Sunday, December 26, 2010

Nectar of the Gods? I'm pretty sure it's gin

To all you gin aficionados out there, we share a special bond. There is nothing more appealing to me than a cocktail made with a good aromatic, dry gin. Bombay Sapphire is my go-to, but as of late, Hendricks has become my new favorite, although not always as readily available.

Now what better way to ring in the new year, than with a fantabulous gin cocktail? My friend David recently introduced me to one (or two, or three...). It's called a French 75, and it's so deliciously potent that it was named after a piece of WWI French artillery...

Wait! And just how much gin does this thing hold?!

Cheers to a Healthy and Happy 2011! 

French 75
Adapted from The Washington Post, August 12, 2009
  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • 1 oz. lemon juice
  • Brut Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
  • Lemon twist for garnish
Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for at least 30 seconds, then strain into a champagne flute. Top with the champagne as needed, and garnish with the twist of lemon peel.

NOTE: To make simple syrup, combine equal parts of sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a slow rolling boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 5 minutes. Transfer to a heatproof container and let cool to room temperature. Cover tightly and refrigerate until chilled through; store indefinitely.

Friday, December 24, 2010

And a partridge in a pear tart...or something

Two blog posts in one day? And a holiday, even?! Yes, I'm making up for lost time.

I wanted to share a recipe for another amazing fruit tart. This one is made with pears and an almond cream filling called frangipane.

Frangipane is a staple in many French pastries, so of course, I had tons of practice making it in pastry school. Although this recipe and method may differ a bit from the one I was taught, it's just as tasty and pairs really well with the Anjou pears.

Wishing you a Happy Holiday, and hopes for a sweet 2011!

Pear and Almond Frangipane Tart
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

For the Pâte Sablée dough:
  • 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

For the Poached Pears:
  • 2 ripe medium pears (I used Anjou)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Frangipane filling:
  • 6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons almond extract

For the pears:
Combine the water, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon stick, vanilla, and salt in a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, cut the pears in half, remove the seed core and fibrous cores at either end, then peel the pears.

Add the pear halves to the simmering syrup and reduce heat to low. Cover, and let pears poach for about 10 minutes, turning them halfway. The pears will become slightly translucent, very tender, and easily pierced with a knife or skewer.

Let the pears cool in the liquid until room temperature before using. Or, you can store them in their liquid in the refrigerator for up to 3 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 frangipane:
Combine the butter and sugar in the food processor and combine until smooth. Add the ground almonds and blend together. Add the flour and cornstarch, and then the egg and egg white. Process the mixture until it is very smooth. Add in the vanilla and almond extracts just to blend. The frangipane can be used immediately or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. If it becomes too firm in the fridge, let it sit at room temperature for a while to soften before using.

To finish the tart:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the frangipane evenly into the cooled tart shell (It should be liquid enough to smooth out on its own so you don't need to work to much on it).

Take the poached pears out of their liquid and drain them on paper towels. You don't want too much excess liquid or they will make the frangipane soggy. Cut each pear into 3/8 inch thick slices.

Slide the pear half onto the frangipane carefully - you can move the pear after you place it, but not much. Fan the pear slices out into a concentric circle.

Place the tart on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about 45-50 minutes, until the frangipane is puffed, golden brown, and firm to the touch. Cool the tart on a wire rack.

Before serving, you can brush the pears with some warmed apple jelly to glaze, or dust confectioner's sugar over the tart. Makes one 9-inch tart.

I'm not a pastry school dropout

My pastry adventure is over. Okay, not quite, but my French Pastry School days are over as I officially became a graduate on December 17th. It was such a fantastic experience (minus a few mental breakdown days initially), and I also met some really lovely pastry peeps (both chefs and classmates).

Photo courtesy of classmate Jack Lee. I hope to have more posted soon.

All of the students in my program were in charge of creating pastries for the buffet at the graduation reception. My stream was responsible for creating the breads and breakfast pastries.

I have to admit, that now that I'm finished, I'm experiencing a bit of the post-graduate blues. My classmate Laura, coined it "post pastry depression" very clever. Don't get me wrong, I am really relieved that it's all over — no more exams, grueling 55 hour school/work weeks, or ill-fitting chef's uniforms. I can finally focus on other things, like my much neglected blog (ahem). I'm just not sure of what's next.

My family and friends are encouraging me to start a little side business, operating out of a shared kitchen. I'd like to focus on tarts and petit fours, and I have some foundation recipes, but need to tweak them (test kitchen style!). I have so many ideas, but sometimes just as many self-doubt days, so we'll see. It would be a total trial by fire, but I've continued working as a graphic artist, so I always have that to fall back on. The safer route would be for me to find part-time work, preferably at a bakery to continue to develop my skills.

In the meantime, I think the holidays make a pretty fine diversion, don't you agree?