Thursday, August 31, 2006

Apricot Tart

I made an apricot tart using the same recipe as the plum tart described here. Only this time I didn't burn it.

The recipe works well for both types of fruit. It's not quite as juicy with apricots as with plums, even though I added all the accumulated juices from marinating the fruit with the sugar. But it's juicy enough.

The apricots were beautiful and at first I thought it was a shame not to eat them fresh. However their taste and texture was disappointing when I bit into one raw. But baking really brought out their flavor and when eating the tart you wouldn't have guessed I had used pretty but disappointing fruit.

The crust recipe I used is from Pierre Hermé, though I don't use his mixing technique.

Recipe: Pâte sucrée
Inspired from: Pierre Hermé

For about 600g of dough
- 1/4 vanilla bean (or 1/2 teaspoon powdered vanilla)
I used 1 packet of vanilla sugar, and I'm sure a teaspoon of vanilla extract would be fine too
- 150g soft butter
- 95g confectioners sugar
- 250g flour
- 2 "pinches" of salt
I use about 1/4 teaspoon
- 1 egg
- 30g ground almonds

In the original recipe, the mixing technique involved rubbing the butter in the flour + salt with the palms of your hands, making a well, breaking the egg into the well, adding the vanilla and the almonds, and mixing with the tips of your fingers. Instead I used the following technique, which perhaps doesn't give the same sandy texture, but is easier, even with a hand-held mixer like mine.

1. Beat the butter till creamy.
2. Add the sugar and vanilla (seeds only if you're using a vanilla bean), and mix well.
3. Add the egg and beat till smooth
4. Add the flour in which the salt has been mixed, and add the almonds, and mix as little as possible but until the mixture looks uniform and like it wants to form a ball.
5. Roll it in a ball -- it's sticky -- and wrap and refrigerate
6. I usually roll it almost immediately, while it's still soft, between two sheets of parchment paper, and then refrigerate or freeze the rolled-out dough still sandwiched in paper until it forms a hard slab
7. I then form my crust. I've taken to cutting out a circle using my tart ring as a big cookie cutter, putting the circle of dough on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and replacing the tart ring around it. To make the walls of the crust I cut thin strips in the remaining dough and line the edges of the ring. More here.
8. Again, chill the dough before adding the fruit and baking. I actually often freeze the dough at this stage.
I don't know how orthodox all of this is, but it seems to work for me.

The only thing I might do differently next time is to make shorter walls on the tart crust. I'm not sure why I persist in making the dough higher than my tart ring. The result is slightly wavy edges rather than a perfectly smooth circle.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Hello Gyoza, Goodbye Gyoza

This is going to be a boast post. Not a helpful article, with tips on how to cook this or bake that, but a pure, boastful, "look at what I made post."

I made gyoza, from scratch. Inspired by the exquisitely illustrated and detailed post on Kuidaore, I felt compelled to try my hand at making something I enjoy eating so much. I hoped this might give me a gentle transition from sweets to savory dishes, the attraction being the intricate wrapping in home-made dough, with its similarity to elegant pastries.

I was a bit frightened by some of the ingredients, and to this day don't know if I bought the right items in my local luxury imported goods store. I made the dough myself, and worried it was too dry, but after much kneading it became quite elastic. I anxiously did the math to know what impact on quantities it would have if I used my available 7.5 cm cookie cutter rather than the specified 6 cm. Finally I read and re-read the instructions on pinching little individual pleats on one side only of the dumplings.

Then I made my first gyoza. They were a delight to make. It felt therapeutic to handle the dough and sensuous to pinch the folds lovingly one by one. And such a joy to see the little moon shape form itself quite naturally.

I made a batch for two. I cooked them. I had some sticking problems, and I'm not sure I ever got a "clinking" sound when I tapped the gyoza to test their doneness. Then I served them with the appropriate sauce.

They were absolutely delicious. Very flavorful, delicate, pretty to look at... and gone in five minutes.

Which is fine. I like delicate morsels that don't sit on your stomach all evening.

