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October 05, 2010

A Tale of Tell Tale

Telltalejars

Dear readers,

I can’t believe BlogHer Food is in just a few days – I’m so excited to go and I hope to see many of you there! Please let me know if you’re showing up, or just come up and say “hi!” if you see me there! I look forward to meeting you all!

In other news, an explanation for my absence: I am working on a little project that is extremely exciting to me and I hope will be for you as well.

At Michael Recchiuti’s lovely chocolate and soy tasting several weeks ago, I was introduced to pastry chef William Werner (apparently this tasting turned out to be a serendipitous networking event, with numerous friends-and-colleagues of Michael in attendance).  

The former pastry chef of Quince and the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, William is about to open his very own venture in San Francisco, the distinctively monikered Tell Tale Preserve Company (Yes, he is a fan of Edgar Allen Poe). Tell Tale will be a pâtisserie and delicatessen, serving everything from morning pastries to sandwiches, cakes to confections, and jams (I discovered the art of preserving is sort of a pet passion of William’s).  

The shop is slated to open mid-November, although the pastry kitchen is already up and running and providing previews of the sweetness to come in two forms: small batch deliveries to local coffee shops Coffee Bar and Sightglass Coffee, and Tell Tale Society, a monthly bag of unique treats sent out to subscribers. Visit the company site for a sampling of what’s coming out of the kitchen.

Dinnertables

 To give you another taste of Tell Tale, I got a chance to help out last weekend at CUESA’s Sunday Supper, an annual fundraising event held at the Ferry Building that brings together local chefs, farmers, and artisans for a family-style feast. The theme this year was “The Whole Beast”, and featured main courses of a whole beast carved tableside.

Ferrycrowd

As one of the dessert courses, our group plated last in the evening, leaving us plenty of time to mingle and observe the festivities. Above, dinner guests mingling in the main concourse of the Ferry Building during reception hour.

Preproom

 Ok, the lighting is terrible in this shot, but it's not often you get to work in a prep room with a view of the San Francisco bay.

  Nightsmoke

 The night ephemeral. Smoke rising from the outdoor grills where the whole beasts were being cooked.

Assemblage

Scenes from the kitchen inside: in the upper left corner is Greg Mindel, also of Tell Tale. I already know Greg from before: he taught the professional pastry program at Tante Marie’s after my instructor Rachel left, and then he went to SFBI to head up their professional pastry program. Both programs are ones I highly recommend, so for all of you who have questions about them that I haven’t answered, well, now is a really good time to e-mail me and I’ll pass them on to him!

Plating

William’s course was entitled Toute la Pomme, or The Whole Apple: apple terrine made from apple slices; apple cracklings made from the apple skin, dragee almonds in a gastrique of vanilla oil, maple vinegar, and muscavado; and slices of sheep’s milk cheese. The little leaf decoration is made from apple puree. P.S. That's William on the left.

Toutepomme3

While the round plates were what went out, below is the beauty shot of the dessert, on Tell Tale's custom designed plate, kind of a cross between an Alpine topographical map and artfully rumpled sheets:

Toutepomme2

After learning about Tell Tale and seeing the amazingness of the kitchen (believe me when I say it’s a really nice space), I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to do a piece on what goes into the opening of a bakery.

It’s been a couple years since I’ve written “Want to Go to Pastry School?”, but I still receive comments on it, and I still get e-mails from baking enthusiasts asking me for advice on pursuing their pastry dreams. I’m touched that all of you are sharing your passions with me, and I hope my experiences can help you get started on your own journey.

Many of the e-mails I get revolve around how to intern(stage) in a bakery or how to start one’s own bakery. To answer the first question: just ask! That’s what I did. Sometimes you’ll get turned down, but sometimes you’ll find someone like William who says yes and is also cool to work for. As for the second question, that’s pretty difficult for me to answer since I haven’t opened my own place, but I figured the next best thing is to give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at the making of one: the planning, the testing, the organizing, the decision-making, all leading up to the denouement.

It’s going to be a fun ride. So, over the next month I’ll be posting a series of pieces on Tell Tale Preserve Company and give you an idea of what goes into opening a bakery. I’d like to invite you to submit any questions you might have or what you’d like to see and I’ll do my best to incorporate them, as long as Tell Tale indulges me.

Please stay tuned! And I hope to see you at BlogHer Food!

September 23, 2010

Hodo Soy and the Art of Tofumaking

Hodosoymenu

Following my last post on the Soy and Chocolate tasting, some of you dear readers might be wondering, how did Michael Recchiuti get the idea to pair soy with chocolate? The answer is Hodo Soy Beanery, an artisan soy company in Oakland founded by Minh Tsai. At the Hodo Soy Beanery, soybeans are turned into soymilk, tofu, and yuba, and an array of prepared foods. I was lucky enough to be invited on a tour of the factory and learn more about the noble soybean - even as a veteran tofu eater, there was a lot for me to learn!

Hodosoyfactory

A shot of the factory interior. Hodo Soy carefully selects the soybeans it uses for ideal protein and fat content; the soybeans all come from a Midwest cooperative and are organic and non-GMO. To the right side of the photo are the tanks where the soybeans are cooked, ground into a mash, and then separated into soymilk and leftover pulp called okara. The okara doesn't go to waste - Hodo Soy typically sends it to farms to be used for feeding animals, but it can be used in the kitchen, as the okara financier at Michael Recchiuti's Soy and Chocolate Tasting proved. However, Hodo Soy typically doesn't sell its okara.

It does sell the soymilk though, and it's delectable stuff. Growing up in a Chinese household, I was exposed to soymilk at an early age - those little rectangular Vitasoy boxes were omnipresent in the pantry. I also loved the hot, fresh soymilk served with golden fritters, the Chinese version of weekend brunch. I relished the creamy, slightly beany taste of the soy milk, so I've never had the hang ups some people have about drinking "bean juice."

Soymilk is meant to taste like soymilk, not like dairy milk, which perhaps is why those who are looking for something that tastes like milk but-isn't-milk might come away disappointed. And I wonder if some of the Westernized brands of soy milk are trying to cover up the beany flavor, which results in this (to me at least) strange, chemical taste and chalky mouthfeel. The first time I drank some non-Vitasoy, "vanilla-flavored" soy milk I said, "Oh! No wonder people say they don't like soymilk!" Soymilk isn't meant to taste like milk, it's not meant to taste to like some bland-but-healthful drink, it's meant to taste like soymilk.

Minh and Hodo Soy clearly embrace this philosophy - their soymilk contains nothing but soybeans, water, and some sugar for the sweetened version. No chemicals or preservatives - you have to consume it quickly, but in my opinion it's not that hard. I took a bottle of Hodo Soy's soymilk home with me; it's been a while since I've guzzled milk out of the jug, but that's what I wanted to do with this soymilk!

