English Muffins

Untitled-1

I honestly cannot remember the last time that I have eaten an English muffin. When I was young I developed an aversion to English muffins. I do not remember what exactly it was about English muffins that turned me off but I just remember not liking the taste or texture. However my dad wanted to make some sort of homestyle Egg McMuffin so I decided to give homemade English muffins a whirl.

IMG_0743

I’ll admit it – I’m a bit of a sucker for yeasty dough recipes. The warm, bread smell from the yeast, the punching down of the dough, the vigorous kneading until that specific feel is reached… nothing is comparable.

IMG_0751

They came out pretty tasty! Better than I remembered, in fact. I think that they were bread-ier than they should be but considering the fact that I don’t even know what a proper English muffin should taste like anymore, I’m not exactly sure that my opinion is valid. They were moist, soft and fluffy and would hold up nicely as buns for a homestyle Egg McMuffin once toasted.

English Muffins (from the blog BudgetBytes)
Prep time
2 hours 30 mins
Cook time
45 mins
Total time
3 hours 15 mins
Serves: 9 (Made 17 smaller ones for me)
Ingredients
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 cups flour, divided
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • as needed non-stick spray
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar and ½ cup of warm water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and yeast. Let sit about 5 minutes or until foamy on top.
  2. While the yeast/sugar mixture is resting, combine 1.5 cups of the flour and salt in a large bowl. Stir well to evenly distribute the salt. In a second small bowl, combine the milk and butter. Microwave the milk/butter for 30 seconds, stir and microwave again for 30 seconds. Stir the butter until it melts into the warm milk.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the flour. Stir until it has combined into a pasty mix. Adding ¼ cup at a time, stir in more flour until the dough forms a soft, slightly sticky ball that pulls away from the bowl. I added about ¾ cup to get it to this point.
  4. Sprinkle a little bit of flour onto a clean countertop and coat your hands in flour. Dump the soft ball of dough out of the bowl and knead it for about 5 minutes. Add as little flour as possible to the countertop while kneading. Adding too much flour will yield tough muffins. I found that a very slight sprinkle was all that was needed to keep it from sticking (see photos below for an example).
  5. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl that has been coated in non-stick spray. Lightly spray the top of the dough and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until double in size (about 45 min – 1 hr).
  6. Punch the dough down, shape it into another ball, cover the bowl/dough and let rise a second time (45 min – 1 hr or until double).
  7. Punch down the dough again and turn it out onto a well floured countertop. Using a rolling pin, lightly roll the dough until it is about ¾ inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, biscuit cutter, opened (and cleaned) can, or a large round glass, cut the dough into circles. When you can’t cut out any more circles, gently ball the remaining dough, roll again and cut more. It gets more difficult to ball and roll out each time so fit as many circles in the dough as possible before balling it up again.
  8. Place the cut dough circles onto a sheet pan that has been liberally covered in cornmeal. Sprinkle more cornmeal on top of the muffins. Cover loosely with a damp towel and let rise, once more, until double in size (another 45 minutes).
  9. Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Spray the pan with non-stick spray. Carefully transfer the fluffy, risen muffins to the hot skillet with a spatula. Cook the muffins, in batches, in the skillet until they are golden brown and crispy on each side. Make sure to keep the heat low so that the outside browns slowly, allowing time for the inside to “bake.” I cooked mine for about 7 minutes on each side but this will vary from stove top to stove top.
  10. Let the muffins cool on a wire rack before attempting to slice open. Toast the split muffins in a toaster, slather with butter and jam then ooze with happiness!

Cronuts – The Pastry That Took New York by Storm

Image

Cronuts are quite an ingenious creation; a brilliant hybrid between a flaky and buttery croissant and a good ol’ deep fried doughnut. They are the brainchild of pastry giant Dominique Ansel, who owns a high-end bakery in New York. His Cronuts became so astoundingly popular that he went so far as to put a trademark on the name, so that only he can use it. This pastry has people lining up for it as early as 5:30 am even on rainy days, and they often sell out before noon. You can read more about his invention and his bakery by visiting his website here.

