p2: Navettes des Marseilles

The Sweet

Due to flavor requirements from a certain Tropezienne cream-filled Tarte, I am now stuck with almost a full vial of Orange Flower Water with nothing to use it on. Lucky me, however, I recall yet another recipe in my lineup that calls for this not-so-oft-used ingredient. Luckier still, this past Thanksgiving had me as the person to bring over desserts; and with the host not actually like pumpkin pie or other very sweet items so much, a secondary confection was called for. And these guys just happen to look like little French footballs!!

navette064

For those in the know, I’m of course discussing Navettes des Marseilles; also known as ‘Navettes de Saint-Victor,’ ‘Navette a la fleur d’oranger,’ or simply ‘Navette’ cookies. These little spritz/sugar cookie/shortbread-like treats come equipped with a pow of distinct floral flavor from the orange flower water, though they can be easily flavored via other means depending on region and personal preference. Their unique oval and middle-indented shape belies their name, which roughly translate can come to mean ‘boat’ or ‘transport.’ This to supposedly celebrate the arrival on Saint Lazarus, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint Martha by boat in the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer over 2,000 years ago. Though the Catholic roots of this sweet have ALSO claimed that it was created as a ‘souvenir’ of sorts for wooden statue of ‘Our Lady of the New Fire’ that washed ashore of Lacydon in the 1200’s.

Nowadays various bakeries have become quite cult famous in their areas for their proficiency at putting this little treat together… which feels like it won’t bode to well for my attempt, but we’ll see how it goes!

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

I’m not really sure I have anything to discuss here, though a fair warning as you read through the recipe: I didn’t state it, but I added thyme to this recipe, which can sort of be seen in some of the later pictures. Obviously this has NOTHING to do with the classic cookie, but I wanted to do a flavor twist for the people I was serving this to. Plus it was for a Thanksgiving dessert, had to get something besides just orange in there.

Oh you know what, there IS one thing. I’ve noticed a lot of recipes, after or before shaping the dough, have you ‘rest it’ for 2 hours on the counter before baking. I have NO idea what this is for. If there was yeast or notable leavening ingredients in, or if it was simply pie dough, it’d make sense… here just don’t know. Perhaps it wants to rest any potential firmness of the dough right after being worked by hand so much, but I don’t see why it needs that long. I’ll do it anyways just to see if there’s anything I can divine.

Navettes des Marseilles
200g Sugar
3oz/6 Tb Butter
2 Eggs
1 Tb Orange Flower Water
1 Tb Kosher Salt
500g Flour
Milk

Directions

  1. Cream Butter and Sugar until fluffy20151123_202606
  2. Add in Eggs, one at a time, Orange Flower Water, and Salt, blending until fully incorporated into creamy batter20151123_202858
  3. Slow mix in Flour in thirds, waiting until mostly incorporated before adding more, and blend into a dough20151123_203755
  4. Divide dough into 24 even pieces via cutting in half, each half in quarters, and splitting each of those into 320151123_204655
  5. Shape pieces into flat, pointed ovals: one popular technique is to roll into a cylinder, press flat, slightly shaping into good starting form as you do, and pinching each end. Will likely need further manipulation20151123_205406
  6. Press a slit down the middle with back of knife, spatula, etc, arrange on baking sheets and leave to ‘rest’ for 2 hours at room temp20151123_213232
  7. Heat oven to 350-375 degrees [it’s not really consistant]
  8. When ready, brush tops with thin layer of Milk to coat20151123_224536
  9. Bake for 15-20 minutes minimum, until firmed up and, ideally, it’s developed a light golden color around sides
  10. Remove, let cool, and enjoy20151123_234502

My Thoughts

In the vein of these being a French, orange flower water-flavored sugar cookie, this recipe worked out brilliantly! I may have overcooked probably half of them, but the flavor of the orange flower water came through nicely through a nice spritz-like cookie base flavor and texture. In the vein of what I WANTED to make… I chose the wrong recipe. From the pictures I saw, in creation and final product, I expected to see these cookies rise a bit, create that proper slit-bread-like-rift on the top, with a thicker form and softer, ender texture. Mine just came out firm, like an Italian biscuit cookie… though I did read a description that these ARE at times considered in the same context for texture, makes me feel a bit better. That said, I’ve encountered a few recipes that, among the proportions I’ve used, also add in Baking Powder and up to ½ cup of Water. Figured this would have greatly helped achieve the outcome I was looking for, but made the decision to avoid the baking powder since it didn’t seem like something that would have ORIGINALLY been used; debated the water, but the texture of the dough seemed perfect for me, as many a page mentioned ‘sticky look/feel but not actually sticky.’ So I know what I’ll be adding in next time when I want to make the other outcome.

20151123_234509Though there’s also the chance that I could have heavily improved my odds, perhaps even fixed the issue altogether, by leaving the cookies thick, perhaps even shaping them as big as I originally wanted with the slit. Thus by the time it was ‘fully cooked’ and had a bit of browning on the very edge/bottom, the more voluminous insides would remain soft and tender as opposed to getting so firm.

I swear it feels as if the purpose of this blog has switched from celebrating awesome recipes to simply providing perfect examples of what NOT to do.

Possible Pairings

Though many alcoholic accompaniments may taste good alongside these, truly there are a few exceptional options one should attempt to actually find.

First and foremost, ‘Orange Muscat/Moscato.’ Unlike how its name suggests, it is not moscato flavored with oranges; it is actually a specific variety/member of the grape’s extended ‘family.’ That said, it almost always carries an exceptional and deep flavor of the citrus fruit along with all other similar aspects. There are some lighter, classically fizzy versions, but here we want the dense and flat proper dessert wine versions. These will be reminiscent of what one will find in the dessert wines of the Italian Islands and French Mediterranean.  Not to mention perfect for dipping these little buggers.

cantucci-vin-santoSpeaking of dipping, ‘Vin Santo,’ an Italian dessert wine made by drying the grapes to concentrate their sugars and sweet flavors, is traditionally paired alongside biscotti for that exact purpose. And the flavor is amazing and deep. Perfect for these.

Finally, a simple glass of Grand Marnier with ice, or perhaps a similar Orange Liqueur-based cocktail, ideally with brandy. One could still dip for the more viscous drinks, or simply enjoy the matching flavors, letting the more complex notes of any of these options shine while the connected floral orange flavors of both cookie and drink tie them down to earth.

p2: Tarte Tropezienne

The Sweet

tartSo for this week’s project, I had the mother take a look at my list of things and pick out a few things that sounded good. Which is how I ended up finally doing Baked Camembert, which I’ll be writing about soon, and the one dessert that she made mention of: Tarte Tropezienne. Which, and I’m glad she brought my attention to it considering I forgot, was a perfect sweet project to try considering my recent bread-based interests.

The ‘confection’ itself is basically a large, round Brioche-cake, sliced in half and filled with a particularly unique version of ‘buttercream’ or mousse. As such, with how it looks, Buzzfeed ended up describing it as ‘basically a giant cream puff,’ which is certainly true in one sense but completely off in another, but so can many things be. Either way it seems decadently-simple and sinful in buttery goodness.

Alexandra Micka is the inequitable source for where this pastry comes from. Of Polish origin, this baker move to St. Tropez in Provence during the 1950’s, after which he made the infamous cake in ’55 for the cast of a film production in the area. Obviously they completely adored it, and the name was supposedly suggested by the main actress at the time, Brigitte Bardot, most likely as a nod to the region (though interestingly, the name ends up translating to ‘roof pie’), even though technically it’s not really a tarte even as the French or English may widely define them.

Though that doesn’t make me want to attack it any less, so let’s get to the important parts of this briochy creation!

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

It took me a while to whittle down and figure out what bread and ‘cream’ recipes I wanted to use, but there are a few things that helped narrow it down. First and foremost, one of the items I do believe I ran across was a mention that the original brioche recipe used was a ‘milk brioche,’ and despite my complete urge to go for this own really-decadent looking kind from a professional chef, he had absolutely no liquid in it at all besides eggs. So that was out. Afterward, I just had to go for something with a higher proportion of fat, eggs, and sugar, a Middle-Class/Rich-Man’s style, since it’d suit a dessert more and I really want to prove myself after my not-so-great Rich Man’s version that came out a couple months back. Found one that seemed good, was relatable to the one I originally enjoyed, and I even added an extra tablespoon of butter for good measure!