Hodosoytofuplate

Pictured above, some of Hodo Soy's medium tofu on the left, and their braised tofu on the right. (For an explanation of how tofu is made, see the Soy and Chocolate recap for a quick demo by Minh.) Tofu is typically sold in soft/silken, medium, and firm textures, but as Minh noted, "Here in America they really like their tofu firm - there is even extra-firm sold in stores!" While firmer tofu is good for cooking, soft or silken tofu is where the true art of tofu-making emerges. The difference in tofu texture is based on the amount of water contained in the tofu: for firm tofu, most of the water has been pressed out so the result is compressed, tight block. Silken tofu contains as much water possible while the curd just maintains integrity; typically the tofu is not even pressed, as that would make the curds firm up, but instead the mixture is allowed to just set. While soft and silken are often used interchangeably, true silken tofu is like a barely set flan - it just holds its shape, and if you agitate it too much it will fall apart. You spoon it up like a cream-white custard, and it virtually dissolves in your mouth.

Hodo Soy's silken tofu comes in little tubs packed completely full so the tofu has less chance of wobbling around and falling apart during transport. If you've only ever seen the vacuum-sealed packs of firm tofu slabs in the supermarket, you might even think this is nascent tofu, and in a way it is: it's delicate and perfect and a promise, like a unbroken eggshell. I take a spoonful and I think, how could anyone ever call tofu just health food? It's comfort food.

Hodosoyyuba

This is the most eye-catching part of Hodo Soy's operation: the specially-designed tables where they create yuba, or tofu skin. Similar to what happens when milk is heated, when soy milk is heated, a skin forms on the surface. This skin is then carefully pulled off and allowed to dry. You can see the tables are set up to allow maximum surface area for the yuba to form. One of the workers then hand-peels off each piece of yuba and hangs it up - almost looks like a laundry line, doesn't it? Yuba is highly prized in Asia for its high protein content and flavor. As you can imagine, "harvesting" the yuba by hand is a time consuming process, and machines have been created to mechanize the process, but Minh believes it compromises the quality of the result. Thus at Hodo Soy they do it the old school way - it's a beautiful, evocative experience to see the steam rising from the trays of soymilk and the sheets of yuba slowly swaying in the steam.

Hodosoyyubaplate

Because yuba contains so much protein, it is an ideal meat substitute - if you ever go to a Chinese restaurant and see items like "Vegetarian Goose" on the menu, likely they are made with yuba. Lightly pan fried in soy sauce, these yuba strips are like slightly chewy noodles; Hodo Soy does recommend eating them that way, or using them as spring roll wrappers.

Hodosoyproducts

Boxes of Hodo Soy's prepared items all lined up. You can also see the bottles of soymilk in the back. All of Hodo Soy's items have a very limited shelf life as there are no preservatives used. Not only does this speak to the integrity of their operation, but I think it really reinforces the concept of tofu as an artisanal product, made in small batches with care. Minh explained how when he was a young boy in Vietnam, he would walk with his grandfather to the market every day and buy a block of freshly made tofu from local tofu maker. It would be consumed that night for dinner -the very definition of fresh. When MInh came to the US, the processed packages in the supermarket had no resemblance to the tofu in his memory. So he set out to create his own tofu. That quest led to Hodo Soy tofu being sold at farmers' markets, high end grocery stores, and finally the opening of the Hodo Soy factory in Oakland.

Soypuddingcup

I applaud MInh and Hodo Soy for revitalizing the art of tofumaking in the West - I asked him if he was intimidated by tofu's less-than-sexy reputation here when he first starting selling his product, and he admitted yes, but he was pleasantly surprised to find an quickly growing audience for his tofu at farmers' markets, and not all of them Asian! Now that Hodo Soy has a brand new factory, their products are also carried at select stores around the Bay Area. Unfortunately, because of the perishability and fragility of their product, Hodo Soy does not ship outside of the area. Perhaps they will expand in the future, but for now, if you're looking to expand your soy experience, try going to your local Asian markets. Some of them may sell fresh tofu or soymilk. Also, look for Chinese(especially Taiwanese) restaurants that open in the morning - they will often serve hot bowls of fresh soymilk - delicious, especially with Chinese-style fried doughnuts.

One of my very favorite tofu dishes is, unsurprisingly, a dessert: called dou hua, or tofu flower, it is a sort of pudding made with silken tofu. Because silken tofu is so fragile, it is often drizzled with sauce or covered with toppings, and then spooned up like an ice cream sundae. There are savory versions of dou hua, but the Cantonese version I loved getting in dim sum houses features a scoop of silken tofu in a sweet ginger syrup. As you dip your spoon in, the tofu fragments into little pieces that you slurp up with the syrup like a sweet soup. Tofu and ginger - perhaps not the first ingredients you'd think of for dessert, but dou hua is both refreshing and comforting at the same time.

Hodo Soy generously sent me home with a tub of their silken tofu, and I thought about making this dessert, but as they actually sell their own version of dou hua, I decided to get creative and make a dou hua inspired dessert - a ginger tofu pudding. Hodo Soy's silken tofu is perfect for this since it's so delicate - it is almost like a custard. If you can't find super soft, silken tofu, a soft tofu will work as well - I tested this with a supermarket brand and it came out fine, just slightly denser in texture. With some late fall peaches on top, I found this a tasty cross of East and West. Hope you enjoyed learning about the fascinating soybean!

Disclosure: I received several of Hodo Soy's products for review.

Soypuddingpano

Ginger Tofu Pudding

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

2 inches ginger root, cut into 1/8" slices

11 ounces silken tofu

3 grams powdered gelatin

 

Combine the water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil over medium heat until sugar dissolves.

Add in ginger and continue boiling for about 10 minutes. The syrup should thicken slightly.

Remove from heat and take out pieces of ginger.

Place tofu in a food processor and process until smooth.

Pour in ginger syrup and process to combine.

Place gelatin in a heatproof bowl and stir in 1/4 cup of water. Let sit for a couple minutes to let it combine.

Place gelatin in microwave and heat for 20 second intervals until the gelatin has fully dissolved into the water. Do not let it boil.

Strain the tofu mixture into a bowl. Pour in the gelatin and stir to combine.

Divide the mixture among individual cups or bowls. Place in refrigerator and let chill overnight to set.

September 09, 2010

A Soy and Chocolate Pairing with Michael Recchiuti

MRsoymenu

A week ago I got the opportunity to attend a most intriguing presentation and I'm eager to share the experience with you! The event was a Soy and Chocolate pairing, part of Michael Recchiuti's Taste Project where he combines his renowned chocolate with another unexpected ingredient, such as cheese, beer, or salt. As Michael explained to us, he loves learning about other food artisans and he enjoys the challenge of turning his master chocolatier's skills to a new and unknown product.

