Category Archives: Pies & Tarts

black walnut, maple & calvados tart

From the sugar and butter content of some of my recent cooking, you’d never know that I’m a seldom-at-best baker/ maker of desserts. Yet there’s something about winter and holiday time that brings out my inner Martha in the kitchen. Maybe it’s that there’s almost always a reason to take said desserts out of the house rather than have them hanging around tempting us… I get to experience the fun of baking something, try a little piece or two, and not have leftovers.

Although I didn’t get to do a ton of baking during the holidays, the urge still lingered, so a couple weekends ago when we were invited to a friend’s to watch the Lions/Saints game slaughter, I decided that baking a tart was in order. I had just been to Eastern Market that morning, where I’d come across local black walnuts, already shelled, for $4 per half-pound bag. At the next table they were selling them whole, but knowing how difficult they are to shell, I decided $4 was a small price to pay for unstained hands and time saved (not to mention the fact that if I wanted to shell my own, I could forage them for free). I wanted to showcase the walnuts in a tart, so I did a riff on pecan pie, with maple syrup and golden syrup subbed in for corn syrup, and a healthy slug of Calvados for extra oomph.

Although the Lions let us down, at least we had good eats as a consolation: bacon sandwiches, carrot salad, some Romanian cured sausages, and bread pudding, not to mention good drinks and company. The tart was a success, with the funky, almost cheese-like flavor of the walnuts complimented by the maple and apple. To accentuate the Calvados, I made a Calvados-spiked whipped cream to top the tart; a dash of cinnamon on top of that would not be amiss. And although it may be a dessert more suited to autumn or Thanksgiving, your valentine (or a football buddy) just might appreciate it as well.

Black Walnut, Maple & Calvados tart (adapted from Bon Appetit)
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Notes: If you can’t get your hands on any black walnuts, the tart will still be delicious with regular walnuts. If Calvados proves difficult to locate or too expensive, bourbon may be substituted.

for crust:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small (about 1 cm) dice
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk

for filling:
½ cup golden syrup
½ cup maple syrup (grade B is fine)
½ cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup calvados
1 ½ Tbs all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
½ lb shelled black walnuts

for topping:
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 Tbs maple syrup
2 Tbs calvados

Prepare crust:
Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk egg and milk in small bowl to blend, then add to processor. Blend until moist clumps form. Place dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Gather corners of plastic wrap around dough to assist with forming dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap well and refrigerate 1 hour. (Dough can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated. Let dough soften slightly before rolling out.)

Prepare topping:
Combine all ingredients and beat in a stand mixer or with electric beaters until mixture has body and has approximately doubled in volume but is not stiff. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Prepare filling:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, bourbon, flour, vanilla and salt in large bowl to blend.

Assemble tart:
Roll out dough on floured surface to 14-inch round. Transfer to 10 or 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom (9-inch glass pie dish can also be used). Press dough into pan and press around the top of the tart pan to cut off excess dough (if you have a lot of extra dough, save it for mini jam tarts or other free-form fruit tarts). Pour filling into prepared crust and sprinkle walnuts evenly on top. Bake until crust is golden and filling is set in center when pie is shaken slightly, about 55 minutes. Cool pie completely in pan on rack. To serve, remove tart from pan and transfer to a serving plate. Serve with maple calvados whipped cream and cinnamon, if desired.

mushroom tart for a bordeaux wine tasting

Sometimes I feel like a pretty lucky gal.  You may recall a couple months ago when I mentioned a get-together with some new food friends?  Well, one of these friends, Jarred, was recently able to procure a large amount of Bordeaux for a wine tasting drinking (as Christina & Molly more accurately put it on Twitter!).  There were about 20 bottles of red Bordeaux, as well as a smattering of white wines, hard cider, etc.  Jarred does the wine buying at Western Market in Ferndale, so the idea was to get a bunch of us tasting, and then hopefully buying, the wines in question.  I think it was also to help him narrow down which wines to order from the distributors.

And so, a couple Fridays ago, some of the GUDetroit gang descended on Jarred & Dawn’s Ferndale apartment, bearing an assortment of wine-loving foods.  I knew many people were bringing cheese and/or charcuterie, and Jarred had also snagged some grass-fed local steaks for the grill, so I asked what else I could bring to round out the selection.  Jarred wisely suggested something with mushrooms- their earthy flavors would be a nice complement to the wine.  I immediately thought “mushroom tart!”- some sautéed mushrooms, with some herbs from the garden, would be just the thing.

