I’m packing a picnic. (Give me a pork pie, a punnet of cherries and a picnic rug and I could barely be happier.) The best picnic food is inevitably the simplest. Nothing fussy; nothing that will wilt or dry up or spill. Just lovely big food to share. A pie, a tart, a big bag or two of fruit. Oh, and a bottle of ginger beer.
If it is to be a proper picnic, there has to be some seasonal fruit. Generally, I would say that cherries travel most successfully when kept cool by ice packs, but another way is to bake them into a tart and take the whole thing, baking tray and all, with you. Make it a deep tart rather than the sort of shallow tart you find in a French patisserie, and fill it with almond sponge and a thick layer of jam.
If that sounds like too much trouble, take your dessert in kit form, to be assembled in the field, so to speak. Bring a box of strawberries, a tub of yogurt, some mint leaves and sugar, and a bag of homemade granola. Layer the ingredients on site, trifle style – a picnic parfait.
Cherry almond tart
There is a thick layer of jam between the pastry and almond filling of this softly textured tart. I suggest the sharper, ruby-hued morello rather than black cherry, which I feel is too sweet. Use apricot if you can’t get hold of morello.
I bake the pastry case before adding the filling. It is a bit of a faff, but a necessary one and it gives a contrastingly crisp crust to the soft, almond-scented filling. It is, I assure you, well worth the trouble. Serves 6
For the pastry:
plain flour 200g
egg yolk 1
water about 2 tbsp
For the almond filling:
caster sugar 125g
ground almonds 120g
For the cherry filling:
morello cherry jam 250g
flaked almonds 2-3 tbsp
You will also need a rectangular baking tin measuring approximately 18 x 28cm
In a food processor, reduce the flour and butter to coarse crumbs, then add the beaten egg yolk and just enough water to bring the dough together into a firm ball – about 2 tbsp. Wrap in baking parchment or greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter into dice, rub into the flour with your fingertips, mix in the egg yolk and water, roll into a ball and chill as above.
Heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Roll the pastry out and line the baking tin, pushing the pastry right into the corners and taking care to patch any tears or holes. Cover with baking parchment or foil and then fill with baking beans, then bake for 20 minutes. Remove the paper or foil and beans and return to the oven for a few minutes until the pastry is touch-dry.
While the pastry is baking, make the almond filling. Put the butter and sugar in a food mixer and cream until light and fluffy. Break the eggs into a bowl, beat lightly with a fork, then add slowly to the butter and sugar. If the mixture shows any sign of curdling or becomes grainy, add a little flour. Finally, mix in all the flour and ground almonds, and set aside.
Stone the cherries. Remove the pastry case from the oven and turn the oven down to 165C/gas mark 3. Spread the jam carefully over the pastry, then spread the almond filling over, smoothing it with the back of a spoon. Scatter the cherries over the filling, pushing them down a little way into the mixture.
Scatter the flaked almonds over the top and bake for about 45-50 minutes, until the filling feels lightly firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before lifting it out of the case and cutting it into slices.
Strawberry granola parfait
I prefer this with emphasis on the fruit and yogurt rather than the granola, but be guided by your own taste. If you like just a shallow layer of crumbs, then you will have a little left over, which will keep for days in a stoppered jar. Serves 4
For the granola:
jumbo oats 45g
porridge oats 45g
almonds 50g, skinned, whole
puffed rice 15g
soft brown sugar 1 tbsp
yogurt 400g, natural
fruit jelly 4 tbsp
For the mint sugar:
mint leaves 10
sugar 2 tbsp
Melt the butter in a shallow pan, add the oats and cook for about 7 minutes over a moderate heat until golden. Add the almonds and puffed rice and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes. Scatter the sugar over the pan and leave for a couple of minutes until it starts to caramelise. Remove the pan from the heat once the sugar has melted and turned golden. Set aside and leave to cool.
Make the mint sugar. Put the leaves and sugar in a food processor and blitz until the sugar has turned green. Stir half of the mixture into the yogurt. Slice the berries in half, removing their hulls. Melt the fruit jelly in a small saucepan, remove from the heat, then add the halved berries and stir briefly until coated.
Sprinkle a little of the granola in each of 4 glasses or small dishes, spoon in layers of yogurt, strawberries, granola and mint sugar. Eat no longer then 30 minutes after serving, so as not to lose the contrast between the yogurt and crisp granola.