Recently in Pies and Tarts
Thursday, January 21, 2010

pine-nut tart with rosemary

pinenut rosemary tart

TS Eliot once said April is the cruelest month, but I’d like to take his April and raise him a January. Clearly, the man hasn’t lived though a “new-year-new-you” era – he’d be singing a different tune if he had, and the prologue to his canonical work might have started out a tad differently.

pinenut rosemary tartpinenut rosemary tart
pinenut rosemary tartpinenut rosemary tart

Generally, I am no friend of January. It’s just too much pressure: the resolutions, the feeling of obligation to be better, do better, think better; the pressure of salads in a month when brown food accented with butter and a rich sauce is what I want to eat. Somehow a plate full of lettuce leaves me feeling cold and dejected. Were you to put a salad in front of me, I’d simply poke about with a fork and shove it to the side. Unless we’re talking about this salad here and that one there. But for the most part, I’m all about devouring stuffed cabbage and merguez burgers and braised short ribs. I make a terrible vegetarian in the month of January and my resolutions last about as long as it takes me to drink a cup of tea. Thus I rarely make resolutions outright. Instead, I aspire. To aspire just sounds so much more open than resolve, softer, more lenient, more forgiving. It’s not that I don’t like to set goals, but just not in January, okay? The cold is just too much for me to bear. I prefer dreaming about hibernation and fleece and flannel and soup. Or visiting sunnier cities with gracious hosts and friendly dogs. On occasion, I will daydream about walking around this cold, cloudy city, armed with a cup of coffee in my hand and a camera. But mostly, I think about palm trees and chewed up monkey toys and day hikes. I’d like more of those in my life.

pinenut rosemary tart
pinenut rosemary tart

The sheer pressure of January with its new beginnings and clean pages is so daunting, it can be overwhelming and downright depressing, right? Plus as we’re coming off the holiday season high, we might just come crashing down. There are no more festive parties, no more champagne cocktails, no festive cupcakes adorned with tiny little silver dragées. It’s back to the grind; back to reality. Work picks up almost overnight and after a 15 hour workday as you get home at 10:30 o’clock at night, you want a little indulgence and a lot more sleep. And that indulgence does not come in the form of a salad.

pinenut rosemary tart

And this is where I am not helpful. At all. I say to you, “It’s winter, indulge a bit, comfort thyself. And when spring comes around with its verdant, lush produce, then transition to salads!” Won’t that be so much more fun? Great, in-season produce when it’s warmer and you’re feeling lighter just because you’re not wearing eight layers. But for now, this tart should get you through the colder months. It’s the kind of thing you want to have company for and because this is so wonderfully rich, smaller slivers will do just fine – you won’t want a big piece on your plate. Rosemary, the quintessential herb in savory winter cooking, is the star here, with its soft fragrance accenting the caramel and pine nuts. This is very classically-Italian flavor combination here, and so perfectly wintry, you’ll feel perhaps a bit gladder it’s not summer yet.

pinenut rosemary tartpinenut rosemary tart

Gray, cold days are no time to make resolutions when our souls need comforting. Let’s make them on warmer days (if at all) and in the meantime let us have cake (or tarts) with bottomless cups of tea. It’ll pass the time quite perfectly.

pinenut rosemary tart
pinenut rosemary tart

Pine-nut Tart with Rosemary
Adapted from The Last Course, by Claudia Fleming (with Melissa Clark)

Almond Crust:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp almond flour
Pinch of salt

Pine-nut Rosemary Filling
1 cup pine nuts
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp honey
3 tbsp light corn syrup
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
Pinch of salt

Preparation:

To make the crust:

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar until combined, about 1 minute. Beat in egg.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.

3. Mix until the dough holds together, which you can test by pinching a small piece. Scrape the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, form it into a disk, and wrap well. Chill until firm, for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.

4. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a 12-inch round. Fit it into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim away any excess dough, then use a fork to prick the crust all over. Chill for 10 minutes. Bake the tart crust until it’s pale golden, 20-35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. (The tart shell can be made 8 hours ahead of frozen for up to 3 months.)

To make the filling:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the nuts out in one layer on a baking sheet and toast them until fragrant and golden brown around the edges, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool, but keep the oven on.

2. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the sugar, honey, and corn syrup. Stir the mixture occasionally over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Raise the heat to high and boil the mixture, stirring occasionally to keep the caramel from burning, until it turns a deep amber color, 12-14 minutes.

