Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back by Popular Demand – Fruitcake!

OK – this will never convert you if you’re a fruitcake hater, but let me tell you, you may hate fruitcake, but you will LOVE this, if you should ever be so lucky as to get some. This stuff is a tradition now, baked religiously the day after Thanksgiving, and on the occasional day in March when girlfriends from out of town arrive and they lobby hard for an off-season event.

The fruit is soaked in rum for at least a day before baking – figs, dates, raisins, currants, cherries and orange rind. Nothing fluorescent or green. The nuts are almonds and walnuts. There is enough batter to hold it together in a very low-key cakey sort of way, with cinnamon and cloves and nutmeg. This recipe is modified from the original – icky things like pineapple have been eliminated. And non-icky things that simply don’t belong in fruitcake, like macadamia nuts, have been substituted with more reasonable nuts.

It’s baked in a sheet pan, then brushed with rum syrup, and finally it is topped with a thin and lovely drape of marzipan. Rolled out by someone more patient than I am. We usually cut it into six pieces – about 6”x6” square. They’re better after a few days, assuming they last that long, and can be frozen for months without losing their quality. It’s fantastic cut into smaller squares and served with a cup of coffee or a port after dinner. Or, well, you can eat it for breakfast – fruit! Nuts! It’s healthy!!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pine Nuts

Yipes! I blinked and January was gone! If only that were true, as January was in fact a long and dismal 31 days. Cold and dark. And cold. Only the chocolate helped. Rum Truffle Ritter Sport, to be specific. Oh, and my new copy of Gina DePalma’s new book, Dolce Italiano – she’s the pastry chef at Babbo, and the book is fabulous. I’ve been reading it in small doses, rationing it out like dessert. OK, I don’t actually ration dessert, but you get the idea.

I had to immediately make the pine nut tart on the cover – unlike my usual m.o., I didn’t change a thing in this recipe and it was fabulously perfect. The crust, which Gina notes she is particularly proud of, is probably the best sweet pastry crust I’ve ever used. It is firm but tender – holds up to the filling but doesn’t shoot across the room when you try to cut it with a fork!

Also featured in the above photo (thank you Jon!) is Potatoes Anna – I’ve never made them before but oh are they good! Thin rounds of peeled potatoes, layered in concentric circles in a cast iron skillet and brushed with butter between layers. You keep the flame on while you’re assembling it, shaking the pan from time to time, then pop the whole thing in the oven to bake for 45 minutes or so, with a lid on. You can see how wonderful they look, and they tasted just as good.

So, anyway, back to the crust. It makes more than you need for a 10” or even an 11” tart – she recommends saving the scraps and when you have scraps from two, you can make a third. Well, my freezer organization simply doesn’t lend itself to anything like this – it goes in, it gets unidentifiable with freezer burn, I take it out thinking it’s pizza dough and end up with pie crust, or vice versa. So that doesn’t work. What does work is using the dough to make mini tartlets right away. I baked three small ones, and then, lacking any fresh fruit to fill them with (see, general griping about January, above) I filled them with Fig Jam, for a homemade version of the Fig Newton® – humbly, these are better!!

About that freezer - ours pooped out on us, and I am having to use up stuff. I found the ready made puff pastry that I had bought last year, and was inspired to try an experiment. I cut the sheet into 2" squares, and pushed each square into a mini-muffin cup, then filled each cup with the pine nut tart filling from above. 20 minutes at 425 - they are so good! And they're small, so virtually without sin. You'll have to make your own judgment about adding ice cream, but it doesn't hurt!