but this has pride of place. Strangely, her follow-up book Tarts with tops on or how to make the perfect pie isn’t nearly as satisfying.

Yes, she has a recipe for a custard tart, although as a non milk drinker it is something she cannot abide so was tested by ‘an all-time custard tart fiend who did not pronounce it wanting.’ No, inconceivably, I have not tried it and I feel like I have let down an old friend by admitting it.

“Cooking is always about shared memory and experience, and tarts seem to have both fuelled and inspired my passion for food and cooking for longer than I can remember.”

With more than one hundred cook books , this is part of a series of quick reviews to see why they’ve earned their place on my shelves, in my kitchen and sometimes in my heart. Love to know what you think.

rasperry and white chocolate tart

35 Comments
  1. April 13, 2013 9:58 am

    Uni can quite see why this book has earned its place on your shelves. You have certainly done it justice. I’m off to look it up on Amazon

    • April 13, 2013 11:14 am

      As a writer I think she is up there with the best. I’m not sure why she isn’t more high profile…possibly because she’s not all that cuddly on TV.

  2. April 13, 2013 11:29 am

    Sounds like to great book to have! Thanks for the review Sally!

    • April 13, 2013 11:50 am

      Thanks for the nice comment Karin 🙂 Hope the weather has cheered up where you are…

  3. April 13, 2013 11:33 am

    I’ve never heard of this book. I love tarts though – to make and to eat – so it sounds like it might be one for me!

    • April 13, 2013 11:52 am

      I like this book for tart inspiration plus Tamasin’s vibrant writing too

  4. April 13, 2013 11:34 am

    …and I’m off to look for more information about flamiche. I think I’ve made a version of the chocolate and apricot tart a few times, using dried apricot cooked slowly until it can be made into paste, simple yet elegant.

    • April 13, 2013 11:51 am

      Such a great flavour with chocolate isn’t it…

  5. April 13, 2013 12:27 pm

    This book sounds interesting. Tarts arte so delicious and versatile. Thanks for the great review.

    I am a big fan of David Loftus’ work.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  6. April 13, 2013 1:03 pm

    I love Tamasin’s books, but this is one I don’t own. I have just had a look on Amazon and it is now very expensive, so you have a classic there! I love the way that Tamasin draws you into her life with her recipes, so that you can read her books at bedtime, as well as when you need a quick supper dish. I also lve your idea of reviewing older books – with 100 or so cookery books on your shelves, I am looking forward to plenty more reviews like this!

    • April 13, 2013 9:16 pm

      Oh wow – I didn’t realise that. It must be out of print – shocking.

  7. April 13, 2013 9:01 pm

    I don’t understand why this book is not yet on my shelves! Thanks for reviewing it. I’m now dreaming of a cheese soufflé tart.

  8. April 13, 2013 9:18 pm

    After reading your post…i need to get this book for my collection. Thanks for this review. 🙂

  9. pinkpolkad0tfood permalink
    April 13, 2013 9:35 pm

    What a great review!! I want it!!

  10. April 14, 2013 5:52 am

    Sally, you write great reviews that always answer the relevant questions I have, thank you. She is a little tight on tv, and like you, I wondered if there was a back story there. Her recipes though are always full, rich and joyous. I’ll look out for this book secondhand – I wonder if a digital Kindle version is available?

  11. April 14, 2013 1:32 pm

    This does look like a very wonderful book. I’d kind of forgotten about her recipes but this makes me want to leaf through the pages and get baking!

  12. April 14, 2013 2:10 pm

    I have the same book that I bought years ago! I love it a lot too!
    A great book review, Sally! She has great & tasty recipes in her book & there are all doable for me!

  13. April 14, 2013 2:47 pm

    I am getting the book 🙂

  14. April 15, 2013 1:12 am

    You should check out a book by my friend Greg Henry, “Savory Pies”. And his excellent blog, Sippity Sup.

    • April 15, 2013 4:33 pm

      Thanks for the reminder about Sippity Sup – haven’t visited in a long time.

  15. April 15, 2013 5:11 am

    I am so sad that this is out of print! Your description was so beautiful, and made me want to be a part of that little world so much. Definitely checking out smart tart.

    • April 15, 2013 4:35 pm

      I have All You Can Eat by Tamasin too – a collection of recipes from all her books. A lots of the tarts are in there but although practical it’s not as lyrical as the Art…

  16. April 15, 2013 2:42 pm

    Looks delicious! Great that she’s making a difference as well!

  17. April 15, 2013 3:03 pm

    Really enjoyed reading your review and now you’re making me feel like baking a tart. I love books like this that are as enjoyable to read in bed as they are to cook from, I need to look for a second hand copy of this book. Even though I hardly need a new cookbook, I have shelves of them – glad to hear you too have a huge collection and I’m not alone in my addiction.

    • April 15, 2013 4:32 pm

      There’s something so comforting about a case full of recipes isn’t there.

  18. April 16, 2013 5:27 pm

    Fantastic review and a book worth scouring the second hand shops for no doubt!

  19. April 17, 2013 12:20 pm

    Though I’m not much into baking (have admitted before too), I was very curious to read this post because I wanted to learn about the art of reviewing cookbooks – have 3 in the queue but not mastering the courage to do so. It was a very good read… I love reading cookbooks just like a story book and would probably go blind seeing your huge collection!

  20. April 22, 2013 1:39 pm

    Following your revieww, I’ve been trying to get hold of this book. Can you believe it’s out of print? Grrrrrrrr

  21. April 25, 2013 8:48 pm

    I love your comment ‘…that is until you turn the pages and find recipes that evoke nursery suppers, summer picnics, family gatherings and something indefinable but deeply appealing.’ That’s the way I feel about two books: Pie by Angela Boggiano and Humble Pie, which is actually musings on pie. Both are delicious and make me a bit ashamed of myself, that I havent cultivated pie and tart baking with perhaps the zeal I could have.

    Of course, I am remedying that with gusto.

    This is another one that has be lusting!

  22. May 2, 2013 5:49 pm

    What a glorious write-up – I do love me a good tart and some of these sound tremendously good, particularly the chocolate apricot number!

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