Saturday, June 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: The Bakewell Tart

These tarts were delicious. I would make them again and before I tell you more about my experience with this month's challenge, let me introduce our hosts:

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.

When I first looked at the recipe when it was announced, I thought "Hmmmm, this looks really good". But as I began to make it, I realized I had made a tart very similar to this (using frangipane) at a bakery I used to work at in California, but didn't know the official name Bakewell Tart. The recipe is easy and the components can be done ahead of time. I've included my notes in orange.

Makes one 23cm (9” tart) - I've been so excited to use my new french tart rings, so instead of making a 9-inch tart, this amount yielded (6) 4-inch tarts.
Prep time: less than 10 minutes (plus time for the individual elements)
Resting time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Equipment needed: 23cm (9”) tart pan or pie tin (preferably with ridged edges), rolling pin
One quantity sweet shortcrust pastry (recipe follows)
Bench flour250ml (1cup (8 US fl. oz))
jam or curd, warmed for spreadability - I used Apricot Jam & Raspberry Jam (store bought), because I was limited on time, but I will be making some Apricot Jam and will post about that later this summer.
One quantity frangipane (recipe follows)
One handful blanched, flaked almonds

Sweet shortcrust pastry

Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Resting time: 30 minutes (minimum)
Equipment needed: bowls, box grater, cling film
225g (8oz) all purpose flour
30g (1oz) sugar
2.5ml (½ tsp) salt
110g (4oz) unsalted butter, cold (frozen is better)
2 (2) egg yolks
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract (optional)
15-30ml (1-2 Tbsp) cold water

Sift together flour, sugar and salt. Grate butter into the flour mixture, using the large hole-side of a box grater. *I froze my butter, then used the grater attachment with my food processor--this worked really well!

Using your finger tips only, and working very quickly, rub the fat into the flour until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Set aside.

Lightly beat the egg yolks with the almond extract (if using) and quickly mix into the flour mixture. Keep mixing while dribbling in the water, only adding enough to form a cohesive and slightly sticky dough.

Form the dough into a disc, wrap in cling and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes


Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Equipment needed: bowls, hand mixer, rubber spatula
125g (4.5oz) unsalted butter, softened
125g (4.5oz) icing sugar
3 (3) eggs
2.5ml (½ tsp) almond extract
125g (4.5oz) ground almonds
30g (1oz) all purpose flour

Cream butter and sugar together for about a minute or until the mixture is primrose in colour and very fluffy.

Scrape down the side of the bowl and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter may appear to curdle. In the words of Douglas Adams: Don’t panic. Really. It’ll be fine.

After all three are in, pour in the almond extract and mix for about another 30 seconds and scrape down the sides again. With the beaters on, spoon in the ground nuts and the flour. Mix well. The mixture will be soft, keep its slightly curdled look (mostly from the almonds) and retain its pallid yellow colour.

Assembling the tart

Place the chilled dough disc on a lightly floured surface. If it's overly cold, you will need to let it become acclimatised for about 15 minutes before you roll it out. Flour the rolling pin and roll the pastry to 5mm (1/4”) thickness, by rolling in one direction only (start from the centre and roll away from you), and turning the disc a quarter turn after each roll.

When the pastry is to the desired size and thickness, transfer it to the tart pan, press in and trim the excess dough. Patch any holes, fissures or tears with trimmed bits. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C/400F.

Remove shell from freezer, spread as even a layer as you can of jam onto the pastry base. Top with frangipane, spreading to cover the entire surface of the tart. Smooth the top and pop into the oven for 30 minutes.

*I sliced some apricots and placed them on top of the frangipane, in addition to the apricot jam on the bottom.

Five minutes before the tart is done, the top will be poofy and brownish. Remove from oven and strew flaked almonds on top and return to the heat for the last five minutes of baking.

*You'll notice in the picture below, that I overfilled one of the tarts and it did spill over, but after they are baked and cooled slightly, the overflow peeled away from the ring--no worries!

The finished tart will have a golden crust and the frangipane will be tanned, poofy and a bit spongy-looking. Remove from the oven and cool on the counter. Serve warm, with crème fraîche, whipped cream or custard sauce if you wish.

When you slice into the tart, the almond paste will be firm, but slightly squidgy and the crust should be crisp but not tough.

