Friday, June 24, 2011

fresh berry tart

This tart is one of the few desserts I return to summer after summer, when berries are abundant and I want to put my heart into something special. I love everything about it: the buttery crust, the vanilla scented pastry cream and the sweet, juicy berries, shining like jewels on top.

Ever since I first made this tart my mother has 'volunteered me' to provide them on special occasions, particularly Fourth of July festivities. On the Fourth, I use strawberries and blueberries because they're each in season and, with the filling, coincidentally provide a patriotic color scheme. Really, any berries work though, as long as they're fresh and flavorful.

There isn't anything particularly difficult about this dessert if you're careful and prepared to take your time. The pastry dough is quickly made in a mixer, but it needs to rest for at least an hour before rolling it out; then the shell is rested before being blind-baked, and finally it needs time to cool before it is filled.

The pastry cream is also quick to make, but it must be prepared ahead and allowed to cool before using. If you'd prefer to split up the project, you could make the pastry dough and/or pastry cream the day before assembling the final tart.

Once the pastry shell and pastry cream are ready to go, the berries must be rinsed and thoroughly dried before the tart is assembled. And then, finally, there's the question of glazing.

To glaze or not to glaze is always a dilemma for me. Left "au naturel," the tart appears more rustic, and, well, natural. On the other hand, a glazed tart looks polished and professional, just like the ones displayed in pastry shops all over France. Personally, I don't think you can go wrong either way, but I did glaze the tart below so you can see how it looks. I prefer to go very light on the glaze, applying it to the fruit only and avoiding the pastry and filling.

The following recipes are presented in the order in which you should proceed if you're making everything the same day.

Pastry Cream

2 cups whole milk
1 plump vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup sugar, divided
4 egg yolks
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons flour

Pour milk into a medium saucepan. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise; using the back of the knife, scrape out the pulp in each half. Add pulp and scraped pods to milk. Add 1/4 cup sugar to milk and bring mixture to a boil.

While waiting for milk to boil, place egg yolks in medium bowl. Whisk yolks until smooth and pale yellow. Add 1/4 cup sugar, cornstarch and flour. Whisk vigorously until smooth.

When milk comes to a boil, gradually add about half to egg yolk mixture in bowl, whisking constantly. (This step "tempers" the egg yolks by warming them gradually.) Then pour contents of bowl back into remaining milk in saucepan and return to heat.

Cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly, until mixture thickens and begins to boil. Allow to boil 30 seconds (mixture will be very thick), then place pastry cream in clean medium bowl. Before placing cream in refrigerator, press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper directly onto surface so  skin is unable to form as it cools.

Remove vanilla bean pods before filling tart.

Sweet Tart Dough (Pate Sablee)
makes enough dough for two 9-inch tarts

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten

dried beans, pie weights or pennies for blind baking

Place butter, sugar, flour and salt in bowl of standing mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until crumbly. Add egg and continue to mix until dough comes together in moist clumps. Stop mixing as soon as dough reaches this point; do not over mix.

Remove dough from mixer and press into ball. Divide ball evenly into two pieces and flatten pieces between palms into discs. Wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to fit 9-inch tart pan. Place dough in pan and carefully fit into bottom and sides without stretching. If dough tears, patch with a dough scrap. Prick bottom of pastry with a fork and place in refrigerator to rest at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line pastry shell with foil or parchment and fill with dried beans, pie weights or pennies. Bake crust 18 to 20 minutes; remove foil and weights and continue to bake another 5 to 7 minutes until golden. (Keep a close eye on things for the final minutes; the sugar in the pastry can quickly result in a burnt shell if you're not paying attention.) Cool crust to room temperature before filling.

Fresh Berry Tart

approximately 2 to 3 cups (depending on size) halved strawberries, raspberries and blackberries, combined; rinsed and dried thoroughly with paper towels

3 tablespoons apple or red currant jelly, for glaze (I used apple jelly on this tart)

Spread pastry cream evenly over bottom of pastry shell. Arrange berries on top of cream.

To glaze top, melt jelly in microwave and allow to cool until just slightly warm and still liquid. Using pastry brush, carefully spread light layer of melted jelly over berries until glistening.


*This pastry cream is quite thick, which is necessary so it holds its shape when the tart is sliced. Give it a quick stir to loosen it a bit before filling tart.

*Taste the cream before using. I have been known to add vanilla extract if the vanilla bean doesn't lend enough flavor for me. It's also acceptable to skip the vanilla bean and use only extract if that's what you have.

*The pastry dough recipe makes enough for two tarts. Freeze the second half for up to a month.

*Using pennies for pie weights works like a charm because copper is a good heat conductor. I washed them well in hot soapy water, even though they don't actually come into contact with the food. Great way to put that jar of pennies to use!