Naturally I was intrigued. While Ansel’s signature dessert can only be obtained in New York, many Cronut copycats inevitably started to surface. Montreal’s La Cornetteria is a prime example, boasting their Cronut copycat “Cronetto”. Being a busy full-time student sometimes makes it difficult to go out when funds are tight and penny-pinching is in order. However, I knew I just had to try one of these beauties so I scoured the internet for tips, recipes and videos until I felt confident that I could replicate the Cronut  by myself.

Image

Oh. My. God. They were so good. To die for, even. I’m not sure if this is what Mr. Ansel’s delicious treats taste like but if they’re anything like this I can definitely see what all the fuss is about. Layers of buttery croissant-like dough, deep fried and then adorned with cinnamon sugar, vanilla pastry cream and finally topped with a simple icing glaze….. I think I died and went to heaven. This dessert is not for the health-conscious mind you. Sugar, sugar, fat, fat, grease, grease. But what a way to die… I think this is a very appropriate time to insert a #YOLO.

The detailed and step-by-step instructions that I followed on how to make this Conut can be found on the blog Broad Appetite. The hardest part about this recipe is the fragility of the puff pastry dough. It breaks easily upon rolling, causing butter leakage, and it becomes increasingly difficult to roll out into a large rectangle with increasing number of turns. However, if you’re careful to keep the dough cold and the work surface refrigerated, the results should turn out fine.

Image

The recipe did indeed make 8 Cronuts and a LOT of yummy scrap pieces. After frying them, I rolled them in granulated sugar mixed with some cinnamon powder and filled them with a simple vanilla pastry cream with vanilla yogurt folded into it. I am really not a huge fan of pastry cream (curse my baking soul, I know). I don’t like the texture or the taste of pastry cream on its own but after folding in a couple of spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt and/or whipped cream I fall in love! Finally, I topped them off with a simple glaze made of powdered sugar, lemon juice and food coloring.

Image

As sinfully delicious as these Cronuts are, I don’t think I will make them often. The sheer amount of work and time that goes into making these is quite daunting. I definitely look forward to the day when I can try Ansel’s original Cronut, or even Montreal’s version, the Cronetto.

French Pear Tart

Winter vacation, I bid thee adieu. I knew I had to bake just one more thing before being condemned to another four months of living in the school libraries, and what better way to end the break than by baking Dorie Greenspan’s French Pear Tart.

IMG_0628

French cuisine is probably my favorite cuisine out there. Small portions, yes, and more often than not, rather expensive, but in my opinion, oh so worth it. The flavors and nuances present in french dishes are like no other. Like their dishes, their desserts are just as, if not more spectacular. This French Pear Tart is certainly no exception.

Untitled-1

The tart’s taste is simple yet refined. A sweet, crumbly shortbread crust holding an almond cream whose flavor comes from ground almonds and a hint of dark rum (or vanilla), with slices of sweet and tender pears bedded on top. I honestly don’t know who can do sex on a plate better than the French. 

IMG_0632

French Pear Tart (from Baking From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Pears

  • 6 canned pear halves, drained, or 3 ripe but firm medium pears, such as Bartlett or Anjou

For Poaching the Fresh Pears (optional)

  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Fresh lemon juice (if using unpoached fresh pears)

For the Almond Cream

  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons dark rum or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 9-inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough, partially baked and cooled

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting, or 1/4 cup apple jelly mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water, for glazing

To poach the fresh pears: Peel the pears and leave them whole. Bring the water, sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan just large enough to hold the pears. Add the pears to the boiling syrup, lower the heat so the syrup simmers and gently poach the pears until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 15 minutes.

Cool the pears to room temperature in the syrup. When you are ready to use the pears, discard the syrup. (If you want, you can refrigerate the syrup for up to 1 week and use it to poach another batch of pears.)

To make the almond cream: Put the butter and sugar in a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add the ground almonds and process until well blended. Add the flour and cornstarch and process to blend, then add the egg. Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous. Add the rum and process just to blend. (If you prefer, you can make the cream with a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer.) You can either use the almond cream immediately or scrape it into a container and refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours. (The cream can be refrigerated for up to 2 days or packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, defrost before using.)