His latest discovery was Hodo Soy Beanery, an Oakland-based company dedicated to making fresh tofu. This tofu is completely different from the chalky white slabs you see in stores - its shelf life is only days long, and it tastes astonishingly rich and fresh. I've grown up eating tofu, but even I was surprised at how much of a difference there was in the flavor of fresh tofu, and how little I actually knew about the making of tofu! The founder of Hodo Soy, Minh Tsai, was also on hand at the the tasting to talk about his product.

We arrived at the Recchiuti kitchens in San Francisco to a candlelit table scattered with soybeans - elegant but whimsical, the tone of the whole event. As the guests chatted, a steady drumming we initially took to be background music grew louder and louder until we realized it was live drumming - by Michael! Michael Recchiuti is a drummer! With a guitarist husband and drummer brother-in-law, I could totally appreciate this!

I think everyone at the tasting was curious to see what Michael and Minh would do with soy and chocolate. Tofu is not an easy product to pair with chocolate, because of its high water content. Tofu will shed water as you work with it, and of course water is the natural enemy of chocolate. Michael admitted he did a lot of experimenting to discover how best to use all of Hodo Soy's soy products - tofu, soy milk, and even the rarer side products like okara and yuba (which I'll discuss below). The following is the tasting menu we experienced that day:

MRsoydragees

Soy beans given the Michael Recchiuti treatment: lightly caramelized, then dusted with wasabi and matcha. Devilishly poppable.

 MRokaracustard

This was my favorite of the tasting: a custard made with soy milk, topped with a financier and fresh cherries. The financier was actually created with a "flour" of the dried pulp from pureed soybeans, called okara. It had a nutty flavor and lovely pillowy texture - all in all a really tasty combination. The custard was so silky too - reminded me a little of Japanese chawanmushi.

MRsoyfrappe

This appears to be a shot glass of chocolate milk, but in fact is a more complicated concoction - a mixture of hot soy milk and chilled chocolate milk swirled with caramel. The soy milk was poured over the chocolate milk right before it was served to us, resulting in an interesting ever-evolving layering of flavors. Very fun.

MRfactorytour 

We then got to visit the room where Michael's chocolates are created. The majority of the space is occupied by the enrobing machine: you can see Michael and the rest of us gathered around it and a portion of the conveyor belt. A veritable yellow brick road, upon which chocolates travel, to be covered in chocolate and blow-dried to a perfect shiny finish.


MRtofuchocos 

Squares of tofu topped with a marzipan made from okara (who knew it was so versatile?) and ground almonds, ready to be enrobed. I think this is so emblematic of Michael's approach: he doesn't just dip tofu in chocolate, he thought of a multi-component concept that used several soy products. The soft, mild tofu against the richer, denser marizpan. Reminiscent of the chocolates with pate de fruit on top of ganache - a nice play of textures and flavors.

MRdippedchocos 

The tofu squares, now covered in dark chocolate and topped with a nougatine disk. Gilding the lily indeed.

MRminhtsai 

This is Minh Tsai, founder of Hodo Soy Beanery, talking about the process of making tofu. He then proceeded to demonstrate how to make tofu, an eye opening process that took just minutes.

He combined a coagulant (calcium sulfate) with water and then carefully poured hot soymilk over the mix. Tsai likened the process to pouring tea - you need to pour the milk from the proper height so the force of the milk hitting the water will properly disperse the coagulant.

 MRmakingtofu 

The mixture is stirred for a while until it begins to clump up.

MRtofumaking 

The mixture is poured into a box lined with cheesecloth and covered. Then Minh pressed down on top to push out the excess water and get the tofu to consolidate. Here's the excess water coming out of the box.

MRfreshtofu 

In a few more minutes, a block of still-warm, very fresh tofu is unwrapped from the cheesecloth. Minh cut it up and we all got to have a piece - an experience very similar to eating freshly made mozzarella. I had never seen tofu made before so this was a really fascinating demonstration.

MRcrepeflambe 

Back in the dining room, Michael enlisted the help of pastry chef William Werner to make his next dish, a take on crepes Suzette with sheets of yuba standing in for the crepes. Yuba, or tofu skin, is a soft, pliable skin that forms on top of steaming soymilk - I know it may sound strange to the Western palate but it's a delicacy - soft and richly creamy. It can be eaten fresh, as is, or cooked - often it's used as a meat substitute just like regular tofu. 


MRyubacrepe 

Here is the yuba "crepe" wrapped around late summer peaches with a scoop of soy milk ice cream - yum! MIchael admitted this was one of his favorite dishes of the day.

MRtomato 

I guess this tasting truly had a "Dessert First" philosophy since the savory course was served last! I really loved it though - a slice of fresh Purple Cherokee tomato topped with some silken tofu and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with cacao nibs. Very fresh and summery.

We were also sent home with some of Michael Recchiuti's burnt caramel hazelnuts and Hodo Soy's tofu as treats; so generous!

It was a thoroughly fascinating and enjoyable afternoon. I just really loved being able to hear two food enthusiasts talk about the passions that move them  - the depth of their dedication and mastery of their craft was evident in every bite we took of their creations. My next post will be about my visit to the Hodo Soy Beanery, so I want to mention how amazing I think Michael Recchiuti is for creating these Taste Projects; they are truly wonderful experiences. If you get a chance to attend one, I highly recommend it - Michael is a great guy with so much knowledge to share. Another reason to go is that all of these dishes are one-offs for the tasting and you can't get them at his retail store - although I'm hoping for a reappearance of those wasabi-and-matcha soybeans in the future!

If you're looking to try some of Michael's Recchiuti's chocolates, I highly recommend anything with burnt caramel - one of his signature flavors, or one his takes on classic favorites, like his whoopie pies or peanut butter pucks. San Francisco is a great place for the chocolate lover!

September 03, 2010

A Wedding Mini-Recap

Ringsprogram

 Hi All,

It's Labor Day weekend and I'm in Kansas City having a second wedding reception with Husband's relatives and close friends. Apparently I've brought California weather with me - sunny, dry, and beautiful. (Ironic, since it's been absolutely freezing cold in SF this summer).

I'm working on a writeup of a visit to Michael Recchiuti's chocolate factory, but meanwhile, I hope you might enjoy a short recap of my wedding in May. I know it's indulgent, but many people have been asking for vendor information, so I thought I'd compile it in one post while also showing off our photographer's truly excellent work. I've also tried to provide a mini-recap of that magical day for all of you to enjoy for this Labor Day weekend. (For those of you interested in dessert only, skip to the end for dessert info:) )

All photos in this post are by Ricky Wong of W Photography. I can't highly recommend him enough.  Although the ways by which you can blow your wedding budget are innumerable, I believe finding the right photographer is an investment worth every last penny. How could I not - I photograph my food on a daily basis! If I hadn't been preoccupied with getting married that day, I would have certainly had a lot more photography-related questions for Ricky - as it was, I could only marvel at his amazing efficiency and on-the-spot creativity in creating some truly memorable shots. Just take a look below.


