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Recipe: Quaking baking – Crab and asparagus tart

Crab and asparagus tart.
Crab and asparagus tart with a crisp green salad.

I have a confession – possibly a shocking one, for a foodie. I’m a bit nervous when it comes to baking. With the popularity of the likes of The Great British Bake Off, it might appear a bit strange that an alleged foodie is intimidated by making bread and cakes; baking is so in vogue, after all.

Given my upbringing, this shouldn’t really be the case. My grandmother was a fantastic baker. She lived right next to my primary school, and I would always call round on the way home to be greeted by the smell of cupcakes fresh out of the oven, or – my particular favourite – a slice of freshly cooked apple pie. And this being the 1970s there was no resorting to packet cake mixes or pre-prepared pastry. My gran made everything by hand in a tiny kitchen, and without the assistance of a food processor.

Given how much I love cooking I don’t know why baking causes me such trepidation. Maybe it’s the control freak in me. Whereas with a casserole, roast or risotto you can keep checking how things are progressing; basting here, adjusting the seasoning there, but with baking it’s much more of a leap of faith. Ingredients are assembled, in common with any recipe, but bear little resemblance to how the finished dish should turn out, and there is no opportunity to sample and adjust things once the bread, cake, or tart is dispatched to the oven for the heat to work its alchemy.

So I thought it was time I pushed my cooking envelope, as it were, and did a wee bit of baking for the blog. Also, as my recipes to date have been pretty carnivorous, I also thought I would cook a shellfish and vegetable-based dish, proving to my pescatarian friend Christine – the women behind the excellent Vegemite on Oatcakes foodie blog – that my cooking isn’t just about meat.

Sticking to my guns in terms of trying to use seasonal ingredients wherever possible, I decided to have a bash at Valentine Warner’s mouth-watering recipe for crab and asparagus tart. All ingredients were purchased from Edinburgh Farmers’ Market (bar the flour and butter for the short crust pastry) – see my previous post for a spotlight on suppliers. For a vegetarian alternative, the crab could be substituted for a flavoursome, but not too sharp, cheese such as Emmental. This will complement the asparagus without overwhelming it.

So was my baking apprehension justified? Well, combined with a green salad the tart was delicious, with sweet/savory crab and the fresh – yet earthy – asparagus being perfect partners. So much so that the slice I had earmarked for today’s lunch was snaffled by my other half. Maybe I should bake more often…


  • 300g shortcrust pastry or 1 packet ready made
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 bundles of British asparagus
  • 50g /2 oz butter
  • 1 small onion very finely chopped
  • 1½ tsp tomato puree
  • 1 generous tsp Dijon mustard
  • 300g / 9 oz soft fresh brown crab meat
  • 300ml / 1 ¼ cups single cream
  • 2 medium eggs, free range
  • A heavy grind of black pepper & salt to taste (I also added a pinch of smoked paprika)

Preparation and cooking

  1. You will need 25cm /10 inch loose bottom tart case
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F Roll out out the pastry into a thin sheet large enough to line the tart case. Lay the pastry into the tin allowing any excess to hang over the edge.
  3. Screw up a a sheet of baking paper and lay on the pastry in the tart tin. Cover with baking beans to weigh the pastry down.
  4. Place on a baking sheet and cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until golden brown.
  5. Remove the paper and beans and cook the tart case for a further 5 – 6 minutes to crisp the pastry bottom. Remove from the oven and while the pastry is hot paint the entire case with the beaten egg. Using a sharp knife trim the excess pastry from the tart rim.
  6. Cut the asparagus spears in half and drop into boiling salted water, as soon as the water comes back to the boil cook for exactly 1 ½ minutes. Drain, cool in cold water, drain again and dry thoroughly in a tea towel.
  7. Melt the butter into a saucepan, add the onions and cook gently until soft and golden brown (about 10 minutes). Stir in the tomato puree and mustard then cook gently for a minute or so more. Finally, add the brown crab meat, the cream, salt & pepper, and stir it all together Remove from the heat and while continuously beating, break in the 2 remaining eggs, beat in well. Leave to one side.
  8. Scatter the asparagus into the pastry case, pour the filling over and carefully return the tart to the oven & cook for approx 25-30 minutes.The tart is nearly done when you give the tray a little shake and the filling wobbles slightly in the middle. It is important to take the tart out at this time as it will go on cooking, you want the filling soft rather than overset.
  9. Serve warm, or at room temperature, lovely with a crisp green salad.

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