I started off by making a cornmeal crust- I wanted a little crunch in case the mushrooms made the dough soggy at all (luckily they didn’t).  I sautéed a copious amount of mushrooms with some shallots and herbs and a splash of sherry, adding some dried porcinis for extra mushroomy depth.  I added some cream and egg at the end, not enough to make a quiche-like custard, but just enough to bind the mushrooms and make the tart more sliceable.  A dusting of Parmigiano before the tart went in the oven was the final touch.  The result was pretty much just what I had hoped for.

As for those wines?  Where to begin- I was pretty overwhelmed, and was mostly just taking suggestions from others who were a little better informed or who had thought to bring notepads to take notes!  A few I recall enjoying in particular were Château La Fleur Plaisance (Montagne St-Emilion, 2006), Château Liversan (Haut-Médoc, 2006) and Château Cabannieux (Graves, 2005). (Mind you, I tasted many, many wines and these are just a couple I happened to jot down!)  All of the wines improved noticeably as the evening wore on and they had time to open up, but these are wines to cellar for at least a few more years before they’ll reach their full potential.  (That becomes problematic in my household, where the notion of a bottle of wine hanging around for more than a week or so is unheard of!) For more detailed descriptions of the wines, check out this post by Gang of Pour.

Thanks again to Jarred & Dawn for their excellent hosting skills and to the folks at Western Market for their generosity;  I’ll definitely be heading there next time I have a few bucks to spend on a nice bottle or two. For the size of the store, they are really doing a great job on their wine department, with a focus on organic and natural wines.  This wine tasting (er, drinking!) really inspired and motivated me to start taking more notes and to build a cellar.  I also have to give a shout-out to George & Kim from Gang of Pour and to Putnam, all of whose wine knowledge and enthusiasm is contagious.

Mushroom & Herb Tart with Cornmeal Crust
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1 pre-baked Cornmeal Tart Crust (recipe follows, or you could use the slightly different cornmeal crust from this post)

1 ½ lbs mushrooms, peeled and sliced (you can use any combination of button mushrooms, portabellas, cremini, etc; I used mostly regular mushrooms with a few portabellas thrown in)
2 shallots, minced
about 3 Tbs minced fresh herbs of your choice- I used sage, thyme & marjoram
about 1/3 cup dry sherry
1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
about 1 ½ cups boiling water
a few Tbs butter for sautéing
2 eggs
½ cup heavy cream
salt & pepper
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano or other hard grating cheese

Put some water on to boil.  Place the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them; cover with a lid or plate and set aside.

Melt a knob of butter in a large, shallow skillet over medium heat.  When melted, add half the shallots and half the mushrooms; increase the heat slightly (you need to do the mushrooms in two batches to avoid overcrowding).  As the mushrooms absorb the butter and the pan becomes dry, lightly salt the mushrooms so they release a little of their juice.  About halfway through the cooking, add half the sherry.  Saute the mushrooms until golden and cooked through, increasing the heat if necessary so the liquid evaporates. Remove the mushrooms from the pan; set aside.

Wipe the pan and repeat the process with the second batch of mushrooms.  While they are cooking, remove the dried mushrooms carefully from the water and chop roughly.  (The mushroom liquid may be strained and reserved for use in a soup or to deglaze a pan.) Throw them in the pan. When the mushrooms are close to done, add the herbs and cook for a moment longer. Add the first batch of mushrooms back into the pan and stir well.  Remove from heat.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.

In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs and cream.  Season with salt and pepper (I like to add a little nutmeg too, but it’s optional.)  Pour over the mushrooms and stir to combine (if filling is very hot, wait a few moments so the eggs don’t become scrambled). Put the filling in the pre-baked tart shell.  Grate a light layer of cheese over the top.  Cook at 375° for about 15 minutes or until the filling has set.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Cornmeal Tart Crust (adapted from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)
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Makes enough for two 9″-10″ tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks butter
¼ to ½ cup ice water as needed

Cut the butter into small pieces and set in a bowl in the freezer to firm up for a couple minutes.  Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few larger pieces remaining.  Add the ice water in a thin stream while running the processor, just until the dough comes together (no more than 30 seconds).  Take care to only add as much water as needed so the dough does not become pasty and sticky. Divide in half and wrap each half in plastic.  Let rest in the fridge for an hour before rolling out.

