Tag Archives: tart

salted caramel pecan tart

1 Dec

autumn leaves, salted caramel pecan tart

That week was a hard week. I fell asleep at odd hours, subsisted mainly on grapefruits and Nutella. Cocooned under the duvet, I was peacefully numb, purposefully avoiding decision, movement.

It was comfortable.

Then, then there was a breeze and an art exhibition and a proper conversation, as we perched on some church steps.

Vulnerability is the origin of all joy, and all pain. To really feel, you have to be stripped raw and open to the elements. Exposed to fear and shame and disgust but also, hopefully, to discovery and light.

Then I bought two chocolates: a liquid caramel and a milk chocolate praline. The flavours were strident, bitter caramel and sweet gianduja (upmarket Nutella).

Then there was a concert. Still a little dazed, I heard the harsh Belgian rock as a lullaby. Only when the next band came on and the African violin started to play did I wake up, properly. It was so alive – an electric guitar and Gambian folk songs, a steady beat.

A determined granny started a simple dance by the stage. Everyone else in the staid theatre got to their feet. Electricity crackled. It was so good it hurt. That violin made tears fall involuntarily, as if I was cutting onions.

When you are asleep, you don’t feel the bad stuff. But you don’t get the good stuff either. You don’t get to really taste, to listen in to music.

Sometimes you have to get out of bed (or take off your hedgehog spikes, whatever your protection might be) and make something happen. Then you win back your five senses.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, a high note or a bite of chocolate will bring you back to yourself.

But you have to be awake and open. It hurts. This is how you know you are a person.

~~~

(I found this piece in a forgotten notebook the other day. Maybe it reads a little raw, too emotional? It comes from exactly three years ago. A lot has changed since then. I am a lot happier, though I still make the same mistakes, I still hiberate when faced with hard decisions. I recommend watching Brene Brown for a more scientific and yet funnier look at vulnerability.)

autumn leaves, salted caramel pecan tart 2

So. Salted butter caramel. Something I have made on and off over the years. It has that pushy flavour that brings you down to earth, bitter and sweet and rich. Can be used to fill macarons or plain shortbread cookies. Drizzled on yoghurt, meringues or spread in a thin layer on cake. (If you want to make it into a buttercream, beat cooled caramel with 180g softened butter.) It is hard to resist eating it with a spoon. The recipe does require a sugar thermometer. If you are making it as a macaron filling you will need one anyway for the Italian meringue. (An electronic thermometer/timer can be found at IKEA for only a few euros.)

Once you have mastered the caramel, the tart itself is very easy and incredibly delicious. Inspired by Jacques Genin, Clamato and my local bakery, it is buttery and crumbly, a fancy French take on the pecan pie. The caramel just sticks the toasted pecans to the shortbread base, which has extra butter and a touch of coconut. It is the kind of tart that demands an extra sliver, and another and… I had to make it twice in a week to have it tested and approved by several Frenchies. They were more than satisfied, asking wide-eyed: mais c’est toi qui l’as fait? Mmmm. Silly question!

P.S. I just remembered the other pecan tart recipe on this tart: with a molasses custard base, it is totally different! At least somewhat different. Try them both! I made the molasses version sans pecans the other day, it was glossy and smooth and bitter, just how I like it.

~~~

Salted caramel pecan tart

makes one large tart (28-30cm)

Shortbread pastry:

200g butter, softened

115g caster sugar

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

25g coconut, unsweetened

270g plain flour

generous pinch of salt

Caramel:

200g sugar

80g water

220g cream (single, whipping or creme fleurette)

40g salted butter

To assemble:

250g pecans

Pastry: Cream softened butter and sugar. Add egg and yolk and mix well. (If it separates a little, add a handful of flour.) Add flour, coconut and salt and stir to combine. Wrap in clingfilm, patting dough into a flat disc, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes. (Freeze for 10 minutes if in a rush.)