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line  baking sheet with parchment or a silicone pat.

If you are using unpoached fresh pears, peel them now. Cut the poached or unpoached fresh pears in half from blossom to stem and core them. Rub the unpoached pears with lemon juice. Pat the fresh or canned pears dry so that their liquid won’t keep the almond cream from setting.

Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it evenly with an offset metal icing spatula. Thinly slice each pear half crosswise. Lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it over the almond cream, wide end toward the edge of the crust. The 6 halves will form spokes. Put the tart pan on the baking sheet.

Bake the tart for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before removing the sides of the pan.

Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar or warm the apple jelly with the water and brush this glaze over the surface of the tart.

Crème Brûlée

IMG_06011

Crème brûlée has always been one of the sexiest desserts I can think of. I am just everlastingly attracted to the crisp, crackling brown sugar topping that shatters like glass at the tap of a spoon, revealing a silky smooth and sleek custard underneath… in my opinion, it is the epitome of bliss in a ramekin.

IMG_06031

When I was young, crème brûlée has always been my dad’s thing. He would make them using a recipe from an old newspaper clipping. I got to eat one very rarely and only on special occasions; a special treat but a treat indeed. Call it love at first bite. Since I so rarely got the privilege of indulging in a crème brûlée, as my dad did not even make them once a year, I believed that they were difficult and challenging to make. I could not have been farther from the truth. These took 15 minutes tops to put together and they are every bit as good as my dad’s… smooth, creamy, and sinfully decadent.

IMG_0599

Crème Brûlée (from Baking From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • About 6 tablespoons sugar or sifted light brown sugar, for topping

Getting Ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Put six baking dishes (I used six glass ramekins) on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Bring the cream and milk just to a boil.

In a 1- or 2- quart glass measuring cup or in a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla together until well blended but not airy. Still whisking, drizzle in about one quarter of the hot liquid – this will temper, or warm, the yolks so they won’t curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remainder of the cram and milk. give the bowl a good rap against the counter to de-bubble the custard,then strain it into the baking dishes.

Bake the custards for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the centers are set – tap the sides of the dishes, and the custards should hold firm. Lift the dishes onto a cooling rack and let the custards cool until they reach room temperature.

Cover each custard with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, preferably longer. (The custards can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.) For the sugar to be successfully caramelized, the custards need to be thoroughly chilled.

To caramelize the sugar topping with a blowtorch, work on one dish at a time. Sprinkle the top of each custard evenly with sugar – about 1 tablespoon for each dish – then brown the sugar, cooking it util it bubbles and colors. Wit until the bubbles subside before serving the crèmes.

To caramelize the sugar in a broiler, preheat the broiler and fill a shallow roasting pan with ice cubes. Sprinkle the custards with the sugar, put the baking dishes on the bed of ice and run the custards under the broiler. Don’t move away from the oven – depending on your broiler, it can take seconds or minutes to caramelize the sugar and you don’t want to miss the moment and ruin the topping. When the sugar bubbles and browns, pull the custards out, remove them from their ice bed and let them settle down before serving.

Chinese Bakery-Style Cake

I believe that if you love to do something and you pour your heart and soul into it, it will turn out to be wonderful. When I bake, I always keep the person I am baking for in mind so that I can put the most emotion and feeling into each piece.

This time I baked for my work supervisor CT. She has come to mean a great deal to me and I thought that I would be able to express my gratitude toward her and everything she has done for me through a birthday cake.

For CT, I decided to make one of those delicious Chinese-style fruit cream cakes. Light layers of moist vanilla cake with cream and and an abundance of fresh fruits. Light, summery and happy, I felt this cake suited CT perfectly.

Untitled-2

It was a huge success at work! Everyone told me how much they loved it (though I wouldn’t put it past DD to lie to spare my feelings) but most importantly CT told me it was the nicest gesture anyone has ever done for her. As soon as she said those words, even before eating the cake, I knew I had accomplished my goal: to make her feel loved and remembered.