To pre-bake the crust, heat the oven to 375°.  Roll out the dough and place in a 9″ or 10″ tart pan with a removable bottom.  Place a layer of foil over the crust and fill with pie weights or dried beans.  Bake for about 25 minutes or until crust is just beginning to turn golden.  Let cool slightly before removing the weights and foil.  (This dough can also be used for fruit tarts/crostatas; Martha instructs cooking it for an hour with the filling rather than pre-baking it.)

a locavore meal: steak & mushroom pudding (daring bakers)

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

I’ve never been one f0r deadlines.  I was always the kid who was up all night with a pot of coffee the night before a big exam, or mysteriously sick the day a term paper was due.  While I love the idea of Daring Bakers and have participated in several (most even on time!), the posting date always sneaks up on me and I usually find myself scrambling. I’ve missed the last couple DB challenges (shh, don’t tell the blogroll moderator) and thought I would miss this one as well, but I got a last-minute burst of inspiration.

Our hostess gave us a choice between a sweet or savory pudding (note: in Britspeak, “pudding” has a much more general meaning than in the U.S.), and gave total free reign with the fillings/ flavorings.  The dessert puddings looked much more foolproof, but the savory ones appealed to me more.  Besides, I was fascinated by the idea that you could steam a pastry crust and it would come out browned and/ or flaky.  I decided to go with a fairly simple steak & mushroom filling;  I used the hostess’s dough recipe and then made up my own filling based on looking at a few other recipes.  I went to Western Market in Ferndale for the ingredients because they recently started carrying local beef (from C. Roy Meats in Yale, MI).  I was also able to pick up organic lettuce and MI asparagus and mushrooms there.  (The mushrooms were Aunt Mid’s, which I know is a local brand- not sure if they’re grown here or just packaged here.)  Last but not least, I used Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout both in the recipe and to quaff along with dinner.  Cheers!

The main part of the challenge was to make a pastry dough using suet.  When I asked for suet at the butcher counter, they gave me (for free) several hunks of beef fat; however, I’m not really sure if it qualified as suet based on the description given in the challenge.  The challenge hostess made it sound as if you could just crumble it up as-is; however, what I had needed to be rendered to be usable, as it still contained a lot of connective tissue and even a bit of meat.  But I just set it over low heat and filtered the liquid fat through cheesecloth, then stuck it in the freezer to chill.  The pastry “recipe” was really loose, with specific amounts given for the fat and flour but not for the water.  I think I added too much water because I ended up with a pretty sticky dough which I had to flour quite a bit in order to roll out.

For the filling, I just used cubed chuck steak, mushrooms, a yellow onion, salt, pepper, some fresh thyme, a few dashes Worcestershire sauce, and a bit of stout to moisten it all.  I tossed the meat in a couple Tbs of flour so that a gravy would be produced when the meat & veg released their juices, and it worked perfectly.  Fortunately the quantities I used were also just the right amount to fit perfectly into my 2-quart bowl!

For my steaming apparatus I just used a stockpot with a pasta insert- this worked great because I could easily monitor the water level and lift the insert (with the pudding in it) in and out of the water.  The directions said to steam the pudding for anywhere from 2 ½ hours to 5 hours… I steamed it for about 3 ½ but by then it was getting late and we needed to eat before it got ridiculously late.  Unfortunately my crust didn’t get fully cooked, I’m not sure if a longer cooking time would have helped, or if it was simply because I had used too much water in the dough.  It had the consistency of a dumpling more than a flaky crust.  Still, the filling was so good that we just picked around the dough and mostly ate the meat and sauce. I have a little leftover dough that I may use to make some other small pie, but I may try baking it instead and see how that turns out.  Cheers to Esther for a great challenge!

Steak & Mushroom Pudding with Stout
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a 2-quart bowl, at least as tall as it is wide
a stockpot with a pasta insert (barring this, you may have to improvise some sort of rack to keep the bowl off the bottom of the pan- an overturned plate, a trivet, etc.)
1 quantity suet pastry (you can get Esther’s recipe here, just scroll down)
1 lb cubed chuck (approx. 1-inch pieces are good)
8 oz button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (if larger, cut them in sixths or eighths)
1 medium yellow onion, diced small
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves
about 2 Tbs flour
a few dashes Worcestershire sauce
about ⅓ cup stout beer
salt & pepper

I did have some difficulty getting the suet crust to turn out via the steaming method, but as I said, I’m not sure whether it needed to cook longer or whether I just used too much water in the dough.  You may want to read around some of the other Daring Bakers posts to get some clarification!  I can, however, fully vouch for the filling, which was delicious.

