Entries from November 30th, 2007

Meeting Elizabeth Falkner and Other Tidbits

November 30th, 2007 · 12 Comments · Events, Personal

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One of the great things about living in the Bay Area is, of course, the vibrant culinary scene. It’s amazing to think that I am tootling around the same area as people like Alice Medrich or Michael Recchiuti or a host of other gastronomic luminaries. Case in point: last night, I attended a book signing of Elizabeth Falkner’s new dessert book at Charles Chocolates’ factory and store- talk about a sweet evening!

Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts is a book I got a month or so ago and sadly just have not found the time to try out the recipes. But I read through the whole cookbook and I loved the punky, irreverent aesthetic – as well as it being a showcase of Falkner’s incredible talent and creativity.

In person, Falkner is as funny and outspoken as her cookbook, very knowledgeable and so passionate about her work. It’s not surprising she has a background in art, since she seems to draw her inspirations from all around her and her desserts all seem to be grounded in such strong visual and textural concepts. Whether it’s a deconstructed-and-reconstructed take on apple pie or a literary allusion in the naming of a cake, Falkner’s desserts are witty and intelligent – food for the brain as well as body.

I mentioned that Falkner seemed to enjoy playing with powders and gelling agents in her desserts, much like the savory molecular gastronomists, and she responded that she didn’t really see why experimenting with gels and such should be considered intimidating or strange, since there are tons of ingredients in the world to explore and integrate into what we consider traditional western or european-style pastry. For example, agar agar and tapioca are common ingredients used in Asia as thickeners or binders, yet they are rarely used here. In a way, Falkner seems very similar to Alice Medrich, even though their cookbooks may seem very different, in that both women are curious to break outside the conventional boundaries of pastry and introduce new ingredients and techniques into the language of baking.

Trying some of the recipes from Falkner’s book is surely on my list of New Year’s resolutions, as well as visiting her new restaurant. Here’s a great example of how her mind works: when asked what the desserts at her new place would be like, Falkner replied that they wanted to try and create an invisible dessert, to surprise and confound diners. I’m looking forward to that!

Ok, on to a few little tidbits before the weekend and the beginning of December! (Oh my, how did it get to be that time of the year already!) First of all, I apologize for being so remiss in answering everyone’s comments and questions – I love all my readers, so please don’t desert me for my inability to keep it all together! I have actually answered all the comments from my last few posts – those of you that comment regularly know that I used to respond personally over e-mail, but with the holidays coming up it’s just become too time-consuming, so know that I’ve responded on the post itself!

Second, I am leaving in about a week and half for Hong Kong, hence the reason I’m madly dashing about doing shopping and baking now, since I’ll be gone so soon. However, I will still be posting! and I am participating in this year’s Menu for Hope so please be sure to check back here on Dec. 10th to see what fabulous prize I will be offering! (Hint: there is a tiny clue to what it’s associated with somewhere in this post!)

And lastly, because I like to have a little bit of pretty in all my posts, here is what I contributed to Baking911′s December newsletter: Mini Coffee-Pecan Eclairs. Get my recipe in the newsletter!

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Happy weekend, and happy December to you all!

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Daring Bakers Challenge: Tender Potato Foccacia

November 26th, 2007 · 59 Comments · Breads, Events, Recipes

Foccacia2

It’s been a busy November for me, with various projects I’ve been working on, and preparations for the upcoming holidays. I almost thought I wouldn’t have time to participate in the Daring Bakers Challenge, but when I saw that we could make foccacia out of the base recipe, I knew I had to do it somehow. I’ve been a big fan of foccacia, ever since I had my first panino in a little Italian restaurant whose name is now lost to memory, one of those wonderful revelations experienced upon going to college and discovering the whole rest of the world out there.

Tanna, of the charming MyKitcheninHalfCups, gave the Daring Bakers an excellent recipe to work with: a bread recipe that used potatoes, and could be made into numerous incarnations, from rolls to a loaf of bread. A versatile recipe, indeed!

I was also intrigued because I had never used potatoes in making bread before, and I was curious how it would change the end product. I did a little research and found some interesting tidbits in my Baking Illustrated book about how potatoes work differently from flour in baking: potatoes have more starch than flour, which will make a moister bread because starches trap moisture. Potatoes also have less protein than flour, which means that less gluten will be formed when working the dough, the end result being a more tender bread. Finally, potatoes lend their particular flavor to the bread. All this sounded quite positive to me, so I was eager to give this potato bread a try!

