Sunday, April 25, 2010

Warm Brownie Tart with Chai Gelato

I consider myself a moderately serious tea drinker. On a scale of one to ten, one being a Walmart-brand tea bag dunker and ten being a Japanese tea ritual enthusiast, I’m probably a solid five. I say this because I am deliberate (but not obsessive) about making tea. I brew it using good quality loose tea, pre-warm the tea pot, and allow it to brew for 3-4 minutes. My mother is British, so I was ingrained with the importance of tea from an early age. I even have a collection of silver 
teapots, though I am not an active collector. I’m afraid if I continue down this slippery slope, I’ll end up on one of those reality shows that feature hoarders who live in crammed apartments that have mazes of narrow walkways carved out amid piles of clutter and junk. I have about 20 or so silver pots, and my husband is adamant that this number doesn’t grow (although he has his own issues with books on military history, which number in the hundreds). The point of all this is that I do love tea, and I love to incorporate it into my desserts. Making a Chai Gelato was a natural choice, as I love the milky, spiced flavor of a strong chai. I use Upton Tea’s Chai Spice to make it— Upton only sells loose tea, no tea bags. Loose tea is generally higher quality tea composed of whole leaves, as opposed to the lower quality broken-up leaves and dust used in most tea bags. Upton’s 
has an outstanding collection of teas, and excellent service—I highly recommend them. You can buy their teas either in a tin or a packet. I buy the tins for each variety, then refill them with the silver packets of tea. This gelato pairs perfectly with a warm chocolate tart with a brownie-like filling. The gelato is a refreshing counterpoint to the richness of the tart. Make sure you don’t over-bake the filling—the center should be quivery, and the edges just set. The filling will firm up as it cools. Use a high-quality bittersweet chocolate for the tart. I used a 65 percent Guittard chocolate, one of my favorites for baking. By the way, in an emergency, you can still make the gelato using chai tea bags. I won’t tell anyone.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Rhubarb and Memories of Dad

My Dad loved rhubarb. I say ‘loved’ because he died four years ago. I still think of him every day, though, and there are so many things, including rhubarb, that remind me of him. Pickled herring in sour cream, for example. My sisters and I turned our noses up at the sight of it, but Dad loved it. The song When I’m Calling You—he hummed it all the time (I think it was big in the 1940’s). And 

the rhubarb. My Dad didn’t cook—he was a doctor and didn’t have much free time—but he loved rhubarb so much that throughout the spring months he would cook it up with sugar and water until it had completely fallen apart into a stringy mess of pink goo. That really made him happy. He didn’t even need any vanilla ice cream to eat with it. Just rhubarb. I know this dessert composition

would have made him really happy, too — a spicy ginger ice cream made with a generous amount of fresh ginger and topped off with a sweet-tart rhubarb-strawberry compote. It’s a wonderful combination. I don’t cook my rhubarb as long as Dad did, only because it looks better in the bowl. Not that he would’ve cared about that.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Raspberry Almond Tart with Mascarpone Cream

Ever go into a bakery or pastry shop and become seduced by a glistening fruit tart in the glass case? It’s a common scenario, with a very sad ending. You get it home, and, with great expectations, sit down to enjoy your treasure, only to find that it’s not even close to what you expected. It’s got a tough crust (so that it can be knocked around in the bakery without breaking), way-too-thick pastry cream, flavorless fruit and gloppy glaze. Unless you live in Paris or anywhere near a world-class patisserie, your only choice is to make your own fruit tart, where you can produce a tender, flaky crust, and ensure that the main ingredient, your fruit, is perfectly fresh and flavorful. 
I opted to make a raspberry tart with a frangipane (almond cream) filling instead of a pastry cream. I did this because I love the combination of raspberries and almond, not because I have anything against pastry cream. In fact, I love pastry cream, especially when it’s lightened with whipped cream. My husband, however, was slightly disappointed with my tart. Without the pastry cream, he said, it was just too dry for him. Even when he heaped on the Mascarpone Cream. 

Personally, I thought it was delicious, but I understand his point—if you’re expecting the creamy filling, you may be disappointed. So my advice is this: if you really want it, just cut the almond cream recipe in half, and top it off with some pastry cream (if anyone needs a recipe, just let me know, and I’ll post one). No need for the preserves, then, just top with the raspberries and continue with the original recipe. As they say, you live and learn.

Addendum: Dicky claims he never said my tart was dry. He was just expecting some cream filling, and there wasn't any.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Great Pavlova Debate

Like many people, I was under the assumption that Pavlova, the classic meringue and fruit dessert named for the ballerina Anna Pavlova, was of Australian origin. The Australians certainly claim it to be so. But a few years ago, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key made a startling counter-claim: the Pavlova, he said, was actually created in New Zealand. In fact, he urged Australia to acknowledge the dessert’s New Zealand provenance. Recent evidence seems to back up his assertion. Australians believed that the dessert was created in 1935 by a chef named Bert Sachse, at Perth’s Esplanade Hotel, in honor of Pavlova, who had visited the country in 1926 and 1929. But an academic at New Zealand’s Otago University has unearthed a recipe for Pavlova in a 1933 Mothers’ Union cookbook, and another recipe from a 1929 issue of a country magazine. And it is true that Anna Pavlova traveled to New Zealand on both her visits. I have to give it to the Kiwis on this one. Kind of sad, though. Imagine if historians discovered that apple pie was actually invented by Mexicans? Regardless of its beginning, Pavlova is a fresh, delicious dessert that combines crunchy meringue with billowy cream and succulent fruit. Not only can it be partially made ahead of time, it actually requires it – the meringue bases should sit in the oven for 6 hours after baking. The mint syrup can also be made a day before. Whip the cream up to 3 hours before serving and assemble the Pavlovas à la minute. Feel free to use any in-season fruit you like to top off your own Pavlova.