Sunday, May 30, 2010

Patriotic Tart

So Memorial Day is tomorrow, and with family coming over for a barbecue, I wanted a summery dessert that would fit with the holiday somehow. Then I thought of doing a tart--strawberries and blueberries are both in season, though this works with a variety of fruits--kiwi is pretty traditional.

Crust--really whatever you like--Pate Brisee is traditional, which is an enriched (read--has an egg in it) pastry dough, but if you're in a pinch you can use store bought dough and just make it a little thicker. Press (don't stretch!!!) into a fluted tart pan, tartlet pans, or a pie pan if you don't have a tart pan. Just be sure to keep the dough height low--more like a half-inch--to keep true to tart shape. Dock the bottom (prick all over with a fork) to prevent blistering, and baked until lightly browned.

Here's mine:
Next, filling. You have a few options here--tarts should have a light layer of something moist, rich, but basic enough to go with fruit. Frangipane is one possibility, pastry cream is another, and from-a-box pudding mix (made with either half the milk or heavy cream) also suffices. I opted for pastry cream--here's my recipe, adapted from the Cordon Bleu's book on Baking (makes enough for one 9 or 10 inch tart):

2 cups of milk
6 tbl white sugar
Combine in a saucepot and bring just to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.

Meanwhile, whisk together 1/3 cup flour, 1 egg, 2 yolks, and another 6 tbl sugar. I like to do this in a 6 cup'll see why when you try it. In a steady thin stream, pour the milk into the egg mixture SLOWLY, whisking constantly to keep things smooth. Generally useful to have an extra set of hands to keep your bowl/pyrex still, or just throw a silicone mat underneath. Pour this tempered mixture back onto the stove, and cook over medium low heat until it boils and begins to thicken. It should look like barely set pudding. Remove from the stove, and add 4 tbl. butter or margarine, and 1 tbl. vanilla extract (use the real stuff, please!). Whisk together. You should be leaving lines in the mixtures as you stir it; otherwise it's not thick enough (you can resurrect it by adding more flour and reboiling it).

Pour through a fine sieve into a shallow baking pan, and cover with clear plastic wrap. Let cool, then transfer to whatever container you choose (or use it right away; just be sure it's room temp or colder).

Spread a thin layer (no deeper than 1 cm) onto your tart shell, and then top with your fruit.

If you like (and especially if you're using bananas), you can "seal" the fruit tart and give it a nice gloss by melting apricot or peach jelly (no fruit bits) with a bit of water and brushing it onto your fruit. Makes it shiny and pretty, and prevents fruit from changing color. Enjoy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Toasted Almond Cheesecake

It was my friend Anita's birthday today, so, naturally, I offered to make her the treat of her choice. She picked cheesecake. I needed more inspiration than that, so I turned to the source of many good and bad ideas--alcohol. She informed me that her favorite mixed drink is called a "toasted almond," which appears to be equal amounts amaretto, Kahlua, and other words, the perfect flavors to incorporate into a cheesecake.

I recalled my family's Easter dinner celebration, when my father (if I'm Blondie, and Syracuse is Brownie, then my mother would be Reddie, and my father would be Blackie--I'm a biologist, and I'm still trying to figure out how that's genetically possible) made this cheesecake from Giada De Laurentiis. It seemed like an excellent base recipe, and thus, the Toasted Almond Cheesecake was born...

  • 1 c. slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • 2/3 c. graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 Tbl. sugar
  • 4 Tbl. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. Kahlua
  • 1 Tbl. almond extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 9-inch diameter springform pan with parchment paper. Finely grind the almonds, graham cracker crumbs, and 3 Tbl. sugar in a food processor. Add the butter and process until moist crumbs form. Press the almond mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan (not on the sides of the pan). Bake the crust at 350 degrees until it is set and beginning to brown, about 12 minutes. Cool.

Decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Cream together the cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Beat in the almond extract, Kahlua, and vanilla. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.

Pour cheesecake batter over cooled crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hr and 5 min, then turn off oven and leave cheesecake in the oven one hour longer. Center will still be jiggly. Refrigerate 8 hrs to 2 days.

I put a pan of water on the lower rack for the whole cooking time (no patience for things like water baths). The cheesecake cracked a little around the edges, but as it cooled, this became less noticeable. The almond flavor was great, but it overpowered the Kahlua--fine by me, as I'm not the biggest coffee fan, anyways, but for a more authentic "Toasted Almond" flavor, I'd recommend 2 tsp. almond extract and maybe 5-6 Tbl. Kahlua. I would have used amaretto and Kahlua, but I was nervous about adding too much liquid, so I decided to stick with the more concentrated almond extract to get that flavor. The texture was firmer toward the edges (more New York-style) and delightfully creamy in the center. All in all, a rousing success. And yes, I used canned whipped cream to decorate it. So sue me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Peanut Butter Silk Pie

I've been on a mousse kick lately, and I was looking for ways to serve them beyond in chocolate boxes and tulips (more on that later). With a large jar of peanut butter to use up, this seemed a perfect solution. I've had this dessert, or things like it, in a lot of chain restaurants, and wanted to address a few of my contentions with it. The chocolate ganache should NOT be hard...what's the point of pie if you can't cut into it? The mousse needs to be light and peanut buttery, without being overly rich.