Weddingshoes

Shoes: Badgley Mischka

As a certified shoe fanatic, I couldn't envision boring white wedding shoes I wouldn't ever wear again. Pink, flowery and sexy - much more my style. Someone called them my Carrie Bradshaw shoes!

Bridesmaids


Wedding dress: Rosa Clara

Six wedding dress stores later and I finally found the dress of my dreams. Ivory silk chiffon, cathedral length train that I had cut down since I was getting married in a park instead of church. I'd never heard of Rosa Clara, a Spanish designer, but she has some beautiful gowns in her collection. Oh, and I got my dress at a sample sale - thank goodness for sample sales!

Bridesmaid dresses: Alfred Angelo


Hairmakeup

Hair and makeup: Aimee Lam, Beauty Up Close.

The sweetest lady you will ever meet. Aimee is wholly responsible for how I looked that day - no makeup melting or hair collapsing!

Groomsuit

Groom's suit: Ted Baker

I love him because he wore a pink tie for me. And looks damn good in a suit.


Weddingbouquets


Bridebouquet

Flowers: Huckleberry Karen Designs

I absolutely _loved_ my flowers. And I'm not much of a flower person. I bascially showed Karen some photos of bouquets I liked, told her I wanted pale pink, and she came up with magic. See Karen's post for a detailed breakdown of the bouquets and the ceremony flowers.


Sfview

 
Mandarinoriental

Hotel: Mandarin Oriental San Francisco

A beautiful view of the city from the bridal suite.


BrideCAS

Outside the California Academy of Sciences (right next to the garden where we got married) before the ceremony. This is likely the best I'll ever look in my life. What you don't see is the lovely freezing San Francisco bay winds blowing through the park. I am actually trying really hard not to shiver uncontrollably in this shot. Fortunately, it was much warmer in the garden!!

ShakespeareGGP

Ceremony: Shakespeare Garden, Golden Gate Park.

Gardenbackview

We were in serious danger of getting rained out. Fortunately the day turned out absolutely beautiful: sunny, bright, and clear. Because the garden was enclosed, we were also protected from the winds. Yay good wedding karma!

Thekiss

The kiss.

Newlymarried

Newly married!
Gardenbench


Postweddingpark


Romance

 Post ceremony glamour shots. Sorry, I'm not trying to be vain, just showing off our photographer's talent:)

Banquetentrance

Reception: Grand Palace Seafood Restaurant

Making our entrance.
Banquetmenu

A good old fashioned 10 course Chinese wedding banquet - remember to save room for dessert!

Although it looks like a huge amount of food (and it was), a Chinese banquet was by far the best value for our dinner dollar - the cost per head was still quite a bit lower than any other Western-style catered dinner at a hotel we found. My parents and several of their friends, all Hong Kong expats, declared the quality of the food excellent, so I was happy.

Wedding programs and stationery: Pink Lily Press

Pink Lily did a great job with our invites, programs, menus, and other stationery. I just loved that font she used for our names!


Chinesedress

Chinese dress: custom made in Hong Kong

A traditional Chinese cheongsam or qipao. I had it modeled after a gorgeous wedding qipao from Shanghai Tang that was uh, way out of my budget. Here we are making the rounds of all the tables and doing a celebratory toast at each one. A good idea is to only take sips from your glass so you don't end up as drunk bride by the end.

Weddingcake

Wedding cake: Shannie Cakes

Since I was not bold or crazy enough to make my own wedding cake, I turned to Shannie, a dear friend and master wedding cake maker. Everyone said it was the tastiest wedding cake they had ever had.

Desserttable

Dessert table: Petit fours by Gerhard Michler

I knew I had to have a dessert table at my wedding. Gerhard Michler obliged with a stunning selection of petit fours. These were also our wedding favors - we handed our boxes and guests could take the pastries home. Apparently there was a quite a rush on the dessert table - no one turns down free dessert!


Macarons

Macarons: Paulette Macarons

The macarons were so popular the photographer barely managed to get a picture of them!! People went nuts over them!


Eveningdress


Evening dress: Notte by Marchesa 

Red is the traditional color for Chinese weddings, so I had to have at least one red dress. It's also traditional for brides to have several outfit changes, so this was the dress I wore in the "goodbye line" to say thank you and good night to departing guests.

 
It was a beautiful wedding and I had a great time. Thanks for sharing in my special day!

August 25, 2010

Late Summer Rhapsody in Rhubarb

Rhubarbtartpolka

I learned something new last week - rhubarb season can persist well into summer and sometimes early fall. It's interesting because rhubarb is so strongly tied to a single season - spring - that seeing the near-fuschia-hued stalks at the market threw me off-kilter for a moment. Hadn't rhubarb already come and gone?

Well, apparently rhubarb can keep going long after the stirrings of spring. I apologize for those readers who already knew this fact about the "pie plant", but that's the great thing about the world of food, isn't it: there's always something new to learn.

This discovery of rhubarb's extended season was also of great interest to The Husband, who is a fan of rhubarb in a big way. I'm going to quote his explanation of why he loves it so much: "It makes my mouth go crazy." I think he was meant to be a foodie - a perfectly succinct explanation of what rhubarb does to him! He loves all things mouth-puckeringly tart, and the first time I made him a strawberry rhubarb tart he kept asking when we could have it again.

My discovery of late-summer rhubarb was confirmed by Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts, and she even had a gloriously simple-sounding recipe - Rhubarb Tarts in a Corn Flour Crust. Essentially rhubarb puree poured into a golden corn flour tart crust, it sounded like an intriguing blend of texture and flavor.

Rhubarbcup

While fans of tartness like my husband might love eating rhubarb raw (I could never!), it's customary to cook rhubarb to bring out its sweeter, dessert-ready side. Chopped up rhubarb in a saucepan, sprinkled with sugar, flecked with orange zest and dusted with cinnamon, combines into a rosy red mixture that surprisingly hints of fall. Madison suggests using maple or brown sugar, which would give the puree even more of an autumnal feel. At the same time, the puree is served in the tart crust chilled, which gives it a clean, refreshing quality and enhances the cooling tartness of the rhubarb. I knew this was a keeper when I was spooning it out of the bowl before I even finished baking the tart crusts!

The tart crust is a wonderful complement to the rhubarb: crunchy and just a little coarse-grained from the corn flour, not too sweet, a perfect neutral-but-not-bland-base for the silky puree. Corn flour is a more finely ground version of cornmeal or polenta; if you can't find it at your store, semolina also works.

