Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How Not To Make A Strawberry Tart

Let’s just say, I should have gone with my original plan, which was to follow Ina Garten’s fruit tart recipe. (She uses a shortbread crust with pastry cream and it is delicious!)

Last month, I bought a flat of locally grown strawberries with the intention of making a Tarte aux Fraises. The strawberries were so delicious however, that we ended up devouring all of the fruit before I had time to bake. So, this past weekend I picked up two pints at the local Trader Joes. My amateur culinary wheels began to spin and I thought what herbs could I blend with the strawberries to make a savory-sweet tart? (As a point of reference, see my Cherry Peppercorn Tart post, which explains my current fascination with sweet-savory dessert)

My answer: Thyme.

Okay. I thought, certainly I was not the first to think of putting thyme in a strawberry tart. There must be a recipe online from some expert chef to give me a basic outline on how to proceed with my current culinary endeavor.

I discovered a nectarine strawberry tart that was prepared by Carla from Top Chef’s Season 5. (I was a big fan of hers) She blended nectarines, plums, cherries and strawberries along with thyme into the filling. It sounded delicious at the time (no pun intended). I went back to the market.

Seeing as it is late March and stone fruits are nowhere close to being in season, I bought nectarines and plums that had been imported from Chili. (By the way, and not uncommon, two of the nectarines were brown inside and needed to be thrown out.) This is probably where I went wrong; frozen nectarines may have tasted better.

I started by adding thyme to my pate brisee. I do this often with my quiches and it is usually delicious. Then came the filling: I seared the two surviving nectarines in canola oil. I then added the thyme, butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and the diced plums. I then added the cornstarch thickener, vanilla, and finally the strawberries.

Doesn’t sound that bad does it? Well, you know it wasn’t a hit, when your husband has one bite, starts puckering his lips, then starts picking pieces of thyme out of his teeth. He said it was sour and literally put his plate down claiming he couldn’t eat any more. I was so disappointed! I’m still at a loss as to why it tasted sour. Bad fruit? Of course, being the perfectionist, I took it so personally…

What followed next was a typical Mars-Venus dialogue of him telling me that he doesn’t like putting additives like thyme in his dessert. To which I defensively responded, “of course you don’t.” “You were raised on meat and potatoes.”

I’ll save you from the rest of the bad Dr. Phil episode.

I will say that the lemon thyme cream from Carla’s recipe was absolutely delicious! It was a very simple recipe including: whipping cream, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and thyme. The only mistake I made was not mincing the thyme well enough. (Causing the whole thyme-picking-from-teeth drama that I previously mentioned). No matter. It was delicious and I will use again and again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Cherry Peppercorn Tart

I'm really into desserts (and food for that matter) that blend sweet and savory flavors in one mouthful. Perhaps it's because I don't have much of a sweet tooth; For dessert, I prefer a cheese plate to chocolate cake.

My interest in this "meritage" of flavors, was further confirmed on a recent trip to Paso Robles. We ate dinner at a wonderful restaurant across from the park called Villa Creek. For dessert we had a peppercorn cherry tart. It was to die for! Each bite was an awesome contrast between the sweet taste of the cherries with the sharp spicy flavor of the peppercorns. I spent the entire drive home and following week thinking how to make this delicious tart.

Given the fact that it was January and cherries are not in season, I bought frozen (pitted) organic cherries. Once cooked, they tasted fine. (However, fresh, ripe, domestic cherries would be spectacular!) My first attempt was not that good because I didn't have the texture of the filling right; it was too runny. (Mind you, I had never successfully baked a pie before this endeavor. I had no idea that you are supposed to use cornstarch or tapioca to thicken the filling) My second attempt was much better. I ended up using tapioca to thicken the cherry/peppercorn filling (Next time I will try the corn starch mixture) I also put ground peppercorn in my pate brisee. It was a good tart, but not exactly on par with Villa Creek. Here is a rough sketch of my recipe:

2 cups of flour
8 oz cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon of crisco
2 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of salt
1 tablespoon of ground peppercorns
4-6 tablespoons of ice water

3-4 cups of pitted cherries
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of lemon zest
1 tsp of vanilla
1-2 tsp of ground peppercorns
1/4 water
2 tablespoons of cornstarch

If anyone reading this gets a 'wild hair' and decides to try this delicious tart, I would love your comments and suggestions for improvement!