3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the cream (stand back, the caramel may splatter). Place over low heat and whisk until the caramel is smooth. Turn off the heat and stir in the toasted pine nuts, vanilla, rosemary, and salt. Let the mixture infuse for 15 minutes.

4. Wrap the outside of the cooled tart shell (still in the pan) with aluminum foil. Remove the rosemary sprigs and pour the pine-nut mixture into the shell. Place on a baking sheet and bake until golden russet brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Friday, November 20, 2009

apple cranberry pie with honey-bourbon caramel

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

Everyone has their favorite pie. The one they swear by. The one they are tempted to make every Thanksgiving. And this is mine. There are pumpkin pie lovers and pecan pie lovers and sweet potato pie lovers. But for my money, nothing beats a good apple pie at the end of a great meal.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel
friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

This entry has been a week in the making. A full week of me staring at the computer screen trying to say something meaningful and eloquent and a propos Thanksgiving. But here’s the rub – I’m so beyond eloquence where this pie is concerned, I’ve rewritten this oh, maybe twelve times? I’m not even joking. So let’s try something here for a change.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

Apples.
Butter.
Honey.
Bourbon.
Caramel.*

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramelfriendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

These should be your five reasons (like you need more) to make this pie this Thanksgiving**. I know what you’re about to say, “But Olga, I’ve never made this pie before, can I subject my guests to a first time experiment?” My answer is an unequivocal YES. And YES. And YES, AGAIN. You can. You should. You must. And here’s another thing for you to consider. I have SO much faith in you, that I’m absolutely positive you will be victorious and create a pie that your family and friends will talk about for years to come. You might even set a new bar in pie-making.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

This pie is oh-ever-so-slightly more fussy than your regular apple pie in that you make the honey bourbon caramel before coating the apple slices. You will want, and I warn you here, to sit on your couch and lick the remaining caramel in the pot. For that, you make take five minutes because one must never let a good thing to go waste. In the time that you’re licking the caramel out of the pot, you also let the apples absorb the caramel a little more, so it works out fine. But then, you must waste no time, and put your pie together and bake it.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel
friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

I suggest, while your pie is baking in the oven, that you sit down and have a filling snack. Perhaps a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or maybe some warmed up beans with toast and a runny egg. But eat something because the smell of this pie will render you incredibly hungry. And you don’t want to torture yourself because a hungry cook is an angry cook and we all know what happens when one cooks angry.

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

One other thing I forgot to tell you is the matter of decorating your pie. Because this is a holiday, a simple pie crust top with some vents won’t do. You should make dough leaves. Or use a cookie cutter with an autumnal theme. Or, if you have some other cookie shape, use that. The more random – the better! I remember when I made this pie last year, we spent a good portion of dinner laughing at my choice of decorative accent. And this time around, I’m tempted to do it again, eventhough I have leaf shapes, but where’s the fun in that?

friendship apple cranberry pie with bourbon caramel

*You might have seen this honey-bourbon caramel before. I simply decided to use it here again. I’m very happy I did.

**If anyone has any last minute Thanksgiving questions, I’ll be answering until Turkey Day itself, but on the very day I’ll be cooking all day, so I won’t be around. Shoot me an email or leave a comment below if you have any questions.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

fig tart with caramelized onions, rosemary and stilton

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

Do you know how I finally admit to myself that we’re in the thick of autumn and there’s no turning back? It’s nights like tonight: cold, rainy, windy nights. Nights when I’m going home after a sweat-filled, seriously challenging spin class and standing in the middle of a salad bar only to realize that the last thing I want to be eating tonight is a crunchy salad. Give me something warm and keep the cold vegetables away, please!

lots of onions - mmm.caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

Normally, I’m a salad lover, the girl who loves to crunch on the crudite at parties.* In Russia, vegetables were the one thing I would dutifully eat. I would push the meat around my place like it was a soccer ball, secretly hoping that my mother would somehow think I was eating it. But my mother was far too smart for that, having gone through a very similar trick with her own mother and would give me stern looks after which she’d point to my plate with her fork, as if saying, “Don’t even try this wit me! I see right through you. Now eat your chicken cutlet!” My mother held a draconian watch over what I ate and I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until my plate was spotless and sparkling. But the vegetables – those went fast! It was the other stuff I couldn’t bear to eat. Vegetables – I could’ve been eating for weeks and months on end.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

