Tuesday, August 30, 2011

My August

This past August was a bit touch and go for me.  Although I had planned on writing about several subjects, a certain event in my life prevented me from even getting to them.  I did manage to start off with The Monthly Cookie, but soon after that, I had to stop writing.  At the time I felt as if I had had the wind knocked out of me as a result of a setback.  I was stunned, speechless, devastated, & utterly miserable.  The blog quickly took the back burner for me, because there were so many uncertainties.  After those two weeks and fully understanding what exactly our family would have to go through, I finally felt comfortable enough to continue writing and publishing good photography.  I hope you can understand that I needed this short absence.   

These were those chocolate pretzels that I made at the beginning of August.  They were very good.  I think I preferred their flavor the next day more than fresh out of the oven.  If you haven't given them a try, click here for the recipe and start baking a batch.  These are good for all those kids going back to school, because they don't contain a lot of sugar.

I also showed you how easy it was to blind bake a tart crust.  Just follow my steps carefully and you'll see that it's a piece of cake (or pie!). 

I was happy to share with you a cornmeal pâte sucrée that was a big hit at my house.  Its crunchy, sweet quality was the perfect thing for the tart I later baked. 

I'm always emphasizing that your ingredients need to be icy cold when making pastry.  If you look closely, you'll notice that my bowl containing the flour, salt, sugar & cornmeal, along with my water measuring cup are both frosted from being in the freezer!

Again, it's important to cut up your butter into cubes before making any type of pastry.  This will help disperse the bits evenly and make your crust tender & flaky.  This butter was straight out of the freezer.

After dividing, you may be discouraged to find a sandy mixture, but never fear.  I gather everything with my plastic wrap & press it down with my knuckles.  This brings the pastry together quickly & easily.

The delicious pastry cream that I made this month is the stuff of dreams.  I can still taste it.  Click on the picture above to get a closer look at the flecks of vanilla bean seeds.  You can, of course, use the best vanilla extract if you don't have vanilla beans handy.  I would recommend 2 teaspoons for the recipe.  I hope you try making some soon.

Now onto that delicious Deluxe Raspberry Tart that my family loved.  After making this and even considering it for my birthday "cake" in July, I quickly realized that I would develop separate entries for pastry cream, blind baking & for that pâte sucrée. 

I can still remember the day I picked my raspberries.  I had to make two trips, because at some point, it began to rain copiously and I had to run back home to take cover; it was very hot & quite humid too.  I went out again and ended up at the top of the field after a break in the weather.  The only real mishaps were cuts & scrapes and one spider bite on my hand.  Other than that, I enjoyed every minute of it. 

This was the basket I used.  I didn't want to drop my berries onto the wicker, so I lined the inside of the basket with a large, oversized kitchen towel.  Not one berry got crushed.

This is part of the long driveway where the raspberries flourish.  The brambles come out in the spring and begin bearing fruit toward the end of June & early July. 

Here's another picture of the berries waiting to be picked.  I quickly realized that some were not going to come off so easily.  The ones that were overly ripe just disintegrated into my fingers.

A closeup of the jewel-like berries.  So delicious!

I was considering using this picture.  It offers a very nice view of the rich custard & raspberries.

This picture was all wrong.  I took several that were from this angle, but didn't even think about using them for my story.  The berry at the tip of the tart wedge made it look like Rudolph the red nose reindeer.  Not a good thing.

I hope you enjoyed the blog entries.   One thing I have learned this past month is that I have to be optimistic about the future.  I just want to thank the people that sent me a kind word or two during my hardship.  At the time it meant everything to me.  Here's to more Good Things! 

Many Thanks,

Friday, August 26, 2011

Deluxe Raspberry Tart

At the beginning of July I had the pleasure of picking raspberries from the numerous brambles on the property.  The day was thick & muggy, and rain was looming in the skies above.  I quickly gathered one of my baskets lined with a cotton flour sack cloth & made my way to the brambles.  Many of them line our long driveway, so I stopped to pick there first.  I then made my way to the edge of the field to see what I had left.  So many animals partake of the bounty that it's hard to even get some for ourselves.  As I was picking, I thought of ways to use my beautiful raspberries.  Should I make jam with them?  A jelly roll filled with plump berries and some freshly whipped cream also seemed like a good idea.  After awhile though, I quickly envisioned a spectacular tart.  A tart made with a delicious, flaky crust, filled with the silkiest of pastry creams & topped with fresh-off-the-cane, raspberries.  Have a look at how it came together.

D for Deluxe.  D for Delightful.  D for Delicious and of course, D for David.

This is a typical raspberry bramble.  The berries cluster at the ends of the canes and must be plucked gently.  Because the brambles are thorny, it's almost impossible to pick raspberries without getting cut.  I also managed to get bitten by a spider somehow. 

