best treacle tart in the world

treacle tart is one of david’s favourites, ever since he tried it at chez bruce. i’d never made it though but when i saw heston blumenthal’s recipe for “the best treacle tart in the world” i decided that i had to give it a try.

i have a soft spot for heston – i love his nerdy scientific approach to food even though it's not an approach i would ever enjoy. i even treated myself to his big fat duck cook book before christmas and have really enjoyed reading it and marvelling at the amazingness of his food.

the treacle tart looked much more achievable than the recipes in the book so i was hopeful of great things. sadly my inability to make decent pastry struck.

no matter what i do – and yes, that includes chilling everything before, during and after – i struggle with pastry. and this pastry recipe gave me all sorts of problems! it’s different to any pastry i’ve made before as it requires equal quantities of flour and butter!

making the pastry was okay but when it came to blind-baking it i ended up with vast amounts of melted butter on the floor of my oven and puddling in the tart case. i soaked up the pastry in the case with a kitchen towel, pushed the pastry back up the sides of the tin as it had collapsed in some areas and hoped for the best.

thankfully it was okay, the filling was great and the flavours all worked well so it wasn’t too embarrassing to serve up.

the recipe below includes heston’s recipe for banana tuiles which were a bit disastrous too but that was because i didn’t have time to refrigerated the mix. they definitely tasted like they had potential though so i will try them again. i didn’t bother with the vanilla salt or ice cream (which does require hestonesque jiggery pokery).

heston blumenthal’s best treacle tart and ice cream in the world serves 8–10

before you start

the key is to keep the pastry as cold and relaxed as possible. if it’s too warm, the fat begins to melt. if it’s overworked, the gluten develops too much and the pastry loses its lightness. so don’t overdo the mixing and rolling: work quickly and briefly. cool all the equipment — greaseproof paper, rolling pin, marble pastry board (if you have one) — in the fridge before you start. and return the pastry to the fridge whenever you think it’s getting too warm. the cold will harden up the butter and the resting time will relax the gluten, after which it will be easy to work with once more.

coldness is, of course, also the key to the ice cream. i’ve had problems with domestic ice-cream makers because they haven’t got the mixture cold enough. in my search for an alternative, liquid nitrogen came up as one solution, but it’s difficult to obtain and difficult to work with. then i remembered dry ice. at minus 80c, it would freeze the mixture properly without causing havoc in the kitchen. and, as the main source of eerie mist effects on stage and screen, it would be easier to obtain than a canister of liquid nitrogen.

the fat duck’s nitro-poached green tea and lime mousse is served up surrounded by a swirl of vapour. with a bit of practice, this ice cream could be made at the table, providing a fantastic piece of theatre as the billowing mists of dry ice clear to reveal a cook, in goggles, bearing a bowl of ice cream that’s out of this world.

special equipment

  • digital probe
  • oven thermometer
  • loose- bottomed tart tin (28cm diameter and 3cm deep)
  • baking beans or several handfuls of small change
  • protective goggles
  • safety gloves
  • dry ice
  • food mixer


making the pastry requires care and patience: it needs to be made a few hours in advance, so it can spend time chilling in the fridge. the tart is relatively uncomplicated — the filling involves only a little heating and mixing. and, once you’ve got the hang of dry ice, the ice cream takes no time at all. you can even do it in advance, though i’d say it’s at its best when first made.

for the treacle tart

for the pastry

400g plain flour

1 heaped tsp table salt

400g unsalted butter, chilled and diced

100g icing sugar

zest of 1 lemon, finely grated

seeds from 1 vanilla pod

2 large egg yolks (about 40g)

2 large eggs (about 120g)

tip the flour and salt into a large bowl. using your fingertips, rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. given the amount of butter, you may need to add and rub it in in batches.

quickly stir in the icing sugar, lemon zest and vanilla seeds. add the egg yolks and the whole eggs, and mix until combined. tip onto a sheet of clingfilm, wrap it up and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 3 hours.

meanwhile, preheat the oven to 150c/ 300f/gas mark 2. lightly butter and flour the tart tin.