Untitled-3

Chinese Bakery-Style Cake (Majorly adapted from My Edible Memories)

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 160 g all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 180 g sugar, divided into 2 equal portions
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 20 g butter
  • 20 g of milk
  • ½  tsp vanilla
  • 2 Pans (in 21 cm diameter)

For the Custard Filling

  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
  • 1/8  tsp salt
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla

For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting

  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups (500 ml) of chilled heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar

For Fruit Filling and Decorating

  • Various fruits of different colors and shapes, sliced as desired (I used canned peaches, blueberries, kiwi, and halved strawberries.  Honeydew, cantaloupe,  mango slices, whole grapes, red grapes etc. would be great, too!)

Directions

To Make the Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 340 degrees F. Cut out wax paper or parchment paper to the size of the bottoms of two 8″ or 9″ round baking pans.  Lightly grease sides of pans and parchment paper.
  2. Warm eggs to room temperature.  Separate 6 egg whites into large stand mixer bowl and 6 egg yolks into a separate large mixing bowl.  Be sure to separate carefully because any bit of yolk that gets into the egg whites will make whipping the whites much more difficult.
  3. Mix first sugar portion (90 g) with the egg yolks and beat until slightly thick and pale yellow.  Stir in vanilla to the yolk mixture.
  4. In large stand mixer bowl, beat egg whites until they are 60% foamy (a little more than halfway to forming stiff peaks). Add the remaining portion of sugar (90 g) in three separate additions while continuing to whip egg whites. Continue until stiff peaks form when the beaters are pulled away from the foam (this is meringue).
  5. Gently fold in half of the meringue into the egg yolk mixture, folding in carefully to minimize volume loss. Gradually add flour and baking powder and gently mix together.  Add melted butter and milk to the batter.  Fold in the remaining half of the meringue carefully.
  6. Divide batter into the two prepared pans. Immediately bake for about 20-25 minutes in preheated oven until tops are a light brown and toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (Bake shorter in a dark, matte, or non-stick pan, and bake longer in a glass, aluminum, or other shiny pan). It’s important that you bake the two cake layers immediately after the batter is finished, as the meringue will tend to re-liquefy as it sits around, and you’ll get a weird thick layer at the bottom of your cake if you bake it like that.
  7. Remove cakes from oven and leave in pan to cool to room temperature.  If assembling cake later in the day, wrap cooled cake layers in saran wrap until ready to assemble.

For the Custard Filling

  1. Mix the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium saucepan. Stir in 3/4 cup of milk and mix until smooth.
  2. Bring mixture to a boil at medium heat, whisking constantly. Be careful not to scrape off any clumps that form on the sides and bottoms as it will leave clumps in your custard.
  3. Cook another 2 minutes and remove from heat. At this point the mixture should have thickened up dramatically.
  4. Mix together egg with remaining ¼ cup of milk, then combine with the mixture in the saucepan, whisking vigorously to combine. (I added the egg/milk mixture very slowly, a little at a time while stirring vigorously to temper the egg and not cook it). Return to heat and cook until it just starts to boil. There will be a lot of lumps as you first incorporate the egg mixture, but just keep whisking as you heat it up and most of the lumps should disappear.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap directly touching the surface of the custard to prevent any skin from forming on the custard. If you still have any remaining clumps in the custard now would be a good time to put some more elbow grease into the whisking and if you really can’t get rid of them just scoop them out :)
  6. Chill at least 2 hours in the fridge or overnight if desired.

*** I wasn’t crazy about the initial taste and texture of the custard. I added in 3 or 4 teaspoons of vanilla yogurt and folded in about 1/4 cup whipped cream. I then fell in love with the custard! It was perfect.

For the Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting

  1. Use stand mixer to beat heavy cream in a large well-chilled stand mixer bowl.  Beat cream on low speed until small bubbles form (about 30 seconds).  Increase speed to medium and beat until beaters leave a trail in the cream (about 30 seconds).  Increase speed to high, moving beaters around bowl. Beat until just before it becomes soft and billowy.
  2. Slowly add sugar and vanilla at the sides of the bowl while continuing to whip until it is barely stiff.  These ingredients will stabilize the whipped cream and prevent it from separating over time.
  3. Use immediately for frosting or refrigerate for later use.

