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Posts Tagged ‘pate brisee’

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Today I told my Facebook tribe that when my friend Rachel made me the gift of a tart pan, my very first, I flipped out. It’s because for as long as I can remember an Alsatian apple tart has danced in my head where sugarplums ought to. Now I could finally make one. Last night I did.

Only one venerable restaurant in my area made this dessert, a place I visited a few times growing up. It was so lovely that I think I ordered it every time. And now I’m glad I did, because the restaurant—I’m still in shock—recently closed.* I might be the only one in my area now who makes this tart.

Letting that thought wash over me.

I confess I don’t remember where I got the recipe. But Google can help you if you’re tempted to be a part of the Alsatian Apple Tart workforce. Join me, and let us rise above the frozen $11 apple hucksters of the land!

Here’s what I did.

1) Zipped up the pâte brisée (that’s the pie dough) in my Cuisinart. Chilled the dough in the fridge for 30 minutes, then pressed it into the pan. You can do the same if you’re as lazy as I was last night**, or you can roll it out. Those stalwart cooks who roll it out can probably boast a more consistent thickness, as opposed to me, who had to coax the finished product from the removable base this morning with all ten fingers, like a surgeon who’d lost his subway fare inside an appendicitis patient.

This is the dough in my happy new pan, after docking (when you prick it all over with a fork so it doesn’t bubble up in the oven).

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2) I covered the dough with tin foil and poured dried beans into it. This also keeps the bubbles down while the crust bakes. Pie weights, widely available at cooking specialty stores***, are an expensive frill. Set the tart on a rimmed cookie sheet. This is always a good idea, because pies like to leak. This went into the oven for 12 minutes.

The last time I was at my favorite organic farm I bought up their last bushel of apples, which they procured from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. I think they’re Honey Crisps. The recipe called for Golden Delicious, but you can use whatever you want (except don’t use McIntoshes. They’re too soft, and are best for eating out of hand or for applesauce. You want an apple that will keep its structure even after a hit with a 375-degree oven).

3) I cut up, cored, and peeled three apples per the recipe, but I needed another small one. Tossed the slices in a bit of granulated sugar, and made a pretty flower that ended up oddly off center. 15 more minutes in the oven.

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4) I made a custard of sugar, milk (you can use milk and cream), and eggs and whisked it up. Using a measuring jug is the ticket here because you need to pour the custard on top of the tart. For some reason there was only room for half of the custard before it started overflowing, which is another solid reason why the crust was as irretrievably stuck to the base as it was (see ‘subway fare’ above). I poured the rest into two 1-cup ramekins, plunked them into a Pyrex pan, and filled the pan with water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. (This is a bain-marie, which gently cooks custard desserts. If I was to put the custard ramekins in the oven straight up, they would have scorched.)

When the tart came out, it looked like this. Well, in the morning it did. I shot the earlier shots last night by my unfortunate overhead kitchen light. Note the change in light from lurid to pleasantly natural!

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And when I cut it, it looked like this…

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And this was my breakfast. I put in on a dish with an apple on it. You can kind of see it peeking out the right side. IMG_7517

Here’s what I liked about this tart: The crust was wonderfully tender and the custard delicate. And I had a surprise: I really enjoyed the experience of eating an apple dish that didn’t call for cinnamon. Until I made this, it hadn’t occurred to me how cinnamon always seemed to show up whenever there was an apple around. It’s great, of course. But it’s become predictable. Eating just apples with no other spices was clean and pure.

Here’s what I didn’t like: Nothing.

And I have one more custard to eat.

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*The Fromagerie, in Rumson, NJ. It had changed owners and all and wasn’t the same. But I’m still reeling.

**Like I don’t do this every single time I make pie.

***I love you, Williams-Sonoma, and my condolences on the loss of Chuck. But I doubt his mother or grandmother used fabricated pie weights for their crusts, either. They used beans.

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It’s entirely possible* I’ve been watching too much Doctor Who, but as I picked honeysuckle this morning I wondered whether a plant growing in a particular place becomes imbued with the spirit and motivations of the people who spend time there.

It’s a sly sideways view of terroir, the ancient notion that says what’s produced in a certain area is the result of a confluence of factors that include sun, rain, soil, and more. The product, whatever it is, absorbs the qualities inherent in that particular environment. This gives it a singular flavor, one that cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

Many, many examples support this. There are San Marzano tomatoes, first developed in Italy. They’re prized among chefs, who attribute their intense richness to the volcanic soil in which they were grown. Connossieurs in India scoff at American-grown basmati rice (‘Texmati’), saying fragrant, long-grained basmati rice is not the same if grown outside India. Grass-fed New Zealand lamb has unsurpassed flavor and texture. I could go on.

If this is true, if tomatoes and rice and lamb can carry within them tangible components from their environments, how far-fetched is it to imagine they can carry intangible ones as well?

My favorite small farm is a half hour south of me. The food they grow is lovely. But I drive out there just as much for the serenity that wraps around me with the wind in those fields, for the peace that’s cultivated along with the English garden peas. I go because I know the integrity of the farmer and his family and staff. That integrity means their produce is more than an itemized scale of nutrients. It’s food plus a great deal of heart. And yeah, it tastes like it. At least to me.

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A hot water and sugar treatment. It’s like Elizabeth Arden for flowers.

Another example. Native nations in the U.S. often wore animal skins, bone, and feathers—not to be decorative, but because they believed in doing so they would take on characteristics of those animals. And who couldn’t use extraordinary strength (buffalo), regenerative powers (bear), and shrewdness (coyote)?