A small batch inside a basket lined with a flour sack cloth.  I was very gentle with these red beauties because they were very ripe, juicy & quite delicate.

Once inside the house, I quickly put them on a rimmed baking sheet & gave them plenty of room so as not to crush them.  Naturally, I popped a few into my mouth & was immediately greeted with delicious perfection.

I blind baked a 9" round cornmeal pâte sucrée  at 375° F for 20 minutes with my pie weights.  I then removed the pie weights, docked the bottom & continued baking the crust for another 15 minutes or so, just until it was cooked & golden in color.  You mustn't let it burn.

After the crust has cooled completely, remove the outer ring of your tart pan & transfer the pastry to a serving platter.  Make a batch of my crème pâtissière (pastry cream) and after it has cooled completely, fill the tart crust.  Smooth out the top with a spatula.  Now the fun begins!

Begin picking out the best looking raspberries, after givng them a good rinse under cold water, and simply arrange them in concentric circles around the rim of the tart.  The decorating is really up to you. 

Note: the tart should be well chilled before serving.  Any leftovers will keep, well covered, in the refrigerator for about 2 days.

Since this is a Deluxe Raspberry Tart, I decided to center a delicious D with the tiniest of my berries. 

This tart is definitely la crème de la crème in my opinion. 

A generous wedge served on an antique British lustreware plate.  The silver is mother of pearl.

This was such a beautiful tart to make and, not only was it delicious, it was also very much of the season.  I kid you not when I say that pastry cream is a wonderfully, silky smooth custard that pairs very well with any berry.  The tart would be just as delectable with blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, fresh currants or even grapes.  I highly recommend that you make one of these the next time you want to impress your guests at a fancy sit down dinner or perhaps a certain someone celebrating a birthday.  Monogram their first initial to make them feel special.  A Deluxe Raspberry Tart from my kitchen to yours.  Cheers!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pastry Cream ~ Crème Pâtissière

Pastry cream is a thickened custard that is rich, yet light, and is used to fill many different types of pastries.  This is the typical filling you find in Napoleons, cream puffs, fruit tarts and many cakes (think Boston Cream Pie).  The technique for making crème pâtissière  is not difficult at all and it's the kind of cream filling you're going to want to master if you haven't already.  The time spent at the stove is mere minutes, but I caution you to pay close attention to certain visual clues.  I think once you see how easy it is to make pastry cream, you may find yourself filling and sandwiching many desserts with it, because it's so tasty.     

The Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Yield: about 2 1/2 cups, enough to fill a 9" round tart.

Split your vanilla bean in half lengthwise with a small, sharp paring knife.  With the top, blunt side of the blade, scrape the vanilla seeds from the inside of each half.  The seeds will clump and cling to the blade.  If your vanilla bean is fresh, it will be plump, moist & fragrant.

In a saucier or saucepan, place the milk, pinch of salt, vanilla bean & all its seeds along with your sugar.  Whisk this mixture together over medium-high flame.  Bring it up to just under boiling (this is scalding).  You want the sugar to dissolve completely, so it's important to whisk constantly and all around the saucepan.  Turn off the heat once the milk mixture is scalded. 

In a heatproof bowl, whisk your egg yolks.  Sift the cornstarch over the eggs and whisk this thoroughly, making sure there aren't any lumps.

Working quickly, ladle about one cup of the scalded milk into the egg yolk/cornstarch mixture, whisking the entire time.  Ladles come in all sizes, but the most basic holds 1/4 cup of liquid (figure 4 ladles).  Do this one ladle at a time.  Pour the egg yolk/milk mixture back into your saucier & return it to your burner.

NOTE: you must whisk the eggs quickly and thoroughly as you're adding each ladle of milk or you risk curdling. 

Remove the vanilla bean and set it aside.  Once the vanilla bean dries, you can use it to make vanilla sugar.  Over medium-high heat, bring this mixture up to a boil and whisk as your doing so.  You want to make sure you reach all around the saucepan.  In order for the cornstarch to activate properly and reach its thickening power, you must bring the mixture up to a boil.  This should take about 2 minutes or so.  Let the custard cook for a minute more once it's thickened.  Don't forget to whisk the entire time you're doing this.

Once the pastry cream has thickened properly you can turn the heat off.  This should be rich, thick and smooth.  No lumps!

Add the tablespoon of butter now.  This will give your crème pâtissière a bit of richness and flavor.  Whisk until it's completely melted.

Working quickly, strain the pastry cream through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl.  Don't forget to scrape the bottom of your strainer!

Do you see why we strain?  Not only does it remove any stray bits of vanilla bean, but it also removes any lumps that may have formed while thickening the cream.