To Assemble the Finished Cake

  1. Carefully remove cakes from pans, cutting around edges if necessary.  Peel or cut away the skin of the cakes (the brown parts on the surface) using hands or a long serrated knife. If needed, level the surface of cake with a knife to make surface as flat as possible.
  2. Prepare fresh fruits to be placed between the cake layers. I used strawberries, green grapes, and mango slices. Use whatever you have on hand, just cut it up into small bite-sized pieces and make enough to cover the entire surface between the two cake layers. You can also prep fruit to put on top of the cake as decoration at the same time.
  3. Make a simple syrup of 2 parts water to 1 part granulated sugar by stirring together in a saucepan and slowly warming it up just until all the sugar dissolves. Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon. Brush each cake with a thin layer of simple syrup on all surfaces. This helps keep the cake moist.
  4. Lay the first cake layer down onto plate.  Spread about half of prepared cooled custard onto the top of the cake layer leaving about ½ ” uncovered around the edge of the cake.  Add prepared fruit pieces on top of the custard, covering the entire custard area. Add remaining custard on top of the fruit.
  5. Place second cake layer on top of fruit filling. Gently press layers together and if needed, wipe away any excess custard that escapes from the sides.
  6. Frost the cake using the stabilized whipped cream topping and a wide blade or a frosting spatula.
  7. Be creative about how you want to decorate your cake. I piped out shells along the top and bottom edge of the cake rim. I then garnished with my prepared fruit and wrote in red buttercream frosting.
  8. For the finishing touch, you can make a nearly clear glaze that can be brushed on top of your fruit to give them a glass-like finish similar to the fruit on top of fruit tarts. Heat 1/4 cup of fruit preserves (any flavor – apricot is pretty popular) with an equal amount of water. Stir until boiling. Reduce by boiling off the water to alter the consistency of your glaze. If needed, press the boiled preserved through a fine sieve to separate out the fruit and seeds.  While it is still warm, gently brush it over your fruit and let it dry to achieve that beautiful shiny finish.
  9. Finally, put your cake into the fridge and chill for a few hours to let the frosting set. It is best served in the same day it was made.

*** I made a 3 layer cake instead of the directed 2 layers. I did custard and fruit between the bottom layer and whipped cream and fruit between the top layer!

Macarons: A Recipe for Disaster

1

“Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.”

This saying has never before seemed to be so relevant in my entire life. A little less than a year ago, I had made my first valiant attempt at making chocolate and raspberry macarons. I was pretty satisfied with the results and the lack of any major catastrophes. However picky me had to be picky. I found the shells to have been too lumpy and some domed while not terrible, I found them to be mediocre at best.

I decided to try a different recipe – the glossy photos showcased gorgeous smooth flat-topped macarons with beautiful “feet”. Upon close examination, I could see that the photos of the macarons in the book I had used for making the chocolate and raspberry macarons were like mine: lumpy and bumpy. I wanted smooth and silky.

Needless to say, round 1 was a disaster. Perhaps I was getting too cocky and overconfident. Seeing this tray brought me back to reality.

3

Every single one of the shells had a cracked top and only a few had “feet”. I had not doubled up on the baking sheets for this round so maybe that was the problem. Regardless, I was in shock. As of recently I have only encountered success in my baking endeavors, so seeing these shells was an extremely humbling experience.

Round 2, I was more careful to double the baking sheets and I kept a close eye on the shells at all time. I started off baking them at a low temperature to harden the outer layer of the shell, and then I raised the temperature so that the “feet”, symbolic of a god macaron, could form.

4

A consistent problem I seemed to be having was the macaron shells sticking to the parchment paper, making their removal extremely delicate and difficult. I kept shoving them back into the oven, but they had to overcook before they were able to peel off easily from the paper. Otherwise they remained too wet to peel off easily.