The one warning about this crust is that it's very delicate to work with: Madison's note in the recipe about not making the crusts too thin should be heeded. My first batch of tart crusts flaked apart as I tried to remove them from the tins: they were amazingly flaky, but a little too much, I guess! I've found Madison's tart crust recipes in the book to be surprisingly easy to put together and yield superbly flaky results, but most of them are more of a pie crust-style rather than French short pastry-style, meaning that they will be more delicate to manipulate. However, the results are surely worth it: the crust crumbles so meltingly in the mouth, as if it was holding together just enough to survive the journey to your lips.

Served with a scooped-from-clouds dollop of whipped cream, this rhubarb tart was unexpectedly, an ideal dessert to bridge the waning days of summer and the first whispers of fall. If you've any rhubarb available around you, I urge you to try it. Otherwise, it'll be waiting for you when spring comes around again!

Rhubarbtartboard

Rhubarb Puree Tart with Orange and Cinnamon

adapted from Deborah Madison's Seasonal Fruit Desserts

makes (6) 4-inch tarts

Rhubarb Puree

2 1/2 pounds rhubarb (about 10 cups chopped)

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

2 teaspoons orange zest

1/3 cup (2 3/4 ounces) orange juice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

Corn Flour Tart Crust

1 cup (5 ounces) all purpose flour

1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) corn flour (you can substitute semolina)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

Whipped cream for garnish

Wash and trim off the ends of the rhubarb stalks. Chop into 1 inch chunks.

Place rhubarb in a large saucepan. Add in the sugar, orange zest, orange juice, cinnamon, and salt.

Cook over medium heat until the rhubarb has broken down into a rough puree, about 20 minutes. It should not have totally liquefied - it should have a thready appearance.

Scoop into a bowl and chill in refrigerator while you are making tart crust.

Combine the two flours, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

Add butter and process until small, pea-size crumbs form - it should not form one solid dough yet.

Mix egg yolk, vinegar, and vanilla together and pour over the mixture in the food processor.

Process just until the dough starts to come together. Turn out dough onto a clean surface and press together with your hands.

Divide dough into six pieces. Press each piece into a 4-in individual tart pan, fitting the dough to the bottom and sides. Do not press the dough too thin.

Chill tart pans in the refrigerator while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line each tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Place pans on a flat sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes, rotating once.

Remove shells from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Remove pie weights and foil from tart pans and bake shells for another 5 to 10 minutes, until shells are golden and set.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack before removing from tart pans.

Divide chilled rhubarb puree between tart shells, smoothing out the top. Garnish with whipped cream and serve immediately.

August 11, 2010

A Slice of Memory

Strawberrycreamroll

Entering a Chinese bakery is more a ritual of the expected than an exercise in novelty. No matter where the bakery is, whether deep in Hong Kong or in an overseas Chinatown, regardless of whether it's part of a big chain or a one-off store, customers will always expect a certain repertoire: steaming barbecue pork buns, golden custard egg tarts, paper-wrapped sponge cakes, whipped cream-frosted "special occasion" cases topped with fresh fruit...this list of bakery constants goes on. While savvy connoisseurs will certainly have their favorite stops for the superlative version of a particular item, walking into a Chinese bakery and not seeing certain classic items always produces a sort of shocked disappointment, as if somehow the owners of this bakery had missed out on the universal list of What to Bake.

One item on this critical "must be there" list is the Swiss roll, or I suppose the Chinese bakery version of a Swiss roll. When I was young I wondered at the incongruity of the name, curious as to why there were no German rolls or Spanish rolls to be had. Later, when I learned about jelly rolls, I was again struck by how Chinese bakeries managed to differentiate their version of a rolled-up cake from everybody else's. Theirs had no jelly inside, only a whipped cream filling. I came to accept these differences, just as I accepted that the party cakes were always frosted with a sweetened whipped cream, never buttercream like in the American bakeries.

The Swiss roll was always a classic, and easy to love: encased snugly in a dome-lidded tray or plastic wrap, there was never any doubt or guesswork with this dessert: either end of the roll was a neat cross-section showing a curlicue of cake, underscored with a thin limning of creamy filling. There was always a butter-yellow version and a cocoa-brown version, and sometimes there would be a vibrant orange version, which, as it turned out, was orange flavor. We never really quite took to the day-glo orange and usually stuck with first two, although today there are dozens of fanciful new flavors, from green tea to taro, although you'll always, always see at least one of the two original flavors.

Strawberries

My mother would always buy one of the vanilla rolls and one of the chocolate rolls, because she knew I preferred the vanilla one and my sister the chocolate one. She was a cool mom like that. And following the unspoken but rigorously adhered-to rules of childhood and sibling relations, my sister and I never tried to eat each other's roll. Even years later, after we had moved on to new favorites (the cocktail bun for me, the pineapple bun for sister), my mom would still buy those rolls and store them in the refrigerator, asking us periodically if we wanted a slice, as if she still thought of us as little girls clamoring for a sweet treat.

To me, the Swiss roll is as comforting as yellow-cake-mix cake with chocolate frosting is to my Midwestern husband: soft cake and smooth cream, simple as a sunny day. Whenever I see it in my mom's refrigerator, I'll smile, and when she offers me a slice, I'll take it and eat it at the table, using a fork to cut off little trapezoidal wedges off the long stripe of cake, until I've unwound it to the creamy white center.

The cake in a Swiss roll is a form of sponge cake; light, just slightly springy, pleasingly rich in flavor. I discovered in my research that most of the recipes for the Chinese version of sponge cake use milk and oil, and sometimes baking powder, which differentiates it from American sponge cake, which is usually just eggs and sugar and flour. The recipe below is adapted from Farmers' Market Desserts, as I saw this featured in the cookbook and was curious to see how it compared to my memories of Swiss rolls. The instructions are fairly detailed on how to prepare and roll up the cake, but I found them useful: The two things to remember in making a Swiss roll are to not overbake the cake so it's too hard to roll up, and using a towel or plastic wrap to roll the cake up makes things easier.

This cake is very delicate and light, a beautiful specimen of sponge cake. Carpeted with a rosewater and strawberry whipped cream filling, it's a natural for tea time or an ethereal way to end a warm summer day. Highly recommended.

I realize, however, some people might come to this page looking for a more Chinese-style Swiss roll. I'm actually experimenting so hopefully in a week or so I can post up a comparison! Stay tuned...if I don't eat this first one up, that is...

Strawberrycreamslice 

Strawberry Cream Roll

adapted from Farmers' Markets Desserts

Cake

5 large eggs, separated cold, then left at room temperature for 30 minutes

2/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup cake flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Filling

2 pints (4 cups) strawberries, washed and hulled

3 tablespoons sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

2 teaspoon rosewater

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

For the filling: set aside 1 cup of berries for garnish. Cut remainder into 1/2 thick slices and combine with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a bowl. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray an 12x17 inch rimmed baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper.

