This is the sweetest tart of all, from my childhood dreams

Sticky and sweet, treacle tart is a classic dessert and a great comfort food

It is the final instalment of our Comfort Food Classics series for Irish Times Food Month, and I am finishing it off with a tart of dreams from my childhood, and the sweetest tart of them all: the treacle tart.

My memory of this delectable dessert comes from the classic childhood film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, where treacle tarts and marmalade rolls were joyous picnic foods, and were indeed, truly scrumptious. They were also the treat that the ghastly Childcatcher lured children with, as he shouted “Treacle Tarts! All free today!”, suggesting that children could not resist these sweet, luscious delights.

This classic pudding is quintessentially British and has evolved over the centuries. Treacle was used as medicine prior to the 17th century, and, after that, began popping up in sweets such as gingerbread and bread pudding. Treacle tart became a frugal pudding and a way of using up leftover bread.

The tart that we know and love today has only a few ingredients – first, a shortcrust pastry, baked blind and filled with a simple mix of treacle, golden syrup, breadcrumbs, eggs and lemon.

Treacle as an ingredient comprises what we know commonly as black treacle, but it also includes what is sometimes referred to as light treacle, or golden syrup. Golden syrup has a sweet and sickly characteristic to it, and while there is a lot of it in this dessert, the lemon zest and juice balances it slightly, and the bitter black treacle tones the sweetness down further.

The breadcrumbs add a soft chewy texture to the tart, and recipes can differ between using stale or fresh, and brown or white breadcrumbs. I like using slightly stale, brown breadcrumbs here; they add to the chewiness level and enhance the flavour.

I make a classic shortcrust pastry for this; the recipe here will line a 23cm fluted tart tin. It is simple and can be made in a food processor if preferred. Whenever I make tarts, I use a loose-bottomed non-stick tin, a tiny tip that makes a big difference when trying to remove your tart.

Once baked, the tart should be left to cool slightly before eating. It is sweet and sticky when cold, but served warm, it is a real comfort food. A little goes a long way when serving this, you will need only a little sliver per person as it is sweet and rich. Serve it with cold cream or crème fraiche.

Recipe: Treacle tart

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