In Russia, however, fresh vegetables were only available in the summer. Fall, winter, early spring brought on lots of root vegetables, stews, soups, but not salads. I would have died for a salad back then. But now? With this rainy, drizzly weather, on days like these all I want is something slow-cooked, caramelized, hearty. Like a giant pile of sliced onions slowly and patiently cooked over low low flame for nearly an hour and a half until they’ve succumbed to the kind of perfection only achieved food gets brown and tastes of fall – a heap of fragrant, golden-brown goodness. A bit of sharp cheese doesn’t hurt either and a few slivers of fresh figs accentuate the onions. Add some buttery puff pastry in the mix, bake it until flaky and golden. As a piece de resistance, drizzle a bit of your best honey and bit into it. And then see the magic unfold.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

I knew I had a winner on my hands when I saw the main ingredients of this listed in the title. As if I needed another excuse for caramelized onions, Stilton (swoon!) and figs. What I didn’t anticipate is what a hit it was going to be with my guests for a party I threw earlier this month. I don’t think I ever got this many compliments on a single dish, with these two being the continuous crowd-pleasers. This tart vanished in a matter of minutes. I kind of felt bad for guests who arrived late, but I’m sure those who ate a few extra slices didn’t mind their tardiness one bit. Even I snagged a piece and nearly fell over because people, this is good stuff. I mean, really good. The kind of good that makes you want to take the rest of the plate, go to your room, lock the door and not share. Fortunately for others, I like sharing and I prefer not to transition to pants with an elastic waist. But, I could’ve gladly consumed many more slices of this tart if there were any left.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

Don’t believe me? Go and and make it for yourself! I dare you to eat only one piece.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

*Before you go ahead and think that’s all I eat at parties, let me assure you that I’m an equal opportunity food consumer. If I see it, I will eat it!

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

sweet cherry pie

sweet cherry pie

Move over, apple pie, you’ve got serious competition as far as I’m concerned. I know I once pledged my undying love for you, but that was before cherry pie and I had made acquaintance. I really didn’t expect it to be this good, but I must say, I’m over the moon here.

sweet cherries

Granted, sour cherries is really where it’s at, but I missed the sour cherry season, because while other folks were busy making sour cherry treats, I was busy looking for an apartment, then packing, then moving, then unpacking. And by the time I pulled my baking gear out of boxes, sour cherries were gone, done for the season, and instead these sweet ones were all over the place.

this pitter is a life-saver!

Not to be deterred, I decided to give these sweet cherries a whirl in a pie. And to up the ante further, I picked the hottest, most humid of days to do so. Yes, I like an extra challenge, why do you ask?

no more pits!no more crust fear!

I’ve written about my thoughts on making a successful crust here, but I’d like to reiterate the cold factor one more time. It’s incredibly important to achieve a flaky crust, but in summer weather when you have 100% humidity and 90 degree weather, cold should be the manifesto with which you set out to make the crust. I kept my rolling pin, bowl of flour and butter in the freezer for this to make sure I kept my ingredients as chilled as possible. My one gripe is that butter, when kept in the freezer, will crumble under the knife, instead of making perfect little cubes. I’m a sucker for those perfect little cubes – even if they’re seconds way from being blended with the flour into pea sized bits.

sweet cherry pie

A few years ago, I attempted a pie crust on what turned out to be the hottest day in all of the summer season. And you know, that totally scorched me. I couldn’t come near a pie crust recipe, let alone try and measure out my ingredients. All, I want to say here is that if I conquered my fears and delivered, in this pie, my most successful, flakiest crust to date (and it was anti-crust weather), you can do it too. Just work quickly with determination. Like I said in my latest pie post, pie crust smells fear – and you are stronger than the pie crust!

sweet cherry pie

I loved the filling idea from Deb at Smitten Kitchen and so adapted it for the pie here. But I stuck with the sweeter version of my usual pie crust, which I wrote about when I made the Honey Bourbon Caramel Peach Pie – it’s the same pie crust as you might find in many books, but with two teaspoons of sugar instead of the usual one.

sweet cherry pie

So while the cherries are plentiful and inexpensive and we still have a month of summer left, find the time for this pie – if you make your crust in advance and chill it, it’s a cinch – and a delicious one at that.

cherry pie

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Friday, July 3, 2009

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

Make. This. Pie. Now. Honestly, I don’t know much else to say about it except just tell you to drop whatever you are doing and just make it this weekend. For the 4th of July weekend. You know, an American pie for an American holiday. I know (yawn) how Patriotic and assimilated of me! But honestly, no one loves a holiday centered around picnics, barbecues and cookouts more than me. I swear, I live for these things!

