Thursday, March 25, 2010

Firestarter: S'more Tart

A recent edition of a design magazine that I subscribe to featured a gorgeous kitchen on the cover- and sitting on the kitchen’s stainless steel island (that I much covet) was the cutest tart on a cake stand. I eagerly flipped to the article to read up about the kitchen and came across more pics of the tart. I couldn’t decide what to salivate over more- the beautiful, amazing kitchen or that tart. I’ve mentioned more than once that I have a monkey on my back when it comes to making tarts. I’m not sure why they so appeal to me – who can explain an addiction? The article featured more pictures of the loft owned by a Chicago chef and his wife, who is trained and certified in pastry (an editor by day and pastry chef in her free time). Hence the fabulous kitchen - go figure.

The article’s author wrote of enjoying a meal with the chef and wife which culminated with a s’more tart. I went to the mag’s website to see if they might have an adjunct article with more pics or maybe even the tart recipe but there was nothing. So I scoured the internet for s’more tart recipes until I came across this recipe  on Epicurious. It looked promising so I decided to give it a go since we were having a snack day on St. Paddy’s Day at work. Don’t ask me what snacks have to do with St. Patrick but it seemed like a good way to commemorate the occasion.

I dutifully baked the tart according to the Epicurious recipe and piped out the marshmallow topping as it appeared in the mag pics that sent me down this rabbit trail in the first place. According to the Epicurious recipe, you just top the cooked tart shell and chocolate filling with the marshmallow and pop it back in the oven for 12 minutes or so to give it a toasted, s’morey finish. Well, after about 5 minutes in the oven my carefully piped out marshmallow topping started running together and completely dissolved into a puddle. And the graham cracker crust was browning way too much and was in jeopardy of turning as hard as a brick. 

I pulled the tart out and decided to try to salvage it by using a brulee torch to toast the marshmallow. After setting the marshmallow puddle on fire (I had to fan it with a dish towel to extinguish the flame), I gave up on the toasted s’morey look. Turns out putting a small blow torch to a dish still piping hot from the oven isn't really a great idea. At that point it occurred to me that I had been a fool to put the tart back in the oven and could have set the marshmallow with the brulee torch in the first place and would have avoided the whole debacle. Lesson learned…

So I cut off the worst of the burned parts and brought approximately ¾ of a s’more tart to work on St. Paddy’s Day to contribute to the festivities. Fortunately, my co-workers liked it and polished it off. I wasn’t crazy about it, though. It didn’t taste like the s’mores that I remember as a Girl Scout. Not that my Girl Scout days lasted very long as badges and pins do nothing for me and I’ve never much been interested in camping - especially not in Northwest Florida with its rainy summers and mosquito hoards. But I liked the s’mores from those days so I was more than a bit disappointed with my tart results. After a few bites, I realized the bittersweet chocolate (I used El Rey’s Mijao at 61%) didn’t taste like the Hershey milk chocolate bar sections we used for s’mores when I was a kid. I made a mental note to use milk chocolate next time.

A day or two after making the tart, I got the the weekly email update from the design mag and lo and behold, there was a link to the recipe for the s’more tart that had graced the cover of the last printed issue. Another reader was similarly entranced with the tart and had the genius idea to write in and ask for the recipe- what brilliance! Why don’t I ever think of these things? Chelsea Jackson, the baker featured in the article with her chef husband, was kind enough to provide the recipe she used to assemble her s’more tart. As I quickly perused the recipe, I saw that it called for a mixture of 3 parts milk chocolate and one part bittersweet chocolate. And she finished the marshmallow topping with a torch. The fact that at least I was right in the end was small consolation.  I’m going to give the s’more tart another try at some point and am definitely going to use Chelsea’s recipe next time. In the meantime, above you'll see a pic of the tart I made using Epicurious’s recipe. This piece is from the small part of the tart that I didn’t set aflame…

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Defense of the Much Maligned Macaroon

Lately I've seen a couple of articles predicting that macarons will be the next dessert craze à la cup cakes. People often mistakenly call them macaroons, an entirely different pastry, and the article authors were highly contemptuous of those who mistake the exalted macaron for the "lowly" macaroon. As I have written previously, I'm as mad about macarons as any foodie fadist but I'm not going to slam on macaroons because I think they are equally tasty. 

Macaroons are the antithesis of macarons in that they are simple to assemble and bake up pretty reliably. Although quite tasty plain, I’m partial to dipping them in chocolate because chocolate and coconut go together like peas and carrots. A macaroon with a coat of chocolate just looks so elegant… I would argue they give macarons a run for their money in the style department.  