Caramel: Use a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, preferably stainless steel so you can better see the colour of the caramel. A dark pan will made it more difficult. On a medium heat, cook sugar and water Do not stir. You can rotate the pan if necessary, if caramelising on one side only – but be careful with hot sugar!   Cook the sugar until it is a nice brown, smelling like caramel but not burnt. Tilt the pan a little to see the colour on the thinnest part – it will always look darker when it is thick.

Take the pan off the heat and throw in the  butter. Stand back, it will sizzle a little but will stop the cooking process so the caramel doesn’t burn. Then pour in the cream, carefully, for it will bubble up. Bring back to the heat and cook to 108C. (It may separate initially but will come back together again.) Have a large bowl of cold water ready: dip the bottom of the saucepan into it to cool it quickly. Then tip caramel into a bowl. If you are going to use it later, clingfilm the surface and put in the fridge.

To assemble: Grease a large tart tin – 28 to 30cm. On a floured surface, roll out the pastry a few centimetres wider than the tin. It is quite a soft dough: be gentle and try not to use too much flour. It should be quite thick – 5mm or so. Ease into tin, trim edges and prick base with a fork. Chill fo 30 minutes or freeze for 10. (If there is leftover pastry, cut into shapes, brush with leftover egg white, sprinkle with coconut, or cinnamon sugar, and bake as cookies.)

Preheat oven to 175C. As you do, spread pecans on a tray and toast them in the oven. But don’t forget them! About 10 minutes or until they smell toasted. Then line tart shell with paper and baking beans, and bake tart for 20 minutes. Remove paper and beans and carry on baking until golden-brown: another 15-20 minutes. It won’t be baked again, so it should be nice and crisp. When done, tip pecans into tart shell. Spoon or drizzle the caramel all over. If the caramel is a bit solid, put the tart back in the oven for 2-3 minutes until it melts and evens out. Allow to cool for an hour or two to set.

Keeps for 2-3 days in a tin.

not a treacle tart, not a pecan pie

17 Dec

trick or treacle

It’s a tired cliche: English girl abroad, starts to miss proper English cooking, stocks up on armfuls of Earl Grey and crumpets when back in London.

Also buys two tins of treacle, because of their cutesy Halloween “trick or treacle” faces, because in France treacle is non-existent and molasses is found only in health-food shops.*

When nostalgia hits hard, sometimes she puts treacle directly on her porridge for a double hit of home.

In the end,  girl combines a French recipe for a molasses tart – really a simple custard tart that gets a bittersweet kick and a mahogany shine from the black syrup – with the Italian-inspired, London-based River Cafe’s pastry, then adds a handful of pecans and takes it to her first American Thanksgiving, in Paris.

The tart is a jumble, a hybrid of traditions where the sum is better than the parts.  It is nowhere near the candied nature of an actual English treacle tart – here treacle is the only sweetener in a filling that is made silky with cream and eggs. The pecans are good for crunch, but are not the stars of the show. The pastry is sturdy, with a shortbread crumble when bitten into.

Together, it makes a happy whole, both bitter and sweet [insert another cliche about living away from home].

The Americans approve of the culturally confused pie. Since in itself, it is not overly sweet, it goes very well with liberal amounts of icecream and leftover cranberry sauce.

~~~

* Molasses is a by-product of refining white sugar – the brown in brown sugar if you will. Treacle, from what I understand, is ever-so slightly sweeter, lighter, since it is made of molasses blended with a sugar syrup. They both have the same dark, bitter profile though molasses will produce a stronger effect. However, “trick or treacle” tins with scary pumpkin faces on are adorable. Make your choice accordingly.

~~~

Treacle and pecan tart

makes one 30cm tart, enough for 6-8 people – alternatively, for a higher filling-crust ratio, try a deep 22cm tart ring (although there will be pastry left over)

pastry comes from the River Cafe, filling adapted from Bruno Loubet

350g flour

1/2 tsp salt

175g butter, cold, cut in small cubes

100g icing sugar

1 egg

2-3 tbs cold water

filling:

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

200ml cream

135ml treacle

1/4 tsp resh grated nutmeg

100g pecans

In a food processor, blend the flour, icing sugar, salt and cold butter. When there are only pea-sized lumps of butter, add the egg and water. Pulse several times until it starts to form a dough. Add an extra tablespoon water in necessary. Bring it together with your hands, then squash into a flat disc. Wrap in clingfilm and freeze for 15 minutes or until hard but not yet frozen.

