Treacle Tart (and House Elves)

Treacle Tart5

Treacle tart and I are still becoming friends. The dough and I got in a fight during my second attempt (Apparently I was having an off day in the kitchen and it decided to take advantage of that. Jerk). While treacle tart seems kind of unusual to me, it’s sweet and soft and comforting and very British, so it makes sense that it’s Harry Potter’s favorite dessert.

Treacle Tart (Attempt #1)

I loved Emma Gardner’s post about treacle tart’s role in the Harry Potter series. She notes its appearance at 4 out of the 5 sorting feasts Harry attends; it definitely highlights the stark contrast between his dreary life in the Dursleys’ cupboard and his wonderful new life at Hogwarts. The Dursleys even chose his meager treats at the zoo — they bought him the cheapest lemon ice pop (and only so they weren’t embarrassed in front of the lady selling ice cream) and they let him finish the knickerbocker glory that was “too small” for Dudley.


After years of neglect and near-starvation, Harry is thrilled to buy treats on the Hogwarts Express and share them with his new friends, but the Sorting Feast is even more exciting. Food magically appears on the table, and he can eat to his heart’s content for the first time in his life.

The Dursleys had never exactly starved Harry, but he’d never been allowed to eat as much as he liked. Dudley had always taken anything that Harry really wanted, even if it made him sick. Harry piled his plate with a bit of everything except the peppermints and began to eat. It was all delicious…. When everyone had eaten as much as they could, the remains of the food faded from the plates, leaving them sparkling clean as before.  A moment later the desserts appeared…. As Harry helped himself to a treacle tart, the talk turned to their families (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, page 123).

Hagrid and Mrs. Weasley both made sure to provide food for him whenever he visited (although Harry much preferred Mrs. Weasley’s cooking to Hagrid’s rock cakes), but the treacle tart at Hogwarts becomes his favorite. It symbolizes being loved and cared for, which is a completely unknown feeling at the Dursleys’.


However, Harry, Ron, and Hermione learn in The Goblet of Fire that house elves make all the food at Hogwarts. While Harry and Ron don’t grasp the consequences of this, Hermione is horrified. The plentiful, nourishing food at Hogwarts is connected to the problematic treatment of house elves at the hands of wizards.

“Slave labor,” said Hermione, breathing hard through her nose. “That’s what made this dinner. Slave labor.” And she refused to eat another bite…. “Treacle tart, Hermione!” said Ron, deliberately wafting its smell towards her. “Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!” But Hermione gave him a look so reminiscent of Professor McGonagall that he gave up (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 182-3).

In The Deathly Hallows, the connection between treacle tart and house elves is even stronger — the reformed Kreacher makes treacle tart especially because he knows Harry likes it so much. Treacle tart means home and love to Harry (which explains why he smells it in the Amortentia), but it also brings up uncomfortable questions about the house elves at Hogwarts, and the shaky relationships between wizards and other magical creatures. I love how complex such a seemingly small detail becomes in the context of the whole series. I can’t say that J.K. Rowling explicitly made the connection between house elves’ rights and treacle tart, but I think it adds even more depth to the series.


Treacle Tart4


If you like Harry Potter, or even just like English food, try this recipe. I’d love to know what you think. For Americans who have no idea what treacle is, here’s an explanation:


Embarrassingly, I thought treacle was a type of gasoline for years because the first time I heard of it was in Alice in Wonderland, and I’d only heard of water or gasoline wells. (In my defense, I was in elementary school.) Eventually I discovered that treacle is actually just a syrupy by-product of the sugar production process. Apparently there’s a long tradition of tricking people with stories about treacle mines or wells, so at least I’m in good company. It’s fairly unknown in the US, but it’s really similar to the corn syrup used for Pecan Pie in the South or the honey in a Honey Pie from up North (although I’ve never had a honey pie, so that’s just an educated guess). I would NOT suggest substituting corn syrup or honey for the golden syrup, though. I’ve been able to find golden syrup at Fresh Market and even some Krogers, but if you can’t find it near you you can order it on Amazon.


Baking Notes:

We used Emma’s new and improved recipe and it was delicious! I “pulled a Monica” (Friends, anyone?) the first time I made this and completely forgot to add the lemon juice to the filling. But the lemon juice totally makes this tart, so don’t make the same mistakes I did.


I used Challah bread for my breadcrumbs, and then store bought, but both times my crumbs were smaller than the ones Emma uses in her post. So if you want larger breadcrumbs maybe grind them a little less finely in your food processor.


The dough is one of the fussier pie crusts I’ve made, so I’m still deciding if I’m going to use this one next time or try another pastry recipe.


Definitely make sure to watch Emma’s videos about rubbing the butter into the flour, and how she mixes the wet and dry ingredients together. I’d never even heard of rubbing in butter into a pastry dough, but I think I’ll have to try it more often – it definitely mixes more evenly than with a pastry blender.

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