I first learned to make macaroons at Sweet Tempered, a boutique bakery ran by two ladies, where I volunteered for a short time shortly after I moved to Austin. (Sweet Tempered is by far the best name I’ve ever encountered for a woman-owned bakery. Love the double entendre- playing on the stereotype of mild mannered women and chocolate making.) The ladies mostly made custom cakes for weddings and other special events but did some wholesale work for local coffee shops as well. They used volunteers and interns from the local cooking schools to help out with wholesale production. I’ve heard the business has since closed which is a shame- they were very talented ladies. 

I learned a few tips at Sweet Tempered that I have since employed whenever I make macaroons such as using a small ice cream scoop for a more uniform shape and doing a half dip in chocolate for a prettier presentation. I really like this recipe for macaroons that I found via New York Magazine's website.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Road of Excess... (you know the rest)

I was talking to my Aunt Shelley (whom I was named after) last night and she casually mentioned that she and my mom were going to have an oyster eating party today. As if oyster eating parties are a normal, every day kind of thing that needed no explanation. Which they are not…

So I proceeded to ask her exactly what an oyster eating party entailed. She breezily explained that about once a year she and Mom get together to fry up a mess of oysters and then sit and eat them until they’re all gone. She went on about how particular they are that the oysters are fried just so and how they only use flour and not the more customary corn meal because they believe a flour batter makes the oysters more more light and golden - obviously highly desired traits for any fried delicacy. And apparently most of the party conversation, when it can occur between all the scarfing of oysters, revolves around the fact that they have already eaten far too many fried oysters and ought to be shot before eating another. Really, they shouldn't. But of course they do eat another… and another, until every last one is gone. I laughed myself silly because I could just picture those two sitting around eating oysters until they were miserably full.

As soon as I got off the phone, I ran to tell Eric about the oyster eating party and the funny, peculiar ways of my family members. He just gave me a weird look. And then it hit me… I'm just like them!

I've been known to go on odd jags where I eat the same dish for days in a row because I had such a craving, the kind of craving that couldn’t be satiated until I made myself sick. A certain mushroom tart comes to mind – the one that I ate at least twice a week while in Paris and that l couldn’t wait to get home and faithfully recreate. I guess it’s in the genes. 

Oh my! I can already predict an oyster eating party in my future.

*the picture is of the long, winding dirt road that leads to the home where my mom and her sister grew up 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dishin' on No-knead Pizza Dough

I used to make pizza dough in a food processor. While the result was pretty good, it involved utilizing an appliance with parts that have to be hand washed. I hate, hate, hate to wash dishes.  Over the years, I’ve learned to load a dishwasher like it was a jigsaw puzzle to be conquered. As the kids would say, I’ve got mad skills. So even though my old recipe worked pretty well, I was highly motivated to try Jim Lahey’s no-knead pizza dough. Like other no-knead bread variations, you just throw all the ingredients into a bowl, stir, and let time and fermentation work its magic. One dish, no worries.

My first attempt turned out a lumpy. Maybe the bread flour here in Central Texas is drier or the atmospheric conditions didn’t quite mimic Mr. Lahey’s test kitchen, whatever, something was definitely off. The dough was tough and there were unabsorbed lumps of flour in the dough. I added some extra olive oil to compensate when shaping the dough but the crust was a little too crusty after baking from having to overwork the dough.

On my second attempt, I decided to decrease the amount of flour called for by a quarter cup. Even so, I still wound up adding extra water when mixing the dough. But this time it turned out just right! I recreated a favorite prosciutto and arugula pizza from Mandola’s.  I simplify my version and it’s even more delicious, in my humble opinion. Really, I can be humble… just not when describing my dish-loading prowess.

Dough *makes two large crusts
Adapted from Jim Lahey’s Basic Pizza Dough recipe

3 ½ cups bread flour

2 ½ teaspoon instant yeast 
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoons sugar plus a pinch
1 ½ cups water (just slightly warm)


3-4 very thin slices of your favorite prosciutto
Shaved parmigiano reggiano cheese
Handful of arugula
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Add the water and stir until blended (the dough will be stiffer than other no-knead recipes). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for approximately 2 hours in a warm spot.
2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and gently form into a ball. Divide the dough into two halves, cover with a damp towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
3. Oil a half-sheet baking pan and stretch or toss the dough into the desired shape, brush with olive oil and add a little salt and cracked pepper on top. Bake 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Immediately after removing crust from oven, sprinkle on parm-reg, top with prosciutto slices, and toss the arugula on top. Then dig in!