rustic tart

Making shortcrust pastry has to be amongst the easiest and the best skills to have in the kitchen. For providing the perfect backdrop to an endless variation in fillings, from savoury, like the leek and dorset blue tart I made at River Cottage, to a sweet seasonal fruit tart, shortcrust pastry is perfect. The glorious days of blueberries are imminent, so let’s make a rustic tart, the one I baked for the folks at Heart Home, when they came out to visit the old cottage.


I like to make a large recipe, and bake two. Start with 500 grams of flour (I used a mix of white and whole spelt), 250 grams of cold unsalted butter, a couple of egg yolks, a pinch of salt, and 100 ml of cold milk, though we may not use it all. For the filling, cook five or six cups of blueberries until their liquid reduces a bit, then remove from heat and toss with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of light flour. Squeeze half a lemon in, too.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the butter into the flour til it’s in tiny pieces, and then start rubbing the butter into the flour. (I like to wash my hands in cold water, as you don’t want to melt the butter in!) You’re looking for the moment when the flour turns yellow, and resembles breadcrumbs.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Yellow? Excellent. Mix in the two egg yolks.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Add some milk in splashes, just until the dough comes together and no more. Knead it for a minute. You could break the dough in half and form two balls. I wrap mine in parchment, then toss it in a bag to chill in the fridge for a half hour. Heat your oven to 375F/180C. On a very lightly floured surface, roll the dough out thinly, and lift it onto a flat, parchment lined tray.

shortcrust tart © elisa rathje 2012

Dollop the blueberry filling into the middle, fold the pastry in, and sprinkle with some coarse sugar if you’ve got some around. Bake it for close to an hour! And serve, cooled, with some whipped cream. It looks
incredibly gorgeous when it’s baked
, especially if you’ve got a professional photographer and a pair of magazine editors to document the event.

mrs beeton’s

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1861, a guide to all facets of running the Victorian household.


I love it particularly for its colour plates of an endless variety of beautiful dishes;


For such beautiful little prints, and such fascinating style and language;


And for its illustrations and discussion of household tools, solutions, recipes, remedies. It’s an extraordinary bit of history to page through. I had a peek at Mrs Beeton’s apple turnover recipe, of course.

I love that she calls pastry, simply, paste. So it is! Patisserie.


This is a 1906 edition of the book, first published in full in 1861. I’ve borrowed it from a friend and found it full of yellowed clippings and ads dating back from the 1920’s. Entrancing stuff.


The book is available to read online, and for a bit of social history along with a look at Isabella Beeton’s life, there’s Sophie Dahl’s The Marvellous Mrs Beeton.


When I’ve made flatbreads or English muffins or pizza, I love to make breadsticks out of the last of the dough.


I use a simple recipe for everything inspired by recipes from the River Cottage Bread handbook by Daniel Stevens. Mine is 500g each of whole and white spelt, 10g of yeast, 650ml of warm water, though I usually make up part of that with sourdough culture to deepen the flavour, 20g of sea salt, and a good glug of olive oil. I knead that well and leave it to rise, covered, overnight before using it for various recipes. Preheat the oven to about 200 C/375 F.

Roll out a good handful of the dough to a half centimeter on a floured surface.


Slice lengths of about a finger’s width;


Arrange them on an oiled tray in shapes as you please. The spirals are delightful, my children adore them. I like to drizzle the bread with garlic-infused olive oil and sprinkle them with coarse sea salt.


Bake them through, about 18-20 minutes. I once made the mistake of putting them in a piping hot oven I’d been baking pizza in, and it swiftly turned them to charcoal.


Breadsticks! So great for simple meals out in the garden.