20151004_155203The second and more important part, in my opinion, is the filling… now, this isn’t just some simple frosting, or pastry cream, or anything like that. A few recipes will basically say, or make it look, like a pastry cream that is simply folded with whipped cream like a mousse; similar to what I once made for a Crepe Cake. But if one looks further, or at particular discussions of recipe and history, you might see the mention that the filling is truly a mixture of Pastry Cream, Buttercream, and sometimes also Whipped Cream. The French Wikipedia called for pastry cream + a term that LINKED to crème Chantilly, but translated to cream butter.

My first thought at this was that ‘Oh great, now I have to make pastry cream AND buttercream AND whipped cream and fold them all together.’ Ah, but then I found one article that featured what the actual technique was, calling it ‘German Buttercream,’ or something like that [of course I can’t find the recipe again NOW], or ‘Mousseline.’ Basically after making the pastry cream, instead of just immediately adding 1-2 pats of butter to melt in, one waits until it cools… and then beats in the equivalent of a whole stick, MINIMUM, until incorporated. Basically, it’s a Pastry Butter-Cream? And then of course one folds with whipped cream… you know, to make it ‘lighter.’ I just wanted to attack this head-on, so I found the one recipe that basically called for 3 whole sticks of butter to REALLY get this crossed effect, and it just so happened to be a rather egg-yolk rich cream, because that’s the kind of pastry cream I usually enjoy and felt like making this time.

20151004_134410As you look through other recipes, you’ll see the consistent habit of sprinkling the top of the dough with an even layer of Pearl Sugar, those ubiquitous large crystals so famed in Eastern Europe for those waffles we love so much. As always though, they’re a pain to get a hold of; but luckily for us, it’s highly likely they aren’t REALLY all that classic and traditional, even if the chef was from Poland. It would be more likely that he used large-flake sugar or crushed up some compressed, so simply taking sugar cubes and crushing them up lightly would work just fine. At least that’s what I read in another article, I could be wrong here… it WAS only 60 years ago.

Finally, Orange Blossom Water! It’s the one oddly classic ingredient here, and some recipes won’t make mention and try to substitute it with ‘rum or kirsch,’ despite the fact that kirsch has been stated to not be traditional, especially in the much-further-southern region of origin. Though think of this now, it might not be too impossible… Polish baker, I could see him using Cherry Brandy… but orange blossom water is a DEFINITIE must-do, and you don’t want that delicate flavor to try crossing with other alcohols, especially when it’s so pricey why not just have it shine? As for WHAT it goes in, I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be solely in the bread, custard, or both… recipes differ, so I just went BOTH to really make sure you could taste it! Plus, I’ll admit, I did do ONE thing I’m almost 100% sure isn’t too classic, in that I made a simple orange syrup and then flavored it with more of the orange water, to which I soaked the cut bread with. But I haven’t made any bread/spongecake soaked with syrup yet, I thought it’d be fun… and again, make sure I didn’t screw up with too-light orange flavors. Hopefully it turns out.

Tarte Tropezienne
2½ tsp Dry Yeast
1/3 cup Milk, Warm
2 cups/275g, ish, AP Flour
3 Tb Sugar
2 Eggs + 1 for eggwash
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Orange Blossom Water
1 tsp Vanilla
8 Tb/1 Stick Butter, softened
1-3 Tb Crushed Sugar Cubes/Pearl Sugar
‘Mousseline,’ Recipe Follows
Orange Water Syrup, Recipe Follows

Directions

  1. Pour Warm Milk over Yeast, leaving for at least 5 minutes to dissolve and bloom20151004_002208
  2. Once done, combine with Flour, Sugar, Salt, 2 Eggs, Orange Water, Vanilla, and the 2 Eggs in a stand mixer, mixing on Low speed with the paddle attachment until everything is combined into a single ball/mass20151004_002731
  3. Turn up to medium speed, slowly adding in small pats of butter one piece at a time, until fully incorporated and dough stretches from the sides20151004_003136
  4. Switch to a dough hook, start beating at medium-high speed for 5-10 minutes, adding more flour if too sticky, until the dough is smooth and, ideally, pulls away from the sides. It should pass the windowpane test if a small piece is very carefully stretched between fingers20151004_015627
  5. Transfer to an oiled bowl, carefully turning to coat, and cover tightly with plastic
  6. Leave to bulk ferment at room temp for 1 hour, until about doubled in size, then move to fridge for overnight20151004_121711
  7. Transfer onto a lightly floured surface the next day, dusting some more on top. Push down with your fingers to press out any excess gas, folding over if need be
  8. Swiftly but gently roll dough out into a circle-ish form at least 10” diameter20151004_122128
  9. Move onto a parchment-paper lined sheet tray and brush with a light layer of egg wash (the one egg, beaten with a bit of water). Leave at room temperature for at least 1 hour, until soft and hopefully risen a little bit20151004_134925
  10. Preheat oven to 400F
  11. When ready, brush another layer of egg wash over the top, sprinkling with Pearl Sugar or crushed Cube Sugar to create an ideally even coating20151004_140343
  12. Move into oven, immediately reducing the temperature to 350F. Let back 20-25 minutes, turning halfway through, until it’s developed a nice, thorough golden brown color on top and feels cooked when tapped20151004_141644
  13. Remove and let cool on the counter, 20 minutes minimum20151004_202850
  14. Carefully slice, using a bread knife, in half, sawing horizontally along the edge to create a level cut from one side to the other20151004_203112
  15. Remove top, turning over, and brush the Orange Water Syrup over each side, soaking it evenly over the bread
  16. Take the reserved Mousseline and spread in an even, thick layer over the bottom piece, using as much as desired. Conversely, one can also pipe in, starting at the center to practice your motions and leaving the edge for some more attractive work (if the annoying makeshift piping bag will let you of course)20151004_204423-1
  17. Slice in wedges and serve

“Mousseline”/”Pastry Butter-cream Mousse” Filling
2 cups Milk20151004_131532
6 Egg Yolks
¾ cup Sugar
1/3 cup Cornstarch, Sifted
Tsp Salt
1 ½ cups/3 Sticks Butter, softened
1 Tb Orange Blossom Water
1 tsp Vanilla
¾ – 1 cup Heavy Cream

Directions

  1. Place Milk in pot over medium heat, leaving to scald/come to a simmer20151004_131616
  2. On the side, combine the Yolks, Sugar, Corn Starch, and Salt, whisking until thoroughly mixed and pale yellow in color20151004_132023
  3. When the milk is ready, remove from the stove and slowly pour into the egg mixture, whisking all the while to temper everything together carefully. Pour back into the pot and move back over heat20151004_132442
  4. Keep, whisking slowly at first while picking up the pace the longer and hotter it gets, making sure to keep it moving so none of it stays on the bottom or sides to scald or overcook, which will happen faster the thicker it gets20151004_133121
  5. As it starts to notably thicken, whisk fast and thorough, removing from the heat when it feels like it’s oneor two steps away from being a heavy cream [it will get to that point from continual cooking and when it cools]20151004_133430
  6. Quickly transfer to a bowl, straining if desired and/or worried about overcooking, and leave to cool on the counter20151004_141913
  7. When it’s down to room temperature, add in the Butter, Orange Water, and Vanilla, whipping it all thoroughly together with a whisk, or even an electric beater, until it’s all combined, ‘fluffy,’ and somewhat resembling buttercream20151004_142047
  8. Now start beating your Heavy Cream, ideally with a hand mixer to have it go faster, until it turns into Whipped Cream, drawing stiff peaks when moved; you’ll need about 1 ½ cups of it total20151004_135951
  9. Fold whipped cream in, 1/3 at a time, to make an aerated and fluffy ‘mousse’ of sorts20151004_155025
  10. Transfer to piping bag for use, storing in fridge if needed20151004_155754

Orange Water Syrup
½ cup Water
¼ cup Sugar
Zest of 1 Orange
1 Tb Orange Blossom Water

Directions20151004_135405

  1. Combine everything but the Orange Blossom Water in a pan, heat until it comes to a boil and the sugar is dissolved. Remove off to the side
  2. Once cooled, strain and add in the orange blossom water

My Thoughts

Well where to start… obviously it’s not as pretty as the other ones you see online; part of that being the sugar, pearl may not be ‘traditional’ but it gives the best effect. I really should get some soon, if anything to make those amazing Belgian waffles…

That and it’s too wide and thin… well, that was my thought, even after baking. But once it got cut, filled, and sliced into wedges, the inside actually looked a lot thicker than from outside, so on an everyday note I’m rather satisfied, but it’s still not as pretty as preferred. To fix, I should have probably fermented it in a smaller bowl, or folded it over20151004_204532 before rolling, or maybe just cut out the perfect circle from the rolled out dough; it was already at 10” just from the de-gassing stage. Though what I would have really liked to do was a little trick I read from a professional chef’s recipe where the dough is shaped inside of a tart mold rim; that way it stays a perfect circle, at the desired size, even when baking, and rises straight up like a cake! And I have springform pans, rather similar… but much taller circles than the tart pan rim, I was worried it wouldn’t bake right.

