Monday, February 27, 2012

Pear-almond tart

I brought dessert to a party a couple weeks ago and everyone asked for the recipe, so here it is. :-)

For a 10" tart (plus some left-over pastry):

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 125g sugar
  • 250g flour
  • 125g butter
  • 2 or 3 ripe pears (d'Anjou or Bartlett)
  • ground cinnamon
  • almond powder or thin almond slivers (optional)

Prepare the pâte sablée pastry as follows:
  1. Beat the egg, salt, and sugar in a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, until they become foamy and turn to a pale yellow. (Note: why use a stand mixer when you can have a free workout?)
  2. Sift all the flour at once over the egg and sugar mix. Start mixing slowly with the wooden spoon, then use your fingers to mix all the ingredients. Rub small amounts of dough between your fingers or hands to turn the mix into a grainy "sand." (Pâte sablée means "sanded dough.")
  3. Cut the butter into small parcels. If the butter is very cold, heat up in the microwave for a few seconds. Add to the mix and knead the dough with your hands very briefly, then form a ball. The dough should come off of your hands easily (add a little bit of flour if needed), but it remains a little sticky.
  4. (If the dough feels really soft, or you are making this recipe on a hot summer day, or in a warm kitchen, you may want to cool down the dough in the fridge for a while. This step is optional.) 
  5. Roll out the pie crust on floured parchment paper down to 3-4 mm in thickness. Press into the bottom of a 10" pie dish (mine is metallic). Punch a few holes in the crust with a fork.
  6. Bake the crust at 350ºF (180ºC) for about 15-20 minutes. It should remain pale.

Cut two ripe, juicy pears into quarters. D'Anjou and Bartlett (Williams) work great for this. Peel and core, then slice thinly. Arrange the pear slices on the pre-baked pie crust, either in circles on in rows.

Dust with cinnamon (just a tad), then add a few tiny bits of butter and optionally sprinkle with almond powder (1-2 TBSP) or almond slivers. Bake for about 10 minutes at 350ºF (180ºC).

I brought a 10" tart to the party, but for the picture, I made the same recipe again, using my daughter's bakeware: mini pie dish, mini utensils... And we made animal cookies with the rest of the dough. They were delicious.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hi All!

Just a quick note to let you know that I have updated the Recipe Index and A La Carte pages (see the tabs  just under the blog title). I hope you'll have fun browsing my 80+ recipes, either by key word / main ingredient (in the Recipe Index) or by type of dish (with the A La Carte menu).

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

I accidentally made my best crepes ever

It was last weekend, a few days after la Chandeleur, the French "crepe day." I had made the batter around 4pm on Saturday, thinking that we would have the crepes for dinner that evening. Since the batter needs a couple hours of rest at room temperature, I left it on the kitchen counter while we visited our new friends, a family we met through preschool. But kids and parents alike had such a good time that we decided to end the day at the restaurant all together. I figured that the crepes could wait another day. On the way back from dinner, I put the bowl of batter in the fridge until Sunday's lunch. And what a lunch we had!

Making crepes is a bit like making jam, as far as I'm concerned: as simple as the recipe might be, something always goes wrong, and I never know what it is. Crepes end up being too thick, jam overcooks... It's an art much more than it is a science. Successes always seem like miracles. 

On Saturday, although I always prepare the batter with a wooden spoon and a manual whisk (and a fair amount of elbow grease), I decided to try using my shiny but seldom used stand mixer for a change. I weighed the flour into the mixing bowl, pushed the flour to the sides and added the beaten eggs in the center, then mixed a bit with a wooden spoon (see, I can't help it), letting the flour fall in little by little. I added the milk, oil, and salt. Then off to the mixer, on slow rotation, with the wire whip attachment (rather than the flat beater). After a minute or two, the batter was homogeneous. I then slowly poured in a bottle of beer and let the mixer do its magic for another couple of minutes. I covered the bowl of batter with a sheet of paper towel and let it stand at room temperature for roughly 5 hours, then in the fridge for another 15 hours or so. Did the extra night of fermentation do the trick? Was the mechanical whisking more efficient than the manual? Did I use more liquid than usual? Was it wiser to use a paper towel than a kitchen cloth? I don't really know.

When I took the bowl out of the fridge, the batter was quite liquid—something my cookbook said I didn't want. But the crepes ended up being perfect : thin and fluffy. They reminded me of the marvelous crepes I devoured in Brittany as a kid. (Brittany is where crepes originated. Bretons make their crepes very thin, almost like dentelle (lace), another of their renowned specialties.) But they also had that subtle fermented taste of South-Indian dosas (which are made of fermented rice and lentil flour). A great combination.

After a few savory crepes filled with French ham, mushrooms (sautéed in butter) and grated Emmentaler, I spread another one with redcurrant jelly, which I just happened to find in a gourmet store. This long forgotten taste brought me right back to my grandmother's house. She had several bushes of redcurrants in her backyard, and we would help her harvest les groseilles every year. She would make the most delicious jelly, in a giant copper pan (bassine a confiture), and covered each jar with a paper soaked in paraffin wax for better preservation, so we could enjoy the jelly all year round.

What a pleasure to accidentally make crepes that would remind me of such fond memories.

For 12 large crepes, 2 hours to 1 day in advance:
  • 250 grams flour 
  • 3 whole eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 liter whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 2 or 3 pinches (about 1/2 teaspoon) salt
  • 11.2 oz (one bottle, about 1/3 liter) Kronenbourg 1664 beer, a pale lager from Alsace, or any other mild-tasting beer
  1. Mix all the ingredients slowly, in the order of the above list, until obtaining a smooth and runny (but not totally liquid) batter. 
  2. Let the batter rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours, covered with a paper or kitchen towel, then optionally in the fridge for up to a day.
  3. Heat up a large flat non-stick pan (ideally a crepe pan, but a frying pan does the job too) on medium-high heat. 
  4. Carefully wipe the whole pan with a paper towel on which you have poured a little bit of high-heat resistant oil, such as sunflower oil.
  5. Once the pan is hot, pour one laddle of batter in the center of the pan and quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion to cover the whole pan with batter. (The first crepe never looks good...)
  6. When the edges of the crepe start lifting up or change color (it should take a minute or less), flip the crepe with a long spatula. Cook the second side for another 20 seconds to one minute.
  7. Stack the crepes on a plate, or eat them as soon as they are ready.
I gave some filling ideas in this earlier post.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Just for the eyes

A few souvenirs from my recent trip to Lyon...

Christmas lunch at my parents'

Shrimp, avocado, and grapefruit salad

Stuffed duck with truffles, sautéed potatoes, and mushrooms

Tome de Savoie, Beaufort, Charolais, Fourme d'Ambert, Saint-Félicien, and other delicious cheeses

Fruits déguisés ("costumed fruits"—dried dates, prunes, figs, and walnuts, stuffed with almond paste)

Dinner at my aunt's and uncle's

Raw oysters from the Atlantic ocean

Another lunch at my parents'

Beef roast just about to go in the oven
Sautéed zucchini and tomatoes

Baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon, butter and a little bit of sugar
(I believe they were Golden Russets—Reinettes grises du Canada)

Lunch at my parents-in-law's

Quail eggs

Saucisson de Lyon (regional cooked sausage. This one came from Pierre's grandmother's butcher.)

Pierre's aunt Suzanne's famous Christmas cookies