I enjoy the rhythm of cooking - the delicious ritual of getting something to eat on the table every day. But if I am honest, there are some kinds of cooking I enjoy more than others: such as last weekend, when I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen for no reason other than the pleasure of baking.
The quiet joy of cooking for cooking's sake: for the hypnotic pleasure of kneading dough; the benign smell of a cake baking in the oven; for the reign of calm that presides over a kitchen where a cook is quietly at work. And, yes, for something good that can be shared at the end.
I didn't have to make a fruit tart. Especially one that smelt of warm pastry, sweet caramel and ripe apricots. Neither was it essential that I put together another one, altogether simpler, with a tender crust that crumbled as hoped, with a thick, piquant cream and a veritable mound of soft, summer fruits. But I did. It is a sad kitchen that can't be used purely for fun sometimes.
Anyone interested in the marriage of soft fruits and crisp crusts will look forward to this time of year like no other. From blueberries and cherries to the first plums, from glistening whitecurrants to deep, crimson-black logans, this is the peak of the tart-maker's year. Peaches on a frangipani base; damsons under a pebbly, oat and almond crust; plums sliced and layered on a sheet of fine, crisp puff pastry. Each and every one is a gift to the eater, but also a gift to the cook.
I am not sure it matters whether your tart is a flawless masterpiece or something more friendly and wobbly at the edges. What matters is the offering of something you made simply for the pleasure involved - something made with a light heart. Good food from a good place.
Berry and goat's cheese tart
When goat's curd evades me, I use a soft, mild goat's cheese, creamed with a small amount of double cream. For this recipe you will need a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin.
sweet oat or almond biscuits 300g
double cream 250g
goat's curd 200g
icing sugar to dust
Crush the oat biscuits to coarse crumbs. A food processor is the quickest tool for this, but crushing the biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin works perfectly well. Melt the butter in a saucepan, tip in the biscuit crumbs and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
Press the biscuit crumbs into the tart case, lining the base and pushing the mixture up the sides with a spoon and pressing it into shape with your fingers. Chill in the fridge for 25 to 30 minutes until crisply set.
Whip the cream in a chilled bowl until thick but not so firm that it will stand in peaks. It should just be able hold its shape. Spread the goat's curd over the bottom of the biscuit crust, followed by a layer of the cream.
Sort and trim the berries and cherries, removing stems, stones and leaves, then pile them on top of the tart. Dust with icing sugar and serve soon after assembling.
Apricot tarte tatin
Ripe fruit, pastry, caramel. The making of the caramel can be tricky. I avoid the temptation to stir the butter and sugar too much, which can often make it become grainy. Just an occasional stir over a moderately high heat is best for a smooth caramel.
ripe apricots 500g (about 10)
puff pastry 500g
caster sugar 50g
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Melt the butter in the tatin tin, then add the sugar and leave to bubble to a deep-brown caramel. Take care that the sugar doesn't burn, and avoid the temptation to stir it too much.
Slice the apricots in half, remove the stones, then place the fruit cut-side up in the caramel. Continue cooking briefly, so that the fruit softens fully, then remove from the heat and allow to cool sightly.
Roll the pastry, then cut out a disc slightly larger than the tatin tin. Place the pastry over the top of the fruit. Tuck the overhanging edges of the pastry under the apricots around the edge. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the pastry is puffed and golden.
Let the tart settle and cool a little before carefully turning it out, taking great care with the hot caramel.
Simple plum tarts
Enough for 2 small tarts
medium-sized plums 6-8
caster sugar 2 tbsp
puff pastry 200g
apricot jam 4 tbsp
Heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Put a baking sheet in the oven.
Roll the pastry out to 3mm in thickness. Cut two rounds of it approximately 15cm in diameter. Score a wide rim around the outside of each, about 1cm in from the edge, taking care not to cut right through the pastry. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
Halve the plums and discard the stones. Place the plums flat-side down on the pastry, leaving the outer rim of pastry clear. Lift the hot baking sheet from the oven, lift the tarts on to the baking sheet with a flat fish slice, then bake for 12 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden.
Warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan and brush it over the tarts. Eat warm or cool.
Red lights: berry and goat's cheese tart. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin for the Observer