*Although these tarts are tasty even while warm, I highly recommend that you wait till cooled and refrigerate for about 30 minutes to an hour. You'll thank me when you taste them and enjoy the flavors that have melded together.

P.S. My favorite was the Apricot Tart with the Apricot slices--it worked great with the almond flavors.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Best Friend's Wedding Cake

Yesterday my best friend (of 29 years--wow, has it been that long?) got married. It was such an exciting day and I'm so happy for her.

The past three days have been so crazy busy with baking, as I made her wedding cake and cupcakes for the reception. In between baking, make a ton of buttercream, and decorating till the wee hours of the morning, there were many festivities to attend. Bridal shower, family dinner, the wedding, ring ceremony, and the reception. It was so fun to see roommates from college, extended family and friends and to be there for this special occasion.

I've never been so exhausted after making a wedding cake. Trying to get things done in between all the events and yes, the wedding cake was finally completed with the piping details about an hour before I had to deliver it and set it up. Although, I've delivered and set up many wedding cakes, I still get tense and slightly stressed and can't relax until it is safely there and set up. This cake was no exception--in fact, I think I was more stressed about it being perfect, since it was my wedding gift for my friend. It all worked out, as it always does and this time was even better, as I was able to see her excitement and gratitude for her wedding cake and cupcakes.

The wedding cake and cupcake table with an assortment of seven different flavors of cupcakes.

Cupcake flavors: Dark Chocolate w/Chocolate Buttercream, Dark Chocolate w/Vanilla Buttercream, Lemon Surprise w/Lemon Curd Filling,Orange Zinger, Coconut-Lime, and Hawaiian Coconut-Macadamia Nut Cupcakes.

Congratulations Jenna & Philip!!
June 19, 2009

Hydrangea Wedding Cake: Dark Chocolate Cake w/White Chocolate Cream Cheese Filling (top tier), White-Lemon Cake w/Raspberry Filling (bottom tier), frosted with a Vanilla Buttercream.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Must Have: TRAEX Spatula

There are many heat resistant spatulas on the market, but the TRAEX brand is my favorite and yes, I own at least seven of them. You may be thinking, "really, how great can this spatula be?" Let me explain.

If you notice the two half circles on the handle, just below the silicon scraper, this is one of the features that I love about this spatula.

Those two half circles allow you to do this--ta da!!

See how the knife is under it, but there is still space between the two? This keeps your counter cleaner and also keeps miscellaneous ingredients that might be lurking on your counter from getting onto the mixture you are working with.

Some other features this awesome spatula:

  • Made of silicon for using in high heat (up to 500 f.).
  • One side has a point for scraping square dishes and the other has a rounded corner for scraping bowls.
  • On the other side there is a cut out like this: > so while scraping your mixer bowl you can also clean up near the top of the bowl as well.
  • The end of the handle, is a groove that hooks on to a bowl or saucepan, so it won't slip down into it and then you don't have to stick your hand into something that is hot or sticky.

If you love trying new kitchen tools, then this one is a "must have" in my book. Definitely in my top ten!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Monday Must Have: Microplane Zester/Grater

I love kitchen gadgets and I have a top 10 list of gadgets that I don't ever want to be without. My Microplane zester is close to the top of that list.

There are two kinds of people: those who use Microplane zesters and those who don't. Which ever category you fall into, keep reading because this post is for you. If you do own a Microplane zester and have used it, you probably love it like I do. If you received one as a gift and you haven't used it, read on. If you don't own a Microplane zester, let me share with you how this kitchen gadget can change your life (OK, maybe not your LIFE, but it will change how you cook or bake). First, here is a list of a few things that can be zested:
  • fruits (lemons, oranges, limes)
  • spices (whole nutmeg, cinnamon)
  • chocolate bars (white, milk, dark)
  • cheese, ginger, onions, garlic, etc.

I use my zester almost every time I bake. I use it for cakes, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cookies, fillings, curds, muffins, biscuits, quick breads, garnish, toppings, ice cream, pies, fruit fillings and frosting.

There is no comparison between freshly grated nutmeg and ground nutmeg you buy from the store. The smell is heavenly!

Zesters are available in a few sizes--I have found that this size works for all my needs. There are smaller Microplane graters that are advertised specifically for grating spices, but I find that the one I have works great for nutmeg, so I haven't purchased an additional one. It works fabulous on chocolate bars, for a nice garnish over whipped cream on a dessert.

