Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fruit Tarts

OK - here is another non-chocolate post. Don't worry though, more chocolate ganache filled macarons are coming up, as well as a planned visit to Theo Chocolate upcoming in the very near future. But it's August and it's fruit season. And these bake very quickly, not heating up the kitchen. Not that that's been a problem - it was 60 degrees and pouring rain on Sunday. . . .

One thing that I'm learing quickly is how hard it is to photograph food and make it look beautiful, especially rustic type food that doesn't have the advantage of sugar paste flowers and food coloring and royal icing swags. That stuff, in pinks and purples and yellow and red and green, that stuff pops. These humble tarts don't really pop until you put them in your mouth!

But with your eyes closed, I'd put these babies up against anything. The first one is a plum tart with almond creme. The second is an apricot jam tart with frangipane and pine nuts. The difference between almond and frangipane? Well, for purposes of these recipes none - both use frangipane, which is almond paste, sugar, egg, and butter (maybe a touch of flour) that is used as a base or a topping and bakes into an almondy creamy wonder. Under the plums it stays soft and creamy. On top of the apricot jam it gets a lightly crunchy top crust and supports the pine nuts.

Either way the texture and flavor are perfect with fruit or jam, though I think I make it sweeter when I plan to use it with otherwise unsweetened fresh fruit, and less sweet when it is going on top of jam.

The puff pastry is a dream - I found it at Big John's, premade, frozen perfectly flat, two sheets per package. $7.50 for the all-butter, less than that for the half-butter. It's good, it keeps, it's always ready to use, there's no waste. The only thing you miss is the "oh my god I can't believe I pulled this off" feeling you get when you make your own successful puff pastry. But I can live with that if the trade off is having a fantastic dessert in 30 minutes from orchard to table.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chocolate Macarons

Chocolate and Almonds - Macarons

Macarons (the French kind made with ground almonds, not the coconut kind with two “o’s”) have been cropping up all over lately. You know how when you start looking for a new car and say all of a sudden you’re interested in a Volvo or some other brand you’ve never really thought about and all of a sudden you see them EVERYWHERE?

Well, it’s like that. First they were on Kuidaore
Beautiful, but not my type, I thought. Then, as I clicked on random food blogs, there they were on Paris Breakfasts David Leibovitz, Our Patisserie,
and many many others. Then, as I Googled recipes there were – in addition to the chocolate ones – glorious pink raspberry ones, and pale green pistachio ones, and hazelnut ones. There was pistachio butter cream filling, chocolate filling, chestnut filling, peanut butter buttercream, and prune Armagnac filling. Just to name a few. It goes on and on – so far I keep chasing one link to another and have not run out yet. Good lord, there are Apricot ones . . . .

From what I read, they are addictive like few other things – many posts suggest a willingness to fly to Paris just to get one, and one post recounted how the author ate both of the ones that she bought as gifts on her trip home to London (a chocolate and a pistachio) – after all, neither of the recipients KNEW she’d bought them . . . .

And, they are a challenge to make. And they’re so dang pretty! So, last night I took my first shot. Summary – they are definitely worth making and I will do them again. Mine did not have the crackly top or the cute little feet that everyone talks about – I didn’t bake them quite long enough to sufficiently dry them out, and the feet only come if you fold the batter the exact right amount – I think mine were too fluffy. Also, the almonds need to be more finely ground – mine were a bit too coarse even after a long time in the food processor. BUT, a great start.

I made two different fillings - a dark chocolate ganache and a white chocolate buttercream flavored with Fiori di Sicilia – the exotic and delicious orange flower water that is the signature flavor of panettone. Wow, another exception to the chocolate and fruit thing – it was fabulous.