Speaking of which, it didn’t really rise while proofing… not much of an issue since it rose in the bake, but something doesn’t feel right, especially since it was still QUITE sticky; I’m positive I should have followed the technique in other recipes where you actually knead the dough to smooth, window-pane consistency first BEFORE adding the butter. That said, it turned out a lot better than the Rich Man’s Brioche I did earlier, was actually bread-like, though truthfully it could still be more Middle-Class level… if anything, I’m considering that I may have cooked it a little longer than I should have, and that’s the only real flaw I’ve found in final texture/flavor, proof-rise or no.

God-damn though was this thing rich!! Choosing the really eggy pastry cream recipe woulda been great if it was on its own, it tasted fantastic btw, but I probably should have gone a lighter version… and it was really cool trying out the buttercream-like technique, and that also was really good, but I think next time I’m gonna lean more towards the lower-butter recipes! Even after folding with the whipped cream, fatty enough as THAT was, put that between brioche bread and all you get is a mass of heavy fat and sugar; really good tasting, delicious mass, but believe me when I say a single slice will do you well for the night! I’m sure the tartes that are more well-done than mine are probably not so overwhelming, but I understand why I’ve seen quite a few that add strawberries and pistachios, to help cut through and then add texture (even with crunchy sugar, overwhelmingly one-note soft) in a tasty fashion.

There’s probably more to say, and done in a better and concise fashion, but I’m drawling out now… that frosting bread be weighing me down!

Possible Pairings

iD2fkPrWith how rich and heavy this turned out, I don’t even think I want to think about dessert wine, or anything thick and sweet to drink with it. That said, one of the ‘classic’ pairings often mentioned to enjoy with it is a little dessert wine called Monbazillac, a smaller sub region very close to the oh-so-famous Sauternes in Bordeaux, the latter known for its rich, honeyed, and devilishly complex dessert wines based off Semillon and Sauvignon. Though, THAT is rather expensive, and even the really aged ones stay thick. Dessert wines from nearby regions however, such as Monbazillac, come in at some rather great price deals for the consumer, and usually end up a lighter-bodied and definitely reduced in sweetness, usually a nice simple sweet drink to enjoy chilled without much thought. So it really would fit this particular purpose quite well, especially if you made a better and more ideal tarte than I did!

Though really, at the end of the day: we need liquor. Non-sweet, cuttingly dry and high in spirit to help cut through all of that fatty, creamy texture and flavor. If Kirsch was actually used, as so many recipes keep saying even though, again, it’s not really regionally sound, it’d be the perfect pairing. Otherwise, a young Cognac, that hasn’t developed all that really deep and thick texture and ‘sweetness’ that the older ones have, would be great; though Armagnac would probably be better regionally, and the simpleness of the tarte would let the complexities of it shine, though its extra roughness in texture could overshadow that as well.

Or you could just make a Sidecar with Lemon Juice, Cognac, and Grand Marnier to bring out the orange notes in the dessert and still have that brandy flavor and aspect; and shaking these with ice will help lighten all the heaviness while still cutting through the custard some.

p2: Clafoutis

The Sweet

7-SAV150-95_Clafoutis-750x750I have been semi-obsessed with a certain dessert ever since I read “On Food and Cooking’s” chapter on fruit; in particular, when they discuss cherries, making mention of a baked dish that took advantage of the pits to extract extra flavor from the cherries. This dessert was Clafoutis, what at first seemed an eggy cake filled with whole cherries, though I’ve come to learn is so much more. For I’ve tried making this twice before, I came to learn the ‘batter’ for this is quite… unique. Not special or different or difficult, but there’s nothing quite in the realm of its structure ya know? It’s very custardy, but it’s thicker than flan and other egg-milk dishes; it’s definitely more batter-based, less eggy, than a quiche; thicker like a pancake batter, but with that smooth creamy consistency. Many related it similar to crepe batter but with more eggs. When you try it, you’ll know, but there’s really no other common custard to properly relate it to.

And this is made exclusively to be filled in a pan, covered layers of whole cherries or thick cuts of fruit, and baked until a golden, crispy layer has remained on top. I myself have yet to achieve this, and need to redeem myself with a third attempt here, for this project.

The name comes from clafotís or clafir, a term used in the Occitan language, which centered in the Southern France/Northern Spain region, meaning ‘to fill.’ During the 1800’s, the dish spread throughout the rest of France, but its origin of ‘identity’ is purely Limousin, which is situated in the southern-central area (and where the romance language was quite popular). This is the one that traditionally contains cherries; which is what any TRUE clafoutis should use, proved by the fact that any dish of the same batter using OTHER fruits is properly called a ‘flaugnarde.’ Despite the lack in specific origin, the Limousin are highly proud of this dish they’ve created; in fact, when L’Acadèmie Francais officially categorized it under as a sort of ‘fruit flan,’ well… let’s just say the people got rather pissed. So they ended up getting forced into changing it to “a cake with fruit.”

As with many dishes found in France, for something so simple as cherries with batter, getting it right can be quite the task. We’ll see if I’m finally up for it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

You know, I just realized that I ended up listing this recipe’s ‘Lecture Corner’ in the same style as my OTHER French Recipe Posts! Since I’ve already finished writing it all and am too lazy to redo it, guess we’ll just pretend it’s structured different because this recipe is ‘special,’ haha.

20150529_173042

Cherries: Small, tart ‘Griottes’ are the cherries of choice in France. No luck here, but they are easily substituted out with a simple Black Cherry, which gives that nice combo of sweet and tart for dessert use. But that’s not what we REALLY wanna talk about with cherries… what we REALLY wanna talk about is their pits. And yes, you must leave them in the cherries while they bake into the cake. Oh, you can pit them beforehand, but it will not taste as good… just like cheap, simple baked cherries in this custard, nothing more or nothing less.

For the seeds and pits of stone fruits, like cherries and apricots and plums, contain and enzyme which, besides producing EXTREMELY trace amounts of cyanide (which has sparked much issue towards the idea of using them in cooking/infusing, which is really useless considering the mass amount of things made from them that would need consumption to even feel ill), also produces the characteristic almond extract/marzipan aromas. In fact, it’s mainly stone fruit pits that are used to make these extracts. Cherries in particular also contain amygdalen, benzaldehyde and eugenol, compound/molecule essences of almond and clove. When heated, all of these aromas increase, expand, and flush throughout the cherry, and potentially anything next to it. Thus the flavor resulting in something like, say, a baked custard with whole cherries studded throughout is transformed into a wafting aromatic exploration of deep fruit and almond ambrosia. Or something like that.

Like blueberries in muffins or chocolate chips in banana bread, we also have to ask the question of how we add the fruit and batter. Does the fruit go in first, batter on top, or toss the fruit on top of the batter in hopes of getting some better elevation/distribution? Whether it actually works, I find I don’t necessarily care, as the thickness of the custard is relatively the same as the fruit layers, and I don’t see any danger in them sitting at the bottom for this. I’d say the use of making sure they’re a bit higher is to give a better top/presentation. Though, interesting note, I read Julia Child’s recipe for this, and a unique technique she offers is starting with just a thin layer of batter on the bottom, baking that until it’s mostly set, and THEN adding the cherries and rest of the batter. I am so NOT trying this, because again I don’t care and I don’t want to worry about a layer of over-cooked custard under my perfectly set batter, but it’s a fun one to consider. There’s a particular cake named after tree layers that uses the technique, but with a single thin layer of batter at a time.

