Monday, February 14, 2011

Celebrate Valentine's Day with a Sour Cherry Linzer Tart

Whether you're part of a couple or going through a lonely hearts phase, this sour cherry linzer tart is the perfect Valentine's day treat.  You can find this recipe in Sur La Table's cookbook " The Art & Soul of Baking," although it's your lucky day because it looks like Sur La Table posted it online as well.  Now before we talk tart construction, I should start out by giving a shout out to the incredibly helpful Sur La Table staff in Santa Monica.  I've just started experimenting with piping bags and they went out of their way to help me navigate piping bag options for this recipe.

This particular recipe is great for a holiday or special event, because in theory there are a lot of steps you can take care of ahead of time.  However, I waited until the day of my tart deadline and finished with moments to spare.  Like so many recipes, this one starts with the step of creaming together butter and sugar.  In the spirit of Valentine's Day, one of the things I love most about baking is that you can start out with such simple ingredients and make a huge variety of creations.  Thus, I remain in awe of butter in particular and revere dairy farmers for making my experimentation possible.

Another thing I love about this recipe is the opportunity to zest.  This orange and lemon zest will eventually make it's way into the tart dough.  I've always said that if I had to pick a favorite kitchen tool, the zester would be it.  However, I have a Valentine's Day confession: my heart has been stolen away by this microplaner, a giveaway I received in my gift bag from the International Food Blogging Conference in 2010.  I am sure that somewhere in the food blogosphere, some blogger has published an op-ed about the benefits of zesting vs. microplaning. While I am curious about the difference, I have not read this op-ed and I prefer to live in ignorant bliss, microplane in hand.

Above, the orange and lemon zest are added to the 
butter, sugar & egg mixture.  After that,  
vanilla extract joins the crew

Next comes the fun part: blending the flour, nut. and spice mixture in your food processor!  I would call my food processor a "baby" food processor.  It's just big enough to blend a mixture like this one, or to make a small batch of hummus.  And while I won't deny that I've lusted after bigger, grander, food processors, I've always been inspired by Mark Bittman's philosophy that you don't have to own every cooking tool in order to execute magnificent food.  Yes, on this Valentine's Day, I'm also toasting to all of you studio apartment chefs out there.  For all of you living in big cities in little apartments, Bittman should certainly be your culinary muse if he isn't yet.  Note: this mixture includes whole hazelnuts, which can be a little bit harder to find in your average supermarket.  I found some at Whole Foods after a bit of searching.

Like so many doughs, this dough needs chilling before you work it into the tart pan.  I like to use the dough chilling time to clean up in the kitchen a bit, but this is also an excellent time to have a snack since you've been hard at work preparing your tart.  (Snacking while cooking? An essential step of the process.)

Above, part of the dough is placed into a piping bag 
and kept at room temperature.  
This dough will later turn into the tart's lattice top!

Dried cherries, cinnamon sticks, vanilla bean, cherry juice and sugar are simmered together to form the base of the filling, which is later thickened with corn starch.  Below, the cherries are separated from the juice before the corn starch is added to the liquid (the thickening step.)

Above, I don't own a fine mesh strainer, 
so I  strained the filling using a colander and some cheesecloth.  
Again, I'm always inspired my Bittman to improvise according to the situation!  
For more "food hacks" & improvisations, I would also suggest 

Above, the final thickened juices are combined with cherries 
and rest atop a bowl of ice water for faster chilling.  
The filling must cool before it is added to the tart pan.

Now that the dough is chilled, it's ready to press into the tart pan.  I would highly recommend this recipe for a first-time tart maker since it's a little less intimidating than tarts that involve rolling out the dough. (That being said, the rolling pin is your friend!  Do not be afraid to embrace a recipe that involves rolling some dough.  What's the worst that can happen?)

Once the filling is finally cool, add it to the tart dough.  
Now we're cookin'!

With the filling in place, now it's time to pipe on the lattice top and then let the oven do the work!  While I'm no piping expert, I made it work and I think practice makes perfect when it comes to this part.  Most importantly, this tart was fun to make, delicious to taste, and Valentine-approved.  Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Dorie Greenspan's delightful goat cheese puffs from "Around My French Table" (and how I will use almost any excuse to justify another cookbook purchase)

One could probably devote an entire blog just to Dorie Greenspan's recipes.  During a recent Amazon order, I justified purchasing her book "Around My French Table" because I "had to" spend a few dollars more to get free shipping.  Never mind that by the time I purchase another item, it's much more than shipping would have been in the first place-- however, it was the perfect excuse I was waiting for to buy this gem of a book.  Although I'm trying to save money these days, I think books like this are an investment.  This is a book with pages that will fill my belly  and the bellies of those I love for years to come, pages that will weather with use over many meals, holidays, potlucks and celebrations.  Therefore, if I calculate the cost of the book measured by feasts over time, I'm practically stealing it from Amazon.  The book arrived on Friday and I didn't waste any time getting to work in the kitchen.  Some friends were gathering to catch up and have a "girl's night in" and the occasion seemed perfect for DG's goat-cheese mini puffs recipe.  

For this recipe, you start out by creating cream puff dough, also known as pâte à choux.  As Greenspan explains in her book, this dough is rather magical in its transformation.  First you cook the ingredient's of the dough on the stove, then you stir vigorously, then the dough is later baked into expanding "puffs" on a cookie sheet. 

Gratuitous ingredients close-up shot

                                                           Butter, water, milk, and salt 
                                             slowly turn to magic dough

It's almost time to add the flour...

Flour is added and the dough comes together...just remember to stir it like you mean it!

Now it's time to add the eggs to the dough...and of course I had to include a token shot of DG's beautiful book.  Don't worry, I didn't leave it on the table while mixing-- lest the pages get splashed with egg!  

And now for the filling: a mixture of herbed goat cheese, cream cheese, cream, salt & pepper.

The goat cheese mixture is spooned into a piping bag and into the "puffs" it goes-- into a hopefully inconspicuous hole in the puff's side!  DG says you can also cut the tops off of the puffs to fill them, but this piping bag part is perhaps the most fun of all-- it's like performing surgery on a baked good.

Et voila!  Goat cheese puffs!

This recipe is one that I'm planning to keep in my back pocket for many a-gathering.  My compliments to Dorie Greenspan for yet another lovely recipe.