dust a piece of greaseproof paper with flour. take the pastry out of the fridge and remove the clingfilm. place the pastry on the greaseproof paper. cut off about one third of the dough and reserve in case it is needed to patch holes in the pastry base. (if unused, it can be frozen or baked as biscuits.) shake over more flour, then top with a second piece of greaseproof paper. begin to roll the pastry flat, moving the pin from the centre outwards. turn the pastry 90 degrees every few rolls. aim for a thickness of 3mm–5mm, and a diameter of 45cm–50cm. once the pastry is rolled out to the correct thickness, peel off the top layer of greaseproof paper, trim off any excess, then wind the pastry onto the rolling pin, removing the other layer of paper as you go. unwind the pastry over the flan tin and gently push it into the base and sides. place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

once the pastry has firmed up, remove it from the fridge. prick the base with a fork to stop it puffing up. take a fresh piece of greaseproof paper, scrunch it up and smooth it out several times (this makes it easier to put in position), then place it over the pastry base. put baking beans or, even better, coins on top. return the lined pastry case to the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

remove the case from the fridge and put it in the oven to bake for 25–30 minutes, until the pastry is a light, golden brown. if, after removing the beans or coins, the base is slightly tacky, return the case to the oven for 10–15 minutes.

for the filling

half an 800g loaf of brown bread

200g unsalted butter

3 large eggs (about 180g)

75ml double cream

2 tsp table salt

2 x 454g tins of golden syrup

zest of 3 lemons juice of 2 lemons (or enough to make 60ml)

preheat the oven to 150c/300f/gas mark

remove the crusts from the bread and discard. tear the bread into pieces, and blitz in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. weigh out 170g and set aside. 2 make a beurre noisette by putting the butter in a pan over a medium heat. when the butter stops sizzling (a sign that the water has all evaporated, after which it will soon burn) and develops a nutty aroma, remove it from the heat. strain it into a jug and leave to cool. discard the blackened solids left in the sieve.

put the eggs, cream and salt in a bowl and whisk until combined. set aside.

pour the golden syrup into a pan and heat gently until liquid. pour 115g of beurre noisette into the warmed syrup, and stir. (try to avoid tipping in any sediment that may have collected at the bottom of the jug.)

pour the buttery syrup into the egg and cream mixture. stir in the breadcrumbs and the lemon zest and juice.

transfer the mixture to a large jug. pour two-thirds of it into the pastry case. slide the tart into the oven and pour in the remainder of the filling. bake for 50–60 minutes, or until the tart is a deep brown colour. remove from the oven and leave to cool before taking out of the tin.

serve the treacle tart with a few grains of vanilla salt sprinkled on top, and with a good dollop of ice cream. for a real treat, add a few banana tuiles.

for the vanilla salt

seeds from 2 plump vanilla pods

50g sea salt

work the seeds into the salt with your fingers and leave to infuse until you’re ready to serve.

for the jersey-milk ice cream

500ml whole jersey milk

300ml double cream

80g unrefined caster sugar

100g glucose syrup 1kg dry ice

put the milk, cream, sugar and glucose syrup in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and the glucose is liquid. set aside.

put on safety gloves and protective goggles and open the packet of dry ice. wrap it in a tea towel and then a hand towel and smash it into a powder with a rolling pin. (make sure there are no large lumps of dry ice, as these will remain as lumps in the ice cream.) unfold the towels and shake the powdered dry ice into a glass bowl.

pour the milk and glucose mix into the bowl of a food mixer. (from now on, you need to work quite rapidly to avoid freezing the equipment.) shake a little of the dry ice into the mixing bowl and, using the mixer’s paddle, mix on the lowest speed until the dry ice dissolves and its vapour clears. continue to add dry ice, a little at a time, until the ice cream has absorbed all of it. (it may be easier to do this in two batches. it’s important to add the dry ice in small quantities to prevent the ice cream going grainy.) once the dry ice is absorbed, beat the ice cream on the second speed until smooth.

quickly scrape the ice cream out of the mixer and into a container. freeze until required. it is best eaten within 24 hours.

banana tuiles

50g butter

50g soft, white flour

50g icing sugar

50g egg white

2 ripe bananas, peeled and frozen overnight

heat the butter in a saucepan until brown with a nutty aroma. remove from the heat and allow to cool.

combine the butter and the flour into a paste, then mix in the icing sugar and egg whites to form a smooth batter. store in the refrigerator for several hours, or overnight.

thaw one of the bananas, then pass through a sieve. stir this purée into the batter.

preheat the oven to 120c/250f/gas mark ½. using a spatula, spread the batter in little biscuit shapes onto a nonstick baking sheet (use a round lid to cut around, if you wish). place in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes. they should take on a light, baked colour, but shouldn’t be dark brown at the edges.

just before removing the tuiles from the oven, grate some frozen banana over them to provide some fresh banana flavour.

working quickly, use the spatula to peel the tuiles off the baking sheet while they’re warm enough to be flexible. place on a flat surface to cool and harden.