20150601_173730To Booze or Not to Booze: There are a lot of clafoutis out there that make absolutely no mention of adding Kirsch, using just vanilla extract instead. Throw those formulae in the trash, because all TRUE clafoutis have kirsch. Every single time that I’ve read or heard one from any recipe that seemed old, classic, traditional, or in any way overly French, the classic Cherry Brandy or Liqueur is involved. This is either added to the batter, macerated in the cherries beforehand (along with some of the sugar), or a combo of the two. Myself, I’m going for the combo, since I want to infuse more of that deep cherry flavor into the fruit itself, make up for what don’t seem like the most ideal cherries to me, as well as use it as the flavor base of the cake itself. Kirschwasser is the name of the game of course, a good bottle that I still had enough left over for the cake AND shots afterward, with those beautifully developed-through-distillation flavors of cherries and bitter almond/marzipan, a treat from those aromatic pit compounds mentioned earlier that only TRUE cherry brandy will let you experience.

Note, if you don’t have access to a nice kirsch/wasser, any decent brandy (cognac/Armagnac preferred) will do, potentially even rum for a fun twist, ideally mixed with some cherry and/or almond liqueur for added flavor.

Pan: Firstly, low and wide is usually the key; one is looking for 2 cherry layers max quite often, baked into a large custard-cake. Usually done in one of those classic ceramic, large ramekin-y vessels. You know, the white ones with the curved outside that look all fancy. I have seen this cooked in a big cast iron pot as well, and I was very tempted to try it with mine… but the one I have is a bit Dutch Oven type, so much empty space and pan sides sticking up from the custard, it made me nervous. Plus I worried how long it would take to absorb the oven temperature vs a regular ceramic. I wanted to make sure that I got those browned effects, and both of these aspects seemed potentially counterproductive to that.

Milk: I read somewhere that, similar to crepe batter (which seriously this custard resembles so much doesn’t it?), many ‘masters’ or just old French cooks traditionally heat up the milk before adding. This should help develop some flavor with the eggs (gotta love those warm milk custardy flavors), and probably helps with starch gelatinization/integration even further. Or something on those lines (you know I’m too lazy for THAT kind of research).

In some recipes I’ve been finding after making this, I’ve found use of cream or half and half instead of milk. I put no preference over the choices, in fact I’d like to try it one day, but today I almost feel like milk, leave more flour for thickening and to develop that crusty edge I’m so desiring.

Clafoutis
500g/18 oz Black Cherries, de-stemmed
3 Tb Kirsch or Kirschwasser
100g/4oz Sugar
125g/4½ oz Flour
Pinch of Salt
300ml/1¼ cup Milk
3 Eggs

Directions

  1. Toss Cherries (NOT pitted) with 1 Tb of Kirsch and 50g of Sugar, leave to sit and macerate (turning every so often) for at least 30 minutes20150601_173654
  2. Preheat oven to 350F
  3. Combine remaining sugar, Flour, and Salt in separate bowl20150601_174350
  4. Heat milk to a light scald on the stove, hot without simmering, and add along with the well beaten Eggs and remaining Kirsch to the flour mixture, whisking in a bit at a time until it turns into a smooth, thick batter20150601_180624
  5. Toss cherries into a wide, low, and very well-buttered casserole dish, evenly covering the bottom in a piled layer20150601_181119
  6. Pour over the batter so it comes close to the lip of the pan20150601_181237
  7. Transfer to oven, baking at LEAST 35-40 minutes, until the center is set, the edges have rise, and the top is colored with a light golden brown20150601_185108
  8. Remove, slicing and serving hot or, traditionally, leaving to cool until lukewarm, garnishing with a dust of powdered sugar20150601_190748
  9. Enjoy with some kirsch, and perhaps a dollop of whipped, iced, or other sweet cream garnish one has on hand

My Thoughts

Okay, I think I finally got it how I want it! I was a bit worried too, since it didn’t have any of that browning or crustiness when I checked at the 40 minute mark. But cooked a bit longer and it started to develop, a little on top and around the sides with that beautiful lift! Still didn’t get that particular cakey-ness that I envisioned and hoped it would have, but this has officially shown me that, indeed, a proper clafoutis never will.

20150601_190942

What it WILL get is a thick, firm but tender layer of custard with some crispy edges and tops on it. I’ll admit and say I think I may have cooked it a couple minutes longer than IDEAL, with more browned sides and bottom bits sticking to the pan than I thought (note to self, don’t judge by how much is on TOP), but still fully delicious. And the cherries… hot from the oven, popped into the mouth, super soft and with that almost floral burst of aromatics clearly containing an underlying almond/marzipan note, just like how it’s supposed to. Let me just say, all those people online who bitch about how the annoying purists leave the pits in is rather useless, saying to just add almond extract or purely ignore and just leave the cherries because ‘who wants to eat around a pit, waaaaahhhhh,’ don’t know crap about what they’re talking about. There’s a clear, elevated difference, and I’ve found no issue in letting the pit pop from its fleshy constraints in my mouth to be spit back on the plate or some side bowl. Not if it equals the aromatic extra experience that I’ve found here.

And I can see why many say this is best served lukewarm instead of hot, for the texture and the cherries, which release more of those deliciously fruity flavors. Though I still say there’s nothing better than something hot out of the oven, creamy and flavorful, with those heady pops of aromatic chemicals when chewing on those stone fruit. Either way, I am very happy and satisfied with the results. Something tells me I’ll be making this again (the mother seems quite intent about it).

Possible Pairings

There really is nothing better than a nice, chilled shotglass or snifter of Kirsch or Kirschwasser next to this. I mean, cherries and cherries, almond flavors with almond flavors (they both have it), you use it in the dish, and it just tastes damn good. Trust me, when you nail a clafoutis in such a way that makes you happy like this, there’s no better reward than a delicious bit of cherry brandy (assuming you’re the kind to drink good liquor straight, which I am).

To a similar note, something like an Amaretto, either chilled over ice or made into a cocktail (perhaps shaken with brandy?), would be another delicious choice. There are also plenty of emulsified ‘egg liqueurs’ (they’re basically more custardy cream liqueurs) like Advocat that would highlight the custardy flavors and textures.

And as for wine, I wish I could name something great from the Limousin region, but they sadly have very little wine industry nowadays (they used to, sadly, but it was devastated during a certain period of disease along with the rest of France and didn’t recover as well), so what they have, though delicious, is quite rare. I knew the name was familiar though, as the oak trees are famously used for some of the most prized barrels for aging wine and Cognac.

Blanquette_de_LimouxWhat I would definitely want to serve this with is a nice glass of bubbly, some simple and refreshing sparkling wine, perhaps a Cremant from some southern region just for fun. A Cremant de Alsace, perhaps a rose, from the region that borders France with Germany could have a certain cultural perfection, but I have a ‘Blanquette de Limoux’ which I’m saving for a certain savory dish that I wouldn’t mind playing around with here. It’s from the exact opposite region, the very southern border, but it should have a great fruity focus and a touch of sweetness. But the great combo of tart acids and frizzy bubbles should cut through the custard nicely, and those almost-toasty/yeasty flavors mixed with those almond notes… I like the idea.

p1: Quiche Lorraine

msliving_quichelorraine_vertThe Dish

I don’t really have that many stories from college; never was great at the whole social thing and getting into adventures (but I won’t bore you with details of my depressing alone-ness); but one of the few amusing moments I had in culinary classes involved the ‘baked Quiche.’  Can’t remember too many details nowadays, whether I or my partner had put the quiche together, popped it in the oven, or whether my frantic  sprint to check on it was due to accidentally leaving it in for who knows how many hours, realizing it was in at a temperature WAY too high, or a combination of them both.

Nevertheless, the first thing I see after opening the gateway of hell is what looked to be a landscape of black, punctuated only by the yellow of the eggy center, which pushed itself about two inches upwards and above the crust. It’s reminiscence to a certain other dish was simply too amusing for me at the moment, as I called out to the rest of the class: “We’ve got a soufflé over here!!!”