A word on cooling this mixture.  Since pastry cream has eggs in it, the mixture needs to cool down completely before you proceed with it.  One thing that makes me cringe whenever I read a recipe for pastry cream is that the author will more than likely instruct you to immediately place this bowl (with a piece of plastic wrap on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming) in the refrigerator.  For me it's a big NO NO.  This hot mixture will cause the inside temperature of your refrigerator to go up significantly.  That's the last thing you need when you're storing butter, eggs, milk or any other perishables in the fridge. 

I much prefer to have a large bowl of ice water at the ready, and simply place my bowl with the pastry cream into it (pictured above).  I give the pastry cream a good stir every few minutes until it has cooled down completely.  This should take about 20 minutes.  I then proceed with my recipe or if I need to store it for the next day, I place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream and refrigerate it. 

Note: Pastry cream can be stored for one day in the refrigerator, but anything made with it should be consumed within 3 days.

How do I use pastry cream?  I love making Boston Cream Pies with it whenever I get the chance.  I've even made old-fashioned Washington Pies (chocolate cake layers with a pastry cream & cherry filling) with this delicious custard.  Perhaps my favorite way of using it is to fill all sorts of fruit tarts throughout the year.  Any type of berry piled on top of pastry cream is delectable beyond belief.  Now that you know how quickly pastry cream comes together and how simple the technique is, you really should try making some the next time you want to have a seasonal berry tart or a very chic Napolean.  Crème pâtissière  is definitely one of my favorite Good Things.  Bon Appetit!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cornmeal Pâte Sucrée

Making a pâte sucrée is so easy & it takes no time at all.  The process is exactly the same as making a basic pâte brisée.  A pâte sucrée, however, has more sugar in it, is more cookie-like & crumbly, and rolling it out without any tears always presents a bit of a challenge for the baker.  This type of crust is used as a base for tarts and is always prebaked; it isn't meant for double crust pies.  After baking and cooling, the crusts can be filled in a number of ways.  It really is up to you.  The addition of cornmeal to this recipe yields a toothsome crust that makes it suitable for light, creamy fillings. 

A fully baked 9" crust.

The Ingredients
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup stoneground yellow cornmeal
  • 6 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup ice water (5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon), plus more if needed

Yield: Enough for two 9" crusts.
Note: All of your ingredients should be icy cold.  I always put everything in the freezer for about 30 minutes before I begin.

Pulse your dry ingredients in the bowl of your food processor to distribute evenly (about 3 quick pulses).  This can be done by hand with a pastry cutter.

Add your chilled butter; frozen is even better.  I always cut up the stick(s) of butter into cubes.  This will help distribute the butter quickly & evenly into the dough.  Pulse this in quick bursts until the mixture takes on the look of sand and is crumbly.  Only a few seconds in the machine.

Add your egg yolks and incorporate them thoroughly.  A few seconds more.

You can see that the dough has taken on a golden color because of the egg yolks & the cornmeal.  It's time to add your water.  I add it in a steady stream or tablespoon by tablespoon.  This is done while I use the pulse button on my machine. 

You're done when the dough can be gathered up into a clump (above).  If for some reason you've used up the 1/3 cup ice water & it's still not holding together, add more water, one teaspoon at a time until it does.  The dough shouldn't be wet or sticky.  It should be crumbly and still be able to hold together.  Voila!

Divide your pastry among two pieces (each double width) of plastic wrap.  It's sandy & crumbly, but that's exactly what you want.

Gather your dough with the ends of the plastic wrap & press down with your fists.  The dough will come together & compress itself perfectly.  Shape this into a flat disk. 

Two disks of cornmeal pâte sucrée wrapped & ready.  All pie and tart crusts benefit from a resting period & being well chilled, so I recommend placing them in refrigerator for one hour before proceeding with a recipe.  Pâte sucrée and pâte brisée can be held in the refrigerator for one day.  If you don't plan on using them within 24 hours, place these disks in a resealable plastic bag and freeze for up to one month.  Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

A closeup showing the bits of butter evenly distributed and that delicious cornmeal.

One of the many things I love about a homemade tart or pie crust is the flavor.  As long as it's homemade & well done, I will not leave a piece of crust on my plate if I'm enjoying a slice of pie.  This cornmeal pastry benefits from the addition of confectioner's sugar because it provides the right amount of sweetness and texture that any good tart crust should have.  I've already cautioned you that it's rather difficult to roll out, which is typical of any pâte sucrée, but you can be guaranteed success if you do so between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Follow my instructions for blind baking a tart crust to see exactly what I mean.  I'll show you in the coming days how I used this crust for a very special tart.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dear Friends,

I plan on returning to the blog very soon.  The past 2 weeks have been rather difficult for me, but luckily there is some hope and I do so want to continue posting here.  Unfortunately, it won't be possible for me to get to every story on my Good Things in August list.  I ask you to please be patient and stay tuned for more Good Things in the near future!  