Butter a large, deep tart tin and grate the dough over it, using the largest holes on the grater. Push the pastry up the sides of the tin and gently press to flatten, until roughly even. Save a walnut sized lump for repairing any cracks. Freeze tart for half an hour (helps to avoid shrinking).

Heat oven to 175C. Line tart tin with paper and fill with baking beans – bake for 20 minutes. Remove paper and beans, fill any cracks with leftover dough and put back in the oven for five minutes to let the bottom get a little colour.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs, yolks, cream, treacle and nutmeg until smooth. Pour into tart shell, sprinkle over pecans and pop back in the oven. Bake for another 20 minutes or so, until the filling puffs up and feels slightly springy when you press it.

Let cool – the filling will deflate a little – and serve at room temperature with lots of icecream.

tarte aux pommes

28 Oct

Normandy is like Hereford. Apple trees everywhere, hemmed in by tall hedges. Black and white houses. Tractors that lumber past, farmers that raise a hand curtly to thank you for waiting. Bed and breakfasts on every corner.

Normandy is also like Mongolia. One particular bed and breakfast boasts four authentic Mongolian yurts, decorated with traditional rugs and even a fur hat. But the fur is unnecessary – the gas heater made the round tent stifling hot. All the novelties of camping in greenery, complete with genuine rooster alarm, but with a bed and a duvet and a picture of a camel.

Normandy is a piece of England, whence William the Conqueror, the first king to really organise our tribal country and to record our history, our defeat colourfully embroidered along 70m of the Bayeux tapestry. It is also a little piece of the war, the second, in a way that England will never be. Concrete bunkers and lookout points pockmark the countryside, intrude on the flat empty beaches.

For me, it was a lot of apples. The little homely ones in huge piles waiting to be made into cider or calvados (apple liqueur). Also the tarte normande, a simple apple tart with as much variation as the region itself. Neat slices overlay a crème pâtissière base. Or great chunks of apple under a light almond crumble. Or my favourite, the tarte fine: wafer thin slices snake across buttery puff pastry, just dusted with brown sugar.

This is the pastry school version: to start, all you need is good, light pastry. Then delicious apples – not flabby, floury ones. Not supermarket ones. Interesting ones.

Cook one of them with sugar and lemon juice to a perfumed mush and spread over the bottom of the uncoooked pastry. Slice the rest thin and overlap them closely – they will shrink a little in the oven.

Sprinkle with just a little crunchy granulated sugar. Bake for about 40 minutes at 180C. Serve with cider, whipped cream and a real fire. (Or a gas fire – in your yurt!)

pastry for an apprentice pâtissière

25 Oct


Things I have learned as an apprentice pâtissière:

  • how to cut onions without crying blue makeup tears: peel them, put them in the freezer for five minutes, then slice
  • how to make a rose out of almond paste
  • how to beat a flan into submission with only minimal injuries

 

  • to shake hands with bakers to say hello and good-bye, none of that fancy-pants kissing
  • how to win a free croissant/pear-praline tart: say mmm, that looks delicious, though you will quickly long for a plain apple
  • only knead your pastry three times

Proper tart pastry: the first thing they taught us at pastry school, aptly enough. (It still annoys me how much prettier “pâtisserie” sounds in French than the bland all-purpose pastry or bakery in English.) Just gently rub the butter and flour between your palms. Knead it three times only. Chill before rolling. Carefully lift into the tart ring. Press firmly around the edges so that you could tip it upside down (our grumpy teacher tested a few unlucky students whose pastry collapsed onto the counter).