But then after dinner I had to make the rest of the dumplings, as the filling and dough wouldn't keep. So while my husband watched France-Croatia, I sat in the kitchen crafting the darn little pockets. Dough round by dough round, pleat by pleat, I rolled and folded and pinched. I thought I was going to scream it took so long. And I didn't seem to be getting any faster. No economies of scale, no increase in production speed.

Finally I stuck them all in the freezer and said to my husband, "You liked the home-made gyoza? Well I hope you had a good look at them. I'm never making them again." He's used to my emotional outbursts.

Maybe I would have had more patience with sweets. But it drove me nuts to think I spent about 3 minutes per mouthful (rough estimate). I guess different people find patience for different things. While some don't see the purpose of baking a cake from scratch when you can use a mix, others would be horrified to buy ready-made puff pastry dough. I've never made puff pastry myself, but I don't think it would make me so impatient. Strange, because I probably like the taste of gyoza better than puff pastry.

Still, when friends came for an impromptu dinner the other night I was pretty pleased with myself when I popped the homemade gyoza out of the freezer and into a pan to serve them.

Indeed I probably won't ever make them again. Unless I can turn it into a sociable activity to do with somebody else. Maybe in the context of something like a quilting bee it would become quite enjoyable (gyoza bee anyone?). But till then, I'll just look at this boast post and say to myself, "Ha! I could make these if I wanted to."

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What to Do With My Rings?

I bought these lovely dessert rings at Dehillerin. Once again, I don't know which exact recipe inspired me to get these, but it was probably this blog and this one that made me dream I could create beautiful little jewels of desserts.

However, I haven't had such great results so far. First, I made little chocolate cakes (molten) in them. Perhaps I filled them too high, but they sunk after cooling, giving them a fold in the belly that was not pretty (no photo).

Then I tried to make chocolate shells, as I like "sculpting" with chocolate (read playing). I thought I could fill these with a combination of dacquoise and chocolate mousse that would be scrumptious and wouldn't require any gelatin to stand firm as it would be propped up by the chocolate shell.

I tempered chocolate (thank goodness I had the sense not to waste Valrhona on this practice run), then spread it on strips of rhodoïd plastic.

I then wrapped the chocolate strips around the rings and let them solidify. I tried one attempt with the plastic inside the ring, but that was clearly a mistake as it didn't hold a nice circular shape. Another mistake I made was not waiting long enough for the chocolate to firm up on the strip before wrapping. The first ring I wrapped had chocolate pooling around its foot. Which was not only unsightly but made it impossible to peel off the plastic without breaking the whole thing (see the chocolate shards below).

Sigh, the result looks like something from a beginner's pottery class. There's holes, finger prints, and worst of all, the rings didn't stay closed as the chocolate dried so there is no way they could hold any mousse.

Oh, I could perhaps improve my technique and learn to glue the rings shut with chocolate... but I'm a bit discouraged at this point. I think I'll stick to wrapping things in chocolate as I did with this cake, rather than trying to create stand-alone chocolate containers.

Finally the greatest success I've had so far with these rings was not what I had in mind when I bought them: as a tool for plating salads.

I have very little imagination when it comes to first courses in a meal. I almost always serve some sort of salad. The rings gave me a new way to present my old standby appetizer. Despite its simplicity, I will glorify this little salad by including it as a recipe, since I definitely need to beef up the selection of savory dishes on this blog.

Recipe: Mediterranean Salad

I grilled some slices of eggplant on a stove-top grill after first brushing both faces of each slice with a bit of olive oil.

I made a dressing of balsamic vinegar, fleur de sel (salt), olive oil and added a clove of garlic to marinate for a few hours. I then discarded the clove.

I placed a ring in each plate, and layered arugola, baby spinach, basil, thinly sliced tomato and mozzarella, with a fewteaspoonss of dressing between some of the layers. I topped each ring with a grilled slice of eggplant.

I then took off the rings and snipped off anything that was sticking out too much. I sprinkled some fleur de sel on top, and decorated with a basil leaf.

I tried to drizzle aestheticc drops of vinaigrette on the side of the dish but the dropper I used from our toddler's fever medecine would get stuck and squirt out long unsightly streaks of dressing across the plate. (She's going to wonder why her medicine tastes of balsamic vinegar).

