It may have been created by accident, but it proved to be a smash hit.
“O district of the mighty Peaks, O home of Bakewell Tart:
What wondrous things thou giv’st to us, how generous thou art!
A pastry case so crisp and thin, a bright red jammy layer;
Rich frangipane to fill it up, sweet almonds in the air.”
- Katie de Bourcier, Peak Ponderings 3
Notes From The Hermitage, 2020
There’s nothing quite so British as an elegant afternoon tea (except perhaps habitual colonising). But let’s look on the brighter side of life and focus on the quintessential custom that is teatime in ol’ Blighty. Traditionally this repast was to be enjoyed in the mid-afternoon when the long stretch of time between lunch and dinner became altogether unbearable for the British aristocracy. Until the early 19th century, it was a custom reserved for the wealthy while the working class enjoyed a heartier ‘high tea’ later in the day during post-work hours. The afternoon tea is characterised by more dainty fare like scones, finger sandwiches, cakes and tarts.
One of the classics that has remained in vogue even today is the Bakewell Tart, named after the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire. It’s made with a crumbly shortcrust pasty case filled with a layer of jam, and frangipane (almond cream) and usually, is topped with almond flakes and glacé icing.
The name might be a little misleading, however, as there’s no evidence that the tart was first made in the town of Bakewell at all, although it does hold claim to its original variation – Bakewell Pudding. The pudding was first made by accident at the White Horse Inn in Bakewell around the late 18th century. The story goes that the landlady, Mrs Greaves, had left instructions for the cook to make a jam tart, but instead of stirring the almond paste and eggs into the pastry as instructed, she spread the mixture on top and it set like a custard. She then unknowingly served it to the guests who deemed it a huge success.
Bakewell Tart evolved from this pudding in the 1900s and the egg custard was replaced by frangipane, an almond-based Italian confection made from ground almonds, eggs, butter, and sugar. A modern addition is the addition of the glacé icing and the addition of a maraschino or candied cherry which designates it as a Cherry Bakewells. These are usually small, individual tarts rather than the classic 8-9 inch version.
Though simple, the tart has garnered many devotees over the years and has cemented its place at the British tea table proving that sometimes happy accidents really can change the course of history.