Baking for Bookworms: A Discussion of the Harry Potter Series and Treacle Tart

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I could probably come up with ways to write about Harry Potter forever, but as with all things, sadly our Harry Potter series is coming to an end. But what better way to end our Harry Potter Baking for Bookworms series than with Harry’s favorite treat: treacle tart.

Treacle tart makes its appearance in several books, and I have to admit it’s one of those things–much like English puddings–that I’m just not familiar with. If you live in the United States, you’re likely in the same boat (unless you’ve got family in England or are just obsessed with all the things British down to the emerald green cans of Lyle’s syrup).

The reason that I’ve never had this delightful treat is that one of the main ingredients is not readily available in the U.S. You can buy the syrup online, in specialty grocery stores, or you can make your own as I did below.

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But before we get to the recipe, I wanted to take the time to delve into some of the associations food has in the Harry Potter books. The world of magic as outlined in Harry Potter is J.K. Rowlings universe, and with its creation comes the need to describe it in great detail. Rowling uses foods that are obviously magical (Every Flavor Beans, butterbeer) and juxtaposes them with the familiar (roasts, pies, puddings) to create the universe that exists in Britain but is simultaneously separated from the area that people know.

However, food does not merely act as a magical backdrop in the series, but rather it is a tangible display of how Harry relates to his environment. The muggle world is associated with scarcity and unhappiness. In the seventh book, Ron is constantly out of sorts without food, but Harry is used to going hungry–to going without–to having less than he needs. This is not to suggest that the muggle world in general is like this, just Harry’s view of it. The lack of fulfillment of his basic needs is not just about food, it’s about love. In his aunt’s house, he is starved for love and attention and this is reflected in what he’s given.

In contrast stands the wizarding world and Hogwarts, the only place Harry has truly felt at home. The comfort foods found here and the unfamiliar ones parallel his experience at the school. Hogwarts is a place that feels like home, but is simultaneously challenging, demanding the best of him.

Food in the books is less indicative of the wizarding world at large and much more focused on how Harry relates to it and it to him. The definitions of ‘familiar’ and ‘exotic’ are all relative to his experience. It is this experience of looking through Harry’s eyes that make these books remarkable. Harry is such a determined character that you know what he likes for breakfast, supper, and dessert.

(If you have thoughts about the way food is used in the Harry Potter books, leave them in the comments)

But now on to the recipes.

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Treacle Tart

This tart, once you have all the ingredients, is really simple to whip up. While I’m not sure I would call it my favorite dessert, it’s very tasty–almost like a ginger snap with a great lemony undertone.

recipe adapted from Adventures in Cooking

for the crust:

  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into small pieces
  • 2 tbs water

Mix the dry ingredients together and cut in the butter (with a pastry cutter, potato masher, two knives, your hands–whatever). Add the water and mix until it comes together. You can also do this by pulsing the ingredients in a food processor.

When the crust dough is well combined, press into a large tart pan, so that the dough goes up the sides and covers the pan evenly. Set aside.

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for the filling:

  • 1 cup golden syrup
  • 2/3 cup plain breadcrumbs (buy them or make your own in a food processor)
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tbs milk

Preheat oven to 400F.

Warm the syrup to a pourable consistency either on the stove or in the microwave.

Mix the dry ingredients together, and then create a little well in the center. Add in the eggs, milk, butter, and lemon juice. Stir to combine.

Pour mixture onto the crust and bake for 30 minutes, cooling at least 30 minutes before serving. It’s delicious by itself or with some whipped cream on top.

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Golden Syrup

Golden syrup can be hard to come by in the States, and this recipe is cheaper anyway, since a small can can cost around ten dollars.

recipe adapted from this video by Tom’s Kitchen

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tbs water
  • a few drops lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cup boiling water
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 of a lemon

Place a tall sided pot on the stove over medium-low heat. Put in the sugar and the water, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in a couple drops of lemon juice from the lemon you’re going to put in later–this will keep the sugar from crystallizing or caramelizing too quickly.

Stirring every so often, keep the sugar boiling until it turns a dark caramel color (this takes about ten minutes) Slowly add in the boiling water, then add the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then turn the heat down to low. Add the lemon.

Simmer for forty-five minutes, then strain into a sterilized jar. The consistency will become more like honey as it cools. Let it cool for at least an hour before using.

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My syrup didn’t get very dark (after I’d messed it up for the fourth time, I was getting pretty paranoid)–you really want a nice dark caramel color before you add the rest of the water and sugar.

**I didn’t have any jar to sterilize, so I used a glass container that I washed thoroughly. Since it’s not sterilized, I have about a week or so to use it up, and it has to go in the fridge to prevent any bacteria from growing. If you use a sterilized jar and lid, the syrup will last several months.

Which of the Harry Potter books is your favorite? Personally I can’t get enough of the fourth one, but I love them all.

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