Gypsy tart is a very typical Kentish pudding. I went to a local grammar school in Maidstone, and it was one of those dishes the dinner ladies would serve up every lunchtime. But people who aren't from our area never seem to have heard of it. It's a very sweet, very rich dish which is just delicious when it's made properly.
At school it was always disgusting, with pastry a foot thick and not enough filling, but because it was so unbelievably sweet I liked it anyway. I'd eat a huge slice and then run around the room for an hour on a sugar rush.
The story goes that there was an old gypsy woman who saw a group of children in the field near her house, they looked so undernourished that she wanted to make them something to eat and made the only thing she could with the ingredients she had...
The key ingredients are muscovado sugar and evaporated milk, which you have to whip until it gets very frothy; then you pour it into a blind bake tart, and set in the oven at a low temperature for just a few minutes, until the tart has a lovely caramelised mousse texture.
It was one of the few things I actually ate at school, I was such a fussy eater. Every day it was egg, chips and beans, and gypsy tart. Or rice pudding with a layer of skin along the top. These days, when it's done nicely with a light, buttery pastry and the filling whipped properly, there's still nothing better. You can buy good-quality pre-baked pastry, if you just want to make it simply, but for the best possible taste you should try to make your own pastry.
'My Kind of Cooking' by Mark Sargeant is published on 10 November by Quercus Books, £20
For the pastry (makes 500g)
125g unsalted butter
90g caster sugar
1 large egg
250g plain flour
For the tart
400g evaporated milk
330g muscovado sugar
Combine the butter and caster sugar in a food processor. Add the egg; process for 30 seconds. Tip in the flour and process for a few seconds until the dough just comes together. Add 1tbsp cold water if the dough seems dry. Knead on a floured surface then shape into a flat disc and chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3. Roll out 300g of the pastry and use to line a 21cm tart tin. Line the pastry case with greaseproof paper; fill with baking beans and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the baking beans. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes until the base is a pale golden brown. Whisk the milk and sugar together until light and fluffy (it takes about 15 minutes). Pour the milk mixture into the pre-baked pastry case then cook for 5-10 minutes until risen and the surface is tacky.
Remove from oven and leave to cool and set before serving.
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