Unfortunately, as Tanna and Baking Illustrated warned me, using potatoes in a dough also makes the dough very sticky, because of the extra moisture in the potato starches. The note at the beginning of the recipe suggests that beginning bakers use 8 ounces of potatoes while experienced bakers use 16 ounces; in a foolhardy burst of confidence (and because all the potatoes at the store weighed about a pound each), I went for the full 16.

This was a really, really sticky dough, a sort of yeast monster determined to leave trails all over my table. Actually, I wasn’t as worried about the stickiness as I was concerned that the dough looked so wet and mushy- it did not resemble the well-formed bread doughs I was used to at all. I kept alternating between wondering if I should add more flour to make it behave and worrying that too much flour would ruin its texture. In the end, I used about 5 cups of flour total and decided I would take my chances with my little mushball.

I have to say it’s a credit to the recipe that the dough performed wonderfully after I made it: it rose like a dream, spread itself into oiled baking sheets without resistance, and baked into a thick, golden, entirely inviting foccacia.

Because I wanted to showcase the bread itself, and not the toppings, I kept it simple; a brushing of olive oil, a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, a dappling of dried rosemary. It was a wonderful foccacia: soft, pleasantly chewy but still light, and with a satisfying, hearty flavor. I have to say the potatoes make this especially filling; one piece and I felt like I’d had an entire meal!

All in all, a very satisfactory and illuminating experience: I don’t think I’d have thought of baking with potatoes until this came along, so thank you Tanna for giving us such an excellent recipe! And now I know how easy it is to make a great foccacia, which might be a dangerous thing for my health…

Be sure to check all the other Daring Bakers to see their takes on this recipe – with so many options available, I’m sure the creativity of the bakers will be on full display!

Foccacia

Tender Potato Bread

From Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf and something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender foccacia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf.

Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before. But don’t worry: Leaving it on parchment or wax paper to proof and to bake makes it easy to handle.

Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with ting soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender yet strong sliced bread for sandwiches. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting, and the focaccia is memorable.

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold

For the beginner I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces.

4 cups water

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

6 ½ cups to 8 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1 cup whole wheat flour

Topping

For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)

For Foccacia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (optional; also see variation)

Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well. I have a food mill I will run my potatoes through to mash them.

Measure out 3 cups of the reserved potato water (add extra water if needed to make 3 cups). Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread in – directions will be for by hand. Let cool to lukewarm – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes.

Then mix in 2 cups of all-purpose flour and mix. Allow to rest several minutes.

Sprinkle on the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated.

At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 ½ cups suggested by the recipe.

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft.

As a beginner, you may be tempted to add more flour than needed. Most/many bread recipes give a range of flour needed. This is going to be a soft dough. At this point, add flour to the counter slowly, say a ¼ cup at a time. Do not feel you must use all of the suggested flour. When the dough is soft and smooth and not too sticky, it’s probably ready.

Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

It is at this point you are requested to Unleash the Daring Baker within. The following is as the recipe is written. You are now free to follow as written or push it to a new level.

Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:

Butter a 9X5 inch loaf/bread pan.

Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:

Butter an 8 x 4 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:

Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:

Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a baking/sheet (no edge – you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. Bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.

If making foccacia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes.

Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes.

Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Let breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

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Eat My Words

November 21st, 2007 · 13 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

Cupcakes

I like to think that the desserts I create my kitchen tell a story. Maybe they say that I like trying new and unusual recipes. Or that I like making the classics too. That sometimes I get obsessed with perfecting a recipe. Or that I get obsessed with certain French pastry geniuses.

Maybe this says, I really feel like tackling that six-component dessert that requires a special trip to the grocery store to the ingredients, every pan and tool in the kitchen, a long unfettered day for baking, and a deep breath with a quick prayer to the pastry gods before starting.

Or perhaps this says, I was at the market and these apples and pears looked so fab, and I knew I had brown sugar and butter at home, so I bet I could whip up a fabulous little crisp in no time at all.

These definitely say, I’ve got a brand new toy and I can’t get enough of it.

Oh, and of course, this says that I belong to a fabulous group of fellow bakers who all inspire and brighten my days.

I like to think that whatever I bake, carries and conveys some of my thoughts and feelings I had while I was making it, about what inspired its creation, about how I hope it will turn out, about what people’s reactions will be when I serve it.

But just in case the message isn’t always clear, sometimes it’s nice to spell it out.

These cupcakes are saying:

Happy birthday to my sweetie, who inspired these cupcakes a year ago and has inspired a re-invention of them using one of Dorie Greenspan recipes. These cupcakes are also saying that I’m going to take him here for dinner, but shh! it’s a surprise.

Isn’t the power of baking a wonderful thing?