All in all I ended up with more bad than good macarons (aesthetically speaking). I made one batch of Lemon Crème Macarons, and one batch of White Chocolate Berry Macarons.

Recipes translated and adapted from Le grand livre des macarons by Sylvie Aït-Ali

Macarons, base recipe

For 40 macarons

  • 200 g icing sugar
  • 110 g finely ground almonds
  • 95 g egg whites
  • 30 g granulated sugar
  • food coloring

Mix the icing sugar and ground almonds to obtain a very fine powder.

Whip up the egg whites with a pinch of sugar. When the mixture starts to foam, add little by little the sugar. When all of the sugar is incorporated, increase slowly the speed of the mixer and beat until formation of soft peaks when the beaters are lifted out. Add in the food coloring.

Add 1/3 of the ground almond-icing sugar mixture, and mix with a spatula to collapse the whites. Add the rest of the poser and mix delicately with the spatula by folding, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bow. Mix enough to smooth out the mixture but without liquefying it.

Fill a piping bag with an 8 mm tip and pipe the macarons onto 2 superimposed baking sheets. Tap the trays on the counter to remove air bubbles. Let them dry for 30 minutes.

Place them in the oven for 15 minutes at 150 C. Rotate the trays midway through baking. Take the macarons out of the oven and let them cool completely before removing them from the parchment paper.

Lemon Crème 

  • 1 egg
  • 1 lemon
  • 30 g sugar
  • 100 g butter

In a heat-proof bowl, mix the egg, 25 mL of lemon juice, zest from 1/2 lemon, the sugar and 30 g of the butter. Place the bowl on top of a pot of simmering water to create a water bath and using a wire whisk, mix constantly until it thickens. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.

Whip the rest of the softened butter with an electric mixer and add little by little the lemon crème. You will obtain a thick cream that holds its shape.

Pipe a dollop of the lemon crème onto the bottom of a macaron shell and close it with another half. Chill in the fridge for 24 hours before eating.

 

White Chocolate Berry Ganache

  • 100 g of berries, fresh or frozen
  • 160 g of white chocolate
  • 50 mL heavy cream

Puree the berries and pass them through a sieve to collect the pulp. Melt the white chocolate with the heavy cream in the microwave 3 times for 30 seconds each, mixing well in between heating. Add the berry pulp. Cool to room temperature. Garnish the macarons using a piping bag before the ganache hardens and keep cool for 24 hours.

2

Happy Mother’s Day With a Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart

Sometimes I feel like I don’t show my mother how much I truly appreciate everything that she does for me. She has always been my best friend; I can tell her anything and she is always extremely supportive of everything I believe in and want to do. She helps guide me along on my path when I need it but always knows when to step back to let me find my own footing. She lets me fall if she knows it will make me stronger but always catches me before I do something too reckless. She is my mother and I love her very much.

Untitled-1

For mother’s day this year, I decided to make Dorie Greenspan’s Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart, and I arranged the pears on the top to look like a flower since my mom loves flowers.

IMG_0437

I’ll be honest, this recipe intimidated the heck out of me. It had many individual components that needed much care and attention that I was left wondering if all the effort would even be worth it. My fingers are still sore from shelling those pistachios.

IMG_0445

The part about poaching the pears in wine intrigued me. I don’t normally like the taste of red wine but they gave the pears such a beautiful pink color that I figured it would be worth it.

After sampling each of the individual components I was worried – I wasn’t crazy about the nutty pastry cream, or the wine-soaked pear slices. I love shortbread so I knew I would love Dorie’s Sweet Tart Dough recipe, but that was about as far as it went. The only component I liked on its own was the caramelized pistachios. I think that’s how I’ll eat the leftover pistachios! I skipped the optional sauce made with the poaching wine. Using a sauce with a pie seemed a little… weird to me.

I can definitely conclude after tasting the fully-assembled tart that the ingredients work together like a perfectly orchestrated symphony. Definitely worth the effort.