I know that the saying goes “as American as apple pie”, but in the summertime, no one wants to bake with apples when there’s so much other in-season fruit around. Cherry pie, blueberry pie both seem to come to mind more readily than apple pie does, especially this time of year. Berries shine in summer pies – while apples are better suited for fall baking.

fragrant and ripe

If berries aren’t your bag, or if, like me, you’re always conflicted as to whether you want to eat the berries as they are, or cook with them, consider peaches. I can’t think of a scent more evocative of summer than that of ripe peaches filling the room. Beautiful, ripe, fragrant, full of sun and hot, sticky summer air, peaches often deliver their finest arias after being cooked. rather than on their own. Though, never underestimate that first bite into a ripe peach, its juice running down your arm. Baking peaches gives them a lovely, sunny, caramel sweetness.

peaches!

When I made this pie, I followed most of the instructions, but of course, couldn’t resist adding a little bourbon to the caramel. I was going about my business, making the pie, when I heard the bourbon in my cupboard call out to me, whispering sweet, seductive nothings into my ear. And when there’s an opportunity to add bourbon (hee-hee, ha-ha!), I am unable to resist. I file this behind the I-know-a-good-thing-when-I-see-it tab. And bourbon, like Martha would say, is a good thing, indeed.

making honey bourbon caramelbutter

I bet many of you have holiday plans this weekend and are going to picnics, barbecues, cookouts. I bet you might even have to bring a dish with you. Why not this one? True, you have to make pie dough ahead of time. But really, the whole thing comes together rather quickly especially if you skip the blanching process, which I did, because I was ridiculously short on time and pulled the pie together in under an hour (that’s with crust being made the day ahead – which, by the way, took like 15 minutes!)

It’s funny how with some dishes, I’ll have a story for you and with this one I am so excited about this pie, that’s pretty much all that’s coming to mind. I think you should make this and I know you will love it. Except that I know how many of you feel about making your own crust. I get more questions about crusts and anxiety about making them, than perhaps any other cooking insecurity. And I am far from being an expert.

honey bourbon caramel, poured

Believe me, I know where you are coming from. Until this very pie, I was in the same boat, afraid of making my own crust, nervous about how it’ll turn out. I finally figured it out and I’ll share what I’ve learned with you. But my very first pie crust was a serious fail. A historic, memorable, go-down-in-history-to-scar-you fail. It gave me crust anxiety for years to come. Of course, it doesn’t help that I chose to make my first crust on the hottest, most humid day of the summer. And you know – pie crusts and humidity are mortal enemies. Crusts like to be cold and summers like to be hot and muggy. And with all this abundant, ripe, beautiful fruit in the summer, we have a conundrum. We want a beautiful, flaky, buttery crust – and it absolutely refuses to cooperate? Happen to anyone lately?

all butter pastrycoarse meal texture
making all butter pie crustthis is what you want your dough to do

My very first pie crust, was an abomination. It tore, refused to roll out and just about melted in my hands. It didn’t help that I was a nervous wreck around it and didn’t work quickly enough. Crusts are like dogs – they smell fear and my crust, sensing I was petrified, showed me who’s boss. The whole thing still is traumatic enough to make me shudder. But please just trust me when I say this – a beautiful, delicious, flaky, homemade pie crust is well within your reach. If you want to give it a go – you can absolutely do it! Here are a few pointers that I hope should help to guide you along.

I also think that Deb over at Smitten Kitchen has an indispensable primer on pie crusts – definitely check it out!

all butter pie dough

So here are my few thoughts on what can make your pie-crust-making life a lot less painful. Hope this helps.

Cold butter

First of all, this might sound silly, but as soon as you cube your butter, please shove it back in the freezer and give it a few minutes’ sitting time. While you dump all the other ingredients into the food processor (does the job that much faster – hence keeping it all colder!) – your butter gets a little colder after you touched with your warm hands.

foldedpie dough
the overhangbrushing with milk

Not overworking dough
Until I saw the picture of what the dough should look like, I had no idea what coarse meal really meant. I’ve included a few pictures for you, including how it looks before and after being pinched – so you can do your own ready-test.

making vents

Chill whatever equipment you can
I chilled my rolling pin in the freezer. Every little bit helps, you see.