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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Oh, and P.S. I forgot to post this, but the winner of the Nordicware bundt cake contest was…the Minty Mountains cake! Definitely one of the prettiest cakes and quite tasty – and it’s just about Christmas time, so what a perfect time to try it out!

Cocoa-Buttermilk Cupcakes

from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking

makes 20 cupcakes

2 cups (10 oz)  flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 oz (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pans with paper liners or silicone baking cups.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter in a stand mixer for a few minutes on medium speed to soften it up. Add the sugar and beat for several more minutes until it is light-colored and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one a a time, to the the batter, letting the first one incorporate fully before adding the second. Repeat with the egg yolks.

Add in the vanilla.

Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add the sifted dries in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk so you start and end with the dries. Beat each addition just until it is combined into the mixture; do not overbeat. Scrape down the bowl as necessary between additions.

Pour in the melted chocolate and use a rubber spatula to fold it in until it is combined.

Divide the batter between the cupcake tins, filling each cup about 3/4 full.

Bake in the oven for about 15- 20 minutes, until the tops feel firm and springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove cupcakes from oven and let cool on wire rack.

Coffee Buttercream

makes about 3 cups

1 1/2 cups butter, room temperature

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup sugar

5 egg yolks

1 tablespoon granulated coffee flavoring

The butter should be very soft but not melting for this recipe.

Heat the milk and coffee flavoring and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.

Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar in the mixer bowl with the whisk attachment until pale and thick (ribbon stage). Reduce speed to low and pour in the hot milk mixture. Return the entire mixture to the saucepan.

Cook the mixture in the saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it registers 170 degrees on a thermometer. Pour the mixture into a clean mixer bowl and beat with the whisk on medium until cool, about 5 -10 minutes. Add in the butter in 4 additions, allowing each addition to incorporate before adding another.

The buttercream can be used immediately, or stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If you store it in the refrigerator, let it soften first and whisk by hand or in the mixer to bring back to proper consistency.

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Sesame, Says I

November 14th, 2007 · 27 Comments · Cakes, Ice Cream, Recipes

Sesamecake1

Well, I haven’t made those citron vodka-laced chocolates from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert yet, but I did try another one of the inspiringly original recipes from her book. I must mention that it’s turning into one my favorite books of the year; if you remember my shortlist of baking books from a while ago (and I’m embarrassed to mention how many of those have made their way onto my bookshelf already), I certainly would put this at the top of the list. Every time I leaf through it, I find myself tempted by another creation that I must make right away.

This Sesame Seed Cake is one such recipe that beckoned to me from the beginning. It called for black sesame seeds, which I’ve rarely seen beyond a fairy-kiss sprinkling on bowls of softly mounded rice in Japanese restaurants, a sort of reverse snow-capped Mount Fuji if you will (The Japanese are such masters of visual poetry).

I last used black sesame seeds in my Black Pearl truffles, and I was eager to experiment with them again. I was also intrigued by the fact that the cake took its sesame flavor from both sesame seeds and sesame oil. Sesame oil is a staple of Asian kitchens, and I love the smoky-sweet, nutty scent that diffuses through the air when I cook with it. But I’d never used it in baking before, and I was curious what gustatory revelations awaited me from the familiar bottle of sesame oil on my shelf.

Medrich describes this as having an irresistible velvet texture, and that’s fairly on the mark. It has a tight, elegant crumb that makes it a dream to slice, and crumbles delicately on the tongue. As for the flavor, I’ll never look at my sesame oil the same again. I was used to using it as a seasoning, to add a supporting note to my dishes, but here it’s the star – and it certainly shines. It infuses the cake with its distinctive nuttiness, which combined with soft buttery-vanilla undertones make it a teatime treat both cozily familiar and thrillingly exotic. If you can’t imagine what a cake with sesame oil tastes like (and I must admit with my savory associations with the oil, I was both excited and apprehensive), do try it – your taste buds will thank you.

It’s such a beautiful cake, too – the black sesame seeds look like stray flecks of calligraphy on an unrolled canvas, or fallen feathers on a snowfield. They add a pleasant, subtle crunch to the cake too -although black sesame seeds are supposed to be more bitter than white ones, I didn’t notice. Black sesame seeds can be found in Asian grocery stores – if you can’t find them, white ones will do just as well. Medrich notes that toasting black sesame seeds can be tricky, but the ones in the Asian stores are often already toasted.