Unfortunately I'm not much of one for measuring, so I can only give you ingredients and technique...but that's half the fun!

Graham crackers/nilla wafers/other crushable sweet thing (although I've used panko + sugar in a pinch; shockingly, it makes a great crumb crust!)
Butter/margarine, extremely soft (but not melted)

Using a wine bottle, rolling pin, or physics textbook, annihilate the crumbs. The finer, the better. Mush together with the butter and press into your pie pan. Be sure to get up the sides. Wrapping another pie pan in cling wrap and pressing it onto the crust pile works well. Bake just until browned; let cool.

Chocolate chips/shavings from a leftover chocolate bunny (definitely what I used)...I like dark or semi-sweet for this, but go by your own preference.
Butter/margarine (just a sliver to help it melt)
Half and half or cream

Melt chocolate in a double boiler with a dab of butter. Whisking constantly, add enough cream to make it pourable (shouldn't be more than 1/4 cup). Pour over cooled crust, reserving a few tablespoons. Refrigerate while you do the next step.

Melt some peanut butter in the microwave or on the stove, roughly a half cup for every pint of cream. Plunge pan into a bowl of water to cool rapidly. Stir to prevent clumping.

Start whipping your VERY COLD HEAVY/DOUBLE CREAM in an electric mixer just unto the point of stiff peaks. With a large spatula, fold a small amount of cream into the peanut butter to lighten it, then fold this into the cream. Layer the mousse on top of the ganache, spreading lightly to avoid mixing.

Decorate with whipped cream, melted peanut butter, reserved ganache, peanut butter cups, chocolate shavings, or whatever else you desire!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spiced Blueberry Tarts with Almond Mascarpone Cream

A friend of mine recently turned 21, and I wanted to make something for his birthday. Since he doesn't like desserts that are "too rich" (and "too rich" is kind of my specialty), I decided to do something fruit-based. I had some essentially mulled wine that I had used as poaching liquid and saved, so I turned it into a fruit tart. I just made up the recipe as I went along, but this should be pretty close:

  • 2 cups blueberry wine (I used "Blue Heeler" from Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 vanilla bean, slit partially down the middle
  • Frozen Blueberries
  • 2-3 Tbl cornstarch
  • 2 frozen pie crusts
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 c. powdered sugar
  • 1 c. heavy whipping cream

Set the pie crusts out at room temp to defrost while the filling cooks.

Combine wine, sugar, lemon juice, zest, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 min, then simmer ~60 min or until reduced roughly by half. Strain out the solids by passing through a fine-mesh sieve, then return to pan. Stir in some frozen blueberries (maybe 2-3 c? whatever looks right). Dissolve the cornstarch in ~1/4 c. cold water and stir into the blueberry filling. Bring to a gentle boil and stir until thickened to the consistency of pie filling. Cool completely.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll the pie crusts a little thinner, then use a 2" biscuit cutter to cut out rounds. Press the rounds into the holes of a mini muffin tin that has been misted with cooking spray. Prick the bottoms with a fork a couple times. Bake at 350 for 11-15 min, or until golden brown. Cool completely.

Whip the whipping cream until medium-stiff peaks form. Put mascarpone in a separate bowl, and add the almond extract and powdered sugar. Stir a couple times to combine. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream.

To assemble, pipe blueberry filling into the baked crusts. Pipe a swirl of mascarpone cream on top of each tart.

I doubled the recipe, and put some in the pie crust shells, some in pre-baked puff pastry shells, and some in a pre-made graham cracker crust. Yes, I cheat sometimes.

Also, you will soon notice that my sister is much better at photography than me, and has a much nicer camera. Sorry in advance.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome to Brownies and Blondies!

This is a tale of two sisters, separated by 500 miles but united by a love of baking.

I'll get off the high horse now. We both love to bake, we're both pretty darn good at it (if we do say so ourselves), and we're keeping a record of it so that our loyal followers (aka, our army of willing taste-testers) can find out what's in store.

Everything you see blogged about (or variations thereof) are available for purchase. Had to throw that plug in there. We're more than willing to adapt recipes to be gluten-free, lactose-free, peanut-free, or whatever you need--we love a good challenge!