Untitled-1

Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tart (from Baking From my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the Pastry Cream

  • 2/3 cup shelled pistachios (do not use red nuts)
  • 7 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch, sifted
  • 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (if you do not strain nuts out of the pastry cream)

For the Poached Pears

  • 3 cups fruity red wine, such as Shiraz, Syrah or Zinfandel
  • Zest of one orange – removed in wide strips
  • Zest on one lemon – removed in wide strips
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 ripe but firm medium pears
  • Small lemon wedge

For the Caramelized Pistachios

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios

For the Sauce (optional but delicious)

  • Poaching syrup from the pears
  • 2 tablespoons honey

1 9 inch tart shell made with Sweet Tart Dough fully baked and cooled

To Make the Pastry Cream: Put the pistachios and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor and process until the nuts are finely ground, about one minute. Turn the nuts into a medium heavy bottom saucepan, add the milk, and bring to a boil.

While the milk is heating, whisk together the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar, the yolks and the cornstarch in a bowl. When they are well blended, whisk in the vanilla and almond extracts. Whisking constantly, drizzle in one quarter of the hot milk – to temper, or warm the yolks so they don’t cook – then add the remaining milk in a steady stream. Pour mixture back into the saucepan, put the pan on medium heat, and, whisking energetically, bring to a boil. Boil, whisking, for 1 minute, then remove the pan from the heat.

You can scrape the pastry cream into a clean bowl, in which case it won’t be smooth or, if you want a smooth cream, you can press the cream through a strainer, leaving the nuts behind; I usually leave the nuts in. Piece by piece, stir the butter into the pastry cream.

If you’d like to cool the cream quickly, place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and water and stir occasionally. Scrape the cream into a container, pres a piece of plastic wrap directly against the cream’s surface, cover and refrigerate for at lest 4 hours or for up to 4 days.

To Poach the Pears: Put the wine, citrus zests and sugar into a large narrow pot, one that will hold the pears snugly, and bring to a boil.

Peel the pears and immediately rub them with lemon to keep them from darkening. Reduce the heat under the pot so that the wine simmers gently and lower the pears into the pot. Cut a circle of parchment or wax paper to fit inside the pot and press the paper against the tops of the pears, Partially cover the pot and simmer, turning the pears if needed so they are evenly colored by the poaching syrup, for about 30 minutes, or until tender – test the pears by poking them with the point of a paring knife. Remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the pears to a heatproof bowl and pour over the poaching syrup; cool to room temperature. (When cool, the pears in the syrup can be covered and kept in the refrigerator, still in the syrup, for up to 3 days.)

To Caramelize the Pistachios: Place a piece of parchment or a silicone mat on the counter near your stove. Put the sugar and water in a small non stick skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat and stir with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Then bring to a boil and cook without stirring until the sugar has reached an amber-colored caramel. Add the nuts and stir without stopping, until the sugar becomes a dark caramel color and coats the nuts. Turn the nuts out onto the parchment or baking mat, spreading them out as best you can.

When the nuts are cool, coarsely chop them. Keep them in a cool dry place until needed.

To Make the Optional Sauce: About 30 minutes before you assemble the tart, remove the pears from the poaching syrup, pour the  syrup into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the honey and boil until the syrup is thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Pour the syrup into a container and chill until needed.

To Assemble the Tart: Cut the pears lengthwise in half, scoop out the cores and trim the stems and center veins as needed. Place pears cut side down on a triple thickness of paper towels. Cover with another triple thickness of paper towels and pat dry. Leave them between the paper towels (change the towels if they are very wet) until the excess liquid is absorbed. When the pears are dry, cut each pear half lengthwise into 4 to 6 slices.

If you did not strain the pistachios out of the pastry cream, mix in the 1/4 cup sour cream to thin it a little. Spread the pastry cream in the baked tart shell. (You may have some cream left over). Top the pastry cream with the pear slices, arranging them in slightly overlapping concentric circles. Scatter the caramelized pistachios over the tart and, if you’d like, serve each slice with some of the wine sauce or pour the sauce into a small pitcher and pass it at the table. (The tart can be covered lightly and kept in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.)

Happy mother’s day to all the amazing moms out there <3