Saturday 25 April 2009

Botanic Gardens and the power of Raspberry Tarts

I never fail to be astounded by how much some lovely food can cheer me up. This morning had been terrible and by the time I had dragged myself (in my lovely new white ballet pumps...) to the Rad Cam to do some work (the rather lovely building below, an epicenter of tourist-density, though luckily only students are allowed in - but trust me, it's just as beautiful inside! We're very lucky) I was feeling a bit sorry for myself - perhaps a little spoilt, but what can you do. I managed a few hours until closing time - and most importantly, tea time - beckoned.

Instead of dragging my rather grumpy self back to college I decided to take a detour to my second favourite patisserie in Oxford - Patisserie Valerie - and grab something to cheer myself up. As I can't bake it myself, might as well indulge in the ready-made. I went for a rather beautiful little raspberry tart and a latte - classic combination, as far as I'm concerned. I was rather tempted by some almond croissants, and ice cream (I'm always tempted by ice cream!), but the tart was just so ruby-red and sort of... called to me.

I walked down to the wonderful Botanic Gardens down by the river with my tart in one of those exciting little pastry boxes, sipping my latte as I went. As students of the university we get free entry to the Botanic Gardens and it's a bit of a haven for me - even when quite full of people like today, it's an incredibly soothing place away from the melee of Oxford. The rose garden outside is very special to me too - not only because I really love roses - but because it's dedicated to my grandfather, among others. So I always make a little detour to read the plaque and have a wander. I can't wait till the roses are out, I've never been in Oxford when they've been blooming. I really love the mixture of crazy plants and more 'normal' everyday plants in the gardens themselves, like the extravagant and normal tulips below.

Spring has really hit in the gardens - it's blossoming and flowering and bursting out with new leaves all over the place. I only had my phone with me, so the photos aren't perhaps as good as they could be - but I'm pretty impressed with how it held up. There really is something about spring - it feels so hopeful and promising, like nothing could really be wrong with the world, or stressful - just growth. Wandering around among the children running about laughing, the groups of friends gossiping, people punting on the river, couples sitting on the grass, people studying in the dappled shade of the trees, the elderly sitting on benches, quiet and unassuming watching us all go by, it really feels as though life could only be good.

I sat down on the petal-strewn grass under one of the blossoming apple trees to attack my tart - the coffee was rather depleted by the time I had wandered about taking photos and daydreaming. It had been squished a little - you can see a little jelly smeared on the box at the bottom, but it was fine. It was wonderful. Lovely crisp pastry, a thin layer of dark chocolate, a slither of cake, smooth crème pâtissière, good fresh raspberries and a thin coating of jelly. We have a raspberry tart at a bakery in Switzerland that does similarly divine raspberry tarts - though theirs has alcohol in the cake, and a whipped cream layer and the pastry is flaky, rather than a case.

I haven't made a raspberry tart like this for ages - must remember this summer - but we did make a wonderful strawberry one last summer. We had heaps of thick crème pâtissière in a pastry base simply topped with a punnet of strawberries from the garden - bliss. I suppose the White Chocolate and Raspberry Tart with a Dark Chocolate Crust I made a while ago counts, but it's different - less of the creamy, egg yolk thick custard.

It feels very odd not having a recipe to offer, but as I can't be baking it does feel good to at least think and write about food - I really do miss it here.

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