Harry Potter loves treacle tart so much that he smells it when he is in the presence of the love potion Amortentia. Treacle tart is also so quintessentially British that its main ingredient, golden syrup, originated in the U.K. and is still sold under the original brand name—Tate & Lyle. It’s hard to find in the U.S., although I discovered with a little digging that, ironically, the brand and the product Lyle’s Golden Syrup were actually sold to a Florida-based company in 2010!
Golden syrup is also known as light treacle, treacle being a byproduct of refining sugar, similar to molasses. The lighter version was invented in 1883 by brothers Charles and John Joseph Eastick, chemists employed by the Abram Lyle & Sons sugar refinery. The company began canning and marketing the sweetener in 1885 in tins that, oddly enough, bore the image of a lion’s carcass swarming with bees, along with the slogan “Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness.” This is a reference to the biblical story of Samson, who killed a lion and later found that bees had built a honeycomb in its dead body. The traditional tins and labels remain largely unchanged today, recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest branding and packaging.
I’d never tried golden syrup before and was fortunate to find some in stock at my local World Market store. When I opened the bottle it smelled a lot like pancake syrup, but when I tasted it…Mmmmm! It had a sweet buttery flavor unlike anything I’d ever tried before. I can see why British expats pine for it here in the U.S. I did find a recipe for making golden syrup at home, which would probably be much cheaper, but it uses the same technique as caramel-making, so it could be tricky.
The other main ingredient in treacle tart, strange though it may seem, is bread crumbs: plain, ordinary, white bread crumbs. Like the Wonder Bread I ate as a kid. The kind we’re not supposed to eat anymore because it’s full of refined white flour and almost no fiber.
You don’t want to use dried bread crumbs, but you can’t make them from fresh bread, either, because it would all clump together. I measured out 5½ ounces of bread (6 slices) and left them on a baking rack to dry for a couple of hours before whirling them into crumbs in my food processor. Mary Berry’s recipe says they shouldn’t be too big or the tart filling will be lumpy and could even burn slightly while cooking.
While your bread is drying out a bit, you can prepare the pastry. The pastry for this tart is a simple shortcrust pastry, which I grew up calling piecrust dough. It is a basic combination of two parts flour to one part fat, by weight, rubbed together until it creates a mixture the consistency of fine bread crumbs. It’s then bound together by a small amount of ice water before being chilled in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to allow the moisture to be absorbed and the gluten to relax, minimizing shrinkage during the baking process.
After the dough has chilled, the recipe tells you to divide it, reserving about 5½ ounces for the lattice top, and roll the rest out thinly to line the tart pan. Rolling the reserved pastry out on cling film (I used wax paper.) will allow you to stick it in the fridge until you’re ready to cut it into strips for the lattice. Mary also suggests brushing the lattice pastry with egg wash before placing it on the tart so you don’t get egg on the tart filling.
On to the filling. The golden syrup I used, while still sold under the Lyle brand, came in plastic squeeze bottles and, according to some sources, is thinner than that sold in the traditional tins. But I followed the recipe as written with no ill effects. The only problem I ran into was that I started measuring 14 ounces of syrup in a measuring cup (fluid ounces) before realizing that the recipe calls for 14 ounces of syrup by weight (400 grams)! This is where using the metric system so common in the U.K. would make things a whole lot easier. It’s much easier to mistake weight for volume when measuring both in ounces than when using grams and milliliters!
Once I figured that out, making the treacle mixture was fairly easy. The recipe says to heat the syrup on the stove to “melt” it and then add the bread crumbs, lemon juice and zest. It also says if the mixture is too thin to add more breadcrumbs, but if you want less citrus taste, use less lemon—so I simply added the lemon juice a little at a time until I thought the filling was the right consistency. (My lemons were pretty big anyway.)
After I poured the filling into my pastry-lined pan, the recipe says to cut the reserved pastry into strips, egg wash the edge of the pastry shell and weave the strips into a lattice pattern on the top, letting the edges hang over the sides. To trim the edge of the pastry, you simply press down on the sides of the pan with your hands, sealing the lattice strips to the crust and creating a nice scalloped edge all around the tart.
I didn’t have any of the problems that some of the contestants on The Great British Baking Show encountered, like overworked pastry, soggy bottoms, or cloying or rubbery filling (scroll down to “Missteps”). Overall, I felt this was a fairly easy technical bake, but one my whole family enjoyed eating!
Mary Berry’s Treacle Tart With Woven Lattice Top
Adapted for American bakers
- 9 T. butter
- ½ t. salt
- 3 T. cold water
- Scant 2 c. golden syrup (14 ounces by weight)
- 5½ oz. fresh white bread crumbs (about 6 slices)
- Juice and zest of 2 lemons (or to taste)
- 1 egg, beaten
- To make the pastry, measure flour into a large bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs (alternatively, this can be done in a food processor). Add the cold water and mix to form a firm dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
- Grease a deep 7-inch, loose-bottomed fluted tart pan/flan tin with butter.
- After chilling the dough, remove about 5½ ounces of pastry from the main ball and reserve it for the lattice top. On a lightly floured surface, roll the rest of the dough out thinly; then line the prepared pan with the pastry. Prick it with a fork to prevent the base from rising up during baking.
- Place the reserved pastry on plastic wrap (or wax paper) and roll it out thinly. Brush it with the beaten egg and set aside to chill in the fridge. Brushing the pastry before placing it on the tart will prevent the egg from dripping onto the treacle mixture. Do not cut into strips yet.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F, and put a heavy cookie sheet in the oven to heat up.
- To make the filling, heat the syrup gently in a large pan, but do not let it boil. Once it’s melted, add the bread crumbs and lemon zest to the syrup. Stir in the lemon juice gradually until you have the consistency of a pie filling. If the mixture gets too runny, add a few more bread crumbs. If it’s too thick and you prefer less citrus taste, add more syrup.
- Pour the treacle mixture into the pastry-lined pan and level the surface.
- Remove the reserved pastry from the fridge and cut it into 10 long strips, about ½-inch wide. Make sure they are all longer than the diameter of the tart pan. Egg wash the edge of the pastry in the pan and weave a lattice pattern over the mixture with the pastry strips, letting them hang over the edge of the pan.
- Once the lattice is in place, use the edge of the pan to cut off the strips by pressing down with your hands all around the edges, creating a neat finish.
- Bake on the preheated cookie sheet in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, or until the pastry has started to color, and then reduce the temperature to 350°F. If at this stage the lattice seems to be getting too dark, cover the tart with tin foil.
- Bake for another 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden-brown and the filling set. Remove the tart from the oven and leave to firm up before removing it from the tin. Serve warm or cold with crème fraiche or clotted cream, if desired.