Now, you might think that after the surprises I had at how effortless it is to make my own oatcakes and flatbreads and pizzas and English muffins, I wouldn’t be phased by anything. Yet I am astonished by the simplicity of handmade pasta. My lovely friend Sabine inspired me to try it. Flour, eggs, a rolling pin and a good knife are all that is needed.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

I am liberated from the late supermarket run: if there are flour and eggs in the house, and a bit of time, we can eat pasta. I measured out 300 grams of white spelt flour;


I made a well in the hill of flour, and cracked in three eggs. These are from our local organic farm, Old Plawhatch, aren’t they blindingly yellow! From healthy, happy chickens.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Mix them together with your fingers til you’ve got a breadcrumb-like consistency, and then start kneading. Unlike breadmaking, this dough is incredibly stiff, and put me in mind of wedging clay. Wrap the dough up, airtight, and leave it if you can take the time, at least twenty minutes, to relax the gluten. I went off to a homeschooling group and a violin lesson, and came back to find the dough considerably softer.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cut the dough in two, shape a flat round, flour your surface and your pin, and roll it out just as thin as you can. Even thinner. Next time I’ll push it a bit further. Amazingly, though it’s very stiff, the dough doesn’t crack easily.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Now flour the dough a little if necessary, and roll it up.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012


homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Where’s that sharp knife? Yes, decide how wide to slice the pasta. I’ll slice them more narrowly next time, say, half a centimeter.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

When I buy a bag of dry pasta I’m not joyful like this, nor am I compelled to gaze at the shapes in delight. The pleasures of homemade continue to astound me.

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Unroll the spirals of dough and leave them to dry til brittle. Long enough to make a wonderful sauce, or go for a long walk, depending on the humidity in your kitchen. I laid some over a drying rack, and left some on the marble, but I’d like to hang the noodles over a dowel next time. The pasta nests people make are also very sweet, but wouldn’t dry very quickly in a chilly old cottage like this one!

homemade pasta © elisa rathje 2012

Cook them in sea salted water as you would cook any fresh pasta, al dente, once you have a sauce ready. Oh! The flavour is quite wonderful. You can freeze the dried pasta for later use. The children are determined to try using cutters on the pasta dough, with grand plans for ravioli and tortellini! For an everyday meal I am completely content with my wide, wobbly linguine. I love it.

english muffins

At diners, in supermarkets, the English muffin would arrive, ready-made, and I never thought much about it, excepting that it must be a difficult thing, to make an English muffin. Possibly requiring specialist equipment. Mysterious. A very different muffin from the handmade sort I grew up with, certainly, one that slotted effortlessly into a toaster. It wasn’t until I actually made them this weekend with my little girls, and our English friend, that it dawned on me. Allow me to show you.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

The Ingredients

500g spelt flour or similar
325g tepid water (or a scoop of sourdough starter topped up with tepid water to this amount)
5g dry yeast (or 10g if you’ve no sourdough starter, or, skip it if your starter is strong!)
10g sea salt
a glug of olive oil if you like

We took the very same recipe that we use for pizza dough and flatbreads and breadsticks, since we had lots of it. We’d mixed it well, kneaded it smooth, and left it to sit for a few hours, covered with a plate and a beeswax cloth.

The Method

Form the dough, about the size of a mandarin orange, into little rounds. Small hands are excellent at this part. You’re meant to pat them flat, but I forgot that bit.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

Lay them out on a floured woodblock, covered to keep out air, and leave them by the wood stove or somewhere cosy to rise til double in size. We just couldn’t wait that long and got started after a half hour. The dough had risen plenty, having been made the day before, so nothing to worry about.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

We heated a pan to a steady medium heat on the hob, or you can set a cast iron pan on the wood stove and settle a few rounds in for a minute.


Then we flipped them, and kept flipping them, every now and then for a dozen minutes, to cook them evenly on each side. All of a sudden they looked just like English muffins! Oh! They’re flipped back and forth, cooked in a dry pan! Thus the flatness, the scone-like cracks! What do you know.

english muffins © elisa rathje 2012

Best of all, they are magical with a pat of butter and a spoonful of homemade marmalade.