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

Rolling Dough Out – keep it quick
Finally, I figure out how to roll out the dough. Short, purposeful movements from the center to mid-point of your disk (never to the end) as you flatten the dough. Continue to dust with flour to prevent sticking.

honey bourbon caramel peach pie

I hope this helps and I hope you all have amazing holiday weekends full of delicious food, fabulous parties and lots and lots of sun! Happy 4th of July!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

lemon raspberry tart

lemon raspberry tart

“Are you and your husband doing anything special for the holiday this weekend?” I asked one of my friends the other day

“What, President’s Day? Nah, we’re going to just get a late brunch and watch TV.”

“No, I meant Valentine’s Day.”

“Oh that. Nope, not really, we’re not big on the holiday anyhow.”

lemon raspberry tart

I found it to be amusing, if not a bit refreshing. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a total mush when it comes to romance and love. I am, in fact, a huge cheeseball despite the fact that usually I like to pretend that emotions are wholly superfluous. It’s an act I like to put on – call it protective coating. But underneath that veneer of the “dash of high school bitchy” I’m actually someone who actually enjoys cavity-inducing movies like “You’ve Got Mail”. There, I’ve said it – judge me if you will.

lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart
lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart

And while I like the idea of Valentine’s Day, it sort of brings about the anxiety on everyone – couples and singles alike. Is your gift good enough? What if you are single on February 14th — does that make you a social outcast? What about the notoriously sub-par food served at restaurants on the day? And finally – the prices of roses are astronomical. There’s no reason to pay 5 times as much for roses on the 14th over any other day. And according to a Real Simple magazine “study”, bodega roses lasted the longest anyway, and were the cheapest as well. Just a practical tip, folks.

lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart

What I do like about Valentine’s Day, however, is the chocolate craze that ensues the day after Christmas. I think that the more chocolate is sold around Valentine’s Day than any other holiday of the year. Candies, chocolates, cakes, cookies – and according to my rules of chocolate consumption – any chocolate consumed around February 14th has no calories. I know it because I feel it in my gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than in your head? You can look it up.

lemon raspberry tart

However, I am told, that some people don’t quite like chocolate. Frankly, I am not even sure these said people exist, perhaps they are a cautionary tale, or part of an urban legend, but I’ll go with it for now and pretend that this could be a reality. And while I cannot imagine ever eschewing chocolate, this lemon raspberry tart is so good, so creamy and so intensely lemony, that while eating it, I didn’t miss chocolate one bit. The tart is pure, intense lemon flavor, punctuated by the sweetness of raspberries. Enough to make you feel the sunshine and warmth even on the coldest day of the year.

lemon raspberry tartlemon raspberry tart

A few thoughts on the recipe – the recipe itself is pretty easy, though I would make the tart dough ahead of time as I’m not big on waiting around my apartment much. But in steps, it’s very achievable. My one big question while I was baking the tart – what does “set” mean when referring to the tart doneness. Is it that the center is set and the sides are slightly jiggly? Or is it that the whole tart needs to be set? If so, what level of firmness am I looking to achieve? When and how would I know I overcooked it besides burning it to a crisp? I think, and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions here – that “set” means the whole tart has to be solid and not jiggly. I would periodically check on it to make sure as everyone’s oven is slightly different. And lastly, the tart surface cracked a bit later on. Something I could have remedied with some powdered sugar, but didn’t quite think about it at the time. I’m not sure if it cracked because I overcooked it, undercooked it or because that just happens with custards. It tasted perfectly cooked to me and everyone who ate it. In fact, despite its less-than-perfect look, it was the first dessert to disappear from the New Year’s table. [Yes, I am horribly late with this post, I know.]

lemon raspberry tart

And you know you’ve done something right when no one at the dessert table even mentioned chocolate. And for a few intense lemon-filled minutes I even forgot its existence and would have even turned it down. Because lemons, at their best, are that seductive. But please, keep this secret between us. Don’t tell chocolate about it!

lemon raspberry tart

Hey, lady! Thanks for the recipe but I still want my chocolate! Well, ok. How about the following recipes to satisfy your chocolate tooth?


Chocolate Cherry Muffins

Chocolate Peanut Butter Crispy Bars
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake
Chocolate Cola Cake with Dulce de Leche

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!!

lemon raspberry tart

Continue reading lemon raspberry tart.