For the cake: Whip egg whites in a stand mixer bowl with whisk attachment until they hold soft peaks.

Add 1/3 cup of the sugar in a steady stream and whip until white hold medium firm peaks.

In a clean mixer bowl, whip the egg yolks, vanilla and almond extracts, and remaining 1/3 cup sugar on high until mixture is thick and pale, about 5 minutes, scraping sides of bowl down as needed.

Add in flour and salt and whip on low speed just until incorporated.

Using a spatula, carefully fold one-third of the egg whites into egg yolk mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites until combined.

Turn out mixture into prepared pan and spread out evenly with an offset spatula.

Bake in oven for about 8 minutes, until the top is pale golden and the center springs back when you touch lightly. It should not get very dark.

Remove from oven and place on wire rack. Place a tea towel over the top and let rest for 10 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the border of the cake to loosen it. Using a strainer, dust the top lightly with confectioners' sugar.

Re-cover the cake with the towel, and place a flat baking sheet on top. Invert the pans together so the cake turns out onto the towel, on top of the baking sheet. Peel off the parchment paper and let the cake finish cooling.

To finish the filling. whip the cream, creme fraiche, rosewater, vanilla extract, and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in stand mixer until the mixture holds firm peaks.

Strain the berries, reserving the liquid. Fold the berries into the whipped cream mixture.

Spread the whipped cream mixture over the surface of the cake, leaving an inch border on the long sides and a narrower one on the short sides.

Starting with the long side closest to you, use the tea towel to roll up the cake. Fold the edge of the cake over the filling, and keep rolling, pulling the towel out of the way as you go.

Transfer the cake roll to a long serving plate. Cover the cake with a lid or plastic wrap, tightly, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours to let the cream set a bit.

When you are ready to serve the cake, mix the remaining berries with the reserved berry juice. Slice the cake with a serrated knife on a slight angle.

July 26, 2010

Summer, Simply

 Rasptartside2 

  
Continuing with my efforts to review all these lovely cookbooks piled up on my kitchen table/bookshelf/nightstand...This particular tome was an easy pick, and I have my recent trip to Colorado to thank for it.

I mentioned briefly that thanks to Lisa's kindness, I was able to stay with her and her family friend while in Boulder. Not only was I given a warm welcome, but I was invited to come with them to dinner every night, which resulted in some of the best meals I'd had in a while.

The first evening after class, we relaxed at a lovely backyard hosted by another of Lisa's family friends. Let me tell you, Boulder is full of some of the most friendly and hospitable people I've ever met (that includes Jen, natch!) and it's gorgeous - 360 degrees of scenic beauty! Could this place be any more amazing?

While the entire dinner was terrific (eating al fresco in warm summer twilight must be one of the best experiences wherever you are), I was naturally drawn to the dessert, prepared by the inimitable hostess. A single layer of fresh strawberries over a delicate, flaky crust scented with butter and brown sugar, with the faintest dusting of powdered sugar. Perfectly perfect in its simplicity. I absolutely fell in love with the crust (I'm a tart fan, remember?) and I knew I had to have the recipe.


To my delight the tart was from the newly released Seasonal Fruit Desserts: From Orchard, Farm, and Market by Deborah Madison. Madison is the founding chef of the famous Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, and the headnote for the berry tart recipe describes it as the creation of none other than Lindsay Shere, of Chez Panisse fame. Talk about going full circle - I travel halfway across the country to discover inspiration by a chef from my hometown.

This berry tart, of course, perfectly encapsulates Shere's and Chez Panisse's philosophy - fresh, local, seasonal foods presented with a minimum of fuss to let the ingredients shine. It's deceptively simple, like cooking an omelette - one would think that anyone could do it, but it takes a certain finesse to truly do it well. In the case of berries, there's no mounds of whipped cream or pastry cream or drizzled caramel for them to hide behind - just fresh-picked berries with a light brush of glaze, served up on a crust.

Tartcorner2

Now this may sound intimidating to pull off, but it's not - it's the point of seasonal fruit desserts, right? That's why you don't make a strawberry tart in the middle of winter when they are bland flavorless cotton balls, and why when summer's at its zenith you go crazy with the galettes and the crumbles and the ice cream (oh yes, the ice creams). This strawberry tart captured the very essence of strawberries for me - I couldn't have imagined anything more satisfying that evening.

Madison's book is an effervescent ode to the beauty of fruit - the first chapters revolve around the simplest preparations of fruit, from macerating blackberries in rosewater or plating apples and persimmons with almonds, to slightly more elaborate recipes like roasting figs or sauteing plums, to favorites like pies and tarts and crisps. This gradual progression shows how easy it is to turn fruit into a dessert - or how fruit is already dessert on its own, and needs so little manipulation to showcase it.

There is a wealth of information on all sorts of fruits both common and exotic in the book - Madison goes so far as to list preferred varieties of fruit in her recipes. It will leave you eager to visit the farmers' market and bring home as much of the local bounty as you can. There's also a chapter on cheese and dairy desserts and recommendations on cheese and fruit pairings, for the fromage-ficianados among you. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fruit: it's both a wonderful collection of information and ideas, and an engaging read that will make you feel like you're sitting in a sun-warmed orchard every time you open the book.

So, back to this berry tart - I made it with raspberries because they were looking pretty at the market. Although you can make it as a 9 inch round tart, I was really excited to get to use my rectangular tart pan again - it makes presentation so effortlessly elegant. I urge you to try the tart crust: it's like a pâte brisée, given depth and sweetness with the addition of brown sugar and lemon zest. It's pleasingly workable - you can roll it out or simply press it in the pan, and it bakes up into a crisp, flaky picture frame for rows of red berries, glazed to a shining gleam. One caveat: this truly is best enjoyed soon after it's made. Like just-plucked fruit, the sooner you taste it the closer you are to pure pleasure. It won't be a chore to finish, I assure it. Try it before summer vanishes!

  Tarttableau2

 
Austere Berry Tart

Tart Dough

1 cup(5 ounces) all purpose flour

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt  

1 teaspoon lemon zest

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 tablespoon cold water

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Tart Filling

2 to 3 cups (18 ounces) berries

3 tablespoons raspberry jam or red currant jelly

Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a food processor. Pulse to combine.

Add in butter and pulse until butter is in pea-sized pieces.

Combine water, vanilla, and almond extract and drizzle over the mixture. Pulse to combine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs - it should not be fully combined into a ball.

Turn out mixture onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk about 1 inch thick. If you have trouble making it stick together add a few more drops of water.

Wrap dough and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Note: the recipe indicates you can also skip the chilling and simply press the dough into the tart pan. I chilled my dough and rolled it out.

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to a 10 inch round (to fit a 9 inch round tart pan), or to fit a 4 inch x 13 inch rectangular tart pan. Ease dough into the pan and press into the sides to form.

