Sunday, May 26, 2013

Raspberry Almond Tartlets

This week I was all set to make some Strawberry Almond Tartlets, but, sadly, I couldn’t come up with any decent strawberries. I really wanted some freshly picked farm strawberries bursting with flavor, but all I could find were big, 

cottony, flavorless berries from the supermarket. Ugh. Not to be deterred, I quickly subbed raspberries for the strawberries and, I must say, was very happy with the results. These little tartlets have a flaky tart crust and a baked frangipane 

filling flavored with a little dark rum, a trick I learned from pastry chef Francois Payard. The rum adds some depth to the almonds without being overwhelming. I topped the frangipane filling with a thin layer of raspberry preserves, then 

garnished the tartlets with fresh raspberries and a swirl of whipped cream. I sweeten the cream with a little confectioners’ sugar, which also stabilizes it (owing to the cornstarch), allowing it to hold up longer than cream sweetened with granulated sugar. If you’re looking for a more rustic, homespun look, don’t glaze the raspberries with jam and spoon the cream on top instead of piping it. I tend to prefer a sleeker, pastry shop look myself, but to each his own, I say!

Raspberry Almond Tartlets

Makes eight 3 ½-inch tartlets

Tart Dough:
1 ½ cups (181 g) all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons (43 g) cake flour
3/4 teaspoon sugar
¼ plus 1/8 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (4 1/2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and frozen for 20 minutes
3 tablespoons shortening
2 1/2 tablespoons ice water

Almond Cream:
10 1/2 Tbsp (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar   
1 2/3 cups (150 g) almond flour
3 large eggs
1 ¾ tablespoons (15 g) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon dark rum, such as Myers’s (optional)

Raspberry preserves
Two 10-ounce containers fresh raspberries
1 cup (232 g) heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Finely chopped pistachio nuts

Make the tart dough:
1. Place the flours, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse few times to combine. Add the butter pieces and shortening and toss lightly to coat with flour. Blend the fat and flour with about five 1-second pulses or until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal with some of the butter pieces the size of peas. Sprinkle the water over the flour mixture and process continuously until the dough begins to clump together.  Do not over-process; the dough should not form a ball. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and shape it into a thick 4-inch wide disc. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm enough to roll, about 30 minutes.
2. Place unwrapped dough on a work surface that has been lightly dusted with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to about 1/16-inch thickness, lifting and rotating the dough often, while dusting the work surface and dough lightly with flour as necessary. Using a 5-inch pastry cutter (or use a paring knife with a plate as a guide), cut out as many rounds from the dough as you can. Gently press the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of 3 ½-inch tartlet pans. Roll the pin over the top of the pans to trim off the excess dough. Reroll the remaining dough scraps and repeat to make a total of 8 tartlet shells. Lightly prick the bottom of the dough in each pan with a fork at 1/2-inch intervals. Refrigerate the dough in the pans for 20 minutes to firm up the dough.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Right before baking, line the dough in each pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and cover with pie weights or dried beans. Place the tart pans on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the foil (along with the weights) out of the tart pans and bake the crust for 10 minutes longer. Leave the oven on. Transfer the tartlet pans to a wire rack and cool completely.

Make the Almond Cream:
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and sugar together at medium speed until well-combined and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the almond flour and mix until combined. Add the eggs in three stages, making sure that each addition is incorporated before adding the next. Add the flour, vanilla extract and rum and mix until combined.
5. Scrape the Almond Cream into the cooled tartlet shells and smooth it into an even layer. Place the tartlet pans on a baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the filling is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Finish the tartlets:
6. Spread the tartlets with a thin layer of raspberry preserves. Arrange a circle of raspberries around the edge of each tartlet. Spoon some of the raspberry preserves into a fine-mesh sieve and press it through to remove the seeds (if they’re cold, warm them in the microwave for 10 seconds or so). Brush some of the strained preserves onto the raspberries to make them shine.
7. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the sifted confectioners’ sugar and vanilla and whip to stiff peaks. Transfer to pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip (Ateco #6). Pipe a swirl of whipped cream in the center of each tartlet and garnish with finely chopped pistachios. Refrigerate the tartlets until ready to serve.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Debra’s Ponzek’s Chocolate Espresso Bars

One of my favorite restaurants in New York in the 1990’s was Montrachet, a three-star restaurant in Tribeca known for its innovative, Provence-inspired cuisine. Not only were the food and ambience amazing, but it had the distinction of having a woman chef at its helm, unusual for a French restaurant. Debra Ponzek was a pioneer, and happily, her cooking gained the praise of customers as well as 

critics. Her food was intensely flavored and simply presented – no gimmicks, just well perfectly prepared Meditterranean dishes such as her coq au Riesling (a twist on coq au vin). 
            I was the editor of Chocolatier magazine back then, and we named her pastry chef, David Blom, one of the Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America, so I got to 

meet Debra and see her in action in that small, hot Montrachet kitchen. She was unruffled. Eventually she moved on – got married, moved to Connecticut and opened Aux Delices, gourmet food shops in three locations in Connecticut. Here Debra offers delicious food including main courses (Pork Scallopini with apple raisin chutney), salads (Bloody Mary Tomato Salad), sandwiches and tea 

sandwiches and, of course, dessert. They also offer cooking classes and catering. If you live anywhere near Greenwich, you know all about Aux Delices – Debra’s food is simple and inspiring.
            And now she’s just released a cookbook, written with Mary Goodbody, The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook: Delicious, Inspiring Meals for Busy Families (Running Press, 2013; $22). The recipes are for the same kind of food you’ll find

at Aux Delices, things like Charred Pepper, Tomato and Sourdough Bread Salad, Roasted Cod with Bacon and Leeks, Chicken Paillard with Nectarine Chutney and Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto (I’m getting hungry here). There aren’t a lot of dessert recipes in the book (the busy family doesn’t always have time for sweets), but she does have a few favorites, like Apple Bars, Chocolate Marshmallow Pudding, Coconut and Lime Cream Pie and Chocolate Espresso Bars, which are really espresso-flavored brownies. I chose these because I was craving a good brownie, and I’m always curious to try new brownie recipes. Debra’s version is indulgent and rich with a strong hit of espresso flavor to round out the intensity of the chocolate. I cut them into squares, wrapped them individually and frozen them so that I could enjoy them whenever I got the urge.  Looking forward to trying lots more recipes – sweet and savory – in this book by one of my favorite chefs.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Caramelized Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Driving around in my new tropical habitat yesterday, I came across a little produce shop that carried farm-fresh veggies and fruit. I asked the proprietor if he had any rhubarb and he said, “We carried it for a while, but it just rotted because no one was buying it.” Imagine that! Local taste be damned. Undaunted, I 

continued the hunt and found some at a nearby “gourmet” supermarket. My first thought was to make a lovely rustic pie, but I wanted something that would be done sooner, as I needed to clean out my kitchen in preparation for some renovation that was about to happen (nothing major – just replacing an appalling 

backsplash). An upside-down cake was just the ticket. I based it on a recipe that appeared in my cake book, the Peach Tatin Cake, which also works well with rhubarb. Because rhubarb is a bit tart, the sweet caramel balances it beautifully. Serve it warm with rhubarb sauce, if you like (email me if you want the recipe), 

and certainly some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. Even the locals are bound to love this one.