Ohhhh, ‘dem schooling days, filled with us feisty rapscallions (please don’t comment on my sad college high notes, it’s all I have!!); thankfully it was one of the many lessons learned early, but my experience with the French custard afterwards was painfully minimal, besides some breakfasts at home using those extremely shallow pre-bought frozen pie crusts (actually inspired by watching an episode of Good Eats). Then I was able to delight in one of the dish’s best qualities: flexibility. For, as I’ve come to learn, one could say that there really are two kinds of quiche. First, there is the delicately measured, finely seasoned and tender custard that’s filled carefully with select ingredients and featured in history and restaurants, something one can properly term “Quiche.” And then there’s “Refrigerator Pie,” as I (and I think Alton too) like to call it; that’s basically when one just puts in whatever they have on hand, mix the eggs with enough of whichever dairy they prefer to what looks good, and pops in the oven. It’s always how I’ve enjoyed practicing at home or in the kitchen, but today’s foray into this egg-centric recipe is truly that of the former as we study proper Quiche Lorraine.

Quiche itself really did originate in Lorraine… only at the time it was called Lothringen, when it was under Medieval German rule, who also provided the origins of its current name, “Kuchen/Kueche,” meaning ‘cake.’ Which certainly isn’t too accurate even by their standards, as the base used to be made from bread dough, then baked with the savory egg and cream filling.

As the bread evolved to a flaky, tender short pastry crust, so has those ingredients that we put in it. Quiches elsewhere have of course changed and fluctuated the traditional veggie, meat, and cheese additions throughout the centuries (there are some interesting classic recipes, like one using rillettes and another based on pumpkin), but the base of Lorraine has and always will be Bacon. 20140916_165853Only this was sometimes just lain in long strips on the bottom before custardizing; even my Larousse Gastronomique features this old habit. Cheese wasn’t added until much later, perhaps when they started to actually chop the meat, officially turning it into quiche vosgienne if using gruyere (cooks have often also used Swiss or Emmental). When onions become involved, fulfilling the classic trio with cream and cured pork, it then becomes the quiche alsacienne version of Lorraine, which I really believe to be most indicative of how we view and treat it today. Many may debate its trueness to lie back in the extreme simplicity it was before, while others then take this and add more things such as herbs, but a dish’s evolution and changes through time help culminate its identity to what we know today. As such, the Alsatian version, bereft of any other additions, will be what I base my meal on today.

A Word On…

Crust: Tart dough experimentations continue, though there do seem to be a few styles particularly intuitive with quiche. In fact, I ended up following a specific recipe that came along with the Larousse Gastronomique’s section on Quiche Lorraine, which is basically what I based most of my prep and recipe specifications around (it seemed very classic, old-school, and proper). This iteration’s baking formulation is that of a classic French Shortcrust, in particular one very much like Pate Sable but without sugar, in which one folds in SOFT butter instead of cold (oh the horror, how does such a tart dough exist!?), along with egg.

It was also one of my first attempts in a long while in mixing all the ingredients together on the counter instead of a bowl! Attempts at pasta making sorta ruined the practice for me, but I think I’ve found some fun and purpose in it again.

Also important to note that all quiche crust should be pre-baked before adding the fillings; if one tries baking both together, the bottom simply won’t cook (learned that watching Cutthroat Kitchen!). Oh, and I might suggest really curling the dough around the edge of your desired baking pan (again, springform is best and practically required) to prevent it from shrinking a large amount; either that or have a LOT of baking beans to fill the ENTIRE pan. Pricking the dough will only do so much.

Bacon: I’ll admit, I didn’t go the full mile in finding super-quality bacon, I was a bit more concerned with crust and custard on this experiment. Not to mention I was trying a new technique, also mentioned in Larousse, where one blanches their bacon in boiling water before frying in butter. Offers a great way to crisp and golden it up quickly without shriveling, losing too much fat, and keeping that nice meaty texture. I will say I think it worked out quite well, so feel free to get yourself a big chunk of uncut cured pork belly, make some thick slices, and then dice up some sizeable cubes after blanching for that REAL Bacon Experience.

20140916_163134Oh, and instead of transferring the cooked bacon to paper towels, why not put it in your pre-cooked tart shell!? Get eeeevvvveerrryyyyyyy bit of bacon fat and flavor soaked into the dish.

Onion: Generally speaking, recipes call for using Raw onions; sliced or diced simply dependant on preference. Though I do want to stay true, at the same time I just never like using so much raw onion in something; it’s not gonna cook and get soft inside, you know that. But a little bit of raw crunch and delicate flavor is nice when handled delicately; thus, I sautéed half of my available onion (in the leftover bacon fat of course) and left the other half raw for the best combo of flavor with just enough texture.

Custard: I’ve seen, and applied, many quiche recipes that use milk and half-n-half mixed in with their eggs. If I was discussing any general quiche home cooking, actually, ANY source of dairy would do; I’ve seen mini-quiches made with just the eggs and blue cheese. Hell, I’ve made salmon quiches while mostly using sour cream. However, as we’re considering a very traditional, very French Lorraine where the goal is to get that perfectly set custard, there’s really only one option: Cream (some hardcore French fanatics go a step further and use stiff crème fraiche). And lots of it, with a relatively high ratio of the fatty dairy to the eggs (see following recipe).

Quiche Lorraine
½ lb Bacon, in strips
Tb Butter
½ of an Onion, minced
2-3 oz Gruyere
4 Eggs
1 ¼ cup Cream
1 tsp or so each Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F20140916_154223
  2. Blanch Bacon in simmering water for about 5 minutes, remove and let cool.20140916_160640
  3. Chop into large, square pieces.20140916_160940
  4. Heat pan to medium-high heat and toss in Butter and Bacon, cooking until lightly and evenly browned.20140916_161221
  5. Remove, placing directly into the empty Tart Shell, and re-fill pan with half of the Minced Onion.20140916_161818
  6. Sweat in the butter-fat mixture until soft and transfer into tart shell with bacon and Raw Onion.20140916_172045
  7. When onion and bacon are cooled enough, grate the Gruyere on top until the tart is almost fully filled with ingredients, mixing them together to evenly distribute.20140916_173800
  8. In separate bowl, whisk Eggs, Cream, Salt, Pepper, and Nutmeg until fully combined.20140916_174621
  9. Slowly pour into shell until mixture just reaches under the top of the crust (make sure to give it time to let settle into air spaces before adding more).20140916_183455
  10. Move into oven, on a baking sheet, and cook for at least 30 minutes, until the middle is set but still shakes and jiggles when moved.20140916_184134
  11. Remove, transfer to cutting board (or cooling rack), leaving a minute or so until cool enough to handle.20140916_184443
  12. Carefully undo springform pan sides (if using), and/or start slicing servings.
  13. Serve with side of light salad and enjoy.20140916_184428

Savory Pate Sable
250g Flour
Pinch Salt
125g Butter, softened
1 Egg
3 Tb Ice-Cold Water

Directions

  1. Sift Flour and Salt onto clean counter20140915_160127
  2. Quickly and gently, mix the Butter into flour until mixture is almost sandy, well combined.
  3. Pile this into a mound and make a deep well in the center, to which it will be filled with the Egg and Water.20140915_160451
  4. Carefully swirl liquids, mixing into the flour until fully incorporated, kneading briefly with fingers and palms until a smooth dough forms (may need more flour on the board)20140915_161009
  5. Flatten to a disk, wrap in plastic and let chill in the fridge for about an hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 400F and flour your countertop in preparation.20140915_170826
  7. Once chilled enough, roll out dough to 1/8” thickness, ish, and as large and round of a shape as you can get.20140915_170856
  8. Fold in quarters and move into a Springform or other Tart/baking pan, buttering and flouring the surface if non-stick.20140915_171014
  9. Unfold, lift-and-tucking the corners, press into the sides, and cut off dough at the top or whichever height is desired, noting it will shrink after cooking.20140915_171617
  10. Prick bottoms and sides with fork and cover with parchment paper laden from beans or other pie dough weights.20140915_192751
  11. Move to oven and cook 20 minutes, checking often near the end, or until dough is lightly browned and cooked on bottom.20140915_192909
  12. Remove and reserve until needed.