Chill pan with dough in refrigerator while preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line the dough with foil and fill with pie weights. Bake tart crust for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes more.


Wash berries and lay on paper towels to dry. Heat the jam with a few teaspoons of water to thin it, then press through a sieve.

Brush half the jam on the tart shell.

Arrange the berries in the tart shell.

Return tart to the oven for about 5 minutes.

Reheat the remaining jam and brush over the tops of the berries. Dust lightly with confectioners' sugar before serving. 


July 21, 2010

Always Room for Chocolate (and Shortbread)

Madecassepieces

Sometimes it seems like the Bay Area is ground zero for chocoholics: new local artisan chocolatiers popping up every month, whole stores dedicated to chocolate from around the world...when burnt caramel and pink peppercorns are commonplace, it's enough to make the pickiest of connoisseurs feel spoiled for choice.

A very fine, recent example: I was lucky enough to attend a chocolate launch party for Madécasse, an up-and-coming chocolate company based in New York making its San Francisco debut. In the world of chocolate, where buzzwords like "fair trade" and "single origin" are thrown about like sea salt on caramel, Madécasse is laying claim to a unique niche.

Madecassebar

All of Madécasse's chocolate bars are made in Madagascar, with locally grown cacao. Madagascar is one of world's major sources of cacao, yet the cacao is usually exported, turned into chocolate in factories elsewhere in the world. Madécasse's mission is to create new opportunities for the local Malagasy population in Madagascar, by training them to create chocolate, from bean to bar. Cacao is harvested, then dried, then turned into chocolate bars in local factories. As the website explains, keeping the production of chocolate in Madagascar lets the local community retain much more of the profits - up to four times more than simply producing and selling fair trade cacao.

Madecasseseasalt

Madécasse was founded by Brett Beach and Tim McCollum, who worked for 10 years in the Peace Corps in Madagascar. Their dedication to improving the life of the Malgasy people is heartwarming and inspiring. And, their bars are quite good - a valuable addition to the growing library of global chocolate.

We got to try all seven of their bars; five of them are straight dark chocolate, ranging from 63% to 80%, while a milk chocolate and sea salt nibby bar round out the collection. The 67% and 70% hit my sweet spots - the 63% was nicely buttery and smooth, with a supple curl of a finish, while the 70% has wonderful tart fruit notes up front, slightly more astringent in the finish. The 75% and 80% are excellent for those who love their dark chocolate dark and dry. I highly recommend these bars  - not only will they satisfy your chocolate craving, but you'll be supporting a truly worthy endeavor in Africa.

Vanillaforms

Madécasse also features Madagascar's other famous culinary product: vanilla. I was gifted Madécasse's entire line of vanilla products - vanilla extract, vanilla beans, vanilla cane sugar, and vanilla powder. Now, I've used versions of the first three products before, but I'd never tried vanilla powder! It's essentially vanilla beans ground to a fine powder: many recipes I found simply use the powder as a substitute for extract. Unscrewing a bottle of vanilla powder is like opening a bottle of perfume: that florid, intoxicating scent virtually leaps out at you. Although I could simply use it in lieu of extract, I was really curious to emphasize its powdery form.

Cocoanibshortbread

I remembered in Alice Medrich's Pure Dessert how she experimented with dusting freshly baked goods with spices instead of incorporating them into the batter; the difference in taste was surprisingly intense. I took that inspiration to make a batch of my favorite shortbread, shot through with cacao nibs and sprinkled with vanilla powder.

I've written enough odes to shortbread that a mere gushing should suffice here: I really like the cacao nibs in the shortbread. They taste like chocolate chips from the wild, crunchy little shards of elemental chocolate-ness in a golden buttery sea.

Vanillapowder

I did my best to be a good culinary scientist and tried sprinkling the vanilla powder on the cookies before baking and right after baking. The addition of vanilla powder certainly bumps up the flavor in the shortbread, but I found a dusting it on after they came out of the oven does allow the vanilla to come out while maintaining its distinctness. There's a lovely sensuousness to it: the fine grains of vanilla unfurling on oven-warm shortbread, dissolving lightly on the tongue like flecks of a faraway paradise. You might try it, even if you don't have vanilla powder, with your favorite spice - nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon? Just be sure to sprinkle with a light hand: a mini sifter might be handy to avoid dumping a pile of spice atop your awaiting cookie!  

So there you have it - chocolate and vanilla, two of the oldest dessert flavors under the sun, and yet there's always a new way to appreciate them. Thanks, Madécasse!

Shortbreadheart 

Cacao Nib Shortbread


Makes 36  2 inch by 1 ¼  inch cookies

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
½ cup rice flour
1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup cacao nibs 

vanilla powder for sprinkling

Whisk both flours together in a bowl  and set aside.


In the mixing bowl with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla extract on medium speed until light and fluffy.


Remove bowl from mixer and mix in the flours by hand with a wooden spoon, until combined. The dough should be homogeneous and stick together as one lump, but try to mix as little and gently as possible - this will make the shortbread more tender. Stir in the cacao nibs.

Place dough on a piece of plastic wrap and flatten into a ¾ inch thick  rectangle.

Refrigerate for 2 hours to firm up the dough. At this point the dough can be double wrapped and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Defrost frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease several cookie sheet pans or line with parchment paper.


On a floured board, place dough and dust with flour. Gently roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut into desired shapes. If dough gets soft, place back into refrigerator for 5 minutes.

Place on sheet pans leaving 1 inch space between cookies. Dock centers of cookies with the tines of a fork twice.


Bake for 15-17 minutes or until edges a lightly golden in color. Remove from oven and place on wire racks. Dust lightly with vanilla powder and let cool before eating.

July 11, 2010

The Perfect Finish: The Twix Tart

Tarttableau

Among my backlog of posts to finish are a bunch of cookbook reviews (I swear, the only thing that seems to multiply faster in my place than dust bunnies and kitchen equipment is cookbooks). One I've been particularly eager to share is Bill Yosses's The Perfect Finish, which came out about a month ago.

Yosse, whose illustrious career includes stints under Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller, is currently the executive pastry chef for the White House. So if you ever wonder what might be showing up for dessert on our President's dinner table, I'd suggest a look at this book!

The admirably wide-ranging set of recipes in The Perfect Finish are categorized into some intriguing-sounding chapters: Come For Brunch, I'll Bring Dessert, Straight From the Oven. I like that: the titles suggest all manner of sweet situations (although I can imagine few situations that couldn't be improved by something sweet). A glance at through the offerings is like a quick survey of all the places Yosses must have worked at during his career: everything from a Gingery Pumpkin Breakfast Bundt to Candied Bacon Peach Cobbler (which I am dying to make!) to Chocolate Halvah Marjolaine. There are selections from virtually every category of baked goods, from simple to complex, so whether you feel like tackling a complex project like sachertorte, or just have a cookie craving, there will be something to entice you.

