Episode 7, GBBO 2016, technical challenge

Bakewell Tart

Like many classic dishes, the origins of Bakewell tart are shrouded in myth and legend. What we do know is that this dessert is a variation on an earlier iteration known as Bakewell pudding. According to The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, Bakewell tart “was always known as a pudding until the 20th century.” The two are basically the same, except that, while a Bakewell tart consists of a short crust pastry shell layered with jam and almond frangipane, the pudding of the same name is baked in a puff pastry, and the filling is more eggy and custard-like. 

About the only place you’ll still find a Bakewell pudding today is in the town of Bakewell, in Derbyshire, England, where a cottage industry has grown around the town’s eponymous pastry. There are at least two bakeries in this quaint little village that claim to sell “the original Bakewell pudding.” But trying to pin down exactly when and where that original pastry came from is rather convoluted.

As the story goes, the owner of a local inn, a Mrs. Ann Greaves, asked her cook (or perhaps it was a waitress filling in for the cook) to make a strawberry tart. The cook made some changes to the recipe, perhaps by accident, but Mrs. Greaves served the pastry anyway, to the accolades of her customers. Mrs. Greaves took note of the “new” recipe so she could continue making it, and the Bakewell pudding was invented.

Some versions of the story say this occurred in 1860, but we know Mrs. Greaves retired in 1857. Some say the inn was the White Horse Inn, but it was demolished in 1803. In fact, Mrs. Greaves and her then-husband, James Hudson, had moved to Bakewell in 1803 at the behest of the Duke of Rutland to oversee the building of the new inn, the Rutland Arms. Although James died in 1805, Ann remarried a William Greaves and remained proprietress of the Rutland Arms until her retirement. 

While we don’t know exactly when the happy accident took place, recipes for Bakewell pudding began appearing in magazines as early as the 1820s, although they varied somewhat from what would be considered a proper Bakewell pudding today. 

One recipe in a vegetarian cookbook published in 1821 called for mashed potatoes to be added to the egg and almond filling. Others added raisins and candied orange peel to the jam or preserves. By 1836, the English periodical The Magazine of Domestic Economy published a recipe very similar to what we would call a Bakewell pudding today, having announced its plans in the previous issue by promising its readers, “Next month we shall give the far-famed Bakewell pudding.” So clearly, by that time, the dessert was already well known in England. 

The following year, the same recipe was printed word-for-word in two different American publications, The Family Magazine, published in Boston, and The Housekeeper’s Book by Frances H. Green, published in Philadelphia. Here’s how it appeared in The Housekeeper’s Book:

So there you have it. Some cook must have swapped the puff pastry for short crust pastry, and that’s how the Bakewell tart was born.

In presenting the bakers in the Great White Tent with the technical challenge of making Mary Berry’s recipe for Bakewell tart (albeit a pared-down version), the judges were looking for crispy pastry, well-defined layers and feathered icing on top. I guess you could say I achieved two out of three.

None of the elements of this bake is particularly difficult, although I would have struggled, too, without the complete recipe. When I saw that only 4 tablespoons of jam were needed, I opted to use some that I had left over from my Viennese whirls instead of making a whole new batch. You certainly could opt for using store-bought, too. I won’t judge.

Let tart cool before icing.

Once you’ve got the jam sorted, simply make a short crust pastry and blind bake the tart shell. After letting it cool, spread the jam over the bottom of the pastry. Cream together the frangipane ingredients and spread that over the jam. Bake, cool and ice; then pipe thin lines of pink icing over the white icing and feather it with a toothpick.

The only difficulty I had was in feathering the icing. The pink icing was so stiff that, by the time I piped on all the lines, they had begun to harden, so dragging a toothpick through just made scratch marks in the icing. Next time, I’ll add just a smidge more liquid. 

I love Bakewell tart, and Mary’s recipe does not disappoint. I was able to share some with friends and neighbors, the kind of people who answer the call when you go out of town and forget to stop the mail — and not only get your mail and pick up your packages but leave a homemade, warm-from-the-oven treat for you when you come home. We have the best neighbors!

You can find Mary’s recipe here, but I have adapted it for American bakers below.

Mary Berry’s Bakewell Tart

Credit: BBC.co.uk
(Adapted for American bakers)

For the jam:

  • 7 oz. raspberries
  • 1¼ c. sugar
  • 1 t. powdered pectin (I use Sure-Jell)

    For the short crust pastry:

    • 1¾ c. all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting)
    • 11 T. (5½ oz.) butter, chilled and cut into cubes
    • ¼ c. powdered sugar
    • 1 large egg, beaten
    • 2 T. cold water

    For the filling:

    • 11 T. (5½ oz.) butter
    • 2/3 c. granulated sugar
    • 1½ c. + 1 T. ground almonds
    • 1 large egg, beaten
    • 1 t. almond extract

    For the icing:

    • 2¾ c. powdered sugar
    • 1 t. almond extract
    • 3-4 T. cold water
    • pink gel food coloring


    1. To make the jam, put the raspberries in a small, deep-sided saucepan and crush them with a potato masher. Add the sugar and pectin and bring to a boil over low heat, stirring until the sugar has melted. When the mixture starts to boil, increase the heat and keep it at a rolling boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully pour jam into a shallow container to cool and set.
    2. To make the pastry, measure flour into a bowl and rub in the butter using your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the powdered sugar. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons cold water, mixing to form a soft dough.
    3. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface to 1/8-inch thickness. Roll the dough over the rolling pin to transfer it to a a 9-inch fluted, loose-bottom tart pan. Gently press dough into bottom and sides of pan. Transfer pan to the fridge to chill the dough for 30 minutes.
    4. Preheat oven to 400°F.
    5. Remove tart pan from fridge. Line the pastry shell with parchment paper (or aluminum foil) and fill with baking beans or uncooked rice. Blind bake for 15 minutes, then remove the beans and paper and bake for another 5 minutes until dry. Set aside to cool a little before adding the filling.
    6. To make the filling, cream butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add ground almonds, egg and almond extract, and mix together.
    7. Spread 4 tablespoons of jam over the bottom of the pastry shell. (The rest of the jam can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a month.) Spoon the filling mixture over the jam and smooth the surface using an offset spatula.
    8. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and bake the tart for 25-35 minutes until golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and leave to cool completely in the pan.
    9. To make the icing, sift powdered sugar into a bowl. Stir in the almond extract and about 3 tablespoons cold water to make a smooth, fairly thick icing. Place 3 tablespoons of the icing into a separate bowl and add a little pink gel food coloring to make a raspberry-colored icing. (TIP: If the icing seems too stiff, add a few drops of water at a time, stirring until you get a consistency that is pipable but will still flow slightly when piped.) Spoon the pink icing into a small piping bag fitted with a small plain nozzle.
    10. When the tart has cooled completely, spoon the white icing over the top and spread it to form a smooth surface. Pipe parallel lines of pink icing over the white icing, then drag a toothpick through the lines at a 90 degree angle, alternately dragging from top to bottom and bottom to top, to create a feathered effect. Leave to set, then serve in slices.

    *Alternatively, use store-bought jam.


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