Let’s take it one step farther and throw people into the mix. I know I am the product of my many manufacturers. They include the food I ate, the sea-and-lake misty air I breathed, and the trees I played under as a kid. But they are also my parents, my teachers, my friends, the good and bad words, the wisdom and the idiocy. They all formed me as much as the pasta I ate. All were my terroir, and I’d wager so were yours.

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I’m mostly pasta, though.

Back to honeysuckle. It’s an invasive and grows almost everywhere there’s dirt and something to climb. But I still shopped around before I found my favorite place to pick the flowers. Didn’t want to pick too close to a parking lot, junkyard, high-traffic road, or residential yard. That’s about exhaust fume and pesticide pollution. But I’d equally dismiss flowers grown on perfect, organic public lands close to a contentious family, or near the home of someone who routinely chooses nastiness over kindness. It’s one of the benefits of living in a small town; information like this is easy to come by.

Tell me this isn’t the ideal spot: a fence maybe 12′ by 30′, and in between, a solid, opaque wall of flowers. If this honeysuckle hedge had eyes it would have within its view our little baseball field, train station, playground, and lake. Hundred-year-old trees shade it east and west, twice a day, and the rest of the time it’s blessed with full sun. All day long the flowers witness, and pick up the good vibes of, pick-up baseball games, kids on swings, canoers, dog-walkers, and families meeting tired commuters, the latter of whom always take a big breath when they step off the train.

It’s not all ice cream there, of course. Kids will get mad at other kids and yell, ‘No fair!’ Commuters have to go to work, as well as come home from it. There’s bad with the good. But that’s as it should be; and anyway, the good far outweighs. Even the honeysuckle flowers come in two different colors (orange and yellow), have two different flavors, and grow in pairs. A little of this and a little of that. Both are required for a well-rounded syrup.

It could all be in my head, this entire-environs theory of mine. But I don’t think so.

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On the below, which I dreamed up kind of out of nowhere: I liked the idea of pairing honeysuckle with almond, as they both share floral flavors. The chocolate garnish was inevitable.

1) I made the syrup.**.

2) Next came the custard. I used Martha’s vanilla pudding recipe. I left out the vanilla, and instead, once cool, I stirred in about 2/3 cup of syrup.

3) For the tart shells, I also used Martha’s pate brisee recipe, and substituted 1.5 cups of almond flour for part of the all-purpose flour called for. Baked it in cute little tart pans.

4) Then I piled up the custard into the shells, shaved some really good-quality bittersweet chocolate (Noi Sirius Pure Icelandic Chocolate, from Whole Foods) into the middles, toasted a few sliced almonds, and added those to the top, too. Made a heckuva good teatime treat today, along with the extra custard I ate out of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

(Did I say ice cream in a honeysuckle post? Honeysuckle…ice cream! Next on the hit parade. :))

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Honeysuckle Custard Tarts with Salted Almond Shells, Shaved Chocolate, and Toasted Almonds. Righteous ensemble.

*Let’s call it likely and move on.

**For more on the embarrassingly simple process, see last year’s post.

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I’ve always been crap at making pie crusts. Fillings, I’m good. Like the above. It has organic apples and pears in it, plus I threw in some brown sugar (didn’t measure), cinnamon (ditto), and gooshed the whole thing with some of the crab apple liqueur I made last fall. It all went into a really wide pan and got sauteed for something like five minutes—long enough for everything to get juiced up and friendly but not so long that the fruit would start to fall apart.

When I make crust, I usually ease back on the fat because I used to have a weight problem, and even though I know in my brain that I don’t have one now,* an old self-image is not something a  person shakes off easily. So even when life’s going just swimmingly, when it comes to cooking for myself, I carefully measure and am all organized and I skim back on the butter. Like a lot. And I use the pat-in-the-pan method, pressing the pie dough into the pan instead of rolling it out. If I didn’t, it would crack like the Mojave in August.

Last week, though, I was chilly, exhausted, and generally fed up with life. Life was going sinkingly. I cook when I need normalcy, so enter pie. And I broke out a new recipe: Martha’s pate brisee, which calls for two sticks of butter—a goodly amount, as Martha would say. Please know I did not use two sticks on a pie I was going to eat myself. But I did dump in a bunch, and fairly indiscriminately. Into the Cuisinart went the flour and salt, then in went the butter. Plop, plop, plop. Blitz, blitz, blitz. Ice water, more blitzing.

I thought not. I simply did. It needs this, and it needs that, make a mess, well done, into the fridge to firm up.

Suddenly this…I was able to roll out.

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I didn’t say I was any good at it, but I WAS able to roll it out.

I pricked the crust with a fork (what pastry chefs call “docking,” to keep the crust from puffing up in the oven) and then I spread a raw egg white across the bottom. I read somewhere that that keeps the bottom of the crust from getting goopy from the filling and not cooking. Call it the barrier method.

The recipe said I could split the dough in half and make a top crust, too, but I only have one pie pan: deep dish. So I sort of folded the upper part of the bottom crust over the fruit, brushed it with an egg wash, sprinkled it with sanding sugar, and put it in the oven.

It was tender and flaky and lovely—the best crust I have ever made, the bouncing baby of enough fed-up-ness and enough experience to let my hands do the thinking. And enough butter.

Go Martha, and go me.

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*A weight problem, not a brain.**

**Well. Depends on the day.

 

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