Chocsalt

I was looking for an opportunity to try out something from the cookbook, and the occasion turned out to be the Fourth of July weekend. Mike and I had my sister and her husband over for a little barbecue action, and it's probably not too hard to guess which course I volunteered to oversee, hmm?

I already had a vanilla- ollalieberry swirl made with leftover ollalieberries (yes, I haven't blogged about that yet!!) but knowing my sister has a preference for things chocolate-y, I flipped through the pages of the book until I hit on the Chocolate Caramel Tart with Sea Salt. That pretty much hits the decadence trifecta for me: perfectly smooth and creamy ganache, wickedly liquid caramel, and sea salt crunch-bombs.

The crust is a crisp pâte sablée which corrals a puddle of golden caramel. A bittersweet chocolate ganache fills out the top, along with a final stardusting of sea salt. All such simple components, but combined together alchemize into pleasure sublime.

Meltedchoc

A rare shot of chocolate metamorphosing into ganache (rare because I'm seldom prepared enough to take in-process shots!)

I actually nicknamed it the Twix Tart, because the textures and flavors reminded me of that classic candy bar: the cookie-like crust, the gooey caramel filling, the chocolate covering. Only, believe me, this is several magnitudes better!

I also loved the ease of execution: The only component that requires real planning ahead is the tart dough - if you can bake off the tart shell in advance, you can virtually assemble the entire tart an hour or so before dinner, and then forget all about it. It will happily cool and set on its own and be ready to devour at the end of the evening.

Caramelchoctart

The recipes in The Perfect Finish are clearly laid out and a cinch to follow; I also really enjoyed the extensive headnotes, which often include anecdotes from his pastry career. There are several sidebars that include step-by-step tutorials for such processes as frosting a cake or making pie crust, a welcome addition for many bakers, I'm sure.

The Perfect Finish is perfectly accessible to home bakers, and an elegant inspiration for more experienced ones as well. That Candied Bacon Peach Cobbler is certainly next on my list of things to make! 

Cutchoctart

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of The Perfect Finish by the publisher.

Chocolate Caramel Tart with Sea Salt

adapted from The Perfect Finish

makes (1) 9-in tart or (6) 3 1/2-in tartlets

Pâte Sablée

10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Caramel

1/2 cup (4 ounces) heavy cream

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

pinch of Maldon sea salt (I used Camargue as that's what I had on hand)


Chocolate Ganache

12 ounces bittersweet (60%-66%) chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 cups (16 1/4 ounces) heavy cream

For the pâte sablée: Cream butter and sugar together in a stand mixer.

Add eggs and mix just until incorporated.

Add flour and salt and mix on low just until incorporated.

Scrape out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap fully and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

Flour work surface and roll out dough to 1/4" thick. Lay into a 9" tart pan or tart rings of your choosing and trim excess dough with a knife. Refrigerate for an hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line tart shell with foil and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 30 minutes (check earlier if you are baking individual tarts), turning halfway through.

Remove foil and weight and bake for 10 more minutes (individual tarts may not need additional baking time). Tart shells should be lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool fully on wire rack before filling.

For the caramel: Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Set aside while you cook the sugar.

Combine sugar with 5 tablespoons of water in a heavy saucepan. Cook over high heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves.

Bring mixture to boil and cook without stirring for about 4 minutes until it turns dark amber. Swirl to ensure it cooks evenly.

Take mixture off stove and pour cream slowly into the sugar (it will boil up so don't pour in all at once.)Stir until incorporated and smooth.

Add in salt. If caramel has cooled too much and become thick, place over heat and warm until it is liquid enough to pour.

Pour the caramel into the tart shell, covering the bottom evenly. Let cool until it firms and is no longer shiny. You can place the tart shell in the refrigerator to speed up the process.

For the ganache: Place chocolate and salt in a heatproof bowl.

Place cream in a small saucepan and bring to a boil on high heat on the stove.

Pour cream over the chocolate and let sit for a few minutes. Then whisk slowly and gently to combine. Do not stir too vigorously as this incorporates air into the ganache and gives it a less smooth and velvety texture.

Pour the ganache into the tart shell over the caramel. Let set at room temperature for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours. (If you place the tart with warm ganache into the refrigerator, the ganache can cool too fast and end up cracking - unsightly but still edible, of course).

Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.

July 02, 2010

Food and Light: Best Workshop Ever

Blueberries

I've been playing hooky from work and blogging the last few days to enjoy bucketfuls of sunshine, outrageously good food, and the company of some of the most talented bloggers around.

The Food and Light Photography Workshop, organized by Jen of use real butter in collaboration with Helen of Tartelette and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple, was hands down the best photography workshop I went to. It really didn't feel like class...more like summer vacation with some great friends.

Although food bloggers are a wonderfully friendly and giving lot, Jen, Helen, Todd, and Diane stand head and shoulders above the rest. I have never met more generous people, so ready to share their knowledge and experience with others. And they are also FUN...see the dinner Jen threw for several of us out-of-town bloggers the night before the workshop (Yes, the workshop also sort of felt like a overachievers' convention).

When I talked to Jen about the workshop, she told me that her goal was to create a class that offered more than the average photography class: a class that gave real, practical advice to photographers on how to take photos, and would give them the tools to let them continue improving their skills on their own after the class.

I think she and the other instructors succeeded fabulously; from the moment the workshop started we could tell how much preparation had gone into organizing everything, and how passionate the instructors were about photography and food. We had lectures that covered the gamut of concerns that many a food blogger has: photography basics, equipment, lighting, and styling.

The lectures were broken up by hands on sessions where we could practice shooting different food items, implementing things we had just learned, and getting instant feedback from the instructors. I really thought this was what set this workshop apart and made it so useful and rewarding. There's no substitute for learning by doing, and having an experienced professional to give you a personal critique was pretty much worth the value of the workshop. I know all the participants appreciated that all four of the instructors were willing to open themselves up and answer endless barrages of questions!

Below, a few shots I took during class. The rest of the class shots are at this flickr group  - you can see how quickly people starting picking tips and tricks from class!

Carrots

Berriestop2

Cupcakes

Bread 

Finally, all the workshop participants were asked to submit their favorite images taken during class to be judged by their fellow classmates and the instructors. We were asked to vote for images in categories such as Best Overall, Most Improved, and Most Original. I'm so thrilled that the class chose this image I shot below as Best Styling :

Cherries 

I call it Little Red Corvette. Thanks again to Jen et al. for awarding prizes and swag bags to the participants - I have never been to a workshop where you got so much free stuff!

Thanks again to Jen, Helen, Diane, and Todd for such a great experience. And another thank you to Lisa, who kindly let me stay with her at her family friend's home and was a blast as a traveling companion. Couldn't think of a better way to start off the summer!