On the matter of toasting, Medrich also notes that sesame oil used should be toasted, and that Asian sesame oils are toasted as a matter of course, even if the label doesn’t say so. I had never even thought of that before – such are the blind spots wrought by cultural differences! To me, sesame oil was always that deep golden-brown oil in the tall cylindrical container; I had never thought about the fact that its color came from toasting the seeds, and that there might be other sesame oils made from untoasted seeds.  Be sure when you buy your oil that it says pure sesame oil; often you will find sesame/soybean oil blends on the shelves. Also, Medrich cautions against using old, possibly rancid sesame oil. I can see why, as its flavor is so prominently figured in this cake and indeed any sour notes would sound out loud and clear. However, sesame oil is one of the most stable of oils, and hardly ever goes rancid. If you can’t remember when you purchased your bottle, I might suggest buying a new one, but I wouldn’t worry overly about your oil spoiling quickly.

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Medrich suggests serving this cake with her Heavenly Honey Ice Cream, and it’s a gorgeous pairing – as well as an excuse to use up the rest of my honey. As simple as milk and cream suffused with honey, it sings of fat bees buzzing through sunlit fields of wildflowers, of summer just gone. Of course, this is a great medium to experiment with different honeys – a softer, floral honey would go very well with the sesame cake. Just be sure to use a honey with character – you don’t want to use those bland, overly sweet mass-produced ones.

So if you’re looking for something a little different, a little exotic…give this cake a try. It’s one of the my most delicious – and beautiful – horizon-expanding experiences so far.

Sesame Seed Cake

from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

makes one 8-in round cake

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

8 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature

1/4 cup toasted black sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of a cake pan or a springform pan – I find the springform works really well. Make sure the pan has high enough sides as the cake really rises in the oven!

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl and set aside.

Beat the eggs together in a bowl with a whisk. Add the sesame oil and vanilla and thoroughly combine.

Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium for a few minutes to soften it up. Add the sugar and beat for several more minutes until it is light-colored and fluffy.

Add in the egg mixture a little at a time while the mixer is still running, letting it slowly combine over a couple of minutes.

Stop the mixer and pour in a third of the flour mixture, and beat just until combined. Scrape down the sides as necessary.

Add half the buttermilk and beat until combined.

Repeat with half of the remaining flour mixture, the rest of the buttermilk, and finally the rest of the flour mixture with the sesame seeds. With each addition, beat it only until it is just incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool on the rack for a few minutes before unmolding. If you baked the cake in a regular cake pan, invert it onto the rack, and turn it right side up to finish cooling.

This cake will keep in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

Heavenly Honey Ice Cream

from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert

makes about 4 cups

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup honey

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 cups cream

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it just starts to simmer. Pour it out into another bowl and let it cool completely. Otherwise it will curdle when you add the honey.

Whisk in the honey and salt.

Add in the cream and stir to combine.

Cover and chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Yes, My Blog Does Look Good!

November 12th, 2007 · 16 Comments · Personal

Fighucklebtart2

What a nice way to finish off the weekend! Just when I was bemoaning the return of Monday and work, I get this happy little surprise to make the end of the weekend a little more bearable.

Jennifer of the lovely Bake or Break was the host of the October edition of DMBLGIT, and she just announced the winners…with my photo of my Fig and Huckleberry Tart taking first place!

I have to admit that when I submitted my photo I was pretty iffy about my chances…the entries just get better and better every month and there were some really beautiful and creative photos in the pool. So it’s an amazing honor to have been recognized out of so many worthy entries. Honestly, many of you out there should be working as professional photographers if you are not doing so already!! I’m very proud to be able to display the DMBLGIT badge for this month!

Be sure to check out the other winning entries on Jennifer’s site. Meanwhile, I just finished photographing a new, very interesting cake I tried over the weekend…the post will be up in a couple of days!

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Apples Blooming in Autumn

November 8th, 2007 · 35 Comments · Fruit, Recipes, Tarts

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Remember Pâtisserie Philippe’s gorgeous apple tart from my last post? If you didn’t get a good look at it, here is an outtake from my photo shoot:

Philippeapple

Isn’t it just beautiful? The perfect, wafer-fine crust, the carefully layered slices of apple fanning and furling into a blooming rose in the center; this is a dessert designed to elicit oohs of appreciation upon sight, and sighs of delight upon tasting. The filling for this tart is completely made of apple, and a glorious tribute to the fruit it is. I was amazed how a crisp buttery crust topped with smooth, rich applesauce and fork-tender, just-sweet apple slices could taste as satisfying delicious as the most complex of pastries – proof that nobody does desserts that are simultaneously simple yet elegant like the French.

Appletart1

After consuming about half of Philippe’s tart, I was determined to try and make my own version. To my happy surprise, Dorie Greenspan came to the rescue again with her version of Normandy Apple Tart in her Baking book. Upon reading the recipe, I discovered it really was as simple as making a tart crust, filling it with applesauce, and covering it with apple slices.