Now fill with whatever takes your fancy, and bake. Apple slices with a shiny glaze brushed on afterwards? Frangipan with blueberry? Walnuts and dried apricots with a maple-brown sugar-butter syrup?

Simple tart pastry (pâte a foncer)

250g flour

15g icing sugar

125g butter

1 egg

30g water

pinch of salt

Sieve flour and sugar together onto worktop. Cube the butter and start rubbing into flour mix with fingertips until mostly broken up. Then rub between palms with minimum pressure, letting it fall back down again. When the mixture resembles breadcrumbs (so the butter is more or less evenly distributed, but don’t be too fussy) stop and make a big well in the middle.

Whisk the egg, water and salt so the salt dissolves then tip into well. Mix in with thumb and two forefingers. When the mxiture ressembles a loose ball, knead it three times. Flatten into a neat square, 1 cm thick, clingfilm and chill.

Roll it out on a floury surface, applying even pressure. Keep shifting the pastry, flouring underneath if necessary, to avoid sticking. Roll up around rolling pin and lift into (pre-buttered) tart pan, gently press around the sides.

Prebake it for a ganache filling. For a classic apple tart or tarte amandine, add your almond cream or apples before baking.

sunburnt red pepper tart

9 Apr

Hello, trite simile. Welcome, the winner of the most banal food poetry prize:

My dinner looks like a sunset.

An oversized scalloped sun, coloured a glorious orange – more than orange, a saffron-stained red. Seriously. It didn’t matter if I ate it or not, I could just admire it. I couldn’t draw it, the colour was too intense.

Once I did finally taste it though, the flavour matched the colour perfectly. The deep red, the charred sweetness of roasted peppers was just slightly muted by the sour creamy bite of creme fraiche. The flecks of basil and nutmeg added a little intrigue. The pastry stayed crisp and perky in its scalloped pan. But most of all, the smooth custard filling – like quiche, but better – tasted of enhanced roasted peppers and of distilled colour.

Make it just for the visual effect – one giant sunny tart next to a bowl of green leaves, a mess of grated carrot salad, a nutty brown crust of bread.

sunburnt red pepper tart
(adapted from Roast chicken and other stories by Simon Hopkinson)

serves 3-4 people as a light supper

pastry
110g plain flour
50g butter, cold, cubed
1 egg yolk
some water

filling
4 large red peppers
150ml creme fraiche
2 eggs and 1 egg white
salt and pepper
pinch of nutmeg
dash of dried basil

Make the pastry: rub the butter into the flour with your fingertips until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and several spoonfuls of water and stir roughly with a knife until the doughs starts to come together. Push it into a ball with your hands – adding more water if necessary. (This can be done in a food processor, of course.) Try to handle it as little as possible. Wrap in clingfilm and pop in the fridge for half an hour.

Now roast the peppers: place the whole peppers on a lightly oiled baking tray, to prevent sticking, and bake in a very hot oven (250C) for half an hour or so. They should be just starting to collapse with a few black spots. Then put them in a large bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm. The steam will make it easier to skin the peppers. Gently prise each pepper in half with a knife and your fingers, and pull out the stalk with the seeds attached. If you can be bothered, you can also skin the peppers.

Meanwhile, roll out the pastry dough to fit a 20cm tart pan. Without a rolling pin, I like to roll the pastry between two sheets of baking paper with an empty wine bottle. Arrange in the tart dish, prick the bottom and bake for about 20 minutes at 180C until just golden-brown.

Drain any liquid from the roasted peppers then blend them with the remaining eggs and egg white and the creme fraiche until smooth. Add the nutmeg, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Pour the pepper filling into the prebaked tart shell and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. (There will be some filling left over which you can bake separately in a little dish sans crust.)

When the tart is firm to the touch and just starting to crack, remove from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes or so. Serve with something green for colour contrast.

Notes: The original recipe – which looked much richer – used 6 egg yolks instead of 2 eggs and 1 white and double cream instead of creme fraiche. I also forgot the clove of garlic which was supposed to be blended into the filling.

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