Fill the stockpot with water enough to come about a third of the way up the sides of your bowl (put the insert with the bowl in while you’re filling it so you can check the level).  Remove the bowl and insert and set the pot of water to boil.

Put the mushrooms, onion, and thyme in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, sprinkle the flour over the steak until well-coated (I like to use a tea strainer so there are no lumps).  Add the steak to the mushroom mixture.  Sprinkle in the Worcestershire (I’d say a scant tablespoon).  Season generously with salt and pepper, tossing to mix.

Grease your bowl.  Set aside ¼ of the dough.  Roll out the remaining dough and line your pudding bowl with it (you will likely have extra if you use the recipe I did).  Place the filling in the bowl and pour the stout over the top. Roll out the remaining dough and place it over the top, sealing it around the edges.  Take a large square of foil or wax paper and place it over the top of the bowl; secure with string or a rubber band. Arrange it so that it “poufs” up and does not touch the dough (mine did touch, and tore the crust when I removed it. Boo!) .

Place the bowl in the pasta insert and lower it into the boiling water.  Put the lid on and steam until the crust is cooked, 3 to 5 hours (it will turn from a pasty white to a golden brown).  Check the water level a couple times and top off if necessary; it shouldn’t fall below the bottom of the bowl.  When done, invert the bowl onto a plate and serve.

coulda-woulda-shoulda meyer lemon coconut crepes & lemon meringue tarts

Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays.  My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping.  Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand.  However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette.  Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd.  But what to pair it with?  She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence.  Then it hit me.  Crêpes!  I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up.  The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.

Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else.  I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time.  Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat.  But even after finishing them off,  I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over.  The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts!  Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise.  I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.

A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust.  It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine.  I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich.  The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect.  For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand.  I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.

A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand.  I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them.  Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly.  I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.

Meyer Lemon & Coconut Crêpes (batter recipe paraphrased from Crêpes: Sweet & Savory Recipes for the Home Cook by Lou Seibert Pappas)
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2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan

To serve:

1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
powdered sugar

Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds.  Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)

Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat.   Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated).  When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter).  Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan.  (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.)  If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon.  Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds.  I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.

Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half.  Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar.  (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)

*I own this crêpe pan and I like it.  I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.

Meyer Lemon Curd (adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)
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Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
6 Tbs butter
1 whole large egg plus 6 egg yolks
1 cup sugar

Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar.  Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer).  The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created.  Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools.  Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate.  The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months.  Makes about 1 ½ cups.

tomatomania part III: roasted tomato tarts with cornmeal-rosemary crust

I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes.  I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices.  Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty.  So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?

tart on plate 1

Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside.  But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second.  If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them.  They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar).  I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.

tarts on platter wide 1

However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them.  I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.

Have I convinced you yet?  If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set.  But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.

Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
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You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans.  Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.

tart prep crop1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating

6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan

Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart– 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula.  The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk.  If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra.  If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.

tart prep w. custardDirections:  Preheat the oven to 400º.  Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go.  Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes.   Prick the crust with a fork.  Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked.  For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)

Reduce the oven temp to 375º.  Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up.  If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top.  Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper.  I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes.  The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well.  You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked.   Grate some cheese over the tops.

tart prep w. cheese 1

Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10).  If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes.  When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version

Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these?  They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel,  I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many.  Live and learn, I suppose.  I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika.  I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that).  The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.

In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa).  I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day.  It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast.  Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness.  I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you.  If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.

You’ll need:

Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
olive oil
sea salt
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet.  Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil.  Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use.  Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much.  Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences.  To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).

tart on small plate

Cornmeal-Rosemary Tart Crust (adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
printer-friendly version

Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells.  Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water

When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.

Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.  Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter.  DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!

Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary.  Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time,  coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together.  You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.