Pastry cream and pastry dough recipes by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan, Cafe Boulud Cookbook, Scribner 1999

Friday, June 3, 2011

italian grapefruit soda, dry lemon soda & english pimm's cup

Recently, I bought a fun new toy for the kitchen: a "Twist 'n Sparkle" from Williams-Sonoma (I know, it sounds like an "as seen on TV" product, but try to get past the name). Basically, it's a device for injecting bubbles into liquid, a process which seems to transform merely refreshing drinks into truly superlative thirst quenchers. Since I began wielding the wand, all liquids in my path - iced tea, cider, margaritas, mojitos - have been subjected to it and have come out better for it in the end!

On our first scorchingly hot day of the season, I had a hankering for the Italian grapefruit soda I used to buy at Whole Foods and wondered if I could make a good approximation of it on my own. I was aiming for a subtly sweet drink with pronounced grapefruit flavor - not just a carbonated grapefruit ade. I figured the best way to achieve this was to infuse the juice with the zest, thereby harnessing all the essential oils. Once this was done, I made a quick simple syrup for sweetening and left all to chill in the fridge for the afternoon.

Finally, I strained the juice, and in flagrant disregard of Twist 'n Sparkle rules, filled the bottle beyond its clearly demarcated fill-line and applied the wand.

I'm really happy with the result. No kidding, this soda has the fine effervescence of good champagne, much unlike most commercial products. It has an assertive grapefruit flavor and the requisite underlying bitterness I think will appeal to the taste buds of grapefruit lovers out there. It's an unusual and unexpected treat worth making.

SO - since that went so well, I decided to apply the same treatment to lemons, aiming for a dry lemon soda. As I was juicing the fruit, it occurred to me that this concoction would be perfect in a Pimm's Cup, in place of the much sweeter Sprite or 7-Up that is often used.

A Pimm's Cup, if you don't know, is the veddy British quaff of choice at polo matches and Wimbledon, but that doesn't mean it's off limits to plebeians like you and me. It's based on the aperitif Pimm's No. 1, which is itself a secret concoction of gin, herbs, spices and citrus. Trying to describe its flavor is sort of like trying to describe the flavor of Coke; I can't isolate individual flavors but taken as a whole in this cocktail, it's unusual and very good. Pimm's is typically mixed with English lemonade, lemon-lime soda or, in an offshoot, ginger ale, usually in a ratio of 1 part Pimm's to 1 to 3 parts mixer, depending on tastes. This is meant to be a refreshing, low alcohol cocktail to ward off the summer heat. The Pimm's Cup final flourish is a garnish of fresh berries, apples, cucumber and mint, all of which look beautiful in the glass and lend an alluring flavor and aroma as you sip.


Grapefruit Soda

2 1/4 cups freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice (about 2 1/2 grapefruits, preferably organic)
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup simple syrup, or to taste - depending on sweetness of juice

Using a zesting tool or the fine side of a grater, remove the zest from 2 of the grapefruits and place in a nonreactive medium bowl. Juice the grapefruits and add 2 1/4 cups juice to the zest. Place in refrigerator to steep for at least 3 hours.

Make simple syrup: heat equal proportions sugar and water in a saucepan until sugar dissolves. Let cool and store in refrigerator. ** I highly recommend making at least a cup of syrup (1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup water) because it's indispensable to have on hand for sweetening iced tea, mojitos, daiquiris - all kinds of things. I keep it in a mason jar.

Strain pulp and zest through a fine sieve set over a bowl, being sure to press the solids with a spatula or spoon to extract all the liquid. Discard solids.

Pour juice into Twist 'n Sparkle bottle. Add water; liquid should meet the 4 cup line on the bottle marked "pure water." (Don't worry - as long as the juice is well strained it will be fine.) Place CO2 cartridge in wand and place wand in the liquid. With the bottle sitting flat on a counter, twist the wand to close the cap and activate the CO2. Liquid will fizz, then the hissing noise will subside. Once all is quiet, remove cap and enjoy on ice.

Dry Lemon Soda

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 large lemons or 5 to 6 smaller ones, preferably organic)
2 1/2 cups water
scant 1/2 cup simple syrup, or to taste - depending on tartness of juice

Follow directions as above, using zest of 3 lemons.

English Pimm's Cup

Per tall drink: 

3 ounces Pimm's No. 1
6 ounces lemon soda
apple slice; strawberry, cut in half; mint sprig; cucumber slice

Half fill a tall Collins glass with ice. Add fruit. Top with ice. Pour liquid over and stir gently to slightly muddle the fruit. Top with mint sprig and place cucumber slice on the the rim or submerge in drink.

*Note: I don't get paid to endorse products (!), so I only mention things if I really like them, and I provide links to make things easy in case you want to learn more. If you happen to buy something through my Amazon link, I earn a miniscule royalty.