The Verdict

20140916_184456Truth be told I was much worried about the crust; having made it ahead of time, leaving it sit for a day, and also worried there was too much water as well as some kneading, it felt potentially bready and chewy. Once finished with the filling, though, I found it indeed had a nice crunch and thick flakiness to it; to my surprise, it actually reminded me of the crusts used in those frozen mini-quiches, in a good way!

And the filling… I’ve come to accept that I have a deep addiction to custards, especially those of the cheese variety. This really was just the perfect example; smooth, tender, creamy, that richness from the egg carrying through without that eggy, thick flavor and texture that just makes you think of fritattas. Almost felt like it was one step away from flan consistency, and I loved it. Then we add in bacon, onion, and that cooked tart dough and we see why quiche Lorraine has become the staple example of its group.

20140916_183932Primary Pairing – Chablis or Alsace Gewurztraminer

So, to explain why I didn’t focus my primary down to a single selection, I actually wanted to pair this particular meal with a Gewurztraminer I had picked up. Then I went looking on the morning of and, egads, couldn’t find the thing! At one point I decided that, in fact, I never bought the bottle in question and just thought I had, so my plans had to quickly change to a bottle I had planned for something else (and of course, one day later, I spot the bottle located on a shelf across the room from the others, in an area it WAN’T SUPPOSED TO BE IN. Thanks for moving yet another thing without telling me person-who-knows-who-they-are). It would have been so nice, having that interplay of the thickly oiled texture of the famed Alsatian wine with the mouth-filling fattiness of the custard, the spicy grape adding another dimension of flavor to quiche’s blank canvas while also complimenting the meat and onions.

But, Chablis and other Chardonnays (that are GOOD and FRESH and not overoaked or super-cheap-crap… seriously) work too. The nice acid structure holds up through the richness, flavors are often gentle and should mingle with the subtle depth which egg and dairy can so create. And it is close by, many a simpler/non-pungent Alsatian dish can be paired with Chablis, that chardonnay-centric region in the north of Burgundy that creates such minerally, refreshing versions of the grape. One doesn’t have to get the really expense bottles from the Petites and Grand Crus, there are some well-priced options that work just fine when eating with classic fare, when one just needs those certain additions of flavors and taste bud-interactions to complete a dinner.

20140916_183742My Bottle: – 2011 William Fevre Chablis AOC

Point in question, Fevre made a really decent, balanced product that provided a well-structured compliment to the simple meal for a great price compared to others. If you’re one of those who enjoys a decent non-oaky or buttery chardonnay, without exploring too high in the price listings, the style is a good option to try when you have the chance.

Secondary Pairing – Cider

I use it as a pairing for a lot of Northern French dishes, but it works; not too heavy, freshness and acidity cuts through, with light flavors to let the not-so-strong flavors in Quiche and other dishes shine through. If one wants a little changeup, they could always try a nice, pub-reminiscent English Cider; notably fuller and more fulfilling to match the custard.

p2: Fig Tart

The Sweet

fig tartThe use of Figs in French dessert has never been that mysterious, its origins being as simple as figuring out when the fruit originally moved into the country and/or, if indigenous, when people started eating them. As such I’ve found that the real story of the Fig Tart is not the story of the fig, oh no, but the story of the Baked Almond Cream, known as Frangipane, sitting beneath them.

Today, frangipane is a paste, typically made from ground almonds, butter, and sugar, very similar to the candy Marzipan (France really is well known for their almond candies… think I’m gonna be making one in the future), differentiating from it solely by its inclusion of eggs and, most importantly, the fact that it is used solely to fill pastries and tarts that are then baked. It wasn’t always like this, however; it’s spun from an interesting origin.

The base origin of the name is said to come from Italy in the 1500’s (or 1700’s, sources are debated) under the nobleman and perfumier (to King Louis XIII supposedly) Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who at the time had introduced and sold almond-scented gloves. This handwear was so popular that, and so delightful to the nose, that pastry chefs all around tried to capture the scent in various fillings for desserts, naming it thus frangipani.

By the mid 1700’s, France was using the term themselves to describe a very creamy, custard tart thus scented with almonds or pistachios. This became the set recipe for frangipane in the country until tastes and habits turned to a denser, stronger almond paste, likely around the time marzipan really came into popularity.

Whether the evolution was really this simple and sole-purposed is unclear; another explanation states it originally comes from Franchipane, meaning ‘coagulated milk’ and likely twisted slightly to offer its name to an 1844 French dictionary recipe/definition of Frangipan, an artificial milk made by mixing evaporated skimmed milk with sugar and almonds.

Taken separately, mixing together, or however these two supposed origins did it, they nonetheless lead to the baking almond paste as it is today. Used in the center of King’s Cake and tarts of Fig and stone fruit alike, these desserts revel in the beautifully fragrant, nutty flavors that is the almond.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20140830_231545This session’s tart shell is one that I’ve wanted to try for a while, and will likely attempt again in the future for fun. The recipe is quite interesting, and practically the opposite of every pie dough one can imagine; instead of taking cold, cold chunks of butter and cutting it into the flour, one bakes the fat until bubbling (and lightly browned) and dumps the flour in. The process, especially the point about stirring until it pulls from the sides, almost reminds me of pate-a-choux (can’t wait to make those again btw). What’s extra nice is it doesn’t need rolling out, just pressed directly into one’s pan of choice and baked, yielding a product that seems to caramelize and crunch nicely when finished properly.

Speaking of pans, if one is able to, I almost require the use of an actual French tart pan; less so because it’s ‘proper’, but one needs that low, sharp lip that pie pans just don’t have, and especially since we need to be able to take the whole tart OUT of the pan once it’s cooled. This is why many a proper tart pan’s circular bottom is separate from the sides, allowing one to push up and remove the metal from around your baked masterpiece. Oh, and I’m sure those curvy-flowery-edges help the dough get crispier from more surface area or something.

IF you don’t have one, however, much like myself, I do believe there’s one good substitution: Cheesecake. Or, as they’re mainly known, Springform Pans, which can lock and detach their round sides from the bottom quite snugly. Sides go straight up too, everything is completely non-stick, so they make for a great near-perfect switch-out. The only think I’d say, other than maybe the metal doesn’t conduct as well as a classic tart pan would, is that you’ll want to wrap some foil around the bottom during cooking; some really thin liquids WILL still leak out (my figs started juicing the bottom of the oven while baking! Oops).

20140831_181942As for the figs themselves, not sure about you but I’ve found it’s always been a bitch to get some good ones here in the Midwest, and unless you live in a state much closer to their production I’m guessing it’ll be the same to you. We still get a lot of them in the right season, have walked in on figs in my co-op plenty of times, but finding a basket where almost none have brown spots, cuts, blemishes, big soft spots, etc… it’s rare when I find one. Thus one can see why I jumped at the chance to make the tart this weekend, luckily finding an ideal basket on a random store trip, and with friends in town!

Oh, which before I forget and get too wrapped up in my fig-bitching, Colored figs are the most ideal for this dish. Any purple, or ideally those ones that are purple on the lower half but sort of green on top (think it’s a French species), are what you wanna go for. ‘White’ and striped green figs taste beautiful and fresh, thus why I plated my Suzette with them, but they’re too delicate for baking purposes; why would you even want to? As for the Brown Turkish, that’s your call.

In conjunction with figs, Oranges will play an integral role in your final Tart. Tasting well together, and with almonds, I’ve found quite a few recipes, old and new, that have added a tablespoon of zest or a bit of juice into their frangipane or shell. This leads me to conclude that not only would it be alright to include the aromatic citrus in a classic rendition, it’d be almost a crime NOT to use it if one attempts making a properly traditional, French Fig Frangipane Tart (kept in small amounts of course).

20140831_091212When it comes to making the frangipane, one of the most essential things is the combining and integration of the butter and almond meal. This is done, very simply and easily, with a nicely powered food processor. Which immediately means I’m screwed, because the only one I have is tiny, and really doesn’t cut things up THAT well anyways. Great for small amounts, but I have to work with a lot of this stuff at the same time. So I have to stick with my electric mixer; because of that, I need to make sure my almond meal is as fine as I can make it, and hope things work. To do this, I have to toast and grind the almonds myself, using my coffee(which it’s never used for)/spice grinder, always a handy tool if you have one like it; only need to blitz it quickly before it tries to make Almond Butter. On that note, one could also just go to one of those Whole Foods or co-ops where you grind your own almond butter and just use THAT as your fine-meal substitution, if  you don’t mind the extra deeply cooked nutty flavors. But that’s just an idea, and again I always like making my own stuff purely from scratch if I can.

