Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cooking the Books

Today's selection - Apple Tart with Chantilly Cream to match up with LADY MERCY DANFORTHE FLIRTS WITH SCANDAL. The rustic apple tart would suit our hero Rafe Hartley and, of course, that fancy Chantilly cream symbolizes Lady Mercy.


 For the tart

200g/7oz ready-made puff pastry

2 tbsp stewed apple, or sweet apple sauce

6 apples (Cox or Granny Smith), peeled, quartered and cored

2 tbsp caster sugar

40g/1½oz butter, cubed

1 free-range egg yolk, beaten

For the Chantilly cream

250ml/9fl oz double cream

1 tbsp icing sugar

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

2. Roll the puff pastry out on a clean work surface to a large sheet, 3mm thick.

Using a bowl or plate, cut a circle about 25cm/10in in diameter.

Crimp the edge before turning the whole sheet over and laying it directly onto a flat baking tray. Chill in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

3. Remove the pastry from the fridge and spread the apple compĂ´te all over the base of pastry, leaving a 1cm/½in border at the edge.

4. Slice the apples the thickness of a two-pound coin and place them onto the pastry sheet, fanning them out, starting from the outside and working in. The apples should overlap each other. Use the largest slices on the outside and place the smallest slices in the middle of the tart.

5. Once all the apples have been laid out, sprinkle over the caster sugar and dot with the cubed butter. Brush the border with the beaten egg and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden-brown and risen around the edge.

6. For the Chantilly cream, whisk the cream, icing sugar and seeds from the vanilla pod in a bowl until very soft peaks form and set aside until ready to serve.


            He paced in the churchyard, hat in his hands. When Molly was half an hour late, he’d thought she must be ill or some tragedy had happened to keep her from getting to the church. But as time wore on and he saw his stepmother’s face and then his aunt’s peering fearfully at him around the corner of the chapel tower, he knew this was not the case.

            Finally, here came Mercy Fancy-Breeches Danforthe, picking her way daintily over tussocks of grass. Trust this damned woman to be in the thick of it.

            It was some time now since he’d seen her this close, but there was no avoiding each other today. Rafe readied himself, gathering the memories of all those things she’d done to him, all the pain she’d caused. It was because of this woman that Molly went off to London and developed a fancy for finer things. Molly’s experience of life in Town had been very different from his, of course. The side of London she saw was clean and shiny as a newly minted penny.

            “Well, say what you’ve come to say,” he exclaimed as Mercy drew near. “Give it to me straight. I can take my punches.”

        She looked up. “So I hear, Mr. Hartley.” A flare of bright sun lit her wretchedly pretty face, and a sharp spur of anger burned in his gut. The opinionated wench was more beautiful today than he remembered. Stunning. The sight of her sent his mind into a furi­ously spinning vortex from which it could not rescue itself. His temper traveled rapidly likewise. He supposed she was satisfied now, having ruined his wedding day. Again. Ruined his life, for the second time.

        It was five years, five months, one week, and three days since The Danforthe Brat persuaded him, in a wild moment of stupidity, to run off with her to Gretna Green. It shocked Rafe that he knew the exact number of days, for until that moment he hadn’t realized he was counting. Her brother, the Earl of Everscham, would never tolerate the match, of course. Their marriage was declared void within hours, because they were both too young and neither had consent. Good thing too, Rafe could say now with hindsight.

        Slowly she untied the ribbons of her bonnet, lingering over her message.

        “What are you waiting for?” he grunted impatiently as he shifted from foot to foot.

        Mercy slid the bonnet from her hair, and when she tipped her head to one side, another brilliant glimmer of sun caught on her curls. She squinted. “I’m sorry—”

        “I’ll bet you are.”

            He saw her straighten her shoulders and wrap her bonnet ribbons tightly around her fingers. “I may as well tell you without preamble.”

            “I’d be grateful,” he snapped. “My lady.”

            She exhaled sharply. “Molly says she can’t marry you. Not today.”

            “Does she indeed?”

            “She’s confused. Afraid. It’s just nerves.”

            Rafe looked away for a moment, curbing the instinct to curse out loud. The temperance wouldn’t last long, he knew. Good manners were never his strong point.

            “I’m sure she’ll come to—”

            “Why can’t she tell me this herself?” he demanded.

            The woman stepped closer, taking shelter under the dappled shade of a yew tree as if that might protect her, not only from the sun’s rays but from his wrath too. “It seems there is much the two of you have not discussed.”

            “What business is it of yours?”

            Even in the shade of the tree she glowed. Her buttercup-yellow gown held on to the sunlight, as did her hair. “Molly is very upset. Distraught.”

            “What the bloody hell do you think I am?”

            She nodded, her full lips pressed tight.

            Rafe wiped his brow on his jacket sleeve. “Content now, woman?”

            Her eyes widened. They were a very light shade of green, inquisitive and watchful. Like cat’s eyes, Rafe thought. He never did like cats much. “Me?” she replied. “Why should I be content? I don’t like to see my friend in tears.”

            “She’s not your friend. She’s your servant, and you tell her what to do. You never wanted her to marry me.”

        “That’s not true.” She was too steady, too calm. The superior little witch stood before him as if butter wouldn’t melt in her pouty mouth.

        Humiliation soared within Rafe. That she, of all people, took it upon herself to play messenger. She probably could barely contain her amusement. In that moment he forgot all about his own doubts and fears regarding this marriage. All he knew was that he’d been made a fool before his family and the entire village. And before this woman who already looked down on him, just because she was the daughter of an earl. Just because one of her ancestors, back in the dark ages, probably murdered and cheated his way into land and a title. That made her imagine she was above him, that her existence was somehow more worthy of life’s breath than that of the men who worked her brother’s land, the women who dressed her every morning, or the man who shoed her horses. Or him.

        The flames of a hot, tinderbox temper consumed any last sensible thought he might have had, and all the resentment he held against folk of her class came quickly to the fore. She was the symbol of everything he despised.

            Why did she have to be there? Why did she have to come with the message?
* * * *

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