When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it.  Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

bakewell tart (daring bakers)

The June Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart… er… pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800’s in England.
tart slice side view

As usual, I left this month’s Daring Bakers challenge until the last possible minute!  Fortunately, it was a pretty easy one to throw together.  We made a Bakewell Tart, which I am to understand is a classic British dessert (or “pudding”, as they say across the pond).  It’s basically a pastry crust with a layer of jam spread on top, filled with a batter of eggs, butter & ground almonds (aka frangipane).  Thanks to the help of my food processor and stand mixer, I was able to put this together Thursday after work and before band practice.  (I went up north Friday, so had to have it done before we left.)  Fortunately, the intense heat of the past couple days subsided just in time for me to heat up my kitchen with a 400-degree oven!

frangipane tart shell

The results of my tart were somewhat mixed.  It’s hard to say if it was successful since I’ve never tried or seen one of these with the exception of looking at other DBers’ photos, but the first thing I noticed was that my frangipane didn’t puff up whatsoever; it was fairly dense.  Also, the quantity of pastry crust called for seemed much more suitable to a 10 or 10.5″ tart pan rather than a 9″ (I used the whole quantity as specified, and ended up with a pretty thick crust that didn’t fully cook through).

Bakewell tart finished

Perhaps I would have had a better result if I had cooked the tart 5 minutes or so longer, but the top looked slightly browned and felt firm so I thought it was done.  However, my crust ended up pretty pale.  I don’t want to call the result a “fail”, but it just wasn’t to my taste.  I’m not a fan of baked goods that seem so moist that you feel you’re almost eating raw batter (I can’t stand doughy cookies or overly “fudgy” brownies), and this tart was verging on that texture. I was, however, quite pleased with the flavor combination I chose.  I used apricot-orange preserves from Trader Joe’s for the jam, and the flavors of the fruit paired brilliantly with the almonds.

tart slice 1

Verdict: If you’re a fan of almonds, and are looking for a fairly easy dessert recipe to put together, I would give this a go.  You may just want to bake it a little longer, or possibly add another tbs of flour if you prefer a less damp texture.  Also, the ground almonds I used were not skinned, so perhaps that’s why my tart had a denser texture (although the recipe did not specify skinned ground almonds).  I think skinned almonds would have lent a more refined appearance and possibly allowed the frangipane to puff up more.

6/29 Update: I went away for the weekend and stuck the remainder of my tart in the fridge; I had a piece today, cold, and liked it much better!  The texture was more like a firm bar cookie rather than a squidgy undercooked tart.

thanksgiving in vegas, with pie


This year, I had Thanksgiving planned out well in advance: celebrate with my Dad and sisters on Thursday, and go to Marvin’s family’s on Friday. I had been assigned to bring a dessert for Friday’s meal and had been plotting it out weeks in advance- I was going to do some sort of pumpkin flan. However, things changed unexpectedly, and rather than stick around Detroit and dwell on the situation at hand, my mom offered to fly me out to Las Vegas to spend a couple days with my aunt’s family who live there. It sounded like a good plan- a change of scenery and some sunshine to take my mind off things.


Gelato at Caesar's, decked out like a Vegas showgirl

Unfortunately for me, my one free day to explore turned out to be cold and rainy! We spent the day wandering around Caesar’s and the Bellagio, shopping and sightseeing, working up our appetites for the next day’s meal. I was assigned to make the pie crust, seemingly because my mom has some notion that I am a “better” cook than her (thanks mom, but just because I talk about food constantly and always have an opinion, does not make me a more experienced pie-maker!).rolling-pie-dough


a mother-daughter collaboration (mom made the filling)

 I had heard other food bloggers say that Martha Stewart’s paté brisée recipe is pretty foolproof, so I went with that. My aunt had some contraption to roll out the pie that consisted of a big square piece of cloth with a frame (see above); I think it belonged to my grandmother. It worked pretty well except that I wasn’t used to it and wasn’t adding enough flour, so I had some stickage. But by the third or fourth crust, I had it figured out. I was a little concerned that I had over-handled it, but it turned out just fine. I had extra dough and decided to make some decorative leaves for the top of the pumpkin pie, but we put them on a little too late so they didn’t brown. But my aunt’s apple-croppedstepdaughter, who said she had never had a completely homemade pie before (poor girl!), said it was the best she’d ever had.

All in all it was a very good meal, but the best part was the time spent with my mom, aunt and cousins in the kitchen before the meal, chatting, cooking and snacking (of course!).  That’s a big part of the appeal of cooking for me- the time spent with family & loved ones- and why it can be get hard to my cooking mojo on when it’s just me, myself & I.  Perhaps I will have to arrange some cooking sessions with my girlfriends to get back in the swing of things… any takers?  : )

P.S. My cousin Rebecca is responsible for the pumpkin pie photo and the photo of me rolling out the pie crust.  Check out her photography blog here.

family in the kitchen