Almost forgot. The finer the sugar grains the better; had to use a bigger grain since it was the only thing I had other than powdered sugar (THAT is a no-no), attributed a bit of graininess though flavor was good.

My Thoughts

Normally I save this part until near the end, but the fact of the matter is that, as far as I am concerned, I ended up ‘failing’ with my attempt at this dish. The tart dough ended up notably drier than I wanted, despite my absolute following of the recipe I am convinced that they’ve included too much flour (or not enough butter) to reproduce the dough that the original article so researched/interviewed to get (I noticed pictures another post that had the same recipe looked similar to my much stiffer, not-so-tender clump of butter-flour). As such I’ve readjusted it below to suit what should create a more successful attempt.

Secondly, and most important, I over roasted my almonds. Well, that’s not to say I burned them, but when I read that the almonds should be toasted, I cooked them to the level that I always toast them. With that nice, even color of light brown throughout, getting a tasty and deep nutty flavor reminiscent of the candied nut bags one finds at the market. Alas, I have come to realize this particular predilection is a more American assumption, for to toast almonds in France (at least for marz/frangipane) must mean to do it to the absolute minimum, with no color change. My little paste thus ended up deep, deep brown in color, with a flavor not unlike Almond Butter (peanut butter’s cousin), and much denser than I assume the texture should be after baking.

20140831_191841I still went through with the whole thing, and all-together it made for a very delicious baked tart nonetheless; crumbly pie shell, rich nuttiness and baked fruit that when combined tasted like a refined PBnJ, with a delightfully sticky and tart glaze/sauce on top. But nonetheless, the end result is much different than it should have been.

Hopefully, I can attempt this again sometime in the future. And if ever I do, I’ll make sure to post the picture and results here to thus fix my error.

‘French’ Fig Tart
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)
1 ½ cups or more (depending on preference) Frangipane (recipe follows)
1 dozen Purple Figs
Desired Glaze or Jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Pipe or spoon Frangipane into Tart Shell, spreading the surface out with spatula to create a smooth, even layer.20140831_182920
  3. Halve or quarter figs, as desired, and arrange on top in close-nit, attractive pattern, with seeds facing upwards. Press down to better nestle into the almond paste.
  4. Bake in oven, with aluminum foil under pan if using springform, around 30-40 minutes, until frangipane is set and figs have softened. Depending on desired finish, one may want to increase heat to 425 during last 10 minutes so as to bake and caramelize figs more thoroughly.20140831_191627
  5. Remove, moving to a cooling rack, carefully releasing the sides of the pan after a few minutes to leave bare.
  6. While this cools, head your Glaze/Jam in pan or microwave until thin, brushing an even, shiny coat over the top of your tart.20140831_194134
  7. Slice when reached the preferred temperature (hot or cold is still good), serve with any fresh fruit or ice cream.

Tart Shell
120 grams Butter
1 Tb Vegetable Oil
3 Tb Water
Tb Sugar
Tsp Salt
140 grams Flour

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 410F
  2. Place Butter, Oil, Water, Sugar and Salt in oven-proof bowl and ‘bake’ for around 20 minutes, until butter is bubbling and has started to brown on the sides20140830_234213
  3. Quickly remove and dump in your Flour, stirring until it’s incorporated and pulls from the side of the pan.20140830_234755
  4. Plop into the center of your pan, pressing with spatula to start spreading it out.20140830_234946
  5. When it’s cool enough to handle easily, press dough with palm and knuckles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan in a thin, even layer.20140831_000833
  6. Prick thoroughly with fork and transfer to oven. Bake around 10-12 minutes, until dough is golden brown (as evenly as one can get it without any burning).20140831_001956
  7. Remove and leave on counter to cool. Cover with plastic, reserving on side until ready to use.

Almond Frangipane
325 grams Whole Almonds, Raw
125 grams Butter, softened
150 grams Sugar
1 Tb Flour
2 Eggs
Tsp Salt
1-2 tsp Orange Zest
1-2 Tb Grand Marnier

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400F20140830_231531
  2. Spread Almond on baking sheet and Lightly Toast in oven, 5-8 minutes at most
  3. Remove, let cool20140831_091431
  4. Pulse in food processor, or in spice grinder in small batches, until almonds are turned into a fine meal or, ideally,  powder20140831_104519
  5. Seperately, cream Butter and Sugar and Salt in processor or in bowl with electric mixer until fluffy.20140831_104602
  6. Slowly add in the almond meal and Flour, a bit at a time, mixing on high speed to full blend and break the two substances together into a smoth paste.20140831_104816
  7. Mix in eggs.
  8. Fold in Orange Zest and/or Grand Marnier once paste is fully homogenized.20140831_105719
  9. Transfer to bag or other container, leave in fridge until half an hour or so before use, letting it come to room temperature to handle.

Possible Pairings

20140831_193916Before I get into general matches, I actually happen to own a bottle of an Italian Biscotti-flavored Liqueur which ended up absolutely delicious with figs and almonds; even better since the heavy toasted-nut notes of MY creation mirrored the biscuitty-flavors of the cookie drink. Bits of orange flavor as well go along with the same orange aromas mixed into the almonds, and hints of fennel/aniseed and other spices used to recreate the typical biscotti flavors perfume beautifully alongside the delicate figs. It also ended up as a fun tie-in to the notable Italian origins. Great to chill and drink right next to it, or pour it on top of the slice.

Following the liqueur train of thought, Amarretto is an obvious choice to gently lift and undertone the crunchy tart. Whereas an orange-based liqueur, preferably something bright and fresh like Orangecellos, or Honey Liqueur can bring out the fresh figgy flavors out more.

A simple thought to finish this up quickly: Sherry, say a Manzanilla (lighter variety) if made properly, or an Amontillado (darker, oxidized variety) if encountering overcooked almonds like thus. The pleasantly strong nut aromatics blend into the food well, the dish is nicely refreshing, and the dry salty components could be a fun contrast with the sweetness, keeping it away from a too-sweet finish like a liqueur might do.sherry

p2: French Strawberry Pie

Well it’s the end of strawberry season here, so I had to do this guy while I still had the chance.

The Sweet

855824Strawberry Pie isn’t exactly one of the desserts one might consider or recognize in French cuisine; for good reason, as the strawberry doesn’t seem to have much role or presence in the culinary history. Though they may have used it as trade routes and transportation abilities grew more and more, but never has it boosted itself to the oft-reached for French loved ingredients like apples and figs.

So then what’s it doing in this selection?

Truthfully, I don’t know ALL the details. People just don’t want to think too much about this dessert it seems, which I guess fits into one of the recent origins in a unique way. For in most of my delving into recipe and history, a commonality I keep seeing is this dessert being referred to as “1970’s French Strawberry Pie.” Interesting, as I don’t remember French cuisine making any decade declarations with its food, especially the more recent ones, followed by one of the strangest things I’d never thought I’d come across in this adventure: Cream Cheese. Yes, as I was to discover, this “classic” dessert is mainly known for covering the bottom with a thick layer of sugar and mass-packaged soft curd. I must of skipped over that page when we covered French Cuisine and History in class.

Or, more likely, this leads back to the American 70’s, and earlier periods, in the time of Jello molds and TV Dinners, when cream cheese was mixed with all manner of things to create “amazing” desserts and centerpieces for the very popular dinner parties. From my recollection, it was also a habit at the time to add various descriptors, often of ‘origin,’ to impress those consuming these… ‘foods.’ (Should look some of it up, it’s amazing the things they made… not always in a good way) Thus is was likely someone attached the name “French” in a recipe book, likely mass-produced, and the dessert spread through various US households at the time.