So, the salad's OK. But I haven't given up trying to make cylindrical desserts. One day, maybe one day, I'll be able to make desserts that look as beautiful as this, this, or this.

* * *

Update Nov. 2007: I have since found a dessert to make with my rings! I posted about it here.

Plum Tart

It's the season for plum tarts! I would have been quite pleased with this one if only I hadn't scorched it in the first 15 minutes of baking. Luckily the tart still tasted quite good, so I'll definitely make this recipe again.

(To see a non-burnt version with apricots click here).

The recipe comes from Epicurious. I made the following changes: I used less cornstarch in the filling and replaced the crust with a Pierre Hermé recipe that included "pâte pralinée."

This is a paste of caramelized almonds and hazelnuts that I bought while in Paris at G. Detou, a store that sells baking ingredients for professionals. I'm not sure what to do with my kg of pâte pralinée, which has a limited life-span, and can also not recall which recipe convinced me I also absolutely had to procure a kg of glucose syrup, also displayed here...

So when I saw a tart dough that called for pâte pralinée, I jumped on the occasion. Did it taste better? It was good, but perhaps due to the slightly burnt flavor I didn't notice the effect of the praline. It might have made the crust burn faster, though the fruit burned a little too. At the time I was busy on the computer, which is dangerous. The whole house could burn down when I get engrossed in reading blogs.

When I make this recipe again, I'll just use a normal pâte sucrée and watch carefully to make sure nothing burns.

What I liked about this tart recipe is I could make it in stages. One day I made the dough, rolled it out, chilled it between two sheets of parchment paper (as described here), shaped the tart shell and then froze it. The next day I prepared the plums, mixed them with the sugar and lemon juice, and stored the mixture in the fridge. Finally the day after that I assembled and baked the frozen crust with the fruit. All would have gone well, had I only been more attentive to the messages my nose was receiving while I zoned out in front of my screen...

Recipe: Plum Tarts
Source: Epicurious

For pastry dough
[I used another pâte sucrée recipe]
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 sticks (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
4 large egg yolks

For filling
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
[I used perhaps a teaspoon of cornstarch]
3 3/4 lb small plums (preferably prune plums), halved and pitted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Accompaniment: crème frâiche or lightly sweetened sour cream

Special equipment: 2 (9-inch) tart pans with removable bottoms

Make dough: Combine flour, butter, sugar, salt, and zest in a food processor and pulse until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with remainder in small (roughly pea-size) lumps. Add yolks and process just until incorporated and mixture begins to clump.
Turn mixture out onto a work surface and divide into 4 portions. Smear each portion once with heel of your hand in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather together 2 portions of dough and form into a ball; make another ball with other 2 portions.

Pat out each ball of dough with floured fingertips into a tart pan, in an even 1/4-inch layer on bottom and up sides (about 1/8 inch above rim). Chill 30 minutes, or until firm.
[I rolled out my dough and made a rim the same way I did here, then froze the formed crust before baking]

Make filling while shells chill: Stir together sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl. Add plums and lemon juice and toss to coat. Let stand, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes, or until juicy.
[I let my plums stand in the fridge for 24 hours. This produced a great amount of juice. I didn't use all of it, maybe only 2/3, as I was afraid the tart would be too juicy. It was quite juicy enough without this addition.]

Assemble and bake tarts: Preheat oven to 425°F.

Arrange plum halves, skin sides down, in tart shells [I didn't bother defrosting my tart shell], overlapping in a rosette pattern. Halve any remaining plums lengthwise and randomly tuck in between plum halves in tarts. Pour all juices from bowl over plums.

Bake tarts in middle of oven 15 minutes [watch carefully that it doesn't burn during this high temperature baking stage!], then reduce temperature to 375°F. Cover tarts loosely with foil and bake until plums are tender and juices are bubbling and slightly thickened, 40 to 50 minutes more. Brush warm juices in tart over plums. (Juices will continue to thicken as tarts cool.) Cool tarts completely in pans on a rack.

Cooks' notes:
• Tart shells can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered.
• Plums may stand, coated with sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice and chilled, covered, 1 day. Stir well before proceeding.

Makes 2 tarts (serving 12).
Gourmet Entertains
September 2000