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dear Friends,

I have to take some time off from blogging.  I received some sad news this morning and I don't think I'll be able to post for some time, I hope you can understand.  The blog will stay up for you to access my past posts.


Saturday, August 6, 2011

Blind Baking a Tart Crust

What exactly is blind baking a crust for pies, tarts & tartlets?  Why do we do it for some recipes and not for others?  Blind baking is nothing more than prebaking a pie or tart crust, either partially or fully, before filling it.  Partially baking a pie shell is done whenever you're going to bake a pie with a very wet filling (think pumpkin pies and quiches).  Fully baking a tart or tartlet crust is what you want to do when it is going to be used as a stand alone tart that has a custard or curd filling.  Blind baking is essential for these types of tarts and pies, because not only does it give the crust a head start in the oven, it also helps seal it, thus preventing a soggy bottom.  Whether you partially or fully bake a crust, the method is very simple.   

Pâte Brisée
This is a disk of pâte brisée.  I always flour my surface to prevent sticking and keep a bench scraper to help me along whenever I roll out this type of dough.

The dough gets rolled out to the desired width and thickness.  Any excess  flour gets brushed off with a large pastry brush.

This is a typical quiche pan with a removable bottom.  I always blind bake my crusts for quiches.

Carefully wrap the dough around your rolling pin and unfurl it over your pan.  With your fingers, push the dough into every indentation of the pan, being careful not to tear the crust. 

The easiest way for me to remove excess crust is by moving the rolling pin over the edges of the tart pan.  This will leave the pâte brisée flush with the edge of the pan.

Your tart shell is ready to go.  It's very important, however, to chill this for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.  The freezer sets it quickly.  Prechilling will prevent the dough from shrinking in the oven.

After the dough has chilled properly, cut a piece of parchment or heavy duty foil and line the tart shell with it.  You want the parchment to have a good amount of overhang.

Fill the parchment-lined pan with pie weights (these are meant to be used indefinitely) or dried beans up to the very top of the pan, making sure you push the beans into every edge.  The beans mimic a pie filling & prevent the dough from shrinking down the sides of the pan.  I keep a jar of dried beans for this sole purpose.  They get reused over & over.  If for some reason you do keep a jar of beans for pie baking, make sure you replace them whenever you start to notice any musty smell.   

Your shell should now get placed into a very hot oven (usually between 375° F - 425° F) and bake for about 20 minutes.  This sets the crust and partially bakes it.

After the allotted time, remove the parchment or foil with the beans & dock your crust.  Docking or pricking the bottom of the crust will prevent it from bubbling up in the oven.  I do this with the tines of a fork.  Don't get carried away by creating large holes or you run the risk of having your tart or pie filling seep into the bottom & creating a soggy bottom.

The crust should now be returned to the oven.  The amount of time for this next baking will depend on the recipe.  You will either partially bake it until the dough takes on some color, or you will fully bake it until it is golden in color.  Follow whatever tart or pie recipe to the letter!

Pâte Sucrée
pâte sucrée crust.  I find it so much easier to roll out this type of dough between two sheets of plastic  wrap.  Pâte Sucrée differs from pâte brisée in the amount of sugar used; it has more sugar and depending on the recipe, egg yolks are sometimes added making a bit more like a cookie crust.  It's a crumbly dough & a bit difficult to roll out without any tearing. 

For this dough, I do not wrap it around my rolling pin because it will crack.  The entire rolled out disk gets placed over the pan.  I then tuck it into the bottom & up the sides. 

Do you see that tear just to the right of my hand where the pan is exposed?  To remedy this, I take a sharp paring knife & cut some excess dough from the overhang.

I then push the small patch into the exposed area & pat it in.  No fuss no muss.

The rolling pin gets passed over the entire top to cut off the excess.  A very simple and easy way to get this done.

This dough also gets chilled before proceeding.

Here I am weighing down the crust in the same manner.  I then bake my crust in the hot oven.

Pâte Sucrée crusts are almost always used for stand alone tarts and not for double crust pies.  The tart shell above is fully baked.  I can now fill it with a number of different custards or curds. 

Blind baking isn't intimidating or difficult.  As a matter of fact, I find it a reassuring process because it always results in a well baked crust.  Your tarts & pies don't have to end up with soggy, wet bottoms now that you know how to blind bake.  Puff pastry does get treated this way sometimes for desserts such as Napoleans or vol-au-vent.  The next time you come across a recipe that tells you to blind bake a crust, just remember the simple steps I showed you.  With summer's end just around the corner, why not try baking a fresh fruit tart or a quiche with the freshest of vegetables?  I hope you enjoy doing so.  Cheers!