I’ve been thinking a bit about simplifying. It might have been prompted by the fact that there are four tops and two pairs of shoes in my suitcase that I haven’t worn once on this five week jaunt (hola from Peru).  And don’t even get me started on all the earrings I haven’t bothered to untangle or the scarves that are nestled down in the corner,  now protecting jars of dulce de leche.

I should have followed my old rules; pack jeans, a couple of dresses, three pairs of shoes (one pair of ballet flats that can be dressed up, one pair of sportier ones and flip flops). But I didn’t. In a flurried panic before we left I kept on adding things to the case, hoping it would fill my paranoid, projected void of ‘what ifs?’  Except the void never came.

When it comes down to it, It’s amazing how little we actually need. Yet how tempting is it to keep adding- and not just when I travel. At home it’s more books (despite knowing at some point I may have to lug them back across an ocean). More podcasts, so I might have something interesting to say if there’s a lull in conversation. More google searches, done with one eye open in bed with the brightness of your phone turned down to low, to put you in a mild panic of ailments you don’t really have. More hand sanitiser. More lip gloss (though I’m sure they breed. There’s no other explanation for how there’s four in the bottom of my hand bag). When it comes to the plate it’s  more spices. More flavours. More textures.

Yet simplicity is so often the key. No bells, no whistles. No lilies to be gilded, no trinkets to adorn. Just something sweetly good and plump on a plate. That’s where happiness starts.

It’s about something not too small- and not too big; like dates.

I’ve been ruminating about a special date tart. ‘Date tar’t is a coupling  often spoken in hushed tones in Sydney. It’s the grand dame of desserts. The product of Lorraine Godsmark during her days at Rockpool, it suffered split custody when she left the empire. The first time I ate date tart was at the original Rockpool on George Street, with The Hungry One and his late mum one festive season, back in the day when I drove a small silver barina. It was a curious evening, one which would be later talked about for all the wrong reasons. One saving grace of the meal was  a stark plate for dessert, hosting  one slice in the centre.

In a time that was stained by an excess of everything, here was pure restraint.  There was no icing sugar, no fluted berries, whipped cream or marscapone. Just the tart, on a plate. To me it was brilliantly gutsy. It was inspired.  The tart base was crisp, the medjool dates softened into a caramel layer of puckered toffee.  There was a blanket of vanilla flecked custard and at the top, a billowing crust of darkened milk skin.

Later date tarts were ordered from Lorraine’s Yellow Bistro in  Potts Point for hen’s celebrations and birthday desserts.  They were what you pulled out when you needed a calmingly brilliant show stopper. And now, in the midst of a need to simplify, the tart has  been finding its way into my kitchen.

I cannot be sure if this is the true recipe of ‘The’ date tart. I suspect it’s not, that there are many secrets Lorraine has kept close to her chest. But it’s a darn fine approximation to my taste buds.

Yes, there are a lot of eggs. Yes, you do need to make sure you get good, plump dates (no dried shrivelled pellets here please). And it’s best served at room temperature.

Serve it with coffee. Serve it with small glasses of Pedro Ximenex or port. Serve it with tea, a smile and a few deep breaths. But please, nothing else.  Because surely that would defeat the whole point.

Date Tart

Serves 6-8

1 deep sided 22 cm fluted tart dish (nb, if yours is smaller sided, like mine is, you will find you have left over custard and your tart is a little shallow. The left over custard mixture can be cooked gently in a saucepan and served with stewed fruits).

Shopping/foraging

Pastry shell
180 g cold butter, cut into cubes
25g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk
250g plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt

Filling
10 fresh dates, halved, stones removed (make sure the dates and nice and soft- no hard pellets please)
6 egg yolks
60 grams sugar
600 ml single/pouring cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or the seeds of one vanilla pod

Here’s how we roll

1) To make the pastry in a food processor blitz the butter, sugar, egg and milk in a food processor until the butter is in small pieces, then sift in the flour and quickly mix, remove from the bowl and use the heel of your hand to work into a smooth ball.

Alternatively, use your fingertips to very gently rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles small pebbles and breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the beaten egg and milk and mix until it comes together, then knead gently into a smooth ball.

2) Flatten the pastry into a disc and wrap in clingfilm. Allow it to rest in the fridge for two hours.

3) Preheat the oven to 200C/392F and grease and lightly flour the tart tin.  Roll out the pastry to 3mm thickness, roll up onto the rolling pin and gently lay over the top of the tin, pushing the edges down. You will have some overhang. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to get settled.

4) Trim the edges by rolling your rolling pin over the top of the tart dish- it should press the excess pastry away.  To blind bake the tart get some greaseproof paper and run it under water briefly, then scrunch it up and dry well (this will allow the paper to easily go into all of the corners). Fill with baking beans, rice or coins and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the paper and baking beans (if there are any cracks or holes use your scraps to patch them)  and return the pastry to the oven for five minutes to gain a little more colour. You want a pale biscuit hue.

5) Turn the oven down to 180C/350 F. Place 14 halves of the dates around the external perimeter, cut side down  and the remaining 6 in the centre.   Press the dates down so they squash a little and won’t poke out the top of the tart.


6) Use an electric beater to cream together the egg yolks and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the cream and vanilla and beat together.

7) Pour half of the filling into tart, making sure the dates are covered. Move the tart to the oven and carefully pour in the remaining filling until it just reaches the top of the pastry- don’t let it overflow.

8) Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is chestnut brown, but the centre still has a slight wobble. Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Nb, it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, but be sure to take it out an hour or so before serving so the tart comes back to room temperature.