August 3, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Once upon a time, there was a lemon tree in my backyard. It was short and planted along the walkway to the stairs leading to the basement. I am not sure why, but I don’t remember it ever growing any lemons. Maybe it did, but I do know it had difficulty with the lack of sunlight in our backyard, due to the overshadowing of the huge cedar tree.
The failures of other plants in the garden I remember more vividly. I was disappointed for weeks when my potted vegetables — lettuce, carrots and tomatoes — all failed to become edible, with only the carrots looking remotely like they should, and even then they were about a quarter of the size of my pinkie. The only plant in our backyard that produced was our white peach tree, which produced ripe, fuzzy peaches late in the summer. And then our kitchen and friends were flooded with peaches for a few weeks until our garden went back to being its usual unproductive self.
Both the lemon and peach trees are gone now; I’ll have to remember to ask my parents what happened to them. But lemons and peaches are still two of my favorite fruits to eat. I remember cutting up lemons into wedges and eating them dipped in white sugar. Lemons also bake exceedingly well in cakes and tarts; lemon loaf cake is a huge favorite in our house, as are simple lemon tarts (without the meringue).
Today, I finally managed to get David Lebovitz’ lemon curd into a tart shell. Creamy while still undisputedly tart, this curd was perfect for a delicate almond shortbread crust. I baked it in my new rectangular fluted tart pan, reminding me on the lemon tarts my brother and I used to buy by the slice at La Boulangerie Bay Bread in San Francisco.
From COOK, a oui chef journal by Connie
8 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup flour
3 tablespoons ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 375˚F with the rack in the center.
Combine the flour, salt and ground almonds in a medium mixing bowl.
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar and vanilla and mix to combine.
Add the butter mixture into the dry ingredients and combine until a dough is formed. If the dough is too hot to handle, allow it to cool slightly.
With your hands, press the dough into a 9-in tart pan. When it comes to working up the sides, a measuring cup can help.
Bake the shell for 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
July 7, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Houses stacked on top of each other, walls touching, vines wrapped around balconies as if to protect the inhabitants from the streets, which are invariably delicately smudged with dirt and garbage and fallen fruits from the trees above. Buses are packed full of businessmen and women, middle-school children who giggle obnoxiously loudly and 30something men who casually sit in the back and make you distinctly uncomfortable with just one look. This, in my eyes, is a city. Here, I see people at three times of the day, 8:50 a.m., lunchtime, and 5 p.m. During those times, the pristine metro is packed, the streets bustle with people in a rush to get to their destination — which alternates between the office, the restaurants, and home — and for a brief moment, I am reminded of home. During the other times, I am shocked by the empty streets, surrounded by 6 story buildings with glass walls, housing cubicles, and, if you’re lucky, large personal offices. Washington D.C. seems to me a city made to be a city but not much else. Maybe I am just shocked by a city government that actually keeps the sidewalks clean and the streets drivable, but there is so much vapid, empty space here and it makes me uncomfortable.
Yesterday, I took the metro up to Friendship Heights after work. I wanted new baking pans from Williams Sonoma so that I could finally bake in shapes other than a 9-inch circle and a brownie pan. I picked up a long, rectangular tart pan, a couple mini tartlet molds and a set of four 5-inch spring-form cake pans, which are super adorable. Then I decided that since I was on Wisconsin Ave. anyway, I might as well walk home. I had no idea how far it was until I was halfway home (I checked on the metro maps at all the bus stops, yet somehow did not get on a bus) and I had already been walking for 40 minutes. When I finally got home, I decided a run was unnecessary and went right to breaking in one of the new pans.
I was really excited to use my new rectangular tart pan. At home, the Boulangerie Bay Bread makes all their tarts as rectangles and sells them by the slice. I used to love their thick slices of flan after school. Nothing other than a traditional tart would do to christen my new pan. I made a traditional flaky crust with just a smidgen of sugar, layered a bit of almond flour at the bottom, then topped it with a creamy vanilla custard. As soon as the custard was mostly set in the oven, I topped the tart with a layer of fresh nectarines, gently dusted with cinnamon sugar and turned the broiler on. The sweet custard, juicy, tart nectarines, and crackled, golden, sugar topping made this tart a true winner.
I wish I could post better pictures of the tart. Unfortunately, blogging from this house is becoming incredibly difficult. Often, I get home around 8 p.m., spend about an hour deliberating over what to make and crossing out recipes for which I don’t have half of the ingredients. When I finally get something out of the oven, it is too dark to get a reasonable picture. The biggest hurdle is getting through the night; there has been many a time when I wake up the next morning, intending to get a good picture in the daylight, only to find that whatever it was I left out on the counter has been devoured by my housemates. When there is a tiny sliver left to photograph, I run into camera problems. My own camera is still chilling somewhere next to the IRAs race course in Camden, NJ or (equally likely) being enjoyed by the clever person who managed to steal it at the regatta.
Flaky Tart Dough
Adapted from Tartine
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very cold water
3 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup + 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and keep in fridge until ready to use.
Add the flour to the work bowl. Cut butter into 1″ chunks and scatter across the top of the flour. Pulse briefly until you have large crumbs. (I don’t use a food processor and instead do this with my hands) Add the cold water/salt mixture and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball but is not completely smooth. You should still see chunks of butter (about pea size).
On a floured surface, divide the dough into two balls, shape into disks 1″ thick (work the dough as little as possible). Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To make the custard:
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups milk
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt until smooth and frothy. In a saucepan, warm the milk until just before boiling. Add the milk to the bowl and whisk until combined. Pour the custard mixture into the tart pan.
Assembling the tart:
Take the tart shell out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle a generous layer of almond meal over the inside bottom of the shell; this will help absorb the moisture from the custard and prevent a soggy crust. Pour the custard mixture into the shell and brush the side of the tart with an egg white. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the middle of the tart is set. Remove the tart from the oven, layer with thin slices of nectarine and sprinkle (sparingly) with cinnamon sugar. Put the tart back into the oven under the broiler on HI for a couple minutes or until the top is just starting to brown.