Of course, the devil’s always in the details, which is why Philippe’s is so flawless and mine is merely an eager aspirant. It’s not easy to get tart dough so thin and flaky, or the applesauce so smooth and velvety, or all the apple slices so thinly sliced and artfully arranged. But this recipe is one where you won’t mind trying again and again to get it just perfect. A couple of tips: use the best, most flavorful apples you can find, since this tart is all about highlighting them – you shouldn’t be burying the taste beneath butter and sugar. You can use store-bought applesauce if you like, but I agree with Dorie that it’s so much better when you make it yourself – take advantage now before apples are gone from the farmers’ markets! Finally, if you’re nervous about slicing your apples evenly, a mandolin works wonders.

Appletart3

A slice of this apple tart, still warm from the oven and topped with a bit of crème fraîche, makes me think of fading afternoon light shining through the few copper and russet leaves clinging to the trees, fuzzy woolen scarves tucked into snuggly warm sweaters, and the cool, crisp smell of autumn in the air. If you have the chance to try Philippe’s apple tart, please do. If you don’t, maybe you’ll try making it yourself, and you can feel just like a French pastry chef in your own kitchen.

Normandy Apple Tart

adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours

makes one 9-inch tart

Pâte Sablée

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoon butter, very cold, cut into small pieces

1 egg yolk

Applesauce

2 pounds baking apples, such as Empire, Cortland, McIntosh, or Pippin

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon light brown sugar

1-4 tablespoons sugar to taste

Topping

2 medium-sized, firm apples, such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith

1 egg for egg wash

1/3 cup apple jelly for glaze

For the applesauce: Peel and core the apples, and cut into smallish chunks. Place into a 3 quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Add in the water and brown sugar, and stir to combine.

Cover the saucepan and cook the apples over the medium-low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure none of the apples scorch.

If the water seems to be boiling away too quickly, you can add in a little more. Over about 20-30 minutes, the apples should start reducing and softening in the bubbling water. Don’t leave the pan unattended for too long or the water could boil over or the apples burn.

When the apples are soft enough to be mashed with a spoon, remove the pan from heat. Scrape the apples into a food processor and blend quickly to turn into applesauce – don’t process too long or you’ll liquefy the apples. The applesauce should still be thick.

Taste and add sugar to taste – traditionally this applesauce is not meant to be very sweet, but you can add at your discretion.

Pour the applesauce into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface, and refrigerate until it is no longer warm before using. You can keep the applesauce in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

For the tart shell: Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pieces of cold butter and pulse until the butter is cut into pea-sized pieces. Add the egg yolk and combine in several pulses until the dough starts to turn from dry to clumpy. Do not let the dough form one giant ball or it will be be overworked – just keep checking after every pulse and when the dough pieces looks like they will stick when you press them together, stop.

Butter a 9-in tart tin with removable bottom. Turn the dough out into the tin and press into the bottom and up the sides with your fingers. You probably will not need all the dough – save the extra for patching the shell after you bake it. Do not press the dough too hard or it will become tough – just enough for it to form to the tin.

Freeze the tart shell for at least 30 minutes. When you are ready to bake it, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To partially bake the tart shell, take a piece of foil and butter the shiny side, then press the buttered side tightly to the shell. You do not need pie weights. Place the tart shell on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, until the shell is dry and lightly colored. If any places have cracked, repair with the extra dough. Let cool on a rack until room temperature.

For the tart: When you are ready to finish the tart, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Fill the tart shell with the applesauce almost to the top of the crust and smooth the top. Place the tart on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat.

Peel and core the two apples. Cut each apple in half and then again lengthwise. Cut each apple quarter into about 7 slices – they will be quite thin.

Arrange the apple slices over the top of the applesauce in a pleasing pattern. I found that the apple slices shrink a bit while baking so be sure the edges overlap the tart crust and each other enough.

Make a egg wash by beating the egg with a teaspoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the apple slices.

Bake the tart in the oven for about 40 to 50 minutes. The applesauce will puff up a little bit and the apples slices will turn golden and slightly burnt at the edges. When the apple slices are soft enough to be pierced by the tip of knife, you can take out the tart.

Remove the tart and let cool on a wire rack. If you’d like to glaze the top of the tart, mix the apple jelly with a teaspoon of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Brush the glaze lightly over the top of the tart.

The tart should be served as soon as possible to prevent it from getting soggy.

Pâtisserie Philippe

655 Townsend Street

San Francisco, CA 94103

415-558-8016

info@patisseriephilippe.com

Open M-F 8-6, Sat 8-5

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