So then, is it really a French dessert? In this version, no. But that’s not to say it wasn’t at one point inspired by traditional French tarts. Only they’ve swapped the Pastry Cream for cream cheese, the delicate glaze on top with a thick pile of jelly (practically turns it into a filling), and used a fruit more popular in the US. Oh, and likely used a different pie dough. So I think it’s only right, as a couple other online enthusiasts have done, to honor the basis of this recipe with some of the original French flairs, but shaped into the standard American shell with generous servings (seriously, I may have loaded up on a bit too much pastry cream… not that there really is a thing like that). Viva la France.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Just to get it off the bat, dough-of-choice for this round of dessert I’ve decided is Pate Brisee. Its intrigue popped up in a search for a proper “French” pie dough, being somewhat similar except for the use of Milk. That and other slight differences results in a great pre-baked crust that many equate to as “sorta like a cookie.” Sounds yummy to me.

20140716_143325To fill this cookie, considering how absolutely simple and berry-forward this dish is (no fruit cooking required), one can really only use the BEST strawberries ever. That means either getting your hands on the highly rare and seasonal Wild strawberry pickers or, almost as good, getting the good stuff from local farmer’s market in Mid-Summer. They’ve always been the highlight of the year when our market comes out, I couldn’t think of a better time to use this product and make this pie.

Pastry Cream Schematics are interestingly complex, highly debatable, and just plain a chore for those trying to find the “perfect” recipe. As such, like my little endeavors in using different crusts, I like trying out different recipes every now and then just for the heck of it. For this one I played with the idea of flour vs starch, the concept that each has a positive and negative aspect and that an “ideal” result comes in using a combination of both. One recipe had a 2:1 ratio of starch to flour, which I applied to a tasty, creamy looking crème patissiere I found. If you have your own favorite pastry cream recipe, or just wanna try the first one that looks tasty, go ahead with that one.

20140718_095540As for the Vanilla, this is one of those cases where the dish is beautifully simple but delicious enough that I find using an actual vanilla bean, if you have some and are looking for GOOD dishes to use in (without being overshadowed), worth it. The ones I have, though, are either somewhat old or are just naturally quite firm and leathery; if you have similar, I find cutting it down the middle and leaving soak with your dairy overnight softens it up to make MUCH easier handling and scraping.

20140718_214127Finally, to end this long-winded rant, we need to talk a bit about Glazing. As with practically any proper French Tart or similar dessert, to make it look pretty and taste not a bit sweeter, we usually have to brush on a thin coating of some sorta glaze over the fruit before serving. There are a couple kinds of glazes we can use, and I’ve found no real restriction on them for this dish, especially considering its high US twisting. Often it’ll be something where one cooks strawberries and sugar (maybe some liquid), mashes, strains them, and then thickens the resulting mix with cornstarch. But one could easily use syrups, other starch-thickened juice, or heat up your favorite jelly (which seems a very classically rustic method, even in France I believe).

20140718_115920For MY glaze, I decided to do something special and use one of my favorite techniques. Cut some strawberries in half, piling them in a heat-safe bowl (having a thicker, layered pile of them really helps) and let them sit on a very low-heated double-boiler for at least an hour. After some time, the berries will soften and gray but will release the most pure, simple, and fruity strawberry juice you’ll ever see. Strain this off, then reheat over the boiler with some sugar to turn into a syrup (it’s not that sweet as-is), and we’re ready to sauce, glaze, you name it. So nummy.

French Strawberry Pie20140719_120656
1 pint, or more, Awesome Strawberries
1 prepared Pate Brisee crust (recipe follows)
1-2 cups Pastry Cream (recipe follows)
Apricot/Fruit Jelly or Jam (optional)

Directions

  1. Cut steams from Strawberries and reserve some on the side, if desired, to make your preferred glaze.
  2. When ready, move to assemble pie. Cover bottom of the pre-baked Pate Brisee with Pastry Cream, about an inch thick or however much desired.
  3. Arrange whole berries, end up, on top, covering as much of the custard from sight as possible (best done with a second berry layer).
  4. Heat up glaze as needed and carefully brush over tops of the fruit. Move to fridge for everything to fully set, at least fifteen minutes.
  5. Remove, garnish with any desired meringue or whipped cream (great for filling in gaps), slice and serve.20140719_132442

Pastry Cream
1 Vanilla Bean
1 cup Cream
1 ½ cup Milk
1/3 cup Sugar
6 Egg Yolks
4 Tb Corn Starch
2 Tb Flour
Pinch Salt
2 oz/ ½ stick Cold Butter, chopped

Directions

  1. Slice Vanilla bean down the middle and scrape completely with back of knife to get as many seeds out as possible.20140718_095805
  2. Combine seeds, pod, Cream, and Milk in large sauce pan on stove, heating on Medium until Scalded, or about simmering (or hot to touch but not yet boiled).20140718_100250
  3. In bowl on side, thoroughly mix together the Yolks, Sugar, Corn Starch, Flour, and Salt, beating until pale yellow, smooth, and ribbony.20140718_100456
  4. Once hot, remove cream from stove, slowly pouring into the yolk mixture while whisking constantly to Temper. Remove leftover bean pods that have stayed on bottom of pan.20140718_101007
  5. Scrape custard back into pan and move to hot stove.20140718_102747
  6. Whisking constantly (or else it WILL burn and curdle), increasing speed the more it heats and thickens up, cook the custard until it has turned to a consistency somewhat softer than what you’re looking for.20140718_102815
  7. Take off heat, toss in Butter and continue whisking until melted.20140718_102852
  8. Quickly scrape custard into long and wide pan (loaf, brownie, etc). Cover with parchment paper and transfer to fridge to cool.20140718_103119
  9. Reserve for later use or spoon on top of fruit with whipped cream for simple and delicious instant dessert.

Pate Brisee
1 ¾ cup Flour
2/3 cup/5.3 oz/a bit over 1 1/8 stick Diced, Chilled Butter
Tsp Salt
2 tsp Sugar
1 Egg
1 Tb Cold Milk

Directions

  1. Combine Flour, Butter, Salt, Sugar, and Egg in bowl (or on countertop, however)
  2. Work butter into ingredients thoroughly with fingertips, pastry cutter, or done in a food processor, until ‘sandy’ in texture.20140718_215001
  3. Add Milk, mixing until everything comes together, adding more milk a tsp at a time if needed.
  4. Knead about 4-5 times, in hands or on surface. Flatten, wrap in plastic and chill in fridge until required.20140718_215501
  5. Turn oven to 400F.
  6. Cover counter and dough in flour, carefully rolling into a circle to fit the desired pie pan.20140718_223132
  7. Fold, transfer and tuck in. Cover with parchment and weigh down with beans or other pie weights.20140718_223919
  8. Move to oven and bake about 20 minutes, until edges are lightly golden (as they will likely cook and color faster than bottom, I suggest leaving the dough there thicker).20140718_230723
  9. Remove, let cool, and reserve for filling.

20140719_133244My Thoughts

Oh wow, the Pate Brisee actually does taste like a cookie! Sorta sugar-cookie-ish, with a nice butter richness. I’m so keeping the recipe for future pre-baked dough requirements (it doesn’t work so well when baking with fillings, apparently, unless it’s able to go for a long time without too much liquid insides).

I think the pastry cream recipe I had used a LOT more starch than was really needed, also I probably should have reduced the amount of flour in the conversion, if not nixed it altogether, since it tasted a touch starchy for my liking (still omnomnom pastry cream, as it always is, but school made me finicky about it, damn them!). All together though, it tasted absolutely delicious, with rich custard and crunchy crust supporting our favorite farmer’s market product. The only way it could have been more perfect is if I could have piled even more berries on top for generous servings.

fraise_bottlePossible Pairings

I might normally start off with Strawberry Wines and Liqueurs, but those are generally just so rich, dense, syrupy, fruit-forward, or otherwise overpowering for a dish which is actually very mellow, though fresh and bright, in flavors. If one had a strawberry Eau-de-Vie (distilled strawberries), on the other hand, that could work well; or any berry-based brandy. Then again, a young Apple Brandy (not Calvados, too barrel-y) could also serve quite well. Who doesn’t love apples and strawberries?

When I think berries nowadays, I think Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, and I think we can find some super fun drinkables there for something like this. For wine there are Mosel Rieslings, super sharp but still sweet Spatlese and Auslese where the Botrytis hasn’t shown yet (have to pick carefully though). A super-chilled glass of crystalline Aquavit with its refreshing caraway aromas. Then again, following the apple logic as before, a good, bubbly glass of Cider could do wonders when enjoying on the deck.7817054786_d7273d24cd