Lemons are the number one ingredient that I use my Microplane zester for in many of my recipes. I use a lot of egg whites for several desserts on my menu and this leaves many egg yolks left over. The best thing to use the leftover egg yolks is to make them into lemon curd. This is a great recipe from one of my favorite books on lemon desserts.

Lemon Curd
Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks

1) Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
2) Remove pan from heat and whisk in sugar, lemon juice, zest and salt. Whisk in the yolks until smooth.
3) Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it thickens and leaves a path on the back of a wooden spoon when a finger is drawn across it; do not allow the mixture to boil.
4) Immediately pour the Lemon Curd through a strainer into a bowl. Let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Refrigerate, covered until ready to serve.
*Lemon Curd keeps for a month in the refrigerator and about 3 months in the freezer.

Lemon-Orange Curd: (Jillicious variation)
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • add 1 Tbsp. of orange zest + 3 Tbsp. of lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice + 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt (kosher salt)
  • 7 large egg yolks

Prepare using the directions above. (I use less butter, because I like my curd to be a little more tart and the lemon-orange flavor is stronger without it).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Morning walk

This morning when I looked out the window, this bright beauty caught my eye and so I grabbed my camera and took a little walk around our backyard to discover other flowers that had bloomed overnight.

Oriental poppy...

The first peony in bloom...

A strawberry that looks almost ready and will probably be picked later today...

One of the two strawberry raised beds....

The lettuce raised bed...

Guess where our salad from dinner last night came from?

I love how even lettuce is so pretty--just like a flower...

A view from our back porch area, yes we love to feed the birds...

Dark purple Irises....

Isn't it gorgeous?

The rain chain & floating water plants...

The first Heirloom Rose in bloom...

Purple clematis growing up the trellis...

The grapevine...

New grape leaves growing daily...

And the tall, elegant Lupines that still have the morning dew on the leaves...

Living in the Pacific Northwest, we have so many types of plants that grow well here and I feel blessed that I can look out my kitchen window and enjoy so much beauty around me.

"Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling."
~ Walt Whtiman

Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday Must Have: Food Lover's Companion

Happy June 1st! There is just something great about starting something new; such as a new month, a new week, and a new weekly post called "Monday Must Have." Every Monday I will be sharing what I think is a "must have" for every kitchen and for the first of what I hope to be many Monday posts; today is one of my favorite culinary books:

The Food Lover's Companion:
More than 6,700 A-to-Z entries describe foods, cooking techniques, herbs, spices, desserts, wines, and the ingredients for pleasurable dining

Have you ever flipped through a magazine or watched a food show where they were using rare ingredients that you've never heard of? Or maybe you have wondered where does nutmeg come from or who discovered it? If you have ever had any questions or interest in food and ingredients, then you will love this book! I love having a reference book that I can pick up whenever I have a question or want to know more about a specific ingredient and I probably refer to this book at least 4 or 5 times during the week.

Let me give you a taste, yes pun intended: (excerpt from Food Lover's Companion, pg. 418)

"nutmeg: When Columbus sailed from Spain looking for the East Indies, nutmeg was one of the spices for which he was searching. Native to the Spice Islands, this seed from the nutmeg tree (a tropical evergreen) was extremely popular throughout much of the world from the 15th to the 19th century. When the fruit of the tree is picked, it is split to reveal the nutmeg seed surrounded by a lacy membrane that, when dried and ground, becomes the spice MACE. The hard, egg-shaped nutmeg seed is grayish-brown and about 1 inch long. The flavor and aroma are delicately warm, spicy and sweet. Nutmeg is sold ground or whole. Whole nutmeg freshly ground with a NUTMEG GRATER or GRINDER is superior to that which is commercially ground and packaged. Nutmeg is excellent when used in baked goods, milk- or cream-based preparations like custards, white sauces or eggnog and on fruits and vegetables--particularly potatoes, spinach and squash. See also SPICES; Seasoning Suggestions, page 747".

Another reason I love this book, is that it contains cross-references of other terms that may have been mentioned in the definition and are CAPITALIZED for quick and easy location.

I think we are living in a fantastic time where there is so much knowledge in the culinary field and that it is available to those that want to continue to learn and enjoy so many different types of ingredients. What are the favorite culinary books on your kitchen shelf?